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Chronicles of Dum Dum




Geographical location             :           22o64N, 88 o42E

Area                                            :           9.73 Sq.Km.

Maximum Temp                       :           42oC

Minimum Temp                       :           12oC

Rainfall                                      :           175 Cm.



In the history of Bengal, Dum Dum holds a very significant place. It has many epoch making episodes in its long existence. In the historic event of Calcutta combat Nawab Sirajuddowlah was taken to great surprise to face the strong contingent of soldiers of Robert Clive in Dum Dum. On later times to quench the Barasat revolt of Titumeer, the two cannons were supplied from Dum Dum Jail which was the arsenal of Cantonment. In 1757 on 6th February in Dum Dum an accord was signed by Nawab of Bengal to permit the English traders to establish forts in Calcutta, Dacca & Kashimbazar.

Dum Dum town is replete with the relics of many archeological and historical evidences of early British period.

The early history of Dum Dum seems obsecure. According to come it derives its name from the elevated mound called Dam Damma or Dumma Dumma lying south of the old Cantonment, on which stands the fort like Clive House, formerly known as Dum Dum House, regarding which first mention is made by Robert or me, author of “History of the war in Bengal”.

            Dum Dum was once a separate subdivision from 1861 to 1896 later it was merged with Barasat Sub-division. Since then it was under the Civil & Criminal jurisdiction of a Magistrate of Dum Dum Cantonment. St. Stephens Church a Roman Catholic Church Weslyan Chapel and a hospital for treatment of European were established in the central hub of Dum Dum Cantonment of old Dum Dum.

Two centuries ago Dum Dum was in the Panihati Zamindari Estate. It was a little elevated and well served by two outfall drains – the Bagjola Canal and the Cantonment Canal both flowing to Krishtopur Canal. The topographical and strategic advantage of Dum Dum attracted the British to establish a Cantonment here and also a Gun & Shell Factory. There is a strong belief that the newly developed Dum Dum Town derived its name from the booming sound Doom Doom of the bullets manufactured in the factory. It was also known as Dam dama. According to HFA Cotton, it is of Persian extraction and means a mound or devated battery. In modern Hindustani ‘dam’ pronounced with a soft’d’ means breadth and ‘dam lena’ means to take breath or idiomatically speaking to have rest. Hence ‘dam damma’ could mean a resting place, a contention supported by the fact that is older times the mound is said to have been a ready yours where robbers and highwaymen, after their nefarious activities in the region surrounding, collected together for a respite and meanwhile to divide then loot and booty.

“Dum Dum is now a quiet and dull little station with an undesirable reputation for damp and Malaria. In its early ears it was the scene of amny brilliant entertainment and the centre of much generous hospitality. As the station grew it became fashionable resort for Calcutta society and a jay cavalcade of fine ladies and gentlemen passed along the raised road of Dum Dum to be present in the theatre.”

(Calcutta Past a Present – Kathken Blechynden)

Some of the best known spots are the old Ammunition Factory building, Outram Institute, the Bengal Artillery movement, St. Stephen’s Church, the Corinthian Pilar erected in memory of Colonel Thomas Deans Pearse the old guns of Dum Dum which are in evidence almost everywhere. Some of them covered with shrubbery and a number of old bunglows over a century old, all having same interesting tale or anecdote connected wih their colourful past.

Dum Dum was then very sparsely populated though not a off from the sprawling city of Calcutta.

With the establishment of Cantonment in 1783, people of various walks were invited to settle here to ensure essential services to the military personnel. These people were allowed to construct dwelling houses – on plots of land without any title. Military barracks were built on sites where the present Central Jail and Jessop Factory stands.

With a view to provide civic amenities a Cantonment Board was formed with Military Officer as its head. A Cantonment Magistrate was appointed to disperse summary trials. The civic amenities were rather premature, so roads were brick built, street lighting was with the help of Kerosene Lamp. All latrines were Katcha, there was no question of sanitary latrines. Head load system for removal of night soil was in vogue. During the regime of Cantonment Board water supply was made through underground pipe lines. Filtered water was obtained from the Talla reservoir and stored at the reservoir in the present Central Jail.

During the early years of the Cantonment, the British rulers waged a number of imperialist wars to extend and consolidate the empire. Of which wars in Burma, Nepal, the Decan and Afganisthan were costly in blood and lives. The British troop of Dum Dum Cantonment took part in these wars and many of them lost their lives. To commemorate their memory, two monuments were erected, one in front of the Gun & Shell factory and the other close to it on the western side of the Jessore Road. A few of the battle guns used in those days were lying scattered or embedded in front of the monument in the Central Jail as also of the Junction of Jessore Road & Rishi Bankim Chandra Road and other places.

