You must have read several blogs and articles regarding Achipur so why would you go ahead and read this blog? To start with I took around two years to go through several reference documents and trying to understand the logic behind this whole sugar industry in the first place. There are two different aspects to this blog post. One would be the Chinese temple and the person in whose name the locality is named. Secondly to understand the sugar trade and commerce and its global impact during the times of East India Company and Great Britain as a whole.
Location of Achipur Chinese Temple
This place is located near Pujali which is around 5 kilometers from Budge Budge station. It’s located right next to the Hooghly River on the banks very near to Pujali Guest House. If you are heading towards Pujali then you take the left around 500 meters before you reach the river banks at Pujali.
You will be able to see a signboard pointing towards Chinamantala from where you need to take the road towards left and go for another 1.5 kilometers and you will find the Achipur Chinese Temple to your right.
People of the locality are well aware of the Chinese temple thus if in doubt just ask any shopkeeper and they will point you in the right direction.
One thing that I want to draw your attention is the exact name of the place “Chinamantala” which means the locality of the Chinese man.
How to Reach Achipur Chinese Temple
If you take the local train from Sealdah then you need to catch any train going to Budge Budge and you need to get down at the last stoppage at Budge Budge. From the station, you can take shared auto or motorized vans going towards Pujali.
If you are coming by car or motorcycle then from Taratala drive straight taking Sampriti Flyover and reach Budge Budge.
What to see at Achipur Chinese Temple
The temple itself is historic which is set to be originally built in the year 1718 (as mentioned on the top of the entrance). However, this date is very much doubted and it is generally believed that the first Chinese settlement in this locality was around 1780. Thus there is a clear difference of around 60 years.
Chinese merchants and laborers got in their cultural traditions into the country and as with any religion built their temple at Achipur. As per the local Chinese oral history the temple was built by a businessman named Atchew who built a sugar mill here.
The temple structure is relatively new and built over the land that once was part of the sugar mill.
As you enter through the main gate which has typical Chinse design you will find yourself in a large field that is used by the community for their religious festivities. Towards your right, you will find the main temple compound. As you enter through the small gate you will find one small room to your left which has a photo of Emperor God.
In the main temple compound, you will also find a large table which during Chinese New Year festivities are filled with offerings like whole roasted pigs, fruits, alcohol, etc. Families coming from Kolkata bring them as offerings.
The main shrine is in the center room where you can see many Chinese families praying. They pray to two deities made of wood. Unlike the temple structure, the deities are original from the time when the original temple was established.
The locals refer to these two deities at Khuda and Khudi which is male and female god. The Chinese however refer to these as Tudigong / Thu Tai Kung (Khuda / Dharti Pita) and Tudiphow / Thu Tai Phow (Khudi / Dharti Mata). Tudigong is revered as the “Lord of the Soil and the Ground” while Tudiphow is his consort.
On the right hand of the temple compound, you will find a resting area where the devotees do Kau Chim which is fortune telling with the help of small sticks. A devotee will pray and shake the container with these sticks and the one that stands out will have the fortune for the New Year.
Memorial of Atchew
Around one kilometer from the Achipur Chinese temple on the banks of Hooghly River, there is a memorial to Atchew. Since the Chinese have a tradition of ancestor worship thus don’t be surprised if you find hundreds of Chinese families visiting this memorial after they visit the Chinese temple. They usually pray here with incense sticks and give offerings.
When to Visit Achipur Chinese Temple
Visiting the temple one week after Chinese New Year is always recommended since then you will be able to see the temple as well as all the festivities associated with it. These festivities continue for nearly two to three weeks, especially on weekends.
The Mystery of the Atchepore Sugar Mill
Historically this place was officially recorded as Atchepore unlike the Achipur that we refer to it as now.
The first recorded history tells that a businessman named Yang Da Zhao who hailed from Guangdong province came to this locality and decided to settle down. This whole idea does not fit the storyline as any businessman would not get down from his ship at this locality which then must have been just cultivated land or just uninhabited land.
Yang Da Zhao was known by several different names here in Bengal and this was probably due to difficulty in pronunciation. The variations of names ranged from Yang Tai Chew, Atchew, Achhi, basically all these names sound the same when fused with the local dialect.
A businessman would always land at Calcutta to meet the Warren Hastings who was then the Governor-General of Bengal. Thus in all probability, he had directly come to the ports of Calcutta in 1778 somewhere near Fort William and not at Budge Budge.
Warren Hastings was then a very powerful and influential in the company and no commoners could simply have direct access to him. This puts to the fact that Yang Da Zhao must have had good connections within the company and for sure this was not his first visit.
The deeper mystery is why would Warren Hastings be suddenly be interested in starting a sugar mill in Bengal when he had his eyes on bigger business ventures. The only reason for this is a pure power play and business strategy.
Sugar that we now know of being white crystals and free-flowing was not available back then. It was brown sugar which was mostly available and in Indian native language this was referred to as “Shakkar”. There is a difference between Shakkar and Chini and over the centuries people have forgotten the difference and now sometimes refer to white refined sugar as “Shakkar”.
Shakkar is what we refer to as brown (unrefined) sugar while Chini is the white free-flowing sugar with its origin in China. Shakkar was also sometimes referred to as Khand. Another form of sweetener which was prevalent in India that time was Misri and was also knows as Rock Candy. Gur or Jaggery (sugarcane & date palm) was the most common form of sweetener as this was readily available around the country for centuries.
