Neelkuthi: a surviving trace of history of indigo cultivation in Bengal


West Bengal has many little known places of tourists' attraction. One of such is a vestige of a 'Neelkuthi' (Indigo house) in a village Gunutia in Birbhum district. Anyone visiting the spot will feel the existence of then crying Bengal.

We are proud of our state, West Bengal, which has many popular places of tourists' attraction including some of international fame like the Sundarbans, Darjeeling, etc. Apart from the well known and popular tourist destinations, there are many very little known places scattered in this state. One of such spot is a vestige of a 'Neelkuthi' (Indigo house) in a little known village named as Gunutia in Birbhum district. Indigo planting was introduced by the East India Company in Murshidabad, Nadia, Birbhum, Bankura and Burdwan districts. It spread very rapidly because of its high demand in Europe.

Historical account of Indigo planting in Bengal

Planting of Indigo plants ('Neel' in Bengali) in then undivided Bengal dates back to 1777. It is told that Louis Bonnard was probably the first Indigo Planter in Bengal. The representatives of British rulers forced the cultivators of Bengal to plant indigo instead of paddy or other food crops. With the flourishing of Indigo trade, 'Indigo houses' or 'Neel Kuthi' came up which were built by the administrators of East India Company. During that period, if any farmer refused to grow indigo, he used to be tortured, even women and children were also not spared and the crop, other than indigo, used to be burnt or destroyed. As a consequence of constant pressure to cultivate indigo instead of food grains, the farmers were compelled to revolt. The play 'Neel Darpan' written by Dinabandhu Mitra reflected the incidences of pressure and torture by the British administration and the feelings of the peasants of Bengal towards the British indigo planters.

About Neelkuthi in village Gunutia

Some of my relatives live in a village named as Noapara near Sainthia in Birbhum district. Once I visited the place when I came to know from them that there was a vestige of a 'Neelkuthi' (Indigo processing house) situated very close to that village. I became interested to have an experience of visiting that place of historical importance. My relatives as referred gladly accepted my proposal and they planned a visit on the same day. In the afternoon, we started for the place with great curiosity. It took about one hour to reach the place by walk. On reaching the spot, I was shocked to note that the place of such historical importance which was a witness of torture by the British rulers was going to be destroyed owing to negligence. The dilapidated structures which are still in existence are not getting any attention of the authorities. The property is now under private ownership and there is no maintenance of the diminishing structures including the old houses, 'Neel' processing units, the tombs of the then British owners, etc. There are also many rare plants in the compound.

Location and Direction to reach

The 'Neel Kuthi' is located at the village 'Gunutia' by the side of the River Mayurakshi near Ramnagar under Mayureswar Police Station at Rampurhat Subdivision in Birbhum district (Lat. 23083" N, Long.87083E) . It is accessible from Sainthia by Ramnagar bound Public Buses or by car, hired cars are also available.

Conclusion

My aim of sharing my experience in this article is to attract the attention of readers interested in our history and also the authorities for conservation of this invaluable asset of historical importance which is the eye witness of tears of the farmers of Bengal. Any person who will visit the spot will definitely feel the existence of our then crying Bengal.


Attachments

  • Pic-1. Inside of Neekuthi (170177-1-Pic-1.-Inside-of-Neekuthi.docx)
  • Pic-2. Tomb on the grave of the British owner (170177-2-Pic-2.-Tomb-on-the-grave-of-the-British-owner.docx)
  • FIG 1 (170177-3-FIG-1.docx)
  • FIG 2 (170177-4-FIG-2.docx)
  • FIG 3 (170177-5-FIG-3.docx)
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    Comments

    Author: Partha Kansabanik19 Aug 2016 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 3

    This article has made me nostalgic. I visited the Neelkuthi way back in 1992. I went to Sainthia by Shantiniketan Express from Howrah, and from Sainthia I took a local bus (not in a very good condition) to Gunutia. As the author has stated, the Neelkuthi was in a dilapidated condition. The Archaeological Society of India or the State Government's Archaeological Department has done absolutely nothing to preserve the historical building. I have also seen Neelkuthi near Palashi in Nadia district. In that case also, the Kuthi was in dilapidated condition and the Archaeological Departments have done precious nothing. With the passage of time, the painful history of Bengal regarding Neel cultivation will be lost forever. The Tourism department of the State Government can also develop the area to make it a tourist destination, but no such effort has been made so far.
    Thanks to the author for this well-written article depicting an almost-forgotten chapter of Bengal's history along with two snaps which have helped me to refresh my memory cells.

    Guest Author: Dr.TK.CHATTERJEE19 Aug 2016

    I am very glad and honoured to note that my observations in the article have appealed at least one reader.

    Author: Venkiteswaran09 May 2017 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 12

    I got to visit and read this article today. This article opened new information to me. I was not aware, not even heard of, 'Neel Kuthi".

    The concluding sentence (which is also given in the summary)- "Any person who will visit the spot will definitely feel the existence of our then crying Bengal." stirred my curiosity to know more.

    But let me tell frankly "I am disappointed". Though I made a search on the internet for about more than half an hour, I did not get much useful information that could quell my desire for knowing more in this regard.

    I found mostly the same stereotype repetitions as if copy paste in almost all the sites which had described "Neel Kuthi". This article also suffers from some such defects.

    However, for those who have not heard about Neel Kuthi, let me write what little I gathered.

    "Neel Kuthi" is are (at present) simply the remnants of some unique buildings which are of historic importance of a bygone era in West Bengal. Hence those who are interested in history and the relics of the past visit those whatever presently available buildings of Neel Kuthi which are now mostly dilapidated and crumbling. If not fully destroyed.

    Neel means blue. Kuthi - is an office building of an organisation. Neel Kuthis were the office cum processing yards cum godowns of the business of natural blue (Indigo) dye making which was then unique to Bengal.
    History says that the Indigo plant cultivation started from 1777 (as also stated in this article. The Indigo plants procured from the cultivating grounds were brought and processed in the front yards of Neel Kuthi. The processed dye powder was stored in the many storage rooms in the Neel Kuthi building. The front part of the building was used as the office of the business. The business prospered till the 1850s.

    History is that in 1859 there was an uprising event of 'Indigo revolt" by the Indigo cultivators against the financial exploitation, suppression and subjugation and torture the indigo cultivators suffered from the 'planters'. Helped by the landowning people, the cultivator riots rose up in revolt against the existing subjugations, compulsions and debt traps they were put to. They refused to grow indigo plants and even stopped doing that.

    The revolt ended after some time when British government set up a commission and they allowed the riots right of choice whether to cultivate indigo or not. They found that the planters were wrong and guilty of exploitation and subjugation pressures. During the revolt, the cultivators were ruthlessly tortured by the planters. Most cultivators stopped growing indigo plants from then. By and by the indigo plant cultivation and natural blue dye making came to end in Bengal. Thus a business which was said to be as 'blue gold' ended leaving only memories mostly of exploitation.

    The Neel Kuthis are also gone and a few which remained got turned into other uses with alterations or demolished and land used for other uses and constructions.

    A few relics now serve as tourist monuments for those who are interested. Many of them are under private ownership also.

    It is the Indigo revolt and causative tortures that the article alludes by saying 'then crying Bengal".

    Guest Author: Tapan Kumar Chatterj10 May 2017

    Thanks a lot for the honest criticism. This will definitely guide me in future. The part of history is very helpful.



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