The Greek Cemetery of Kolkata

By Helen Abadzi

Presentation at Bengali Studies Conference
Georgetown University, Washington DC,  Around 2002

Press on the Photo to see more photos from the Archive on the Greek Community in Bengal

MAIN POINTS

 Main Greek trading routes at the end of the 18th century

Greek presence in Kolkata

Origin of early Greeks settled in Bengal

• Greek ‘refugees’ mainly from Philippoupolis (now Plovdiv in Bulgaria)

• Left Ottoman empire when Brits took over Kolkata

• Merchants of cloth, salt, jute, (kyratzides, they went too far for kiraya)

• Greeks spread to Dhaka, buried there also

• Some reached high positions – Panioty

• Community defunct about 1973

The community

Places in which Greeks settled or to which they traded

• Initially ‘a few peddling Greeks’

• Armenians were many more

• After 1-2 generations mainly intermarried with British, French, but also Indians

• The Philippoupolites might have disappeared, but in 1850 the Ralli brothers opened branches and brought employees

• Details sketchy because the archives of the community were lost

Greek churches

The Greek orthodox church “Transfiguration of the Savior” in Kolkata

• Church on Amratollah street since the 1700s

• “Transfiguration of the Savior” – since 1923 (now a mission) in Kalighat

• Small church inside the cemetery

Greek Cemetery Chapel. Photo: Deepanjan-Ghosh

The Greek cemetery

Entrance of the Greek Cemetery in Kolkata. Photo: Deepanjan-Ghosh

• Located at 105 Narkeldanga Main Road Crossroads Narkeldanga and Phulbagan

• About 2 acres, walled

• Surrounded by apartments

• Burials since late 1800s.

• Earlier gravestones brought there when Amratollah st. church was abandoned

• Named gravestones 108.

• Unnamed about 12

• Also dedications in the small church in the cemetery

Gravestones Description

Greek Cemetery in Kolkata.

• Rather small in size

• Community appeared to have modest means

• Older ones write long passages

• 20th century ones names and dates mainly

• Oldest since 1777, most recent since 1949

• About a third in Greek, many bilingual

Inscription features

Detail from a tombstone at the Greek Cemetery, Kolkata

• English: Sacred to the memory of…

• Biblical verses

• Comforting verses:

• “Safe in the hands of Jesus”

• Greek: Ancient language, homeric words

• Apparently a learned priest there in the early 1800s

• Causes of death – mainly unknown

Gravestone makers

Tombstone of Elizabeth, Greek Cemetery, Kolkata

• Swaries

• Dowling (sculptor)

• Impressive accuracy in letters

• Most stones and etchings lasted 220+ years

How they were deciphered


Ulysses in the Raj by Paul Byron Norris

• Most are clear despite 225 years for some

• One still undeciphered

• Some unreadable, but earlier accounts exist

• Asiaticus – British officer reported some

• Read during two visits

• Norris, P. 1992 «Ulysses in the Raj», BACSA, London

Interpretation Issues

Tombstones at the Greek Cemetery, Kolkata

• Family tree establishment difficult

• Many people had no last names in the 18-19th century

• About 12 graves stripped of name stones

• Some use conventions, signs long forgotten

• Got help from the University of Thessaloniki, notably Tasos Karanastasis

Significance for Greece

Portrait of a Greek trader in Kolkata

• Many families no longer exist due to the Asia Minor catastrophe

• Greeks exhume the dead after 3-4 years

• Such gravestones do not exist in Greece

• Insights to language of the period

• Migration patterns under Ottoman empire

Connections with the county?

Portrait of a young Greek lady in Kolkata

• They supported financially the Greek revolution against the Ottoman Turks

• Demetrios Galanos – translated Sanskrit texts and donated them to Greece

• Most others knew little about Indian Culture

SELECTED GRAVESTONES

Georgios Ioannis Draskoglu
One of the earliest Greek gravestones dated 1728 (written in Greek-Latin-Armenian), now in Rosario (Portuguese) Church – Kolkata,

Tombstone of Ioannis Draskoglou in 1728 in the Portuguese church of Kolkata

ΕΝΘΑ ΕΚΗΤΤΗΤΕΙ Ο ΔΟΥΛΟΣ
ΤΟΥ ΘΕΟΥ ΓΕΩΡΓΙΟΣ ΙΩ-
ΑΝΝΟΥ ΔΡΑΣΚΟΓΛΟY ΑΠΩ
ΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΥΠΟΛΗ

HIC JACET
GEORGIUS JOHANNIS
DRASCOGLU NATIONIS
GRAECUS EX PHILIPPOPOLE.
ANNO DOMINI
MDCCXXVIII Dies XX August

Ais dabanakar sadaganume
Drascoglou havidryans
hishadag vorti.

