South Park Street Cemetery…Museum of the departed

Abhishek

The central part of Kolkata boasts of some magnificent structures constructed during the British era. Among the many not so commonly known structures in Kolkata is the South Park Street Cemetry.It is one of the oldest graveyards in Kolkata which was called The Great Christian Burial ground initially.At the time of opening, it was the one of the largest cemetery outside Europe and America.

South Park Street Cemetry
South Park Street Cemetry

This place looks very unusual around the busy area of Park Street, now Mother Teresa Sarani and earlier Burial Ground Road, and is like a museum of its own kind. Many people believe that it is haunted and many stories keep circulating about unusual things happening inside it like bleeding of tombs, people falling unconscious etc. However, none of them seems to be true.

This place is hidden adjacent to the busy street and does not look like some prominent place unless you get inside and explore it.If you look from outside, it will look like some sort of an old and abandoned place. Most of the graves in this cemetery are of very young Europeans officers and their families who died probably due to some tropical diseases in India as they were not used to this region’s climate. It was believed at that time that the life of an European in Kolkata (then Calcutta) is just two monsoons as the monsoon season (rainy season) usually led to increase in the numbers of various insects and parasites and the diseases associated with them.

South Park Street Cemetry
Entrance to South Park Street Cemetry

How to reach…

The South Park Street Cemetery is located on the Park Street, one of the prime areas of Kolkata near the Lower Circular Road cemetery in Mullickbazar area.It can be easily accessed by Buses or Taxis. The nearest Tram station is Mullick Bazar. You can also reach here easily by taking any metro upto Maidan or Park Street and then walk from there. You can recognize it by its old looking pink facade. The cemetery remains open from 10 AM to 5 PM.There is also an entry fee of Rs 20.If you would like to take photographs inside, then you need to pay a total of 50 rupees including the entry fee.

History…

The South Park Street Cemetery was opened in 1767 around a swampy area which was known as the Burial Ground Area during that time.It served as a funeral place for European officers and families and commoners who were in India during the British raj. Burials usually took place during the night. The oldest tomb in the cemetery is that of Mrs Sarah Pearson, who died on September 8, 1768. The space in this graveyard was eventually filled up and consequently it was closed in 1840.It was one of the earliest non-church cemetery that is, it was not associated with any of the churches.

Architecture…

The cemetery encompasses an area of about 8 acres and is enclosed by a brick wall. It has a collection of about 1600 tombs with memorials, tablets and epigraphs. The architecture of the cemetery is a blend of Gothic and Indo-Saracenic style. The tombs of the cemetery are made up of rectangular sand stone. The design is similar to standard European architectural style with Roman domes, Grecian vases to Egyptian pyramids, monuments, cairns and coffins. A touch of Hindu style can also be seen in the design with black basalt carving on the frontal facades.

ASI has recently started the restoration works in the cemetery few years back.

The visit…

I was staying nearby so I just had to take short walk to this place. I reached here in the afternoon and found some small numbers of visitors inside. The level of calmness and serenity of this place was amazing. There were trees all around and green moss growing all over the graves. The graves were of different shape and sizes, Some quite unusual like that of pineapple core.

On entering the path is narrow and looks quite congested but once you reach the end after going straight, there are some open spaces. You will feel a unique transition as you move from the busy and electrifying Park Street to this calm and serene place. I felt like I should sit here for all the day and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere rather than going back to the busy and boring city life. I then moved around grave to grave reading the inscriptions on them and trying to find some information relating to the the people buried there. The graves are of all shapes and sizes, from small to big which is usually of families buried together. Some busts can also be seen.

Notable graves of famous people…

Many notable people Europeans are buried here with amusing shape of their tombs. Some of them are as follows:-

  • Charles Stuart who worked in the Bengal Army. He liked Hindu culture and married an Indian women. His grave is made like a temple in the ‘panchyatana’ style with floral carvings.
  • Captain E. S. Dennison’s tomb with his family is known as the “bleeding tomb” as it releases a reddish fluid, probably iron oxide, a few times each year.
  • Walter Landor Dickens was the son of notable writer Charles Dickens. He served in the British East India Company Army.
  • Rose Alymer who was the star crossed lover of Walter Savage Landor. Her grave is shaped like a pineapple core because it is learnt that she loved eating pineapples.
  • Henry Louis Vivian Derozio,who was a poet and assistant headmaster at the Hindu College. He was the founder of the Young Bengal Movement. He died at a young age of 22.
  • Sir William Jones, Anglo-Welsh philologist   who was the founder of the Asiatic Society and translated many important Hindu texts from Sanskrit to English. His grave looks new and the tallest. He died on the 27th of April 1794 at the age of 47.
  • Lieutenant Walter Savage Landor Dickens,an officer cadet in the East India Company’s Presidency army , was the fourth child and second son of English novelist Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine. He became an officer cadet in the East India Company’s Presidency armies just before the Indian Rebellion of 1857. 
  • Elizabeth Jane Barwell also known as the “celebrated Miss Sanderson”, and was the daughter of a Colonel in East India Company’s army.Her grave is shaped like a pyramid.

A list of all those people who have been their graves in the South Park Cemetery can be found here.

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