While researching on places that one can visit while visiting Serampore I stumbled upon Henry Martyn’s Pagoda. Now both the things don’t match, first of all, why would there be a Pagoda in the middle of nowhere right at the banks of Hooghly River, and secondly why would a pagoda be named after an Englishman?
This place is located right next to the river banks at a place which is usually not frequently visited by tourists instead is a perfect spot for a quick smoke break. Especially during the monsoon season the small path narrows almost covered with the overgrowth of wild grass and shrubs is the only way to reach this place. So basically, this place is a perfect spot for snakes and when I saw one with my own eyes I initially freaked out.
Keep in mind that this problem only arises during the monsoon season and I am sure by winter and summer this place is perfectly fine to visit.
A Brief Biography of Henry Martyn
Born on the 18th of February 1781 at Cornwall he was an Anglican missionary who had come to India in 1806 during the time of William Carey. He started his journey from England on board the ship Union from Portsmouth.
The journey took nearly nine months and finally in April 1806 he reached Madras (Chennai). After that, the ship sailed to Calcutta (Kolkata) where he was met by William Carey and William Ward.
Missionaries were not particularly seen in a good light by the British in Calcutta and were prevented from starting their missionary work. For the British rulers of India, the missionaries were an indirect threat as they were into educating the local native population. Also, they were worried that converting them into Christianity can cause a stir within the native population and can backfire on the East India Company rule.
Sir George Barlow who was the acting Governor-General of India during that time also had objections to the scriptures being translated into native languages. He was more worried that this new introduction would distract the native population from their own beliefs and can cause factions within the community which will not be good for the Company.
Henry Martyn was a chaplain commissioned by East India Company thus their main objective was for him to preach the gospel to the English population and the serving men and did not approve of the fact for him to preach to the local native population.
He was thus taken to Serampore on the invitation of David Brown. Serampore then had already been a base for Baptist missionaries William Carey, William Ward, and Joshua Marshman. He stayed there for a couple of months.
In October Henry Martyn boarded a large boat that would take him upstream on Hooghly River towards Danapur where there was a military base belonging to EIC. Along with his friends’ ministers from the Baptist Mission were also there to wish him the best for the next leg of the journey.
Henry Martyn further traveled to the middle east from India to preach the gospel. After a brief illness, he died at the age of 31 on the 16th of October 1812 at Tokat (present Turkey).
Henry Martyn’s Pagoda
In Calcutta, he became friends with David Brown who had his house in Serampore at a place known as Aldeen House. So, Henry Martyn was invited by him to stay at Serampore at his house. Near his house, there was an old abandoned temple which was referred to as a pagoda instead by the missionaries. So, Henry Martyn went there to Aldeen House in Serampore and took shelter in that old abandoned temple which he made his home.
He spent considerable time here living in this abandoned temple and during his time had the experience of local cultures. This included visiting temples, debating with priests, and finding the local culture. What shocked him most was when he witnessed Sati being performed wherein the widow burnt herself along with the funeral pyre of her dead husband. He tried his best to stop but failed as he was stopped by the locals.
For Henry Martyn, this old abandoned temple was his home from where he prayed and worked with a local pundit to learn the local language.
However, his style of preaching and evangelism did not go hand in hand with the way of Baptist ministers of Serampore, and they often collided in their beliefs and method of preaching.
Since Henry Martyn was commissioned by East India Company to come to India so finally, he was asked to join the military station at Danapur.
For the last time, he along with few friends which included David Brown sat at the old temple and prayed for the next journey that would take Henry Martyn to Danapur and share the gospel with the Englishmen posted there.
Henry Martyn left but the old abandoned temple or the pagoda remained as it is as a memorial to his adventure in Hindoosthan.
Henry Martyn’s Pagoda Now
This place was very recently renovated but as usual, it was not maintained again you can spot plants that started popping up from its roof which if not taken care of will again damage the monument. With the renovation, the basic structure has been remade with lime plaster, bricks, and cement patches.
However, some portion of the original temple can still be spotted especially on the roof section. On some of the walls, terracotta pieces from the original temple have been plastered on the wall just to give us the feel of the original wall decoration that once adorned the wall.
While some portion of the roof remains some of it has not survived the time and it has been restored as it with the open sky visible.
Radha Ballav Temple
Coming to the origins of the temple which became a home for Henry Martyn was the original Radha Ballav Temple. Before you draw any conclusion as to why a Christian missionary captured a temple and made his home, I would suggest that you read the rest of the blog post.
The temple has its history and it all begun in a place called Chatra way back in 1577, Rudraram was a pundit (priest) who used to stay at his uncle’s house. His uncle was a worshiper of Kali and had a temple dedicated to the goddess.
Rudraram once wanted to worship Gouranga (saint) but was forbidden since it was a Kali temple. Heartbroken he left that place and reached Serampore where he meditated and adopted initiated into the Vaishnavism sect.
One day in his dreams he saw Radhaballav Jiu giving him instructions to locate a stone with mystic powers at Nawab of Gour. He found that stone and built an idol of Radhaballav with it. With that idol in place, he built a temple near the river banks. This is that very temple that we now refer to as Henry Martyn’s Pagoda
With the temple very near to the river banks and the uncertain change of direction of the river, it was in danger of being consumed by the river itself. So the new temple was constructed by Nayanchand Mallik in 1764.
Look wise it was similar to that of the original temple that we now know as Henry Martyn’s Pagoda. The new temple was a much bigger Atchala temple with a Natmandir in the front.
Aldeen House Seerampore
This place has its history since this was the building in which William Carey along with William Ward and John Marshman started educating 37 students initially in the year 1818. Later they shifted to what we now know as Serampore College.
I tried to visit this building but due to the overgrowth of weeds and wild grass, this place is not accessible during the monsoon season.
Location Henry Martyn’s Pagoda
This place is located next to Serampore Waterworks (Jol Kol). To access this place, you need to park your vehicle at the playground (Jalkal Math). You need to walk the rest to reach the monument. As you will be able to notice there are several huge water storage tanks all around this area belonging to the water treatment plant. This is probably the reason this place is infested with snakes and during the monsoon, the narrow path leading to the monument completely gets covered up.