It may be recalled here that the Indian Sepoys stationed in Dum Dum Cantonment did not remain unaffected during the great Sepoy mutiny. As a matter of fact. Mongal Pandey was the first martyr in this war of independence. Both Dum Dum & Barrackpore claimed that he was hanged with a tree there. The correct surmise appears to be that his dead body was hanged at public places in both Cantonments to excite terror in the minds of others following his example.

Lives of soldiers were profusely entertained. Dance, drink and revelry had no limits. There relics still exist in the decadent and spacious buildings in the eastern side of Central Jail compound on jessore Road and another near the Aluminium Manufacturing Company.

It transpires from 1911 census report that, small population of Dum Dum was 3818. Population of Dum Dum showed increasing trend after the 1st World War. Many Europeans working in Dum Dum used to live in Mall Road & Gorabazar adjacent to Jessop Co. Mall Road was beautiful & seening with colourful garden. Europeans used to gallop on horse back from Mall Road to Garer Math to play Polo in the morning. There were people opportunities for games & sports in Dum Dum.

As of today Dum Dum Municipality has provided liberally sports goods to all clubs. Many play grounds have been developed to be a standard football and cricket grounds.

A rifle range was there near the present Airport area. The golf course just opposite to the Prest Electric Coach Factory of Jessop & Co. in the eastern side of Jessore Road was one of the first in the Calcutta area.

The Brigades stationed in Dum Dum took part in Football, Cricket and Hocky Tournaments in Calcutta. Dum Dum teams were favourites in Indian Cricket.

It took almost fifty years for the Cantonment to take shape and it is a record that until accommodation was made available, the Bengal Artillery date back to 1749, it was until 1775 that it head quarters were moved to Dum Dum. As the Cantonment grew in size, other building were erected to provide officers mess and the soldiers canteen. The long single storeyed building next door to St. Stephen’s Church was the first officers mess of the old Bengal Artillery Regiment and remained so for over fifty years.

As in most other Cantonments in India, a Masonic Lodge was also built. This building may still be seen on Jail Road. It was once a fine edifice of attractive design and structure, complete with underground chamber used for the secret ceremonies for which the masons have long been famous, but today it stands in a rather dilapidated state.

The new barracks were sited so as to contain a fine square. They were made of identical design and structure and were double storeyed. Originally there were four barracks, but today three remain. The barracks were turned into a jail in 1935 & 1936, housing, prisoners. No. 4 barrack in now a hospital block. In the centre of the old barrack square there was a flag staff at the base of which there was “a very handsome old bronze gun which was probably left in or near Dum Dum by Nawab Sirajuddowlah when he retreated from the vicinity of Calcutta and which bears unmistakable marks of having been in a very hot corner in some old hard fought action.” Quite close to the west of the barracks was a large tank, around which the local traders built shop to later the needs of British soldiers in the Cantonment. Aptly enough, this shopping centre came to be known as the GORA BAZAR, which originally comprised two long rows of shop houses running along a narrow road, known today as Station Road.

Robert Clive was the main promoter & developer of this area. Soldiers & other British Officers lived in this area. English people were very fair in their complexion so people used to call it Gora Bazar as gora means fair. As the English residents come to live here it was considered safe a secure, so many Bengali & people of other places and traders from different parts of the country permanently settled here.

Two churches were built St. Stephen’s – a protestant church was built around 150 years ago and another Roman Catholic; St. Patrick Church was established for 800 christian residents  to attend prayers.

From 1783 to 1853 Dum Dum was Head Quarters of Bengal Artillery Regiment. During that period 748 soldiers were residing in Dum Dum Cantonment.

A few Anglo Indian families came to settle in Dum Dum and they gave company to the homesick & lovelorn soldiers.

Though the Ammunition factory dates back to 1846, the ordnance department was established much earlier. In 1853, the head quarters of the Bengal Artillery Regiment was moved to Meerut as being Central because Dum Dum was considered  unsuitable for that purpose any longer. With this change the Cantonment became a store house for small arms & ammunitions. A new Musketry School was opened for providing training in the use of newly induced Enfield Rifle.

After the first World War the Cantonment was in the process of abolition and the end practically came in 1925. But the fact was given ‘dejure’ recognition with effect from 1st April, 1929, when a new Municipality was created in place of the Cantonment Board. Dum Dum Municipality was established on 01.04.1929. The Municipal Board of Dum Dum consisted of 9 (nine) Commissioners of whom 5 was elected and 4 nominated by the Govt. The first nominated board comprised of two representatives of big industrialist concerns, two senior Govt. officials of locality. The Municipal Board was functioning in right earnest. The assets of the Cantonment Board vested in the Municipality under Sec. 6 of the Cantonment Act. The handing over of the properties was delayed unnecessarily. Negotiations continues for years together. Persistent and efficient handling at the negotiations brought success in the long run. In the year 1953 came the order of President of India for transfer of the properties at a nominal price of 23,000/- or no in all.

