Murshidabad: The Land of Nawabs

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People studying Indian History will surely come across a place named Murshidabad. It was the hub of culture, aristocracy, wealth, extravaganza. It was the hub of architectural boom. West Bengal is probably the only place in the whole world to be influenced by 8 countries including Portugal, France, Armenia, Britain, etc.

Murshidabad was originally known as Muksudabad during early 18th century. One Mohammed Hadi, originally a deccan brahmin who was educated and converted to Islam by a Persian Merchant Haji Shafi and joined under Aurangzeb, the then Mughal Emperor of India. When the Bengal Subah needed a diwan, Md. Hadi was the first name that popped up in Aurangazeb’s mind. He generated a massive amount of revenue from Bengal which made Aurangazeb honour him with the title Murshid Quli Khan. Later he was sent to the Deccan region again by Bahadur Shah I and came back to Bengal as a deputy subehdar. He was appointed Nawab Nazim by Farrukhshiyar. During his reign, he shifted the capital from Dacca to Muksudabad and later the town on the banks of River Bhagirathi came to be known as Murshidabad.

Hazarduari, The face of Murshidabad
Hazarduari,
The face of Murshidabad

In 1790, under Lord Cornwallis, the entire revenue and judicial system was shifted to Calcutta leaving Murshidabad, the place which was said to be as prosperous as London, to rot in utter negligence. Today, the architectural giants stand tall, blotched and covered with the sorrows and triumphs of time, and dust. They still remind us about the glorious time it once saw and experienced.

  1. Hazarduari Palace: During the reign of Nawab Nazim Humayun Jah of Bengal, Bihar, Odissa, Hazarduari or Bara Kothi, as it was known earlier, was built to serve as the official residence of the Nawab during the period 1829-1837. The palace was built under the careful guidance of Col. Duncan Macleod of the Bengal Corps of Engineers. The foundation stone was laid by the Nawab himself on 9 August 1829.
    Hazarduari is located on the east bank of the River Bhagirathi which is ‘course an enviable location. It costed 1.8 million of Indian currency at that time to built the palace.

    H2
    The full expanse of Hazarduari

    As the name suggests, Hazarduari flaunts a huge number of doors, 1000 to be very specific, of which 900 are false. This was a strategy to capture invaders and protect the Nizam.
    Today Hazarduari houses a museum with a staggering collection of artifacts, paintings by renowned Dutch, Italian, French painters, Porcelain and Marble sculptures. The museum is open from 10 in the morning to 5pm. Two white Victorian lions, much like the ones at Trafalgar Square adorns the museum entrance. Photography is strictly prohibited inside the museum premises.

    The Victorian Lion and the Cannon
    The Victorian Lion and the Cannon


    Entry Fees: Rs. 10 for Indians and US $2 for the foreign nationals.The most spectacular artifact of the museum is probably the Huge Chandelier in the Durbar Hall. It is the second largest chandelier, first being the one that still hangs from the celing of Buckingham Palace.
    Hazarduari becomes more beautiful during the evening when it gets lit up by several lights. It is a sight to fathom while taking a boat ride on the River.

  2. Medina Mosque: There are two mosques in the campus ofNizamatKila. Medina Mosque still stands as a reminder of the oldImambara. Thatimambara was built by NawabSiraj-ud-Daullah which was completely destroyed by a fire on 23 Dec 1846. According to Maj. J. H. Tull Walsh,Suraj-v-Dowlah brought bricks and mortar with his own hands and laid the foundation of the building himself. It is said thatSiraj brought back the soil from Mecca himself, but without any rock-solid proof. This mosque is a single domed one with four minarets adorning around the dome. The outside is completely whitewashed and surely exerts a calmness.

    Medina mosque
    Medina mosque
  3. Clock tower: The tower was built just like Big Ben. The clock was visible from a distance, from the opposite bank ofBhagirathi to be precise. There was a Bell at the top which could be heard from a distance. But the clock tower is presently locked down. The clock doesn’t work anymore unlike Big Ben. But it still stands to remindus of the annoying inevitability of time.

    Clock Tower with the new Imambara on the background.
    Clock Tower with the new Imambara on the background.
  4. Nizamat Imambara: The present Imambara was built by Nawab Nizam Mansur Ali Khan in 1847 A.D. The Old Imambara which was destroyed in 1846 was replaced by this one. This mammoth structure houses another mosque at the centre just beside the Nahabatkhana. It is presently being renovated. So it was closed when I visited. The construction of the Imambara was supervised by architect Sadeq Ali Khan.
  5. Bachchewali Tope/Cannon: Literally, it means a Cannon that helps producing child. It is located just beside theMadina Mosque. According to folklore, the cannon was fired only once. That time it created a massive explosive sound around 10 miles radius. All the pregnant woman in the vicinity gave birth to their child at once. Thus the name.

