GUWAHATI, April 29 � The June12, 1897 earthquake with a magnitude of 8.7, caught the then Guwahatians unawares. It destroyed almost all the pucca structures of the town and brought in a vast change in its topography. This earthquake, named the Great Assam Earthquake or the Assam Earthquake, had occurred in the afternoon.
Noted writer Kumudeswar Hazarika told this correspondent that when the massive jolt struck, a Muharram tazia party was performing on the Bail Road (now named M C Road after Manik Chandra Barooah), in front of the Barowari house of late Barooah. Barooah was partially paralysed following a heart attack and he was sitting on the verandah of his two-storey pucca house on an easy chair. Manik Barooah was the first member from Assam in the East Bengal-Assam Legislative Council. He was the man behind establishment of the Cotton College.
Hazarika said he was told by his grandfather the Late Mahendra Lal Barooah (1877-1966) that the house of Manik Chandra Barooah crumbled under the impact of the earthquake, while those performing tazia in front of his house under the leadership of his close associate Bokri Miyan of Company Bagan area (now Ambari), started running helter-skelter shouting �Allah ho Akbar.� The residents of the Bail Road localities also shouted �Haribole Haribole� fervently. Manik Barooah was shifted to the Barowari Naamghar site, which was an open space then, by his brother-in-law (younger brother of his wife) Kanak Lal Barooah, a 25-year-old youth then, who later became a renowned historian, said Hazarika, referring to his maternal grandfather, Mahendra Lal Barooah, who was 20 years old then.
The late Kanak Lal Barooah and his younger brother late Mahendra Lal Barooah were then staying with Manik Chandra Barooah following the demise of their father.
In the wake of the devastation caused by the earthquake, Manik Barooah had to stay with his brother-in-law (husband of his sister-in-law) late Satyanath Bora for some time. Later he shifted to his newly built single-storey pucca house, constructed at the same site. This house was dismantled by the Barooahs in the early 1930s and later, Manik Barooah�s nephew Tarun Chandra Barooah built the famous Fatick Kutir at the same site.
Under the impact of the 1897 earthquake, big trees were uprooted, roads developed cracks and craters, while hundreds of birds were seen flying in the sky. All pucca structures, except the North Brook Gate (now Gateway of Assam), some portions of the Kamrup Treasury Office, its adjacent Kamrup Records Room (Mahapeshkhana) and the District and Session Judges� Court, were reduced to ruins by the earthquake.
Ferry services between Guwahati and other parts of the State and the country remained suspended for several days after the earthquake. Ferry services were the only means of long-distance transportation in the State at that time.
The Aswaklanta Devalaya in North Guwahati was destroyed and the Ugratara temple in Jorpukhuri Par area was also extensively damaged under the impact of the earthquake. Lord Curzon, at the instance of his wife Lady Curzon, released a government fund and paid from his pocket too, for rebuilding the Aswaklanta Devalaya, while with the financial assistance got from late Rai Bhuban Ram Das Bahadur, the Ugratara temple was repaired. Rai Bhuban Ram Das Bahadur was the second Assamese member of the East Bengal-Assam Legislative Council.
The earthquake did not cause any major damage to the Kamakhya temple and the Umananda temple.
The imposing structure of the first church of NE region � Christ Church � which was inaugurated on October 26, 1845, on the western part of the Judges� Field and designed like an English church, was also reduced to rubble by the 1897 earthquake. It was rebuilt at the same site between 1901 and 1903 with a new shape, Hazarika said.
However, the archway of the Uzanbazar Pokighat, now Mathura Mohan Barooah Ghat, which was destroyed by the 1897 earthquake, was not restored.
This earthquake also led to the subsidence of the Strand Road (now Mahatma Gandhi Road) between the Sukreswar hillock and Bharalumukh. Subsidence also occurred in the Bhangagarh area and several parts of Guwahati, effecting a vast change in its topography.
The earthquake delayed rail communication between Guwahati and Lumding by three years. The newly built Guwahati Railway Station was flattened by the earthquake and cracks developed on the rail track near the station. This part of the track was laid to connect Lumding with Guwahati by rail.
It needs mention here that the rail track from the western part of the country was extended to Amingaon in 1911, while from Lumding, the track was extended to Guwahati by 1900.
The then Viceroy of India Lord Curzon had visited Guwahati in 1900 to take stock of the impact of the 1897 earthquake.