Some Heritage Buildings Associated with the University of Calcutta

The establishment of the University of Calcutta by the University Act of 1857 was the logical culmination of historical forces created by the emergent aspirations for acquisition of modern education, an offshoot of the process which started with the advent of Western culture in India in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Initially the University was only an affiliating and examining body. All the teaching was done in the constituent colleges (the Presidency College, the Sanskrit College and the Bengal Engineering College appear among the sketches presented hereinafter). Besides, it had no habitation of its own. This was a constraint of serious proportions and the University was forced to take recourse to many expedients to discharge its functions as efficiently as possible. In those early years, the meetings of the Senate were held in the Council Room of the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital while the Syndicate generally met at the private residence of the Vice-Chancellor. The Faculty Councils met either at the private residences of the Presidents of the Faculties concerned or in the Civil Engineering College or in some of the rooms of the Writers’ Buildings. The University examinations were held in the Town Hall and at other places (including even some improvised tents at the Maidan).

The striking contrast between the great importance attached to the University and the paucity of arrangements to run it soon became evident. Efforts were on to provide the institution with a separate building of its own. Persistent efforts ultimately bore fruit. A site was selected to the west of the College Street, facing the tank, in between the Presidency and the Medical Colleges. The Governor-General-in-Council was moved to sanction a grant in 1866 of Rs 81,600 for the site and Rs 1,70,561 for construction of a building and the new edifice was erected in 1872. A spacious and noble construction, it was opened in 1873 and came to be known as the Senate House. It was to provide accommodation for meetings of the Senate, the chamber of the Vice-Chancellor, office of the Registrar, examination rooms and lecture halls. For more than eighty years, the building remained one of the more significant landmarks of Calcutta. But after the Centenary of Calcutta University, it was demolished to yield place to the more contemporary and utilitarian Centenary Building in which are housed the Central Library, the Asutosh Museum of Indian Art, the Centenary Auditorium and a number of offices of the University.

Nearly sixty years had passed before the University acquired its second building. It soon became apparent that the Senate House was far from adequate to meet the ever-growing requirements of the University—the effect of the rapid expansion of activities and the persistent increase in the number of candidates appearing in the different University examinations. The situation assumed grave proportions after 1904 when postgraduate teaching and research were vested in the University. Funds were not easily forthcoming. To cope with the situation the University made exhortations from time to time, beginning from as early as 1863, to private benefactors, seeking help for the purpose of constructing a new building and instituting scholarships to enable worthy students to pursue higher courses of learning. Such exhortations did not fail to attract donations in increasing amount. Premchand  Roychand of Bombay sent in 1865 a donation of Rs 2 lakh. The generous endowment of Prosunno Coomar Tagore in 1868 and that of Joykissen Mookerjee of Uttarpara in 1869 eventually proved to be the first steps towards the establishment of the University Law College and the University Library, respectively. In 1908, Maharaja Rameswar Singh of Darbhanga made over to the University a sum of Rs 2.5 lakh for the purpose of erection of building for the University Library. These contributions, along with funds contributed by the Government of India and the Reserve Fund of the University, helped build the now well-known Darbhanga Building. The stately structure, completed in 1912, accommodated the University Law College, its library and some University offices besides affording space to hold the University examinations on its top floor. Later the building was extended with the addition of the Hardinge Hostel built at a total cost of Rs 5.5 lakh. It is, at present, occupied by University offices and by some of the academic departments of the University College of Arts and Commerce.

It would seem that the first and the second decades of the twentieth century were particularly propitious for the University which rapidly consolidated its position during this period. The Calcutta University Press was founded in 1908. Originally started in a rented house at Colootolla Street, it was later shifted to some tiled huts to the west of the Senate House,  that had formerly served as temporary accommodation for the University Law College. Ultimately in 1940 the Press secured its home at 48, Hazra Road on a site provided by the Taraknath Palit Trust.

In 1912, the Government of India granted a sum of Rs 8 lakh for the acquisition of Madhab Babu’s Bazar situated to the south of the Senate House for constructing a new building for the teaching departments. The building which thus came up was named after Sir Asutosh Mookerjee, widely considered to be the most illustrious Vice- Chancellor in the history of the University. The Asutosh Building was opened in 1926.

During 1912-13, the gifts of two eminent lawyers, Taraknath Palit and Rashbehary Ghosh, comprising assets worth Rs 15 lakh and Rs 10 lakh, respectively, enabled the University to lay the foundation of the University College of Science. On 27 March, 1914, Sir Asutosh laid the foundation stone of the Science College at 92, Upper Circular Road (at present  named Acharya Prafulla Chandra Road). From then on, scientific studies in the University made great strides. At present, at the two campuses of the College, one on Acharya Prafulla Chandra Road and the other on Ballygunge Circular Road, there are a large number of postgraduate departments engaged in teaching and research in their respective fields of study. It is while meeting the growing requirements of these departments that the Science College has witnessed the construction of new buildings and extensions of the old buildings.

On the occasion of its Centenary in 1957, the University of Calcutta received from the University Grants Commission a grant of Rs 1 crore with which were raised the Centenary Building at the College Street Campus  and the Law College building on Hazra Road. The amount also aided the Ballygunge Science College Campus in adding the Western and Central blocks. Before long, it further added another block, the Eastern Block, again with financial assistance from the University Grants Commission.

The Economics Department got a building of its own in 1958 at 56A, Barrackpore Trunk Road for which the Government of West Bengal provided the land and the University Grants Commission, the required funds.The University founded  the Dr. B.C. Roy Post Graduate Institute of Basic Medical Sciences (now part of IPGMER) in 1957. The construction of the building complex housing six departments was completed during the nineteen seventies (This Institute is now affiliated to the West Bengal University of Health Sciences).

In 1965, the Goenka Family of Calcutta bequeathed to the University, land and premises at 145 Muktaram Babu Street so as to enable it to open the Goenka Hospital Diagnostic Research Centre for the University College of Medicine. It now extends a wide-ranging medical care to the University community.

Sketches of the Biophysics Laboratory Building at Belgachhia, the Agricultural Farm at Baruipur, the University Rowing Club building and the Institute of Jute Technology also appear in this handbook.

The sketches have been drawn by the eminent artist Shri Rathin Mitra and their originals are being displayed in the Asutosh Museum of Indian Art of the University.