Alexis Argyris
(Founder of the Greek Community in Kolkata)

 Tombstone of Alexandros Argyris, Greek Cemetery, Kolkata

HERE LIES THE BODY
Of a Greek Merchant
AlexanderArgeery From Philipopoly
Who Departed this Life
The 5th of AUGUST 1777

Η ΔΕ ΠΛΑΞ ΣΩΜΑ ΚΑΛΥΠΤΕΙ
ΑΛΕΞΙΟΥ ΥΙΟΥ ΑΡΓΥΡΗ ΕΚ
ΠΟΛΕΩΣ ΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΥ ΕΥΠΑΤΡΙΔΟΥ
ΤΕ ΕΠΙΣΗΜΟΥ ΕΜΠΟΡΟΥ ΟΣ ΕΝ
ΜΠΕΓΓΑΛΛΑ ΕΜΠΟΡΙΚΟΝ ΑΥΤΩΝ
ΒΙΟΝ ΕΝ ΠΟΛΕΙ ΔΑΚΑ ΠΡΟΣ
ΚΥΡΙΟΝ ΜΕΤΕΣΤΗ ΤΟΥ Δ’ ΕΝ
ΚΑΛΚΟΥΤΑ ΝΑΟΥ ΚΤΗΤΩΡ
ΥΠΑΡΧΩΝ ΜΕΤΕΤΕΘΗΚΕΝ ΚΑΙ
ΕΝ ΑΥΤΩ ΕΤΑΦΗ
ΑΨΟΖ ΑΥΓΟΥΣΤΟΥ Ε’
This stone covers the body of
Alexios son of Argyris from
Philippoupolis, noble and
official merchant, who in
Bengal lifed a merchant life for
many years and went to the
Lord in Dhaka
Because he was the builder of the
church, he was carried to it and
was buried there.
August 7, 1777

Angeliki

 Tombstone of Angeliki, Greek Cemetery, Kolkata
ΠΝΕΥΜΑ ΜΕΝ ΑΓΓΕΛΟΙ
ΑΓΓΕΛΙΚΗΣ ΕΛΑΒΟΝ
ΤΟ ΔΕ ΣΩΜΑ ΤΟΥΤΟ ΣΗΜΑ
ΦΕΡΕΙ ΑΠΟΤΕΘΕΝ ΔΑΚΡΥΣΙ
ΔΑΚΡΥΣΑΝ ΟΡΦΑΝΟΙ
ΘΡΗΝΗΣΑΝ ΘΑΜΑ ΠΤΩΧΟΙ ΕΠΙ
ΣΟΙ Ο ΓΥΝΑΙ ΜΑΚΑΡΙΑ
ΠΡΟΣ ΔΕ ΚΑΙ ΘΕΣΠΕΣΙΑ
4 ΙΟΥΛΙΟΥ 1818
The angels have taken the
spirit of Angeliki and this
grave has the body, that
was laid with tears
Orphans cried, the poor
together cried on you
O blessed woman and also
wonderful
July 4 1818

Davidis
(Priest from Tbilisi)

Tombstone of Priest Davidis, Greek Cemetery, Kolkata
ΕΝΘΑΔΕ ΚΕΙΤΑΙ ΔΑΒΙΔΗΣ
Ο ΜΕΝ ΙΒΗΡΙΑ ΓΑΙΑ
Η ΠΑΤΡΑΔΙ ΤΙΦΛΙΖΗ
ΚΑΙ ΓΕΝΕΤΗΣ ΙΕΡΕΥΣ
ΟΝΟΜΑ ΓΕΩΡΓΙΟΣ
ΩΝ ΣΕΜΝΟΣ ΙΕΡΕΥΣ
ΚΑΙ ΥΠΟΥΡΓΟΣ ΤΟΥ ΕΝ
ΚΑΛΚΑΤΤΑ ΔΕ ΝΕΩ
ΑΠΕΘΑΝΕ ΑΩΗ ΙΟΥΝΙΟΥ ΙΑ’
Here lies Davidis
Who came from the land of
Iberia and fatherland
Tbilisi
And father was a priest
named Georgios
He was a humble priest and
caretaker of the Kolkata
church
He died June 12 1808

