Monday, June 26, 2017

The Kafla Police Outpost Of Cuttack Is An Old Monument With A Very Interesting Past!

Cuttack was the principal trading town and center of British colonial administration in Odisha. With layers of history deeply embedded in every winding lane of the old city, there are many interesting forgotten landmarks from the period of nearly 150 years of colonial rule.  These old structures are the trademarks of art and culture left as a British lineage, and many still remain. A few of them are symbols of nationalism in those erstwhile times.

 

After the takeover of Cuttack by the Crown, the city began to attract communities of merchants and indigenous professional classes. It also became a locus for migratory laborers. Cuttack was soon transformed from a small settlement to a prosperous commercial city and expanded in all directions. The island cities were a delta and all movement from and away from the City were possible only after crossing the Mahanadi. There were many ghats that were used by traders, travelers and the pilgrims. The ghats had amenities for the travelers; however most of them have not survived the frequent flooding that occurred.

 

The Kafla Police Outpost is one such old monument with a very interesting past. Very few denizens of the city know about its history. Today it can be assumed that it is the oldest surviving police station in the State, the one at Pipili, which was established in 1803, was demolished and a new building made.  The Kafla outpost has been a landmark of the place for nearly a century and half. Today this crumbling edifice stands just 200 metres from the Ring Road embankment near the CDA.

 

The Kafla Bazar was set up in 1817 and was a busy intersection for traders and merchants. The place was grain and produce exchange, where merchants could gather to go across the Mahanadi river for getting goods and produce from the other side. The Kafla bazar was particularly the market for gur (jaggery). Jaggery was a vital commodity, as besides for human use, it was also used in construction. The lime plaster used copious quantities of jaggery.

 

Kafla is an Arabic word for Caravan. As the place was away from town, and there were hostile animals, the traders would normally go and come in groups. Bullock carts would form long trails for safety. There were many instances when tigers and leopards would swim from across the Mahanadi and attack these pack animals. This grouping together was called as Kafla by the local Muslim traders and the name struck. The settlement grew slowly as it was a flood plain. The traders would wind up their business before nightfall and make their way back to the city.

 

The building was one of the post Great Famine structures; it was set up sometime between 1872-75 C.E.  The recommendations of the Famine Commission were implemented with a lot of sincerity. The lack of infrastructure was one of the reasons attributed to the great famine. In the period 1870-1890, a lot of structures were made. Canals were dug for inland transportation, roads and bridges were improved and many storage and warehousing buildings made. The Kafla structure too is a product of this period.

 

In its long chequered history, the building has been variously used as a shelter house for pilgrims, as a store for jaggery and as a market for agricultural produce before it was converted into a Police Outpost under the Lalbag Police Station sometime at the turn of the last century.

The impressive structure is built in typical British Colonial style building with a  veranda running all around. There are two large halls. The kitchen outhouse, on the right, in presently in ruins. There was an old well, which is now disused. The large pond behind the building was used by the locals for years. The six arched veranda is impressive even today. The two height roof and the raised platform of the building must have been grand in earlier days.

 

Stone blocks, bricks and lime mortar were used for the construction. The roofs were originally wooden beams which were later changed to iron ones.  The entire building is plastered. The place was originally very near the Ghat of the Mahanadi. It was a thickly wooded area, swampy and with wild animals.

 

The building is in a decrepit state. There is vegetation growing from the walls and the roof, resulting in cracks. The roof beams have rusted and peeling plaster and exposed brickwork give it a picture of general decay and neglect. In spite of its precarious condition, a contingent of policemen stays in the building.  A huge ancient banyan tree looms over the building. If it crashes down, it will spell the doom of the structure.

 

The Kafla Outpost is another old building which has seen transformation with the years. The Odisha Police is considering demolishing the old structure and it has been declared unsafe.  The State Convener of the Indian National Trust of Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Shri Amiya Bhusan Tripathy,  is of the opinion that the Kafla outpost  has immense heritage value and can be easily rescued with proper conservation.