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Park Street Cemetery Kolkata : Walking Among the Dead

Park Street Cemetery Kolkata

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It’s a walk through tombstones with interesting words written on them. Once you are there you will realize that these tombs are filled with some most important people who lived and died during the colonial period and it’s interesting to see history out of books like this.

South Park Street Cemetery is very centrally located in Kolkata, situated by the intersection of Park Street (now Mother Teresa Sarani) and Lower Circular Road (now AJC Bose Road).

Upon entering the gate, the visitor is overwhelmed by a vista of towering monuments amid well-tended vegetation. Banyans of different kinds are common here, and garden plants such as crotons and dracaenas are planted lovingly along the pathways among the tombs.The cemetery was opened on August 25, 1767, and was closed in the 1830, but burials with family were permitted in the following couple of decades. South Park Street Cemetery contains well over 1,000 burials.

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You can walk down moss-covered sidewalks, and gaze at moss-covered tombs. With the help of the available guidebook (very helpful), you can learn about the era in which these people lived and died. Not recommended for immature romancers, but for the rest of us, a very nice place to take your wife and walk around.

The people buried here include prominent Britons of two centuries ago: sea captains, high government officials, leaders of the British East India Company, and men honored by knighthood.

Sir William Jones, a great scholar of Indian culture and botany, and an accomplished linguist whose research of the Sanskrit language launched the first serious scholarly inquiries into the origins of the Indo-European language family, is interred here in one of the cemetery’s tallest monuments.

Charles “Hindoo” Stuart, a British major-general who “went native,” adopting the customs, dress and even religion of the locals. His tomb is shaped like a small Hindu temple.

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Also the grave of the Anglo-Indian poet Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, who helped inspire the Young Bengal Movement in the early 19th century.

Some of the tombs dated well back to 1793 -98 and were of very young men and women, even four-day old babies. Even the tombs of later dates, 1800 – 1893 told one singular story, most of the British, Spanish or French people who lived in Calcutta, died young. This could be attributed to the quality of drinking water, malaria or other tropical disease.

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Coming to the architecture, I must say, this cemetery is an outstanding example of Gothic tomb structures. Also the inscriptions on some of them, will bring tears to your eyes…..so very touching and loving.

One mildly sour note though – the guard at the gate will in true ‘babu’ bureaucratic tradition ask you to enter your particulars in a battered little register in detail. Does one really need to divulge all in order to enter a cemetery? A reminder that the British did not just leave their bones here, but some rather silly habits as well. A corner of a foreign field that is forever England, in many ways than one.

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Especially, if you have never visited a cemetery and do not have plans to do that in future, visit Park Street Cemetery Kolkata. These are not mere graves, they are tombs… and every one of them has its own story…

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