A Glimpse of Historical Murshidabad
On a pleasant winter morning we arrived at Berhampur, the capital of Murshidabad district of West Bengal, to attend a wedding. Coincidentally the reception was arranged at the banquet of the same hotel we checked in.
Immediately on arrival we were offered breakfast. It was a typically Bengali dish, comprising of luchi, dum alu, brinjal fry and yummy rasgullas. The day was spent attending all sorts of rituals. In the afternoon the groom arrived along with his family and friends. They were also accommodated in the same hotel. The marriage ceremony went on up to twelve thirty at night.
Our host was thoughtful to add ethnic touch to the dinner. Food was served in brass utensils. Using the alloy brass for making various household items is a famous cottage industry of Murshidabad. Aromatic and mouth watering ‘hilsa’ fish floating in thick gravy of mustard paste took a place of pride in the menu.
I was pleasantly surprised to receive a gorgeous tussar silk saree as a return gift. The magical touch of expert local artisans has helped Murshidabad win an important platform in creation of ‘silk’, one of the finest and most delicate form of fabric.
We stayed back for an extra day with the intention of visiting the heritage sites, especially ‘Hazarduari Palace’, ‘Kathgola Gardens’ and ‘Katra Masjid’, all three of which are at Lalbagh area, at a short distance from Berhampur.
Murshidabad was the capital and seat of the Nawabs. Hence, this area can boast of historical relics and landmarks of that era. The last Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-Ud-Daula, was betrayed and defeated by his most trusted commandant, Mir Jafar, at the Battle of Plassey at Murshidabad.
We hired a three wheeler, locally called ‘toto’ and set out for the day. The roads of Berhampur are extremely crowded and noisy. All sorts of vehicles - trucks, buses, cars, three wheelers, two wheelers, rickshaws, cycles as well as pedestrians try to move ahead of the others and so it is always a chaos. Once we reached the outskirts of the town, the traffic thinned out.
The road from Berhampur to Lalbagh runs with the river Ganga mightily flowing along side. Our driver showed us the location of his home on the opposite bank of the river and extended a cordial invitation to have lunch with his family during our next possible visit. He even chalked out a menu of hot rice, homemade ghee (clarified butter), a curry of vegetables grown at his backyard and fish caught from his own pond. We were overwhelmed. Can we think of extending such invitation to complete strangers? We city dwellers have to learn one or two lessons from these simple folks.
The scene was gradually changing from township to village. The road took a turn and the river was no longer visible. The road was now flanked by mango orchards on both sides. Mango is another speciality of Murshidabad. It seems, hundreds of varieties of mangoes are locally grown. Eventually we reached Lalbagh and saw signboards showing direction for Hazarduari palace.
The approach area to the palace is disappointingly shabby with a few dilapidated structures strewn around, an abandoned mosque here and another broken lion gate there etc. Ultimately we reached the main entrance. There is a stark difference between the approach and the area inside the complex.
Imposing Hazarduari Palace
The palace structure is imposing; architecture is Indo-European, contains three floors and stands tall at a height of 80 feet. The surrounding lawns are beautifully manicured and well maintained. It was handed over to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 1985.
Presently the palace serves as a museum. We had to deposit our camera and mobile at the ASI counter before buying the entry ticket. Photography is prohibited in the museum. We were properly scanned by guards at the gate and then allowed to enter.
As we entered the museum our mind raced back to the bygone days. We became spellbound and started moving slowly from one exhibit to another sipping in the glory, grandeur and pomp of the Nawabi era.
On display are relics of immense historical value such as royal ‘Farmans’, Quran and other important documents, weaponry, costumes, jewellery, palanquins and carriages used by the Nawabs including Alibardi Khan and Siraj-Ud-Daula and their family and army.
The collection has rare and exquisite items of art; French, Italian and Dutch paintings, bronze and marble statues and various fine objects of gold, silver and ivory.
The central hall, the erstwhile ‘Durbar’, the meeting place of the Nawabs and high ranking British officials is spectacular. The silver throne dates back to the time of Siraj-Ud-Daula. A crystal chandelier is suspended from the vaulted ceiling, which was gifted by Queen Victoria and is supposed to be the second largest in the world.
Hazarduari Palace Museum is a real treasure trove.
The museum is well managed with proper directions guiding the visitors smoothly from one to the next of altogether twenty galleries. The exhibits are well documented, even with Braille description.
Some of the points to be noted while visiting the Hazarduari Palace:-
- The museum is closed on Friday and open from 9am to 5pm on other days.
- Though guides will try to allure visitors for a grand visit, it is useless to take a guide as they are allowed only up to the gate and not inside the museum.
Our next destination was Nizamat Imambara.
Nizamat Imambara long view
The long structure facing the palace is Nizamat Imambara. It was built in 1847 and known to be the biggest place of meeting for Shia muslims in India.
The palace ground houses other historical monuments, one of which, the Bacchawali tope cannon, attracted our attention. There is an old story that when the cannon was fired, the extraordinarily loud booming sound used to make unborn children fallout from their mothers’ womb.
Bacchawali tope cannon
Though it was only February, the sun was shining a little too brightly and we could not stay and enjoy the nice garden and lawns any longer. In summer it is difficult to visit these places as the weather becomes extremely hot.
We came out of the palace complex and were walking in a leisurely manner. Suddenly my husband stood still; with dreamy eyes he pointed towards the building standing afar and exclaimed ‘That is my school, Nawab Bahadur School’. It was really our journey down the memory lane.
Nawab Bahadur School, Journey down the memory lane
Our next destination was ‘Kathgola Gardens’; the road condition is so poor that the three wheeler drive seemed to be a chariot drive. It becomes worse during rainy season.
From the entrance a path shadowed by tall deodars and flanked on both sides by mango orchards leads to Kathgola palace.
Kathgola palace entrance
Kathgola palace overlooks a small pond which is full of multi-colored fish and surrounded by rose garden.
Kathgola palace garden pond
History says that during the Battle of Plassey cash transaction took place between Mir Jafar and the British at Kathgola palace.
Beautiful Kathgola Palace
There are a few temples at Kathgola gardens, one of them is Adinath temple, a place of worship of the Jains, made of white stone with an onion shaped dome.
Our tired feet were demanding rest, so we sat for sometime on the banks of a pond facing the temple. The sun already tilted to the west; the tranquil water body, the fragrance of roses wafting from the surrounding gardens and the sweet breeze worked like a balm.
Pond near Adinath temple
From here we went to see Katra Masjid.
Facing Katra Masjid
I was awed by the serenity and size of the mosque. After so many years also it stands majestically, thanks to the restoration and maintenance service of the Archaeological Survey of India.
An wing of Katra Masjid
Katra Masjid was built in 1724 as a tomb of Murshid Quli Khan, after whom Murshidabad is named; his body is said to be buried under the stairs of the entrance of the mosque. The mosque had four seventy feet tall octagonal minarets with holes which used to hold weapons, out of which two are still remaining. It is said that around two thousand people could pray together at the mosque.
By evening we were back to the busy town of Berhampur, but our mind still lingered on the glorious past.