History of Kolkata in ninteenth century

This work seeks to compare the cultural productions of two socio-economic groups of Bengalis in nineteenth century Kolkata. It is a study of the major types of representation in Bengali, in the print (published literature) and audio-visual (songs, dramatic performances, paintings, etc.) media—as they reflect the patterns of behavior and attitudes acquired from the past by the respective socio-economic groups, and as well as their responses to the social trends of the period.

Two socio economic groups in Bengal of nineteenth century

Of the two socio-economic groups, one is the Bengali elite composed predominantly of banyans and dewans (inter¬mediaries helping the East India Company to conduct business and administration in relation to the indigenous people) at the beginning; absentee landlords (renters appointed by Lord Cornwallis as government agents to collect rents from landed estates under the Permanent Settlement) at a later stage; and as we reach the end of the nineteenth century, a middle class consisting of professionals who were products of an English colonial education system (conforming in many ways to the standard set by Thomas Babington Macaulay in his famous Minute of 1835, a class of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect'), who evolved a concept of nationalism acceptable within the set-up of the colonial administration.

Through all these various stages of development, the elite demonstrated a certain sense of continuity in shaping a distinct literature of its own, an indigenous school of music, and a taste in fine arts. The other group consists of the Bengali lower orders—migrants who came to Kolkata from the neighboring villages in search of jobs. A large number of them were traditional artisans and craftsmen who practiced and patronized the rural cultural forms which became considerably modified in the new metropolitan environment and thus evolved into a new urban folk culture, to become marginalized by the end of the nineteenth century.

Folk culture and popular culture in Kolkata

A few explanatory notes about the use of certain terms may be necessary in this connection. We have used the terms 'folk culture' and 'popular culture' often interchangeably to describe the culture of the city's lower orders. Some critics make a distinction between the two terms. 'Popular art has in common with folk art the genuine contact between audience and performer; but it differs from folk art in that it is individualized art, the art of the known performer.'1 In the culture of the lower orders of nineteenth century Kolkata, as we shall see in the course of our survey, in some art forms the artistes emerged from anonymity and became 'known performers'.

In some other art forms, the performance as well as the composition continued to retain the collective anonymity of traditional folk culture. In the latter part of our study, we use the term 'mass culture' or 'mass entertainment' to describe the art forms served through the modern commercial media industry. Where popular art exists only through the medium of a personal style, mass art has no personal quality but, instead, a high degree of personalization. Mass art uses the stereotypes and formulae to simplify the experience, to mobilize stock feelings and to get them going.

Formation of new modes of thoughts conflict with the old culture

The conditions under which both the elite and the lower orders lived and produced their respective art and literature were generated by the process of urban development introduced in a pre-industrial society and governed by the commercial and administrative needs of the British colonial power. As a centre of commerce dominated by foreign traders and colonialists, right from the beginning of the eighteenth century, Kolkata drew a heterogeneous indigenous population made up of both the rich and the poor.

The prevailing relationships of people, based not on any traditional moral order, but on business or administrative convenience, produced new states of mind in Kolkata, which could be described as a 'heterogenetic' centre as opposed to the 'orthogenetic' type of old cities (like Beijing or Kyoto) which carried forward, developed and elaborated a long-established local culture or civilization. Kolkata, on the other hand (like London, New York or Osaka), created new modes of thought, both among the rich and the poor, that were in conflict with the old culture. These new modes either superseded or modified thoughts associated with the old culture.


Guest Author: Debashish Bhattachar03 May 2011

It is really a nice resource. Hoping to get more resources like this.

Debashish Bhattacharya

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