Restored colonial Currency building of Kolkata - now reused as an Art gallery cum museum

Restored currency building 2019, Kolkata

 No doubt heritage is an integral part of Kolkata which has been a cosmopolitan city since the time of colonial rule.  It has the largest number of colonial structures of fine architecture and beauty and invariably most of them were used to house  government offices. The  central business district  the B. B. D. Bagh (formerly Dalhousie Square)   will stand testimony to the epithet “City of Palaces” -  rife with mostly Gothic styled majestic buildings imparting supremacy of British rule in India.  The Currency Building  was built in  1833 during the time of William Bentinck  with the primary purpose of housing the Calcutta branch of the Agra Bank. 

One of the oldest buildings in this part of Kolkata what was then known as the White Town, in  1868, the Raj changed it into  the Office of the Issue and Exchange of Government Currency,  functioning under the  Controller of the Currency.  The RBI  - the Reserve Bank of India   used it from 1935 until 1937 as its first Central office. The building is still being used and in 1994  the government had a proposal to pull it  down  and build a new one. Fortunately,  the building survived demolition.  A few decades ago neither the public nor the government officials  gave priority to structures older than 100 years  and their conservation.  Nor did they ever think about renovating them for the posterity.  In 1996 the Central Public Works Department, despite protests  initiated its demolition.  Quite furious over the demolition of the  the heritage building in the central district, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and the INTACH  immediately intervened.   After some deliberation and discussion the ASI - the Archaeological Survey of India was entrusted with conservation work. Unfortunately, by that time the iconic  domes of the building were gone. This being due to official apathy which is deplorable. 

The Old Currency building  renovated recently  and it took pretty long time - 2005 to 2019  to renovate it. At last it was dedicated to the nation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 11 January 2020 after a long gap of one quarter of a century.  


Currency building of Kolkata in ruins prior to 1998

restored Currency building, Kolkata, WB.

Above image:  The Currency Building of  Kolkata,  a three-story Italianate structure, consisting of floors covered by marble and Chunar sandstone is one of the oldest building in the Dalhousie Square.  Its main entrance has  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 through which  sunlight  could defuse  and light  up the interior.  The plot  where the  Currency Building stands  now was  originally owned by  the Calcutta Auction Company, which had  its  office there till 1825. In the same year British mercantile company bought the plot and built the currency building in 1833. In 1886 when the recession was on   large chunk of the building was sold to the imperial government that was  searching for  a suitable building to house  the first Presidency office of the currency department. The restoration was done with meticulous care, in particular the dilapidated wooden stairway and wall plastering.  As a safety precaution,   the  vault of massive masonry is lined throughout roof and floor with iron; further, a six inch thick  iron door  closes this room. ''The additional protection includes  a second iron door and  a massive iron grating.” In 1998 itself it was considered a monument of national importance .......................

Museum at Old Currency building Kolkata, WB.

Above image: Covering three   floors, this building is   back to old charm and glory,  now serving as  an art gallery-cum-museum that honors the very history of the city.  The Delhi Art Gallery, along with the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), have brought a lot of exhibition materials to the Currency Building. for display.......................................

Museum at old currency building, Kolkata

 Old Currency building Kolkata,

Converted into  a Museum - Ghare Baire, the exhibition showcases art,  history and growth of  Bengal from the eighteenth to the twentieth century.  Organized by the Ministry of Culture through DAG Museums, a private entity with rich experience in curating art, the library was  reopened to the public again after a long break on account of   COVID-19  pandemic.  

The admission  is free and the exhibits on display here cover   200 year history of  various aspects and for the students and connoisseurs it is educative and instructive. Ms.  Sumona Chakravarty, deputy director of DAG Museums, told The Hindu,    “We have taken care to make art as accessible as possible that’s the USP of this show. The accompanying captions explain every work in a manner that’s easy to understand,”  This unique exhibition - Ghare Baire  is about the culture of this vast  region based on the novel by Tagore  the film (of the same name) by Satyajit Ray. Kolkata being a cosmopolitan city for decades the art forms  cover both local  traditional arts along with modern ones with the passage of time. 

Non Bengalis can enjoy the museum as bilingual timelines on the walls give a detailed  account on the growth and  development of art in Bengal.  Practically,  the works of  every artist associated with Bengal are on display in the museum. also included are numerous paintings of great value. 

A rare and distinctive feature  of this exhibition in the  historic  Currency building  is   artists  are allowed to  set up their studio within the museum and are given a chance to exhibit their artistic skills and their improvisation.  The museum provides a platform to retain and cultivate the art and culture of this region so that the next generation of artists  can pick up the thread and take them to a  a higher level.    Kudos to the authorities in particular, Ms. Sumono Chakravarty.