The erstwhile Curzon Hall and (right) the Nabin Chandra Bordoloi Hall which now exists in its place
It was about a visit of Queen Victoria’s representative to India Viceroy George Nathaniel Curzon. The Viceroy was to visit Gauhati – as the place was so known during those days – in the early days of 1900. A township with a population of merely 6,000, Gauhati was a small entity but the people of the town had great desire to offer a ceremonial welcome and a befitting felicitation to the Viceroy for more reasons than one. Firstly, his official position called for a somewhat elaborate event to be organised and secondly, people expected compensations to be offered by the Viceroy after assessment of the damage caused by the earthquake that had devastated the small town just three years earlier in 1897.
It was not an easy task to arrange such an event befitting a Viceroy’s status. Moreover, it was going to be a public affair and he was to be given a civic reception and not an official one. In other words, the occasion threw a great challenge to those who took upon themselves the task of organising the grand function that called for a considerable amount of money and effort.
But the manner of tackling the issue too was undaunting with a person as energetic and enthusiastic as Manik Chandra Barua at the leader of the committee that organised the event. With generous contributions coming from the people from Gauhati and the rest of the State, the event was meticulously arranged and held with great pomp and grandeur. The felicitation citations were prepared in three languages – Sanskrit, Assamese and English. The Sanskrit citation was read by Dhireswar Acharya, a noted Sanskrit scholar, the Assamese one by Satyanath Bora, a noted litterateur and the English one by Jagannath Barua, a tea planter from Jorhat who was known to be the first graduate from the upper Assam and was popularly known as BA Jagannath.
Late Manik Chandra Barua, a philanthropist, organiser and the person by whose initiative the legendary seat of learning Cotton College – now upgraded to a University – was established as the first college of the region merits the credit of success of this event. Another person whose contribution cannot be overlooked was that of late Bhuban Chandra Das.
One very interesting and encouraging offshoot of this event related to Lord Curzon’s visit was an amount of money that remained as surplus.
The committee unanimously decided that there could be no better way of using the money other than for the construction of a community hall with a library which was of great necessity for the civil population of the town. This is how the Curzon Hall and the library, the first of its kind, came up in 1903 almost next to the newly-constructed Assam type structure of Cotton college that had come into being just three years earlier.
The Curzon Hall, however, had to be shifted to another plot of land shortly because the newly started Cotton College had to be expanded and the government requisitioned the land and the original Assam type structure that housed the Curzon Hall for the purpose. A more spacious and better looking Curzon Hall was reconstructed on the western bank of the Dighalipukhuri.
It was in this hall that Sir Henry Cotton was given a warm felicitation in the year 1914 by the citizens of Gauhati. It was Sir Henry Cotton whose good offices made the dream of a college in the region come true. The establishment of Cotton College was a turning point in the history of education in the region. Sir Henry Cotton had a soft corner for the region and the convincing words from Manik Chandra Barua and Bhuban Chandra Das compelled him to listen to the demand of a college. Initially, Sir Cotton was in favour of building a hostel in Calcutta for the students from Assam but the establishment of a college at Gauhati changed the entire situation in favour of the students from the region.
It was not the people of Gauhati alone that took part in the felicitation event. Personalities from all over the region joined participated in the event. Next, in the year 1919, Rabindranath Tagore was felicitated in the same hall. The hall also witnessed the first book fair to be held in the entire region. On the occasion of the unveiling of the statue of Sahityarathi Lakshminath Bezbaroa, Singhapurush late RG Baruah organised an exhibition of books in 1951.
The Curzon Hall is laden with memories of many meetings that had social, political and cultural connotations. The first Bihutoli of Guwahati had its inception in a meeting held in this hall and the meeting that demanded a university for Gauhati also was held here. Again during the 1940s, May Day was observed for the first time in this hall where artists from the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) took part. Singers Hemanga Biswas, Dr Bhupen Hazarika and Dilip Sharma enthralled the audience during the cultural programme that included the May Day celebration.
The Curzon Hall was renamed as the Nabin Bordoloi Hall and Library in the year 1953, keeping in mind the contributions and sacrifice made by this doyen of the freedom movement and contributor to the socio-political and cultural aspects of Assam. The impressive Assam type structure that stands proudly on the western bank of the Dighalipukhuri continues to whisper stories about its glorious past to the visitors, onlookers and passers-by.