Ghats are usually a series of stairs leading down to a water body, mostly at the banks of a holy river. Just like the religious and sacred Ganga ghats of Varanasi, the Jagannath Ghat on the banks of River Hooghly in Kolkata hold a lot of religious significance in the hearts of people.
The ghats in Kolkata have their own history. They hold a special importance in the everyday life of the citizens of Kolkata till date. These ghats have also been portrayed beautifully in the works of eminent poets and great historians.
One of those prominent ghats of Kolkata which is known to have played a major role in the history of the city and has imbibed its true heritage is the Jagannath Ghat.
The ghat gets its name from the Jagannath temple built beside it. It is situated on the north bank of the Hooghly river, near the Old Mint.
Built in European classical style with a drum-shaped crown atop, the Jagannath Ghat stands imposingly on the east bank of the river Hooghly right beside the north of the present-day bridge.
The river ghat has been an integral part of Kolkata tourism.
Today, they serve as hangouts as well as marketplaces in Kolkata. Each river ghat has a different story behind its construction by denoting its importance. Having said that, these are the places where you can enjoy the scenic views of the Hooghly river.
Jagannath Ghat is near Mullick Ghat, the famous flower market of Calcutta. The Mullick Ghat was built by Rammohan Mullick, in memory of his father, Nimai Mullick.
Services offered at the ghat
The Jagannath Ghat was a start off point for the pilgrims who took the old road to Puri. They used to cross the Hooghly river by boats or the pontoon bridge. Rest sheds were provided for the travellers on both the banks. Free kitchens were operated and managed by many benevolent traders and zamindars to ensure food supply.
There still exists the tradition of distributing alms and clothing on auspicious occasions, whose origination runs back to the early days of the ghat.
Sobharam Basak, the one who built the ghat
The Jagannath Ghat has a special significance among travellers coming to and from Puri. The ghat was built by Sobharam Basak. Basak was a rich trader and banker who made enormous money by supplying textiles to the East India Company.
He was a great devotee of Lord Jagannath. He made multiple annual pilgrimages to Puri along with a huge entourage of pilgrims.
Basak built the ghat by the side of the Jagannath temple which he had built at 1, Nawab Lane. The ghat was discovered somewhere around 1758 when the rebuilding of Fort William had begun.
Sobharam Basak died the same year.
Infrastructure and interiors of the ghat
The Jagannath Ghat has classic European touches that mesmerises the visitors. The Doric style pavilion with pillars is built in a classical western style with a drum-shaped crown on the top. The ghat has a broad entrance with platforms, bathing steps and a separate area for women, and cast-iron grills on the side walls.
Though most of the original works have perished, the beauty and grandeur are being concealed behind clutters of illegal constructions and hoardings.
The dharamshala (rest house) built by Seth Surajmal Jalan Trust, which was built three years ago, gives Rajasthani haveli-kind of vibes and is structurally good due to its solid foundation and thick walls.
However, many additional alterations have been made over these years, with more steps being added to the ghat due to altered tidal patterns of the river.
The ghat is presently managed by the Kolkata Port Trust.
The Jagannath Ghat is one-of-the-busiest steam navigation stations on the Hooghly river. It has been the embarkation and disembarkation points for the steamship services between Kolkata and Allahabad since the mid-1800s.
The upcountry steamers transported pilgrims from Bhagalpur, Manghir, Dinapore, Ghazipur, Banaras, and Mirzapur.
By 1852, regular sailing for Deccan and Assam had also started.
Similarly, there were liner services with Chittagong, Arracan and Moulmein in Burma. Burma commercial operators, such as the Calcutta and Burma Steam Navigation Company became the British India Steam Navigation Company.
India Steam Navigation Company, 1875 onwards, introduced some of their long-distance Liner Services between London-Cal (1875), Calcutta-Australia (1880), and Calcutta-New Zealand (1896).
Alfred Hugh, a travelling artist, told us about the memorial tablet he noticed on the stone-wall of Jagannath Ghat. The Tablet revealed that from Jagannath Ghat steamers took pilgrims to far-off places.
Interesting facts about the Jagannath ghat
The name Jagannath Ghat continued to be in trend for almost two and a half centuries until 2012, when it was miraculously replaced overnight by an unfamiliar name of Chotulal’s Ghat.
All this happened subsequent to the recent discovery of a treasure-trove in a shoe-box containing 178 photographic imagery of Colonial India. The shoe-box included two photo prints of the particular bathing ghat. Both the prints bear a short unsigned note: “Chotulal’s Ghat, Kolkata. Photograph probably taken from the old Howrah Bridge, 1912-1914”.