    Bachchewali Tope
    Bachchewali Tope
  6. Chawk Masjid: Chawk Masjid or Mosque was founded byMunniBegum, wife of Nawab MirJafar in 1767 AD. the construction was administered by ShaikhKhalilallah. East India Company was quite fond ofMunniBegum. She fell into the category ofGadinasheenBegum, thebegums who were provided with separate allowances. The Mosque venue used to be the site ofChehelSatoon, the only forty pillared audience hall built byMurshidQuli Khan. It is located just beside theTripaulia Gate.

    The Chawk Masjid A fish seller on the foreground.
    The Chawk Masjid
    A fish seller on the foreground.
  7. Tripolia Gate: Tripolia gate translates to three gates. From many books on Murshidabad’s History like “Musnud of Murshidabad” or Bengal Gazettes during that time, it is evident that there used to be three gates which served as various entrance gates to the Nizamat Kila.
    The Chawk Gate is presently known as the Tripolia Gate which is a beautiful three arched gateway with a
    Naubatkhana on the top.

    Tripolia Gate
    Tripolia Gate
  8. South Gate: The South Gate served as a main entrance to theKilaNizamat. This gate is a single arched structure with anaubatkhana on the top. The stairs to thenaubatkhana are kept closed.

    South Gate
    South Gate
  9. Zurud Mosque: This vibrant yellow coloured Islamic structure stands on the bank ofBhagirathi and opposite to the west gate ofHazarduari Palace. It is said that its construction was ordered bySirajud-Daullah in one night. It was faded due to the climatic torture to a pale yellow. Recently it was again painted and now it glows in the dark. 😛

    Zurud Mosque
    Zurud Mosque
  10. Tomb of AzimunissahShuja-ud-Din Muhammad Khan, the nawab of 1727 Bengal married both the daughters of Murshid Quli Khan mothered by Nasiri Banu Begum.Quli Khan’s elder daughterZainabun-nisaBegum was also known asAzimunnisahBegum. She was flamboyant, radiant woman. But with her father’s death she fell ill and as the story goes she was prescribed by doctors to take human liver as a medicine. This made quite a scandal. Her ravishing beauty was another scandalous thing. It attracted many extramarital affairs. And she was a nymphomaniac. Later these stories gave her the name  “Kalija KhakiBegum”. She was buried under the stairs of her tomb, like her father.
    Tomb of Azimunnisah
    Tomb of Azimunnisah Begum

    The grave of Azimunnisah
    The grave of Azimunnisah
  11. Katra Mosque: Located on the eastern side of the main town of Murshidabad is the Katra Mosque. The gigantic structure with a pillar on each side of the main building will surely make you gasp in awe.
    People with an eye of architecture might ask why two towers? The answer lies in the devastating earthquake that took place in 1897. The earthquake also destroyed two domes of the mosque. The remaining two towers are closed now.

    The courtyard
    The courtyard

    Katra Mosque 1
    There are five doors to the Katra Masjid. The main entrance has a flight of 14 stairs. The Mosque used to be the hub of education and religion in its time. In 1780 AD, a traveller named William Hodges wrote that 700 Quran readers lived there in the mosque. He describes the giant as “a grand seminary of Musalman learning, adorned by a mosque which rises high above all the surrounding buildings” in his book Select Views of India.
    The mosque is adorned with Mihrabs. Mihrab is a semi-circular niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the qibla, the direction of the Kabba in Mecca and hence the direction that Muslims should face when praying. Katra has 5 triple Mihrabs. The mosque can accomodate 2000 namaz readers, for that purpose specific mats are made out of bricks on the floor itself. I was really impressed by the intricate layering of bricks which made each mat prominent.Katra Mosque 2
    Under the staircase rests the mortal remains of Nawab Murshid Quli Khan. It was his wish to be buried under the stairs for he repented his misdeeds and seeked redemption. The Basalt slab embedded on the wall of the central entrance of the mosque is engraved with a wrtting in Arabic script which loosely translates to:

    “Muhammad, the Arabian, the glory of both worlds. Dust be on the head of him who is not the dust of his portal.”

    The staircase under which Murshid Quli Khan was buried. The original entrance to Katra Mosque
    The staircase under which Murshid Quli Khan was buried. The original entrance to Katra Mosque

    The place is beautifully maintained by ASI with their signature garden at the front.

