Chandannagar French settlement, now a sub-divisional town in the district of Hughli, stands on the west bank of the Hughli River. 35 km away from Calcutta, it was formed of three old mouzas viz Khalisani, Boro and Gondolpara and its area was about 9 sq.km including the chhitmahal of Gourhati. Mankundu and Chandannagar railway stations on the Howrah-Bandel Railway line serve the town. The grand trunk road passes through it. Unlike other European colonies, Chandannagar was well known for its prosperous trade even before the advent of the foreigners.
The town is mentioned in Manasa Mangal and Kavi Kankan Chandi. Trade in articles like lac, wax, saltpetre, cane, timber, sandalwood, textiles, silk and spices flourished at Chandannagar. The town got its name either from sandalwood (chandan) or from its presiding deity Boraichandi or Mangalchandi. This Farasdanga (Frenchland), the nickname it earned through its French connection, was famous for its handloom products. Hindus of different castes, Muslims, Europeans and Armenians inhabited it.
Duplessis, a French entrepreneur, first landed here in 1673. He built a warehouse and stayed up to 1676, but could not prosper. The land was in Muhammad-Aminpur in Hughli Chakla, owned by the Bansberia-Sheoraphuli Zamindars. In 1688, a farman was obtained and a factory was built by the French at Gourhati. In 1697, Deslande built Fort D'Orliens, which stood near the present Laldighi and was destroyed during the Anglo-French war. In 1736, Demas, the governor of Pondicherry procured a nawabi farman authorising the French minting of gold and silver coins. In 1731, Joseph Francis Dupleix, the new governor, acquired lands from zamindars and extended the town from Taldanga in the north to Gourhati in the South. The city was administered by a council consisting of a governor-director and 5 members, besides 15 traders, 2 doctors, 1 artisan, 2 clergymen and 103 soldiers, of whom 20 were Indians. In 1909, there were 2000 brick-built houses and a population of 26,831. The European area had a convent, the fort, the river-port, the residence of the governor, the Thistle Hotel, the church of St Louis built in 1726, a beautiful palace at Gourhati, and a strand along the river. In 1757, before the battle of Palashi, Robert Clive halted here to confirm whether Mir Jafar would betray sirajuddaula on the battlefield.
Chandannagar had well-established cottage industries producing textiles, silk, shola, conch-shell articles, etc. The French started a jute mill on the riverside. Besides St Louis Church and Tibet Mission Church, there were an older Boraichandi temple and about a hundred Shiva temples. Jagatdhatripuja was always the most popular festival of Chandannagar.
Whenever an Anglo-French war broke out in Europe, its repercussion was felt in the subcontinent in general and Chandannagar in particular. Dupleix was involved in a number of battles and was defeated in most of them. The French, however, got back the city after peace was restored in Europe. With its moat, river and stable administration it was well protected against the Maratha attacks. A town with good civic amenities, it attracted many Europeans and Indians.
The spirit of the French Revolution influenced the town and in 1792 a local revolution forced the governor to flee to Gourhati for sometime. Being outside British control it sheltered many revolutionaries and freedom fighters, as well as debtors and outlaws. It was the asylum of revolutionaries like Kanailal Dutta and Motilal Roy. The latter founded here an association named Prabartak Sangha aiming at the freedom of India, religious devotion and development of industries.
Chandannagar became a part of the Indian Union through a referendum held in 1949. The town still retains some of its former character, with Roman Catholic Churches, powerful trading communities and some good English-medium schools. [Pritimadhab Roy]