Achipur Chinese Temple and Sugar Trade


Achipur Chinese Temple and Sugar Trade

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.

Direction Signage to Chinamantala at Achipur
Direction Signage to Chinamantala at Achipur

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.

Entry Gate to the Chinese Temple at Achipur
Entry Gate to the Chinese Temple at Achipur
The Temple and the Land around It Is Owned and Maintained By Hee Hing Church And Club Located In Tiretti Bazar
The Temple and the Land around It Is Owned and Maintained By Hee Hing Church And Club Located In Tiretti Bazar
Back Gate of the Chinese Temple at Achipur (Note the Date as 1718)
Back Gate of the Chinese Temple at Achipur (Note the Date as 1718)

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.

Open Ground In Front Of the Temple Compound at Achipur Chinese Temple
Open Ground In Front Of the Temple Compound at Achipur Chinese Temple
Lion Dance Being Performed In the Open Ground during Chinese New Year at Achipur Chinese Temple
Lion Dance Being Performed In the Open Ground during Chinese New Year at Achipur Chinese Temple
Lion Dancers Paying Tribute before Entering the Main Temple Complex at Achipur
Lion Dancers Paying Tribute before Entering the Main Temple Complex at Achipur
Lion Dancers Paying Tribute before Entering the Main Temple Complex at Achipur
Lion Dancers Paying Tribute before Entering the Main Temple Complex at Achipur
The Small Room to the Left with Photo of Emperor God
The Small Room to the Left with 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.

Main Courtyard inside the Temple Complex at Achipur
Main Courtyard inside the Temple Complex at Achipur
Roasted Whole Pig as Offering during Chinese New Year at Achipur
Roasted Whole Pig as Offering during Chinese New Year at Achipur
Members from the Kolkata Chinese Community at Achipur
Members from the Kolkata Chinese Community at Achipur
Indian Tradition of Offering with Two Hands Adopted By the Local Chinese Community
Indian Tradition of Offering with Two Hands Adopted By the Local Chinese Community
Burning of Incense Sticks by the Chinese Community at the Chinese Temple in Achipur
Burning of Incense Sticks by the Chinese Community at the Chinese Temple in Achipur
Burning of Incense Sticks by the Chinese Community at the Chinese Temple in Achipur
Burning of Incense Sticks by the Chinese Community at the Chinese Temple in Achipur
Offering To the Gods Which Will Be Burnt
Offering To the Gods Which Will Be Burnt
Paper Money Being Burnt Symbolizing That the Ancestors Will Revive Them in the Heavens
Paper Money Being Burnt Symbolizing That the Ancestors Will Revive Them in the Heavens

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 Main Temple Housing the Two Deities at Achipur Chinese Temple
The Main Temple Housing the Two Deities at Achipur Chinese Temple
These Two Deities Are Supposed To Be the Original Ones Installed By Atchew When the Sugar Mill Existed
These Two Deities Are Supposed To Be the Original Ones Installed By Atchew When the Sugar Mill Existed

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.

Tudigong / Thu Tai Kung (Khuda / Dharti Pita) and Tudiphow / Thu Tai Phow (Khudi / Dharti Mata)
Tudigong / Thu Tai Kung (Khuda / Dharti Pita) and Tudiphow / Thu Tai Phow (Khudi / Dharti Mata)
Chinese Families from Kolkata Praying to the Gods at Achipur Chinese Temple
Chinese Families from Kolkata Praying to the Gods at Achipur Chinese Temple
A Devotee Lighting UP Incense Sticks at Achipur Chinese Temple
A Devotee Lighting UP Incense Sticks at Achipur Chinese Temple

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.

Kau Chim Fortune Telling at Achipur Chinese Temple
Kau Chim Fortune Telling at Achipur Chinese Temple
Chinese Families Enjoying a Meal Together At Achipur Chinese Temple
Chinese Families Enjoying a Meal Together At Achipur Chinese Temple

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.

The Broken Gate on the Left Takes You to the Memorial of Atchew
The Broken Gate on the Left Takes You to the Memorial of Atchew
Memorial of Atchew at Achipur Right Next To Hooghly River
Memorial of Atchew at Achipur Right Next To Hooghly River
Memorial of Atchew at Achipur Right Next To Hooghly River
Memorial of Atchew at Achipur Right Next To Hooghly River
The Memorial Plaque Reads as Yang Da Zhao Which Was the Real Name of Atchew
The Memorial Plaque Reads as Yang Da Zhao Which Was the Real Name of Atchew
Chinese Families Paying Their Tribute to Atchew as a Part of Ancestor Worship
Chinese Families Paying Their Tribute to Atchew as a Part of Ancestor Worship
Lion Dancers Paying Their Tribute at the Memorial of Atchew at Achipur
Lion Dancers Paying Their Tribute at the Memorial of Atchew at Achipur
Lion Dancers Paying Their Tribute at the Memorial of Atchew at Achipur
Lion Dancers Paying Their Tribute at the Memorial of Atchew at Achipur
Beautiful View of the Hooghly River from the Memorial at Achipur
Beautiful View of the Hooghly River from the Memorial at Achipur

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.