  12. Futi Masjid: I was really disappointed to see how this 1740 built mosque is maintained. Well, it is not MAINTAINED as the word means. ASI has turned a blind eye to this giant monument who stands sick today. It is said that this 135 feet tall mosque was built by  Nawab Sarfaraz Khan and folklore says it was completed in a day. It was certainly not the case.
    The mosque was built by several masons and it took several months. The construction was halted because of a war that started out of nothing. Thus it was never finished. Out of the five domes, only one neared completion. And the others were incomplete. The nearly completed dome had a hole on the tip of it, thus the name. ‘Futi’ comes from the word ‘Futo’ which means Hole.
    You might want to get a glimpse of it before it turns into dust.

    The dilapidated structure of Futi Masjid
    The dilapidated structure of Futi Masjid
  13. Jahan Kosha Cannon:
    This 17.5 feet long cannon is made of several metals including tin, iron, silver, zinc, mercury, gold. It needed17kgs of gun powder to fire one shot. An inscription on the cannon says that it was made under the instance ofSubehdar Islam Khan.JahanKosha means Destroyer of the world. This humongous “gun” was made byJanardanKarmakar who was a gunsmith. This clearly gives an insight on the metallurgical skills during that time.

    Jahan Kosha Canon
    Jahan Kosha Canon
  14. Kathgola Gardens: Kathgola Gardens was once the palace of Rai Bahadur Lakshmipat Singh Duggar. No, it wasn’t a warehouse for timber as the name might suggest at first glance. This garden once grew Black Roses. From that name, it got the name of Kath Gola (Golap).
    The entrance gate itself is huge adorned with Corinthian Pillars and Stucco Floral designs and much like other gates, it hosts aNahabatKhana. Painted in bright yellow and other vibrant colors the gate has its own glow among the green mango trees.

    Kathgola 0
    The magnificent mansion

    There are guides who will take you on a tour around the gardens telling extravagant stories.
    At the start of the tour there is a step well on the left. You might come across stories describing it as a underground pathway that led to the opposite bank of Bhagirathi River and it got filled with water after a devastating flood. Those are gibberish. It is a step well that can be found in handsome numbers in Delhi or Rajasthan.

    Kathgola 0.5
    The Step Well

    Opposite to the step well there is a ruined structure covered with creepers and bushes. This was once a private zoo. Now it’s just a story.
    On the side of the step well there’s a statue carved out of Italian Marble. The Victorian lions, the marble statues, the fountains and the pillars, all speaks of the immense British influence on Dugar Family.
    The beautiful mansion houses many Belgian mirrors, Porcelain artifacts, paintings, huge chandeliers and rose wood furniture.
    Kathgola 1
    There’s another mansion, ruins mainly, on the south east corner of the main mansion. This is called Zenana Mahal. Thoughts of renovating it into a Star rated Resort has been taken into consideration. This, if done, will attract a huge amount of tourists to Murshidabad, given it lacks proper hotel structure.

    Kathgola Palace
    The Corinthian pillars of Kathgola Palace.
  15. Adinath Temple: The Dugar family built a temple dedicated to Bhagwan Adiswar, the Jain tirthankara. Dugar was influenced by his mother’s devotion and built this unique temple in the premises of Kathgola Gardens in 1933. Photography inside the temple is prohibited. The marble structure and sculptures are rare and beautiful. A complete package of rich heritage one might say.Kathgola Jain Mandir statue
  16. Jagat Sett’s House: Seths were the families of financers. The seths of Murshidabad was the most powerful family during the time of Nawab Siraj ud-Daula. No wonder, Roben Orme (official historian of East India Company) describedJagat Seth as the greatest money changer and banker in the known world. The house has been converted into a museum that houses antiques rare as rare can be. It houses plates and goblets which changed color or broke off if poison was served. It houses rare swords, guns, small iron balls that were used as bullets which dated back to early 18th Century, the artifacts made out of Ivory, clothes embroidered with gold threads, silver threads. It has a mirror in which one cannot see himself but can be seen by others (two mirrors are placed in a right angle. mystery solved).
    The court of Jagat Seth
    The court of Jagat Seth
    Jain Mandir adjacent to the mansion
    Jain Mandir adjacent to the mansion

    Jagat Seth used to finance the local landlords and even the king. Along with Omichand and Mirjafar and the British East India Company, he and Robert Clive engineered the conspiracy against Siraj in this very house, which resulted in the disastrous victory of the English in the Battle of Plassey. The intersting catch to the whole story is that the family of Jagat Seth was beheaded by Mir Kasim, succesor of Mir Jafar.
    The influence of Jainism can be seen in their house. Beside the main mansion, there is a temple of Jain tirthankara.