Eliza Georgiana

Tombstone of Eliza Georgiana, Greek Cemetery, Kolkata

To the memory of
Eliza Georgiana
The beloved wife of
Charles Brownfeld
She departed this life
On Saturday the 7th May 1842
Age 27 years and 7 days

Affectionate wife
A fond mother and sincere friend
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away
Blessed be the name of the Lord

Ah Dear Eliza! Sainted Shade!
Farewell! How vain are words the heart’s deep grief to tell.
Even tears and sighs scarce indicate my woe.
Yet these alone are left me to bestow.
Dear wife that never made thine husband wee
Till now thou sleepest the last dreamless sleep.
Thine image like the moon in winter’s night
Shall shed on life’s dim close sacred light
But neer more may this sad heart receive
The bliss thy living smile alone could give.

Mavroudis Kyriakou

Tombstone of Mavroudis Kyriakou, Greek Cemetery, Kolkata
ΣΩΜΑ ΜΑΥΡΟΔH ΚΥΡΙAΚΟΥ ΗΔΕ
ΠΕΤΡΑ ΚΑΛΥΠΤΕΙ
ΑΝΔΡΟΣ ΛΟΓΙΟΥ ΕΥΠΑΤΡΙΔΟΥ
ΕΚ ΠΟΛΕΩΣ ΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΥ
ΕΜΠΟΡΟΥ ΧΡΗΣΙΜΟΥ ΚΑΙ ΤΟΥ
ΠΑΡΟΝΤΟΣ ΚΤΗΤΟΡΟΣ ΝΑΟΥ
ΟΣΤΙΣ ΒΙΟΝ ΗΜΕΙΨΕΝ ΕΝ ΜΗΝΙ
ΔΕΚΕΜΒΡΙΟΥ, 10
1793 ΕΝ ΚΑΛΚΑΤΑ
This stone covers
the body of Mavroudis
Kyriakou, a man who was
literate, noble, from
Philippoupolis, useful
merchant and builder of the
present church, whose life
was rewarded on Dec. 10
1793 in Kalkata

Soteerios
(Challenge of Interpretation, Asiaticus – 1802)

Tombstone of Soterios, Greek Cemetery, Kolkata
ΒΛΕΠΩΝ ΑΝΘΡΩΠΕ [ΑΝΕ] ΟΤΙ
ΘΝΗΤΟΣ ΕΤέΧΘΗΝ
ΔΕ? ΥΠΟ ΤΗΝ ΠλΑΚΑ ΤΑΥΤΗΝ
ΝΕΚΡΟΣ ΕΤ΅ΕΘΗΝ
ΠΑΤΡΙΣ Η ΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΥΠΟΛΙΣ ΚΑΙ
ΠΑΤΗΡ ΣΤΟΓΙΟΣ
Ο? EI?? ΔΕ ΚΑΙ ΟΝΟΜΑ ΤΟΥΜΟΝ
ΖΗΤΗΣ ΣΩΤΗΡΙΟΣ
?? ΤΟΝ ΒΙΟΝ ΤΟΝ ΕΜΠΟΡΙΚΟΝ
ΜΕΤΕΡΧΟΜΕΝΟΣ
ΤΟΝ ΒΙΟΝ HΛΛΑΞΑ ΕΚ ΠΑΤΝΑΣ
ΚΑΤΗΡΧΟΜEΝΟΣ
17 ΜΑΙΟΥ 1793
O man, see and understand that
death will surely come. Therefore
on this tablet it is recorded that
Soteerios, whose native city was
Philippopolis and whose father was
Sogios pursued a commercial
calling in his life and died while
returning from Patna 17 May 1793
Dr. Helen Ambazi on the roof of the Greek church in Kolkata