Tuesday, January 08, 2008

And They Came From Portugal To Bandel

The Port at the Ganga

Inside the Church

Our Lady Of Bon Voyage

The high Tower at The Bandel Church

“The story of Bandel Church begins with the first Portuguese settlement in Bengal. The exact date when the Portuguese first established themselves in Bengal is not known. But historians agree that it was arounf 1537 an Admiral Sampayo entered the river Hoogly with nine Portuguese vessels to support Mahamud Shah, the Pathan Nawab of Gaur, who was hard pressed by the famous Sher Khan, had asked the Portuguese representative in Goa for assistance. As a reward, the Nawab had allowed the Portuguese to set up a factory at a spot close to the present Hoogly Jail.

In 1579 the Portuguese constructed a port on the bank of the river Hoogly. Both the port anf the factory became a center of commerce. To protect their interest, the Portuegese also built a fort. Portuguese conquests always went hand in hand with the spreading of the Gospel. They secured the services of the Augustineian Friars, the largest religious body in Goa at that time and around 1590, about 11 years after they set up Port, a ceratin Captain, Pedro Tavares, a favourite of Emporor Akbar, obtained from him the permission to preach the Christian faith publicly and to erect churches for public worship.

In 1599 a monastery was established at Bandel a mile from the factory. It was shortly followed by two others. A military chapel was added at the ort and an alms-house for the poor was also established, which served as an educational institution where the rich and poor alike received Christian education.

However, in 1622, Prince Harun (Emporor Shah Jahan) revolted against his father Jehangir and asked the Portuguese Governor at Hoogly, Michael Rodrigues, to help him with men and artillery, which he refused. Shah Jehan ascended the thrown in 1628 and began his revenge against the Portuguese. On charges of insolence and oppression, the Emperor gave permission to the Moghul Subedar of Bengal to exterminate the Portuguese. The Subedar laid siege of the Fort and fought a difficult battle with the Portuguese, finally to win over them only because one of Portuguese officers betrayed its own side.

On June 24, 1632, at the feast of St john the Baptist, while everyone attended the service, the enemy having got to know the secret entrance to the Fort, set fire to the arsenal, took possession of the arms and then blew up the fortification. The panic stricken people were massacred. The Governor, was captured and burnt alive and over 4000 men, women and children were made PoW and taken away to Agra, the then capital of the Moghul Empire. All the churches and buildings were razed to the ground. Only the Bandel monastery was spared. Of the five Augustinian Friars made captive only one, Father Joao da Cruz was spared. The aged father, went about his life preaching his faith enraging the Muslims and finally the Emporor who had in fact asked the father to appeal to his people to covert to Islam, was ordered to be bundled with his people and thrown to beasts. However, the execution which was a great Darbar failed as the animals set upon the Christians pacified with their prayers and instead carried Father da Cruz on the back of the biggest elephant and took him to the Emporor and bowed before him!

Taking this as indication of Divine intervention, Father da Cruz and his team sent back to Bandel and presented 777 bighas of land in the Bandel village surrounding the monastery. It is father da Cruz who now started to rebuild the church from its ruins.

The Centre of attraction of this church of the statue of Our Lady of Bon Voyage on the top most part of the façade.”

Presently, a community of Christians live around the Church. But the cultural inheritance of the Portuguese is absent, except for a few houses and in my eyes, much subdued and therefore sad, as unfortunately, in reminds us of this fact that in many parts of India, which has been the home for many dynasties and rulers, the new has grown only when the old was destroyed.

Leaving us with only one conclusion – perhaps the only integrated whole, is the human being, who is a little bit of everything collected from the place of its birth to its place of education and work to its place of death – a little of everything!

Hence, when people ask me if I am a Chistian or a Hindu, a Bengali or Chinese, indeed even a Punjabi(!), all I do is laugh. You must too.

Getting There:
State: West Bengal
Nearest city: Kolkata
Bandel Local Train from Howrah Station, Kolkata, West Bengal.
Take an Autorickshaw from the station to the church. Fare Rs 150 return.

Writer Sarat Chandra's House in Bandel

Vidyasagar lives on in the village girls going to school

....and he who takes us around

Mango grove on the way to Sarat Chandra's house

Source: Historical Sketch, The Prior, Bandel Churh, Hoogly P.O, West Bengal, Pin: 712 103


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