  17. Nasipur Palace: DebiSingh arrived from Panipat for the purpose of trading. And stumbled upon British East India company to become the most sadistic and stone-hearted tax collector of the time. He used to hang people to death if the tax remained unpaid, which is a bit immense when compared to other tax collectors contemporary to Debi Singh. With his growing influence onDewanReza Khan and British East India Company, he became the head of the tax collecting department and with this status he founded theNashipurRajbari.
    A panorama of Nasipur
    A panorama of Nasipur

    This palace, which turned to ruins, was again renovated in the recent past and has returned to its previous glory with the bright yellow facade and green windows. The palace is often compared with Hazarduari for its resemblance.

    Debi Singha
    A temple inside Debi Singha’s palace.

    The Nashipur Rajbari houses a temple, which is located centrally inside the mansion.
    Pictures of Hirabai can be seen around the house. Debi Singh used to throw parties in which the main attraction was Hirabai, the dream-girl of 18th century.

    Hirabai
    HIRABAI

    Nashipur Akhra is almost adjacent to it, and it is this place where fair is held during Jhulan Yatra.

  18. Nimak Haram Deori: The popular belief is that Mir Jafar’s son Sadiq Ali Khan Bahadur, popularly known as Mir Miran, stabbed Siraj to death. The entrance gate to the Rajbari of Jafar stands today as the only remnant. Even this crumbling gate is not under ASI and is headed towards death due to ignorance.Nimak Haram Deori
  19. Jafarganj Cemetery Ground: The cemetery ofJafarganj is studded with 1100 graves ofJafar Family. MirJafar, his sons and wives along with their other relatives have been religiously buried here. It is spooky even under strong daylight. The graves of thebegums are enclosed within four walls. Interesting!

    JC
    Inside Jafarganj Cemetery
  20. Khoshbagh: On the opposite side of the river, that is on the western bank of theBhagirathi, a few kilometers inside the landmass lies the graves ofAlivardi Khan and his family. This site is maintained by ASI and is clean and peaceful. The grave ofAlivardi Khan lies in the heart of the Mausoleum. On its right liesSiraj and his wife,Lutf-un-nisa without a trace of extravaganza. Behind the mausoleum there stands a mosque with three onion-shaped domes. It remains closed.
    KH
    The Mausoleum
    The Mosque
    The Mosque

    What I forgot to mention is that there is no bridge to cross the river from Murshidabad. The boats are large enough and sturdy enough to carry a small vehicle on it and cross the river in no time. It sounds scary but is surely a memorable experience.

    The entrance
    The entrance
  21. Kiriteshwari Temple:
    According to Shiv-Puran, Shiva took the form of Nataraj and took the dead body of Sati on his shoulders and danced to end the world. To save the innocent human race and nature, Lord Vishnu took a drastic measure. He dismembered the dead body into 51 pieces to calm down Lord Shiva. These 51 pieces fell on Earth and these 51 sites came to be known as Sati-pithhs.Kiriteshwari 4Kiriteshwari is one of those 51 satipiths and is a stronghold of Sakti-sadhana (Worshipping Shakti or Power). Here, it is said, the kirit or the crown of the head that is the frontal piece of skull fell here. The purohit of the temple told us a story I couldn’t take more seriously. It is not about religion or being a theist, it is about the living history of the place. The oldest temple now stands as a ruin which is aged 900 years. The present site of the temple has rich history of 300 years.Kiriteshwari II

    The old ruin on the right
    The old ruin on the right

    Adi Sankaracharya, the theologian and philosopher came here to achieve enlightenment. He started his tapasya but all went to vain. He didn’t get a glimpse of Devi Kiriteshwari and in anger he marked a boundary (gandi) and cursed her that oneday she will be evicted from her current place and will find her place inside the boundary.
    Next came another who also failed in his endevour and cursed devi that she will be evicted oneday.

    The stone idol of Kiriteshwari Temple.
    The stone idol of Kiriteshwari Temple.

    Bhagavan Ray, ancestor of Darpa Narayan Ray, was a mere villager who came here by chance. He was also an worshiper of Shakti and started his tapasya after finishing every ritual before. He cried like a baby and asked the “Mother” of the world to give him Mokshya or redemption. Oneday, when he was deeply engrossed in his tapasya, he heard a voice asking him to stop his tapasya as she couldn’t reveal herself to someone who recognised her as her mother. She was in no such state to come out of the veil. Bhagavan Ray asked her either she revels herself or she will witness her son’s death. This was sure a dilemma for any mother. To calm him down, the voice asked Bhagavan Ray that he will get to see his “mother” in future. He did.

