English cemetery, Surat, - 373 year old protected monument needs urgent renovation

 English cemetery  of Surat, Tripadvisor.com

During the heyday of the Mogul dynasty in the 17th century CE the East India Company merchants  after completing the formalities and protocols had settled down  in many towns in  western India  to carry on their trading activities and in some places they built settlements with factory and storage facilities. Among the western towns, Surat was  the most prominent one then because of its  easy access to the Arabian sea, besides availability of talented labor force. 

English cemetery- mausoleums and tombs. Surat. temples.vibhaga.com

English cemetery  of Surat, gujarattourism.com

English cemetery  of Surat, gujarattourism.com

Their business increased over a period of time and so was their population. The British cemetery  was built on the outskirt of the town  to meet the needs of  Britons settled in Surat. The cemetery has impressive big  brick structures  and stucco tombs highlighting the cordial  cultural and commercial relations the British merchants  had with the natives, besides political and mercantile trading aspirations of the English company. 

Location map Surat city, Gujarat.mapsofindia.com/

Dating back  to 1649, from the origin and the chronology of the tombs it is clear  that the design and architecture of the earliest tombs followed the  Indo-Islamic styles  with a view to be congruous with the local cultures of the  natives. However, we could  see a gradual change in the adaptation of the design style of the tombs in the 18th century CE with dominant western architectural features. It is obvious this modification and shift toward western style was  primarily due to the arrival of more  British  and growing political clout of the English company across India.   Changing architectural styles of the British tombs in the later years throws  light on the more influence of the EIC and the changing attitude of the local British population and foreign visitors to the city from the 17th to early 20th centuries.

English cemetery  of Surat, 

Because of trade competition among the European powers in Surat, they constructed  mausoleums over the graves  instead of tombstones. Funnily, resembling  large Muslim tombs, the Europeans were keen to adopt the local style to impress on the natives so that the  latter would feel at home with them.  

The English cemetery located  outside the city-wall (earlier known as 'Alampanah') near the Katargam Gate that came up during the earliest colonial period, is associated with  many famous names in the historical narratives of the English factory at Surat. No doubt, they also played a significant role in the growth and development of Surat city and its political history. 

According to the early ASI's  revised report -1912, there were  about 19 tombs in the English cemetery during that time and  many of which are still barely surviving today.  Also present  are a large number of simple tombs over the grave of less important persons with minimum decoration. But the ones that are grandiose in style get the attention of the visitors.

The Dutch and  Armenians  running trade and business here had a tough competition and needed a gimmick to impress on the natives. Strangely, the trade war among them reached a crescendo  and got the attention of the departed souls. Their preoccupation was as how   to build  fascinating mausoleums  over the graves incorporating both Hindu and Muslims architectural elements instead of simple tombs with epitaph and minimum decoration. Construction of large structures in the grave with embellishment gained currency as a mark of their political power and opulence. 

The Europeans failed to understand Thomas Grey's words ---- ''Paths of glory lead but to the grave''. No matter where the  mortal remains  of the dead were buried with a big mausoleum over them or not, positively  their eternal sleep in the serene and quiet grave yard would have been  disturbed because  the big  structures over the grave were built not out of respect  for the loved ones  but out of arrogance to serve their selfish needs - trade expansion. 

Adjacent to the British and Dutch cemeteries, the churchyard of the Armenians, another important trading community in Surat  from the 16th century looks different. Unlike the British and Dutch tombs, theirs  have heavy inscription without artificial superstructures  the British and Dutch built with ulterior motive. 

British cemetery, Suratcommons.wikimedia.org/

British cemetery, Suratgujarattourism.com
The cemeteries, now protected monuments, are being poorly maintained and they show  signs of slow death further aggravated by vagaries of weather and vandalism. Will the Gujarat government's tourism department look into it and renovate the historical British cemetery of Surat.