The development plans of the Municipality which was held up for the problem got going. The processing still going ahead and Dum Dum Municipality can boast of its present attainment of Human Development index status just next to Bidhannagar according to some sample survey.

The temporary set back to Dum Dum arising from the abolition of Cantonment and departure of the British troops. Well-to-do customers of the local traders were more than compensated in no time.

The Jessop & Co. shifted its factory from Howrah riverside to Dum Dum in 1928. In 1929 Gramphone Company started in Dum Dum.

The Bengal Flying Club, between in the field of aviation in India was established in 1920. It had a small fleet of single engine moth planes. The planes flew into the sky and used to whirl over Dum Dum and nearby localities. A plane flying like birds in the sky was a novel thing then.

In those days local Bengalis were not keen to work in the iron works. Jessop authorities drafted large number of cheap labours from Gaya, Ranchi & South Bihar. These migrated people settled here with their families. Even some people from Howrah who were working in Jessop also came to live here.

Dum Dum Ordnance Factory despite the various changes effected in the career still bears an ancient look reminding one of the heyday of the Ordnance activity in Dum Dum. The south gate has been used as the main entrance, which is adored with old guns half buried in the ground.

One interesting feature of the factory is its high perimeter wall, whose top is covered with broken pieces of glass and in which one may still observe the old pill boxes with their typical peep holes. Then there is an old clock tower, the clock of which was removed in recent times. There is also an old bell reputed to be over a century old hung from a Scaffold near the perimeter wall along the Jessore Road. The bell was used both as an alarm and as a time signal for the employees to come to work. This is now done by modern hooter.

By 1856 greased cartridges gained notoriety. How far these were responsible for lighting the spark of the 1857 rebellion is given in more than one version. It seems that the ordnance authorities ordered for a supply of tallow, without taking the precaution of specifying the fat composition of it. In mid 1857 an incident of far reaching consequences occurred at Dum Dum in the necessity of the Ammunition Factory.

“a low caste lascar or Magazine man meeting a high caste sipahi in the Cantonment asked him for a drink of water from his. The Brahmin at once replied with an objection on the scare of caste and was tauntingly told that cast was nothing. High caste and low caste would soon be in general use throughout the army. This story soon spread to everyone in the Cantonment, since the cartridge had to be bitten off before use. The Sipahi was shocked. The story of the notorious cartridge spread to other Cantonments. There was revolt by the soldiers of Hindu Community. Ways and means were being tried to restore British prestige. Dum Dum’s importance as a Cantonment increased. More English troops were stationed here.

To a student of history, the old factory is an important land mark of the old Cantonment. So despite the passage of time, the factory will continue to live in the minds of the local inhabitants of Dum Dum – a name which conjures up many a pleasant memory connected with the colourful past of the historic cantonment.

From early twenties Gandhijis non cooperation movement rocked the whole country, but Dum Dum had only ripples. The British rulers however realized the strength of Gandhijis movement. When the big Central Jail sprang up suddenly in 1931. Many top most leaders and thousand of less known patriots were brought from all over the country and lodged in the Central Jail which very often vibrated with the slogan “Bandemataram”. The old military barracks were pulled down and in their places grew up more and more multistoried Jail barracks and the factory of Jessop etc.

World War II broke out in Europe, the German were winning quick and magical victories. The days of british seemed numbered. But Dum Dum was not very much affected. The Japanese joined the war against allies. With incredible success after success, they occupied Burma and passed a great threat to Bengal. The Japanese blustered over these radios to warn the Indians to clear away from Dum Dum, aerodrome areas and nearby towns so as to be safe from air-raids. Great panic prevailed and an unprecedented exodus from Dum Dum started. Dum Dum area was practically denuded to people. ‘Black Out’ was imposed air raid shelters were built all over Dum Dum. Sirenes were fittered at suitable rooftops to warn the people with screaming sound about the approaching hostile enemy planes. The first Japanese bombs were dropped on Dum Dum during the last week of December, 1942. One bomb fell on open ground in the Army Transmitting Centre of Dum Dum. The second one fell on Naranpur near aerodrome.

The Gramophone Co. stopped its normal production and devoted itself solely to the manufacture of fake aeroplanes with pastiboards. These were paiked in batches of six or so at different sites somewhat away from the aerodrome under cover of bushy grown foliage. All the garden houses of Mall Road were requisitioned for use of military personnel. The airport and other important industrial units were declared ‘protected places’ and placed under guard.