    Bhairav Temple on the right hand side of Kiriteswari Temple
    Bhairav Temple on the right hand side of Kiriteswari Temple

    Later, as cursed by Sankaracharya, the idol of the devi which is smeared with vermillion hue (sindur), was relocated within the boundary. The bedi holds skulls of a monkey, snake, human, fox and elephant. This makes the seat of the perfect meditation.
    This is all a legend now and is definitely a story of interest. The current Purohit Dilip Bhattacharjee narrated the story in such away that it gave me goosebumps.

    Kiriteswari Temple
    Kiriteswari Temple

    The adjacent bhairav temple displays Islamic influence with the tajiya shaped dome and the famous floral designs that is engraved in the wall.
    The temple becomes inaccessible in Monsoon and a fair is held during the Asthami of the durga puja.
    The devi here has no face or maybe she is the many faced God.

  22. Ratneswar Temple: In the village of Bhattabati stands a temple adorned with terracotta works. It is one of the very few pancharatna terracotta temples in West Bengal that is left intact after all these years. The works on the wall depicts many stories such as ramayana,mahishashura mardan, several avatars of vishnu, and the famous krishna-lila. 1200 Bhatta brahmins settled here from South India and presumably they built this temple which is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
    The Temple
    Ratneshwar Temple

    Adhir Bagchi is the purohit who begs daily to maintain this monument which is undertaken by the West Bengal Government. Sad to see the poor condition of the temple.

    Pandit and Ratneshwar
    Pandit and Ratneshwar

    Intricate designs of Ratneshwar Mandir
    Intricate designs of Ratneshwar Mandir
  23.   Jagadbandhu Dham: This is a monument of recent times dedicated to the Saint Jagatbandh Sundar who is believed to be a reincarnation of Lord Krishna. It is the ashrama of the disciples of Jagatbandhu.Phew! That list was going on and on and on… like forever. There are many monuments and relics, unearthed and unclaimed. I came across two old terracotta temples in utterly disastrous condition in a village.

The Ratneswar temple is a fabulous example of terracotta which is still in a good condition but the priest maintains the small premise from the money earned by begging. The West Bengal Tourism minister should at least make a proper road for the temple and the village because it is inaccessible in heavy rains.

Ratneshwar mondir

There’s another place near Hazarduari Palace that everyone visiting Murshidabad should visit at least once, if not stay. Hotel Manjusha. This homely Guest House on the banks of River Bhagirathi is an Eden. Under such extreme climatic conditions of Bengal, the owner- a zoology enthusiast, has been working tirelessly from early 90s to build this garden and to preserve it properly. Trees like Birch, Oak, Camphor, Rudrakshya, Sandal finds their place here. You can find an Apple tree, an Orange tree, a Tea tree, a still young Maple tree and many more, which needs a cold environment.

Hotel Manjusha and my family from the left: Aunt in blue, Uncle, Maa on the right.
Hotel Manjusha and my family
from the left: Aunt in blue, Uncle, Maa on the right.

Talking about trees, I remember, Mangifera indica. Murshidabad is a place  food lovers should visit to taste the varieties of mangoes it has to offer. So many names I cannot remember, but I remember the mouth-watering taste, the eye-popping sight of mangoes hanging from the trees, only a couple of feet above the ground and I remember the local market rate of mangoes 10INR for a Kg.

Golapkhash.
Golapkhash.

It will take you two days to make a short trip to Murshidabad. But I will recommend at least 3 days which will help you to visit Berhampore.

Avail the train HAZARDUARI EXPRESS from Kolkata Station at 6:50am and get down at MURSHIDABAD St. at 11:10am. You can also avail the Lalgola express and come a night before just to include the early morning horse ride. Book a room at Hotel Manjusha beforehand even in off-season.

Best time to visit Murshidabad: November-February.

Best Time to visit Murshidabad for Mangoes: Late May – Mid June.

Contact Details of Hotel Manjusha: 03482 270 321

So what are you waiting for? Pack your bag and head out. A short trip to Murshidabad is enough to rejuvenate your health after the daily 9-5 routine. Your trip will be historical.


Acknowledgements:

a. Amitabha Gupta sir’s blogpost on Murshidabad. Its detailed structure has helped me to gather many information of this place beforehand and without this blog I wouldn’t have visited Bhattabati.

b. Local books of Murshidabad.

c. Wikipedia.

d.Travel Magazines like Bhraman, etc.

Mistified Morning
Mistified Morning

7 thoughts on “Murshidabad: The Land of Nawabs

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