Gerasim Lebedev – Pioneer of Bengali Theater

Calcutta (Now Kolkata) is known as Intellectual Hub, specially for Films, Music, Literature, Theater and other art forms. When we talk about Bengali Theater, one name automatically comes in mind, Gerasim Lebedev also spelled Herasim Steppanovich Lebedeff. He was the first man who founded “Bengali Theater” or “Bangalee Theater” here in Calcutta in the year of 1795 and it lasted for another two years before he left India in December 1797. In the history of Bengali Theater, he was the first man who used Bengali Actor and Actresses for staging a theater. The theater hall he established in Ezra Street (25 Domtala Street) is no longer existing now. In the year 2009, a Marble tablet has been installed on the location but on the actual place a huge building have made. So there is no scope to witness the heritage, only we can see the newly made marble plaque.

Marble Plaque on Gerasim Stepanovich Lebedev in Kolkata, India

Gerasim Lebedev(Herasim Lebedeff) (Born 1749-Died 1817) –  Lebedev was born in 1749 in Russia and is the first Russian who came to India with the intention to learn Indian Culture. He was a gifted musician and he played the violin and other instruments. A pioneer of Indology, he came to India and first started to live in Madras (Now Chennai) and then in Calcutta. His total years of stay in India was fourteen and he stayed ten years in Calcutta. He started learning Indian Languages Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali and he learned Sanskrit and Bengali from a local teacher in Calcutta name Goloknath Das and in exchange he had to teach  Goloknath Das violin and European Music. Lebedev took help from a Russian Doctor, in those days, the doctor had practiced here in Calcutta. During his stay in Calcutta, he translated Paul Jodrell’s The Disguise and Love Is The Best Doctor in Bengali and he formed Bengali Theater to stage those plays. Before his formation of Bengali Theater, there were public theaters in Calcutta. But they were not for the Indians because earlier public theaters were performed by the Britishers and all were English Theaters. The initiative what Lebedev took was to establish a theater for Bengali Speaking Indians and with the help of some local intellectuals he introduced European-style proscenium drama theater. Even he is the first man who introduced  European-style proscenium theater in India. His sympathetic stance for the Indians (Native or Black Indians) that was enough to make British Administration annoyed. British Administration was not happy with him and it was quite natural expression from Britishers. He lost a court case and British authorities expelled him from India. After those incidents, he was literally Bankrupted and left India in the year 1797.

But he didn’t stop his works on Indology, upon his return from India to Capetown. In the year 1801 he published a book, one of the first grammars of the new Indo-Aryan languages (This book was focused on Spoken Indian Language) from London. He established first printing house (318 Yaroslav in Europe) to use Bengali script in the year 1802. He made an attempt to acquaint the educated circles of Russia with India’s rich heritage.

But all of his great works compiled and converted into a Black Stone Marble Plaque. We Indians have very good habit of spitting here and there and this Plaque is on the roadside. So all of you can understand the fate of the Black Stone in future.

Thanks to Sumit and Sammy for being a constant support to me. Special thanks to Priyanka and Rajasshree for tolerated me throughout the walk.

Source:- Indian Studies in Russia Gerasim Lebedev by Bertil Tikkanen & Albion M. Butters
Role of Theater and Folk Media in Promoting Social Development By B.Nag

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Bong Blogger is an individual traveler from Kolkata, India. Blog on Travel, Photography, Heritage, Adventure Sports, Music and many more.

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7 Responses

  1. VJ Sharma says:

    Good to know about Gerasim Lebedev !

  2. Wow… this is some great info… thanks for sharing dada… I love theatre btw 🙂

  3. svetlana says:

    Excellent information. Thank you for bringing Kolkata’s forgotten jewels back to life. Keep exploring and sharing.

  4. Oh! Thats some good info 🙂
    Marathi theatre is awesome too and I thoroughly enjoy it.
    And I sincerely hope that the Plaque will be spared by the paan-spraying community!

  5. Very beautiful blog and thank you for share great information about Gerasim Lebedev !

  6. Very interesting to know that the theatre in Bengal is the gift of Russian Gerasim Lebedev.

  7. Very interesting and truly informative. Appreciate your effort in educating the public about Kolkata’s unique heritage and culture.

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