Currency Building

The Currency Building is an early 19th-century building in the B. B. D. Bagh (Dalhousie Square) central business district of Kolkata in West Bengal, India. The building was originally built in 1833 to house the Calcutta branch of the Agra Bank. In 1868, it was converted for use by the Office of the Issue and Exchange of Government Currency, an office of the Controller of the Currency under the British Raj. From 1935 until 1937, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) used the building as its first central office. The building remained in use, and was used at one time by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) as a storehouse. Authorities decided to demolish it in 1994.

Currency Building
Three-story building, viewed from the street with trees in the foreground
Currency Building, viewed from B. B. D. Bagh (formerly the 'Dalhousie Square')
Former name
Agra Bank
Agra and Masterman's Bank
Currency Office
Reserve Bank of India
Old Currency Building[1]
Established1833 (built)
1868 (Currency Office conversion)
2020 (post-renovation dedication)
LocationOld Court House Road and Surendra Mohan Ghosh Sarani, Lal Dighi,
B. B. D. Bagh (Dalhousie Square),
Kolkata, West Bengal, India
Coordinates22°34′14″N 88°21′01″E / 22.57056°N 88.35028°E / 22.57056; 88.35028Coordinates: 22°34′14″N 88°21′01″E / 22.57056°N 88.35028°E / 22.57056; 88.35028
TypeMuseum
CuratorDAG Museums
National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA)
Public transit accessKolkata Metro Rail Corporation Logo.svg Mahakaran
Calcutta Tramways Company (logo).gif B. B. D. Bagh

From 1996 to 1998, the CPWD undertook demolition; but the building was saved from being completely demolished by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. In 2003, custodianship passed to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which renovated the building from 2005 to 2019. On 11 January 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi formally dedicated and reopened it as a museum.

The Currency Building is a three-story Italianate structure, consisting of floors covered by marble and Chunar sandstone. Its main entrance features a three-part gate made of wrought iron and Venetian windows. The building's central hall, now an open-air courtyard, was formerly topped by three large domes with skylights. During its use as a currency office, the central hall contained the exchange counters for banknotes, gold, silver, and small change. During the building's renovation, the central hall was reorganized into a space for open-air programmes.

Geography and settingEdit

 
Vehicles in front of the Currency Building main entrance at B. B. D. Bag, June 2022.

The Currency Building is located at 11B on B. B. D. Bagh (which is Kolkata's central business district, formerly known as Dalhousie Square), at the intersection of Old Court House Road and Surendra Mohan Ghosh Sarani.[2][3][4] The building's main façade faces west toward B. B. D. Bagh.[2][5] The Lal Dighi water tank is located approximately 100 metres (330 ft) northwest of the building, the Mahakaran metro station on Kolkata Metro Line 2 and the B. B. D. Bagh Tram Station are immediately west,[2][6] and the Hooghly River is approximately 660 metres (2,170 ft) west.[2]

HistoryEdit

Bank headquarters and currency officeEdit

Calcutta served as the capital of the British Raj from the 18th century until 1911, when New Delhi became the capital.[7] During Calcutta's tenure as capital, Dalhousie Square was the city’s financial, social, and political center.[7] The plot in Dalhousie Square, on which the Currency Building now stands, was originally the site of the Calcutta Auction Company's office building.[8] In 1825, the Agra Bank[a] acquired the plot,[8] constructing, in 1833, during William Bentinck's tenure as governor general, the present-day building to house its Calcutta branch.[14][15][16] The Agra Bank ceased operation in 1866.[12][b]

 
Currency Building, while occupied by the Currency Department

In 1868, the imperial Controller of the Currency converted a large portion of the Currency Building for use by the Office of the Issue and Exchange of Government Currency, after which it became known as the Currency Building.[14][15][16] The Calcutta Mint sent silver coins to the currency office, to maintain a working reserve of currency, while the bulk of India's silver was held in Fort William.[18][19] In addition to issuing and storing coinage, the Indian government also utilized the building for the issue of paper currency.[20] Between 1889 and 1890, the Bengal government improved the building's drainage, as part of its maintenance of Calcutta's civil buildings.[21]

Following the establishment of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on 1 April 1935,[22] the Currency Building served as RBI's first central office from 1935 to 1937.[16][20][23] The RBI was established to regulate the issuance of banknotes, maintain reserves to secure monetary stability, and operate India's currency and credit systems.[24] In 1937, the RBI relocated its central office from the Currency Building to Bombay.[16][20][23] From 1937 to 1994, the building remained in use, but it suffered neglect. At one point it was used by the CPWD as a storehouse.[5][15][20]