The war came to an end. The British Government started negotiation with Indian leaders about the protect of Independence. This culminated in the communal carnage of 1946. Exodus of unprecedented dimension started. Hindus in masses, both from towns & villages of East Bengal left their ancestral houses and blocked to West Bengal. As a result refugees came to Dum Dum. The local organizations in Dum Dum opened relief camps and rendered invaluable services to the uprooted people.

Refugees colonies sprang up here & there in Dum Dum. There are many references of Dum Dum in the Bengali Literature, Drama & Music. Dum Dum is present in Rabindra Nath Tegore’s famous Sahaj Path. In 1912 the first public “Literary” Dum Dum Library and Literary Club was established in Gorabazar.

There were special schools for Sanskrit known as Chatushpathi in Dum Dum. Two such institutions of learning were.

  • Sri Parbati Sanskrit Vidyalaya

No. 2 Airport Gate, Dum Dum

  • Sabitri Sanskrit Pathsala

60, Jiban Ratan Dhar Road, Kolkata – 700028

Christ Church Missionary Higher Secondary School was established in 1931.

There was a Madrasha in R. N. Guha Road, Dum Dum.

In seventeenth century famous Bengali poet Krishram das was patronized by Raja Sabarna Choudhury of Dum Dum. Krishna Das composed ‘Kalika Mangal, Roy Mangal, Hara Parbati Mangal, Kamala Mangal’ etc.

In the famous novel of Bimal Mitra ‘Begum Mary Biswas’ Mary belonged to Dum Dum and said to have excavated the large tank over Central Jail.

There is one air conditioned auditorium with capacity. This auditorium is proposed to be a modern auditorium with best acoustics and associated theatrical facilities.

There are three theatre groups of repute :

  • Sopan – 30, U. K. Dutta Road, kamalapur
  • Theatre Cabinet – 2, Motilal Colony, Airport
  • Saplambar – 176/1, P. K. Guha Road, Kumarpara

Sports :-         

In 1911, Dum Dum Sporting became a centre of sporting activities in Dum Dum. Famous football players were member of this club. The club is organizing football and cricket coaching in the Lichu Bagan Math. Dum Dum Municipality has developed this play ground and beautified this park which is extensively used by local people for sporting activities & walking, childrens entertainment and meetings. Municipality is developing all the 10 play grounds to the standard level.

Gora Bazar Sporting Club was very eminent in this area for Sri S. Roy as famous coach of football. This club has trained many good players who played in 1st division games.

Round the year many tournaments are held in different wards with grandour.

Social Activities :-

            Dum Dum Municipality enthusiastically encourages social welfare programmes. Round the year Blood Donation Camp, Eye care with Cataract Operation, Free Distribution of Spectacles & Health Checkup Camps are held in most of the wards.

Adore :   Asian Development Organisation & Rehabilitation Enterprise since 2007 this organization of Dum Dum in working in the field of medical, economic, literacy, rehabilitative services against social disparities. Their aim is to eradicate THALASSEMIA.

ADORE is rendering illustrious services to thousands of thalassemic patients in Dum Dum as well as in many neighbouring districts.

Archaeological sites & places of interest of the Municipality : –

Different earthen idols of human figures which were found during excavation are the archaeological evidences of old civilization of Dum Dum.

A standing figure of male human holding a good in his left hand and a sac of coins in his right hand. A standing figure of woman dressed with ornaments, holding her baby in left hand was also found.

In depth study of these fine art materials indicate that there were similarities with Shunga & Kushan age sculpture, though Bengal was never under Shunga rulers. But Kushan craft style, architecture, sculpture have livid presence. Sufficient evidences of this possible linkage are lacking but one thing is clear that alongwith the trade by riverways a cultural bondage was established. All these archaeological evidences only supports the cultural relations.

Chandraketugarh civilization relics unearthed by excavation in Berachampa, indicates that there was a connection with Dum Dum cultural tradition.

Besides Terracotta earthern works, different types of earthen works, pices of household articles, skeleton of dead persons and various types of coins have been unearthed. Earthenwares of different colours & sizes alongwith china clay wares have also been found. Copper coins were also in great numbers.

It transpires that there was a developed human society in Dum Dum in those days. Archaeological excavations also establish the antiquity of this civilization of Dum Dum, rich in cultural heritage.

It may be possible that there was a busy trade centre in Dum Dum as evidenced by different types of coins, ornaments & daily usage household articles.

Archaeological exploration have thrown much light on the pre British period of Dum Dum.

Next goal of the Municipality : –

  • Safe drinking water for all citizens of Dum Dum.
  • Improvement of drains and storm water drains in order to reduce and eliminate flooding & stagnation of water.
  • Development of green space and parks with special provision for child friendly components.
  • Shelter for homeless people.
  • Proper maintenance & protection of wetlands & water bodies.
  • Skill development of unemployed youth through National Urban Livelihood Mission.
  • E-governance.
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