Gora Kabar

This Sunday saw an increase in the number of heritage lovers near the Barabati fort. There was intimation with many new faces who brought with them their own share of knowledge and love for Cuttack and its heritage. After a brief intro we departed for the Gora Kabar or White Man’s Cemetery as it is famously called. We were graciously welcomed by the President and Secretary in charge of the Cuttack Odia Baptist Church that oversee the management of Gora Kabar too. After a word of blessing by the Pastor, the President made us aware of the cemetery’s rich history.

The Gora Kabar, one of the biggest and oldest cemeteries in Odisha was set up by the banks of River Mahanadi on the outskirts of city then by the East India Company (EIC) in 1822. It is mainstream knowledge that by the end of 1803, the EIC had defeated the Marathas and captured Barabati. The presence of English officials and their families became significant after this occupation. Rev. William Bampton and Rev. James Peggs were the first English General Baptists Missionaries to arrive in Cuttack in 1822. They interacted with Sundernath Baba and his disciples in his ashram at Choudwar and found that they share a common goal. Infact, Gangadhar Sarangi, a Brahmin follower of Baba was the first to accept Christianity and his baptism took place in the Mahanadi River. Slowly, the followers rose from 7 in 1822 to over 209 by 1840s and by 1890s, the Cuttack Odia Baptist Church was already an autonomous church body.

The graveyard lies on a low level of plane and hence is under the mercy of elements. It becomes very difficult for the management to dig new trenches during the monsoons. Constant waterlogging and weathering have destroyed many plaques on tombs and many epitaphs are indescribable now. However the tombs are of exquisite designs ranging from plain slabs to spires, domed structures and pedestals with floral engravings. The site has graves even before the consecration of the cemetery. The oldest grave that I could manage to find was that ‘George William Wiggens’ who was Captain of the Bengal Establishment and died on 7th Jan 1808.

This site also has the Tomb of our Beloved Madhu Babu and the grave of Dr. William Day Stewart (founder of the Stewart school, died 1903). For years, Locals avoid the place at night attributed to ghost sightings and paranormal activities. Until recently, this deserted place was also used for nefarious activities by antisocial elements. Now the graveyard is kept locked and permission is required for entering it. This cemetery is primarily used by the Baptists and Catholics have their own space of cemetery adjacent to this Gora Kabar. Most of the tomb on the far side belongs to the colonial period but this cemetery is still a functional one with recent additions belonging to the year 2020 of the people who died of COVID.

A sense of wonder and respect comes to mind while walking around the place, awing at the grandeur of the colonial tombs but it quickly turns to sadness and deep sorrow when looking at the marble cross and plaques and imagining the tragic loss to the families of the deceased.

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