Modern Indian History-Events and Personalities

Making of the Modern City of Kolkata


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kolkata City

Mains level : Urban development of colonial period

A 2003 judgment by the Calcutta High Court generates discussion of the city’s age, its date of founding, and Job Charnock, whom many credits for having “found” the city of Calcutta.

Calcutta: Who founded the city?


  • A place then called Kalikatah was an important religious centre due to the existence of the Kali temple in the adjacent village of Kalighat.
  • The first literary reference to the site is found in Bipradas Pipilai’s magnum opus Manasa Mangala which dates back to 1495.
  • Abul Fazl’s Ain-I-Akbari dating 1596 also mentions the place.
  • The Sabarna Roy Choudhury family was granted the Jagirdari of Kalikatah by Emperor Jehangir in 1608.

Who was Job Charnock?

  • Job Charnock (1630–1693) was an English administrator with the East India Company.
  • He was once regarded as the founder of the city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta).
  • However, this view is challenged, and in 2003 the Calcutta High Court declared that he ought not to be regarded as the founder.
  • Charnock was entrusted with procuring the Company’s saltpetre and appointed to the centre of the trade, Patna in Bihar in1659.

Beginning of Urbanization

  • The establishment of the Government House in 1767 and the Lottery Commission in 1817 were the other important developments in the city’s history that gave its urban landscape more defined contours.
  • This commission was entirely responsible for the setting up of the city’s roads, streets and lanes.
  • Some markers of urban settlements include planned roads, water supply and transport.
  • The establishment of these in the early 19th century was responsible for making Calcutta the great city that it eventually became.

Significance of Kolkata

One of the most significant developments that gave the city a semblance of urban formation occurred in 1756 when the Nawab of Bengal Siraj ud-Daulah lay siege to Calcutta.

  • This was in retaliation for the British East India Company engaging in unauthorized development of the structure that is now known as Fort William.
  • The East India Company was defeated in a decisive battle, making them realise the vulnerability of the fort.
  • Post 1757 the fort was remade and fortified with enhanced protection, the construction was exceptionally well done.
  • It was really this attack on Fort William, a bastion of the British and other Europeans living there, that changed the map of Calcutta.
  • The Europeans who used to primarily lived inside the fort—the European merchants, the administrators etc—started moving out.
  • They knew that if there was an attack, there was infrastructure to save them. That was European Calcutta, what we call ‘White Town’.

Hey! We won’t let you move away without answering this PYQ:

Wellesley established the Fort William College at Calcutta because (CSP 2020):

(a) He was asked by the board of directors at London to do so

(b) He wanted to revive interest in oriental learning in India

(c) He wanted to provide William Carey and his associates with employment

(d) He wanted to train British civilians for administrative purposes in India.


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