The markets in Europe were mainly supplied with sugar from the plantation of West Indies which was dominating the world sugar trade for Britain thus any shift would significantly help in boosting the profits of East India Company in the sub-continent.
Calcutta ports were already trading with Europe and America thus the shipping lines were well established. It was natural for the Bengal governor to look into new avenues for revenue.
Yang Tai Chew was already in debt as it can be clearly seen from the above letter written to Warren Hasting in the year 1782. He already had a debt of 13,000 Rupees sikka from Mr. Harris and wanted further extension of support in his business. This letter also mentions that he had already had a plantation in Omudpore and was dealing in Arrack which was a byproduct of sugar manufacturing. Thus the factory in Atchepore was not the first one to be run by him.
Yang Tai Chew was granted land near Budge Budge in the same year in June where he set up his mill with laborers from China.
Around 650 Bighas (260 Acres) were granted to him for setting up the sugar mill. This land however was leased from the Raja of Burdwan and carried an annual rent of 45 Sicca Rupees. Thus nothing was free if this annual rent was not paid by Yang Tai Chew then the Bengal government was subsidizing this on his behalf to the maharaja.
To run the mill 110 Chinese laborers were brought in who managed to produce 2000 maunds (74,648 Kg) of sugar from this mill initially.
Yang Da Zhao could not see many years of his sugar mill since he died in December 1783 just five years after he had landed in India in 1778
The Bengal Muscovado Sugar
The cost of muscovado sugar from Bengal was so cheap that if exported to the West Indies then it would have cost less than what it was from their locally produced muscovado sugar.
The most intriguing part of the puzzle is that the quality of muscovado sugar from Bengal was much inferior and had very little use in the markets of Bengal and the rest of India. There was a steady import of white sugar candy from China, the Philippines (Manila), and Java to India which were mostly sold in the local Indian markets.
As per written records, the sugar that was manufactured in Bengal especially in Atchepore were Muscovado Sugar which is not the bright and clear white crystal that we find in the market. These were raw sugarcane juice which was made into gur (jaggery) and then boiling them in large containers so that much of the water is evaporated and what remains is supersaturated sucrose. The hot concentrated liquid is first strained and then poured into small copper still. After boiling for some time it is left to cool and constantly stirred so that it is cooled and sugar crystals start forming. As the liquid cools raw sugar settles around the walls of the container whereas molasses drop out from the hole to a container. The molasses can further be distilled into making rum.
In Bengal especially in the sugar processing plants at Atchepore lime milk was also used to purify the sugar to give it a better color.
A byproduct of sugar making was Arrack and in a letter to Atchew writes to Warren Hasting about barely making any money selling a arracks and would need additional support.
To get so much heat the factories churning out sugar in Bengal will surely need a huge supply of firewood. Which in my opinion should not have been a problem considering the dense forest around the Gangetic delta region.
Unlike the slave used in West Indian sugarcane plantation and farms in Bengal, they needed cheap labor thus came the need of getting cheap labor from a foreign land who would not just work one day and leave the next. Having Chinese laborers working in the sugar factories were just perfect, they did not speak the local language and were far away from Calcutta thus would work dedicatedly for producing sugar.
Complain Regarding Bengal Sugar
Around 1792 – 1795 a formal complaint was lodged at the court in London to stop the import of Bengal sugar which in the complaint cited various malpractices in trade.
The main issue was that Indian sugar notably from Bengal was being imported to the markets of Britain and paying much less tax than their counterpart in the West Indies. The plantation in West Indies was suffering from massive infestations and was still paying the same duties to import refined sugar to European markets whereas Bengal sugar was being slowly injected to the European markets by using foreign ships and paying much fewer taxes and duties.
Sugar from Bengal was paying half the duty than what was paid by the plantation owners of West Indies and this made them furious. The West Indies were mainly colonies which were heavily depended on sugar export and were sometimes referred to as Sugar Colonies. Any shift in the supply chain will completely alter the viability of sustaining these colonies in Southern America.
If this sugar trade war did not stop then the colonies of the West Indies could collapse and indirectly hurt the economy of Britain in the long run.
On 15th of March 1792, a resolution was adopted in the Proprietors General Court “That sugar being the produce of the British Territories in the East Indies be received into this country upon equal terms with the sugar produced in other British plantations.” This was a big blow to the sugar industries of Bengal as they now no longer enjoyed the price advantage.
The collapse of the Atchepore Sugar Industry
In an advertisement on Calcutta Gazette dated November 1804 the entire mill at Atchepore was up for auction along with all its equipment. Thus the life of the Sugar mill just lasted around 25 years before being deemed unprofitable and being auctioned.
Also, there are no official records as to who ran and owned this mill after the death of Yang Da Zhao. With the taxes of Indian sugar pegged at par with sugar from West Indies plantations, it became unprofitable. Most of the Chinese laborers slowly moved into the main city of Calcutta which was then the de facto capital of undivided India and created their own Chinatown in the city.
They learned the native language and used their skills in carpentry, leather, dentistry, etc. and started thriving in their new homeland. Slowly none remained in Atchepore rather now we can call it Achipur but the generation of Chinese who remained back in the city never forgot their place of origin and still visit Achipur and its temple during Chinese New Year.
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