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Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday (January 12) renamed the Kolkata Port Trust after Bharatiya Jana Sangh founder Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, at an event to mark its 150th anniversary.

History of Kolkata’s port

In the early 16th century, the Portuguese first used the present location of the port to anchor their ships, since they found the upper reaches of the Hooghly river, beyond Kolkata, unsafe for navigation.

Job Charnock, an employee and administrator of the East India Company, is believed to have founded a trading post at the site in 1690. Since the area was situated on the river with jungle on three sides, it was considered safe from enemy invasion.

After the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1833, this port was used to ship lakhs of Indians as ‘indentured labourers’ to far-flung territories throughout the Empire.

As Kolkata grew in size and importance, merchants in the city demanded the setting up of a port trust in 1863. The colonial government formed a River Trust in 1866, but it soon failed, and administration was again taken up by the government.

Finally, in 1870, the Calcutta Port Act (Act V of 1870) was passed, creating the offices of Calcutta Port Commissioners.

During World War II, the port was bombed by Japanese forces.

After Independence, the Kolkata Port lost its preeminent position in cargo traffic to ports at Mumbai, Kandla, Chennai, and Visakhapatnam. In 1975, the Commissioners of the port ceased to control it after the Major Port Trusts Act, 1963, came into force.

Natural challenges facing Kolkata harbour

The Kolkata port is the only riverine port in the country, situated 203 km from the sea. The river Hooghly, on which it is located, has many sharp bends, and is considered a difficult navigational channel. Throughout the year, dredging activities have to be carried out to keep the channel open.

The Farakka Barrage, built in 1975, reduced some of the port’s woes as Ganga waters were diverted into the Bhagirathi-Hooghly system.




On January 10, the Ajay Devgn, Kajol and Saif Ali Khan-starrer ‘Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior’ released in theatres. Directed by Om Raut, the film is based on the story of Tanaji Malusare, the 17th-century Maratha warrior and general of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

Malusare is known for his role in the Battle of Sinhagad (1670), which he fought under the Maratha flag against the Mughals, losing his life in the campaign.

What was the Battle of Sinhagad, and why is Tanaji Malusare remembered?

In 1665, as Mughal forces led by the Rajput commander Jai Sinh I besieged Shivaji at the Purandar fort in Deccan, the latter was forced to sign the Treaty of Purandar. Under the agreement, Shivaji had to hand over important forts to the Mughals, including Purandar, Lohagad, Tung, Tikona, and Sinhagad (then called Kondhana).

Of all the forts surrendered to Jay Sinh the most important was doubtless Sinhagad, for it was looked upon as the capital of the western regions and a key in the hands of those who had to govern them. Purandar ranked next to it. That is why Jay Sinh had insisted that Sinhgad should be the first to be handed over by Shivaji personally… He who possessed Sinhgad was the master of Poona

As part of the treaty, Shivaji had agreed to visit Agra to meet the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, which he did in 1666. Here, Shivaji was placed under house arrest, but was able to make a daring escape back to Maharashtra. Upon his return, Shivaji began to recapture the forts ceded to the Mughals under the treaty.

To retake Kondhana (Sinhagad), the Marathas deputed Tanaji Malusare a trusted general of Shivaji, and his brother Suryaji. The fort at the time was held by the Mughal commander Uday Bhan Rathod.

In the early hours of February 4, 1670, Tanaji with around 300 soldiers successfully captured the fort, but lost his own life. “A large number headed by Suryaji remained concealed near the main gate and Tanaji himself with his selected followers scaled the walls by means of an iguana and opened the gates by putting to the sword the few sentries that came out to oppose him… A sanguinary action ensued in which both sides lost heavily including their leaders Tanaji and Uday Bhan (sic). The fort was captured and a huge bonfire announced the result to Shivaji at Rajgad

Shivaji, who is known to have grieved Tanaji’s loss heavily, had the fort Kondhana renamed ‘Sinhagad’ in the general’s honour (‘Sinh’ meaning ‘lion’). A bard named Tulsidas was commissioned to write a ‘powada’ (ballad) for Tanaji, and this literary work continues to be popular in Maharashtra.



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