Benefactors Of Pune - Part 2 -The Sassoons
David Sassoon was born in November 1792 in Baghdad. His father, Saleh Sassoon was the treasurer of Baghdad. He was a Baghdadi Jew by religion. Later on David Sassoon also became treasurer of Baghdad between 1817 and 1829. They were eminent citizens,and were given title of "NASI" meaning king of Jews.
However the new chief of Baghdad, Daud Pasha became tyrannical and started harassing rich people asking for ransom and gave life threats.The Sassoons fled Baghdad and came to Bombay in 1832. The young David first became agent between British Cotton mills and Gulf merchants. He quickly started his own Cotton business. At one time, he owned 17 mills employing 15000 odd people working from him. He quickly realised and shifted his focus to Opium trade where Parsees were already doing thriving business. He competed against 24 rival Parsee families in the trade with China. But he prevailed, succeeded and thrived. He amassed huge wealth by doing triangular trade between India- China-and England.
Sassoons earned the sobriquet of "Rothschilds Of The East". His large philanthropic activities started in his second phase of life, after he set up an Office in Shanghai in Prestigious Bund Area. He handed over the business to his son Elias Sassoon. His Contributions to Mumbai were many, like Sassoon Docks, Sassoon Liabray, Clock Tower Of Victoria Garden ( Jijamata Udyan), Magel David synagogue, Sassoon Schools, etc. He also then started his social activities in Pune. He had built three big houses in Pune,The Garden Reach at Wakadewadi, The Ashley House near Wadia College and one more. His Notable contribution to Pune can be summarised below.
The Sassoon Hospital:- Pune needed a large public hospital for treating people from large sections of society. He contributed a hefty sum of ₹2,50,000 for building of the hospital. The hospital was completed in 1867. Initially it was designed to take up about 145 patients. It had built in facilities required to run the place like, Laborotary, operating theatre, etc. Spiritual master Meher baba was born here. Also Gandhiji underwent a appendectomy in 1924. Sassoon hospital played a very important role during epidemic of plague in 1897, which swept through Pune. As the hospital patients grew in numbers, the need was felt for expansion. In the right time, Sassoon Hospital received another generous donation from Jacob Sassoon, the nephew of David Sassoon in 1903. This helped in adding the capacity of beds to reduce congestion. Adjoining to the hospital B.J. Medical School was set up in 1871, for medical education for natives. Today the hospital is a sprawling 1300 bed hospital with all modern facilities of diagnostics,surgical ,etc.with best faculty of doctors. It also works as training facilities for nursing . It is identified as the disaster control center for medical support for any major outbreak of epidemic or Pandemic, or medico legal issues of the city. Both David Sassoon and Jacob Sassoon have done a great service to Pune. (As an interesting fact Sir Jacob Sassoon was single largest individual donor to build Gateway Of India of Mumbai)
Niwara old age home for destitutes:- Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Justice Ranade,and others had been wishing to create a facility for unsupported old age fraternity in Pune. The initiative was further spearheaded by Sardar Kibe ,Sardar Natu, and others. At that crucial time, to realise the dream, funds were needed, when David Sassoon came forward and donated a handsome amount of ₹50,000 in 1863. His philanthropic gesture made the old age home a dream come true. The land was given by the Britisher W.Worte, who was revenue commissioner of the region.This land was given on the banks of Mutha river, in the Navi Peth area, near Thosar Paga. Today it is a large complex with British Architecture - (barrack type). It has nice lush greenery and serenity of a sanatorium than an Asylum. Appropriately named after the benefactor - David Sassoon in 1864, this center is equipped with its own physiotherapy and medical facilities and houses about 150 inmates.
Ohel David Synagogue:- Known in vernacular as "Lal Deval", this Jewish place of worship was the biggest synagogue in Asia outside Israel. Built with a clock tower, this impressive structure is bulilt in gothic style. This building was designed by British Engineer Henry Wilkins and is a prominent landmark on Moledina Road (Now Ambedkar Road).
In the growing phase of post Peshwa era ,a number of Jewish immigrants had come to Pune and settled in Rasta Peth area, which belonged to Sardar Raste (original surname was Gokhale). There was a Street called Jew Street in Rasta Peth. These Jews were mostly from Bene Israeli (Children of Israel) type of Jews. Other Jews are Kochin Jews, Baghdadi Jews , etc.also came here. David Sassoon built this synagogue for prayers and other Jewish rituals for Pune Jews.Built between 1863 to 1867 .This place is also important as this is where David Sassoon's tomb is located. He died in Pune in November 1864 and didn't survive to see the consecration of the synagogue in November 1867.
Puneites in general and Jew fraternity in specific, owe a lot to David Sassoon.