Extraction of Sugarcane Juice in India (Hand Painted in 1822 – Public Domain)
Extraction of Sugarcane Juice in India (Hand Painted in 1822 – Public Domain)

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 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.

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.

Reasons for using East India Sugar Published in 1828 Favouring East India Sugar Which Was Free from Slave Labour (Courtesy British Library)
Reasons for using East India Sugar Published in 1828 Favouring East India Sugar Which Was Free from Slave Labour (Courtesy British Library)
Extracts from Reasons for using East India Sugar Published in 1828 (Courtesy British Library)
Extracts from Reasons for using East India Sugar Published in 1828 (Courtesy British Library)

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 CourtThat 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.

Calcutta Gazette November 1804
Calcutta Gazette November 1804
Calcutta Gazette November 1804 – The Advertisement for Auction of Atchepore Land and Other Properties
Calcutta Gazette November 1804 – The Advertisement for Auction of Atchepore Land and Other Properties

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.

Other Blogs on ChinEse in Kolkata

Chinese Temples and Churches of Kolkata
Chinese New Year in Kolkata
Dragon Boat Festival
Lion Dancers of Kolkata
Chinese Lion Dance Show in Kolkata
A Chinese Breakfast in Kolkata
Elder’s Day in Chinatown
Opium War – Leather Boots – Calcutta’s Chinatown

References

British Library Archive
The Telegraph Archive
Reasons for using East India Sugar
Bengal District Gazetteers: 24-Parganas
Khaleej Times

3 thoughts on “Achipur Chinese Temple and Sugar Trade

  1. Namaskar. Subhodip, please allow me to respectfully contest your opinions on Sharkara, Chini, etgc. It is sad and ironic that a child of Gauda-Banga can be so ingorant of his own cultgure and antecedents. I have studied the Sugar Date Industry in Bangabhumi, all my life. I am a plant physiologist, with an initial training in the political economy of peasant wars in Asia, which is very germane to the present discussion.

    Have you read Robinson’s work on the date sugar industry, re-published by the WB Govt. as well as Harold Annett’s monograph on the subject, published in a Gazette. I shall happily discuss with you your uninformed ASSERTIONS regarding REFINED SUGAR. DO you know the history and technology behind refined sugar in India?

    As a bangali, you know what bir khandi, kodmA, elachdana, arfe do you not? As well as what mishri is? Do you consider them refined sugar or not? Khanda is the origin of the English CANDY!

    There is a vast amount of work done about the sugar date economy of Bangabhumi. You are correct that the nagri gur, condensed fro date sap, was first treated with pond weed, to extract the brownish sugar called Sharkara. As well, molasses or chita gur, drained out the bottom oif whatever container was beibng used. Aspects of this technology were even adopted by the Europeans, who created sugar cones, from which molasses was removed by centrifugar force.

    But the sharkara, ritually pure since no animal bone charcola was used, was further refined by dissolving in water, and recrystallizing as pure white sugar, albeit in lumps, hence, birkhandi, kodma, and the like. There is a economic calculus, as to why flowing, crystal sugar was not hugely popular.

    I shall take you through each step, including the prices of Java sugar created by slave labor, and European beet sugar, by the year 1869, at Calcutta Port. There are so many complexities to this story that facile conclusions, drawn from the etymology of CHINI, are painful. Do you know you are born in the culture that CREATED SUGAR nad REFINED SUGAR, at that? Is it not the typical bangali atttiude to name anything superior as being derived from a foreign source?

    Examples: the very bangali mangom called bombai and bhuto bombai. Patnai this that and the other. Bojrai golap, i.e. Bashra rose. Biliti aamra, Spondias mombin, that has never been seen in Bilet, that heaven for all bangalis like you. Patnai chaal, patnai this or that. Batapi lebu may or may not be correct, depending on what lebu is being described and at what stage of its domestication and use; it can both be batapi, Batavia, as well as complex hybrids of Citrus jambhiri, with an array fof different parents. Read the Israeli literature on the origins of the true citron.

    But enough. More details of the date sugar industry if you wish. Why not go to some of the places where this refiend sugar originated, and understand the nitty gritty? Ah Chee, and Ahcheepur are fine, but like Devdutt Pattnaik, please do not get your head screwed worng.

    Like

  2. One thing that keeps people from visiting Achipur is that they do not know how to reach there. The blog post gives you direction so that you can reach Achipur.

    The writer has done good research on Achipur before writing. The pictures are excellent.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.