RenovationEdit

In 1994, authorities decided to raze the Currency Building due to structural deterioration;[15] and custodianship passed to the CPWD, which planned to build a high-rise building in its place.[5][16][25] In 1996, the CPWD commenced the building's demolition.[15] The department had demolished the building's three large domes over the central hall before the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation intervened and halted demolition in 1998.[5][15][16] Custodianship passed to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 2003 and they took possession of the building in 2005.[5][15][16]

In 2004 and 2006, the World Monuments Fund included the historic buildings of Dalhousie Square on its World Monuments Watch to garner funding and support for local conservationists to preserve the square's buildings.[7][26] Propelled by this watch-listing, the Government of West Bengal promised to preserve the district's buildings.[7][26] In 2009, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation approved a graded list of historic landmarks, which listed the Currency Building as a Grade I heritage building.[27]

ASI was entrusted with the Currency Building's conservation and restoration, which was led by a technical team of engineers and archaeologists.[5][15][16] It took two years to remove demolition debris and then commence the building's restoration by repairing and reconstructing the demolished portions around the building's central hall.[16] The project was delayed due to a shortage of workers skilled in lime plastering.[16] By 2019, ASI had an exhibition space and bookshop in the Currency Building.[4]

Museum and event spaceEdit

 
Photographs of Satyajit Ray by Nemai Ghosh
 
Interior exhibition space

Following the building's restoration, the Currency Building hosted a jute and silk exhibition organized by India's National Jute Board in 2019.[5] On 11 January 2020, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi formally dedicated the Currency Building as a public museum to the nation at its reopening ceremony.[15] It was one of four restored colonial buildings in Kolkata to be dedicated by Modi, along with Metcalfe Hall, Belvedere House, and the Victoria Memorial.[1][25][28]

The building's reopening marked the start of its inaugural art exhibition, Ghare Baire | The World, The Home and Beyond: 18th-20th Century Art in Bengal, which opened on 12 January 2020.[3][15] The exhibition was commissioned by India's Ministry of Culture, and was organised and curated by DAG Museums—a private art curation and education organisation—in collaboration with the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA).[3][15] According to DAG, the exhibition was "the first comprehensive showcasing of the art and artists of Bengal".[3] Entry to the exhibition is free.[15] The museum and exhibition were briefly closed due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.[15] In February 2021, two works of Abdur Rahman Chughtai, considered Pakistan's national artist, were displayed for the first time at the Currency Building as part of the Ghare Baire exhibit.[29][30] In January 2021, the Currency Building also served as an event space for talks given as part of the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival 2021.[31]

ArchitectureEdit

 
Open-air central hall

The Currency Building is a three-story brick structure, built in the Italianate style of architecture.[14][19] The building's arched roof is supported by iron joists.[14][20] Its floors are covered by marble and Chunar sandstone.[14][20] The main entrance, in the west-façade, features a three-part gate made of wrought iron,[14] and Venetian windows.[1][20][25] The building's central hall, now an open-air courtyard, was formerly topped by three large domes with skylights.[14][18] During the building's use as a currency office, the central hall contained the exchange counters for banknotes, gold, silver, and small change.[18][19] The second floor contained large, elaborately-finished rooms with Italian marble floors.[19] The third floor also featured Italian marble floors, and housed the residence of the assistant commissioner in charge of the currency office.[14][19]

The initial plan during renovation was to construct a glass roof over the central hall where the three domes were formerly located; however, ASI cancelled this plan and reorganized the central hall into a space for open-air programmes.[5] ASI installed motion-sensor-equipped glass doors to provide access between the central hall and adjacent interior corridors;[1][5] polished the windows and doors in the western wing; repainted the exterior façade white;[5] plastered the interior walls; repaired floors; restored decaying wooden staircases;[1][16] and overhauled the drainage system to mitigate seepage from the drainage lines of adjacent buildings.[1][16] During this project, ASI archaeologists uncovered evidence of an underground canal from the nearby Hooghly River, the water from which was used to cool newly-minted coins.[20]

ReferencesEdit

Explanatory notesEdit

  1. ^ The Agra Bank was established in 1833.[9] The Agra Bank became the Agra and United Service Bank, Limited, in 1862, and it subsequently merged with Masterman, Peters, Mildred, Birkbeck and Company, in 1864, and became the Agra and Masterman's Bank, Limited.[10][11] Agra and Masterman's Bank ceased operation in June 1866,[11][12] and in December 1866, all "property and effects" of the bank were transferred to Agra Bank, Limited,[12][13] which was reincorporated in 1867.[11] Agra Bank, Limited, continued operation until its liquidation in 1900.[11]
  2. ^ While sources differ on the year of the Agra Bank's failure (1866 or 1886) and on the year of the Currency Department's acquisition of the Currency Building (1868, 1886, or 1888), the Reserve Bank of India, the Court of Chancery, and statistician John Biddulph Martin state that the Agra Bank failed in 1866.[9][12][17]

CitationsEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f Madhukalya, Amrita (11 January 2020). "PM Modi to begin two-day visit to Kolkata, inaugurate 4 revamped buildings". Hindustan Times. New Delhi. Archived from the original on 16 January 2020. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d "Map centered on the Currency Building". Google Maps. 2020. Archived from the original on 19 December 2020. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d "Ghare Baire". DAG website. DAG. 2020. Archived from the original on 27 October 2020. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  4. ^ a b Lonely Planet 2019, p. BBD Bagh section.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Roy, Subhajoy (5 January 2019). "Currency Building, a Calcutta heritage, turns into an exhibition hub". The Telegraph. Kolkata. Archived from the original on 19 December 2020. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  6. ^ Chakraborty, Ajanta (24 February 2020). "Kolkata: After work for 29 months, station structure ready at Mahakaran". The Times of India. Mumbai. Archived from the original on 27 February 2020. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d "Dalhousie Square". World Monuments Fund website. World Monuments Fund. 2021. Archived from the original on 24 November 2020. Retrieved 3 April 2021.
  8. ^ a b Chaudhuri, Drimi (31 May 2015). "Restoring glory of Currency Building". Deccan Chronicle. Hyderabad. Archived from the original on 31 December 2020. Retrieved 22 December 2020.
  9. ^ a b "Museum: The Advent of Modern Banking in India, 1720 to 1850s". Reserve Bank of India website. Reserve Bank of India. 2020. Archived from the original on 31 December 2020. Retrieved 22 December 2020.
  10. ^ Mäkitie 2016, p. 36.
  11. ^ a b c d Jones 1995, p. 403.
  12. ^ a b c d Hemming 1870, p. 730.
  13. ^ "No. 23192". The London Gazette. 30 November 1866. p. 6695.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h "Monuments". Archaeological Survey of India, Kolkata Circle website. Archaeological Survey of India, Kolkata Circle. 2020. Archived from the original on 18 September 2020. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Ghosh, Bishwanath (14 December 2020). "1833 building that escaped demolition is now a goldmine of art". The Hindu. Chennai. Archived from the original on 19 December 2020. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "ASI steps to restore 200-year-old Currency building in Dalhousie". The Economic Times. Mumbai. 20 February 2015. Archived from the original on 9 April 2021. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  17. ^ Martin 1879, p. 678.
  18. ^ a b c Suhrawardy 1936, p. 74.
  19. ^ a b c d e Cotton 1980, p. 744.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h Singh, Shiv Sahay (11 February 2015). "Restoring value to the Currency Building". The Hindu. Chennai. Archived from the original on 7 May 2020. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  21. ^ Administration of Bengal 1890, pp. 207–208.
  22. ^ Kisch, Cecil (1949). "Review 'The Monetary Policy of Reserve Bank of India' by Rohit". The Economic Journal. Oxford. 59 (235): 436–438. doi:10.2307/2226888. JSTOR 2226888.
  23. ^ a b "Kolkata Regional Office of the Reserve Bank of India Profile". Reserve Bank of India website. Reserve Bank of India. 2020. Archived from the original on 19 December 2020. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  24. ^ "Milestones". Reserve Bank of India website. Reserve Bank of India. 2021. Archived from the original on 8 March 2021. Retrieved 28 March 2021.
  25. ^ a b c Times Travel Editor (11 February 2015). "3 colonial structures restored in Kolkata; PM to do the re-dedication". The Times of India. Mumbai. Archived from the original on 18 September 2020. Retrieved 19 December 2020. {{cite news}}: |author= has generic name (help)
  26. ^ a b "A tale of two cities". Deccan Herald. Bengaluru. 2 July 2011. Archived from the original on 15 March 2017. Retrieved 3 April 2021.
  27. ^ Kolkata Municipal Corporation 2009, pp. 4 & 46.
  28. ^ Press Information Bureau (11 January 2020). "Prime Minister Dedicates Four Refurbished Heritage Buildings in Kolkata to the Nation" (Press release). Delhi: Press Information Bureau. Ministry of Culture. Archived from the original on 19 December 2020. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  29. ^ Dasgupta, Priyanka (13 February 2021). "Pak artist's paintings on display at Kolkata expo". The Times of India. Mumbai. Archived from the original on 14 February 2021. Retrieved 28 March 2021.
  30. ^ "Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Pakistani artist". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 17 September 2018. Retrieved 28 March 2021.
  31. ^ "While some of the talks will be held at the newly renovated Heritage Currency Building under strict COVID-19 safety protocols, others will be conducted in a live streaming format". Outlook. New Delhi. 22 January 2021. Archived from the original on 23 February 2021. Retrieved 28 March 2021.

BibliographyEdit

External linksEdit