In Kolkata, when people talk to you about the “Monument” they can only be referring to one thing, Shahid Minar. Located to the northeast side of the Maidan at the Esplanade and near the central bus terminal in central Kolkata, the Monument is amazing to see, especially when it lights up at nights. It is also known as the “Tower of Martyrs”. People come here for the tower’s history, national significance and the challenge of climbing it.
Shahid Minar or Shaheed Minar was erected in 1848 in the name of Major-General David Ochterlony, which is why it used to be called the Ochterlony Monument until 1969. He was the commander of the British India Company and the tower was built to commemorate his successful defense against invading forces. He led the East India Company armed forces to defeat the invading Marathas in 1804 and again against the Gurkhas during the Anglo-Nepalese War from 1814 to 1816. He didn’t build the structure but it was built for his honor and memory. Designed by J.P. Parker, it was constructed using public funds.
Through the years, the tower grounds became a popular site for demonstrations and political activities, specifically on the open field to the south of the tower called the Shahid Minar Maidan or Brigade Ground. The first political meeting was held in 1931 by Rabindranath Tagore, a leading Bengali writer who was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.
On August 15, 1947, India won its independence from Britain. In 1969, the Monument was renamed and rededicated by the United Front Government from being a memorial for Ochterlony to becoming a majestic reminder of those who fought and stood for India’s independence. It was named Shahid Minar, which translates to “Martyr’s Column” or “Martyr’s Monument”. Besides being an imposing landmark, the Tower of Martyrs is truly significant because it stands to remind people of their past struggles as a country to win national independence.
Today, people come here often, ready to face the challenge of climbing this 48-meter (157-feet) high tower. It has a serpentine staircase with a total of 218 steps that go all the way to the top of the tower. It has two balconies at the top for an amazing view of the city. But climbing the tower is not for the weak of heart. The last public figures who climbed it were the former governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi and his family.
This monumental skyscraper is truly a sight to behold. It is a combination of Egyptian, Syrian and Turkish styles of architecture. It’s specifically majestic in the evenings. However, if the local government won’t clean up the lower portion of the tower, tourists might hesitate visiting it. It is surrounded by people making their way to the central bus terminal and is almost always crowded and unclean.
Shahid Minar itself is well maintained. It is open to visitors every day from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. but the best times to come are from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon and 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free, although one has to first obtain a pass from the Deputy Commissioner of Police at the Lal Bazar branch. Taking photos is not allowed.