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Bhimili: lost in time and tide

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GRAVE STATE: The Dutch cemetery at Bheemunipatnam in a dilapidated condition even after it was taken over by Government of AP Archaeology and Museum Department.
GRAVE STATE: The Dutch cemetery at Bheemunipatnam in a dilapidated condition even after it was taken over by Government of AP Archaeology and Museum Department.

Sumit Bhattacharjee

Neglected for long, there is little today to boast of its glorious past

  • Destroyed twice during the Anglo-Dutch wars in 1781 and 1795
  • Hosts the oldest Christian cemetery in this part of the country

    VISAKHAPATNAM: For many reasons, the nondescript coastal town of Bhimilipatnam (now Bheemunipatnam) 24 km. north of Visakhapatnam finds its place in modern history.

    It was one among the major Dutch settlements in the 17th century; it had a flourishing port (with only remnants left today), the town was ransacked by the Marathas in 1754 and destroyed twice during the Anglo-Dutch wars in 1781 and in 1795. It also has the credit of being the second oldest municipality in the country and hosts the oldest Christian cemetery in this part of the country.

    Nothing remains today to boast of its glorious past except for a few cold granite tombstones that scream for some attention. The Dutch cemetery at Kummaripalem in Bheemunipatnam is regarded as the oldest Christian burial ground in this part of the country and the oldest tombstone of Frederick Kesslerus dates back to 1661. Today, apart from being buried in the detritus of history, the cemetery lies concealed under thick foliage and wild growth. "Some of the graves are on the verge of caving in and many of the granite tombstones have developed cracks. Most importantly, the site for the dead has become a public toilet," says Samuel Roberts.

    Futile efforts

    A retired officer of Chittivalasa Jute Mills (the mill was known to be operational since 1867 and had contributed richly to Bhimili's sea trade of yore), 73-year-old Roberts was the one who took the initiative to excavate, restore and retain the antiquity of the cemetery in 1992-95. Then it was the London-based British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (BACSA) that responded to his calls and funded him to do the good work. "But ever since it has been notified as heritage monument and passed under the care of Government of AP's Archaeology and Museum Department in 1999, the cemetery has become a subject of neglect. They would not allow me to work nor take up the matter, despite several reminders," he laments.

    Affected with paralysis, the frail Roberts says, " My health no longer permits me to run from pillar to post as I did earlier to get it restored. I can only shoot letters and reminders to the concerned. But I am pained by the lackadaisical attitude of the department. If we do not take care of our past then how can we relate to the future?" The eroded tombstones remind of a glorious settlement of yore and of people who rest here in peace, cut off from their motherland and forgotten. The other old Anglo-Dutch cemetery, the flagstaff cemetery, on the beachfront was vandalised by a few locals a couple of years ago in search of precious items.


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