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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

And Quiet Flows the Bhagirathi

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And Quiet Flows the Bhagirathi ----- Murshidabad in 21st century

 Quiet and placid. Even the view of the river Bhagirathi from the Hazaar Duari Palace located on its bank in Murshidabad town is obliterated by shacks selling mementos to tourists. Further up where one could catch a glimpse of the river is inaccessible as the entire stretch has turned into a garbage dump. Sort of a tribute paid to a river which witnessed some great events in history. From shifting of capital of undivided Bengal,Bihar and Orissa from Dacca to Murshidabad under the regime of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb till the time when the British took over the power and shifted the capital to Calcutta.The Nawabs at Murshidabad held many festive events on Bhagirathi, as suggested by paintings displayed at Hazaar Duari Museum. Murshidabad ,being capital, grew up to a bustling cosmopolitan city in the eighteenth century. There were settlers from all over India like Jains from Rajasthan, Debi Singh and likes from Punjab etc, the British, the Dutch, the Portuguese and the French. The mint was operated by Jagat Seth. Then on 23rd June 1757 Bhagirathi witnessed the infamously famous battle a few miles away from Murshidabad. It was here at Plassey (Palashi in Bengali) where Nawab Siraj-ud-Doula with around 50000 strong army prepared to face only a fistful of around 5000 soldiers of British East India Company under Robert Clive.The battle was fought in the mango groves of Plassey near the bank of Bhagirathi.Nawab Siraj-ud –Doula was already in the bad books of the British after he had captured Fort William in Calcutta. His uncle Mir Jafar who desperately aspired for the Nawab’s throne encashed on this by entering into a secret deal with Robert Clive. The fate of the battle was,therefore, decided much before the soldiers came to the battlefield. Most of the soldiers were bribed to throw away their weapons,surrender prematurely and even turn their arms against their own men.Nothing went right for the young Nawab Siraj on that fateful day. To add to his woes a severe monsoon storm over Bhagirathi drenched the troops and insufficiently protected gun powder ; his most trusted commander Mir Madan was critically injured when a canon gifted by the Portuguese to the Nawab’s armoury burst accidentally during firing ( the canon is on display inside Hazar Duari); thereafter a valiant effort by the Nawab to pursue and literally beg his soldiers to fight was in vain.Though unsavoury it was a decisive victory for Clive and the British. Quote from William Dalrymple’s brilliant and captivating ‘The Last Mughal’ – “ Since they ( the increasingly powerful British) had finally succeeded in conquering and subduing the Sikhs in 1849, the British suddenly found themselves the masters of South Asia: every single one of their military rivals had now been conquered- Siraj-ud-Daula of Bengal in 1757, the French in 1761, Tipu Sultan of Mysore in 1799, and the Marathas in 1803 and again finally,in 1819."

 When I visited Murshidabad in the year 2014, I was shocked to observe that the place reflects nothing of its glorious history. Like, Mir Jafar’s palace, which is in ruins, unkempt with overgrown jungle inside and gates closed to visitors. As if every bit of 18th and 19th century Murshidabad has gone to the pages of history. The town itself has not grown with time. Sleepy, neglected and semi urban look, it hardly boasts of being capital of undivided Bengal, Bihar and Orissa about 300 years back.Unlike its counterpart in Oudh, the culture,the lifestyle and culinary art associated with Nawabs are strangely missing..  And the beautiful, once vibrant Bhagirathi flowing through this triangular shaped district of Bengal flows quietly totally oblivion of its past – as if nothing really happened.

Kathgola Garden House located in Lalbagh area. It was here that Robert Clive, William Watts and Walsh had an important meeting with Mir Jafar, Miran and Rai Durlabh three days after the famous Battle of Plassey in 1757.

Another view of Kathgola mansion. This was a retreat for wealthy Jain merchants Dhanpat Singh Dugar and Lakshmipant Singh, This is fringed with picturesque gardens, lake and pond for bathing.

Kathgola secret passage which was connected to Bhagirathi river was used by the Jain traders and Jagat Seth for transporting and trading valuables.

Adinath Temple, an 18th century Jain temple in Kathgola complex. A typically Jain ornamentation lends unique beauty to the temple.

Idol of Lord Ganesha outside Adinath Temple

Ornate garden area in Kathgola complex

Another idol outside Adinath Temple

This tablet at the gate of Jagat Seth House outlines the history of Jagat Seth.It is said that Jagat Seth made their original fortune in the Jade trade as in those days green jade from Burma was highly valued by the Mughal courtiers because of the belief that it would shatter or discolor if poisoned food was served in it. They  traded in other precious emeralds as well and also accumulated vast wealth as Nawabs banker.

Another tablet on Jagat Seth

The House of Jagat Seth is now a museum,where a part of display are some rare coins and emeralds . Jagat Seth means 'Banker of the world' and this title was first bestowed upon Fateh Chand in early 18th century by Emperor Muhammad Shah in view of his innovativeness and greatness in trading and banking achievements those days. Thereafter it was handed down the dynasty for over a century for this particular Marwari community who were Jains by religion. Madahav Rai was Jagat Seth during Siraj-ud-Daula's tenure. It is said that he was slapped and insulted by Siraj for denying a loan requisition of Rs 3 crores. Thereafter he played a key role in the politics of Bengal by helping Mir Jafar to receive the Subahdari of Bengal from the Mughal Emperor at Delhi. They also operated a mint from Murshidabad where they had settled and had made Murshidabad the commercial and financial capital, not only of undivided Bengal,Bihar and Orissa but of India as well.

Nasirpur Palace. This palace with an imposing facade was built by Kirti Chand, a descendant of  Debi Singh from Punjab who had settled here as a notorious tax collector in the early days of East India Company.

Another portion of Nasirpur Palace in state of ruins.

The famous Thakurbari in Nasirpur Rajbari where 'Jhulan' of Lord Krishna is celebrated even on this day..

Tomb of Azimunnisa Begum, wife of Nawab Shuja-ud-daula and daughter of the first Nawab of Bengal Murshid Quli Khan who named the place Murshidabad.Architecturally similar to Katra mosque this ruined mosque was built by Azimunnisa. Like her father she is also buried under the staircase

Nimak Haram Deori (the traitor's gate) is the main gate of Jafarganj Palace of Nawab Mir Jafar. Both the palace where Siraj-ud daula was brutally killed and the gate lie in total ruins.Across the road and just opposite this palace lie the Jafarganj cemetery built by Mir Jafar.

In the foreground is Madina mosque. It has ornamental replica of Hazrat Muhammad's tomb at Madina. This is the only surviving structure built by Siraj-ud-doula. In the background is Nizamat Imambara built by Nawab Nazim Mansoor Ali Khan after the Imambara built by Siraj had been destroyed by fire. This is perhaps the largest Imambara in India.

Hazarduari Palace ( palace with a thousand doors). This imposing three storied palace of European architectural style was built by Duncan Mcleod for Nawab Najim Humayun Jah (descendant of Mir Jafar).

This majestic clock tower in Hazarduari premises is sometimes referred as 'Big Ben of Murshidabad' The only drawback is that the clock does not work and chime now.

The foundation stone of Hazarduari Palace was laid in presence of Governor General Lord William Bentinck in 1829, and the construction was completed in 1837. The palace has 900 real doors and 100 imaginary doors. It has now been converted into a museum.

Views of Bhagirathi river from the bank where Hazarduari Palace and Imambara are located. On the opposite bank is Khosh Bagh cemetery where lie the graves of Siraj-ud -Daula, his wife Lutfannasha,Nawab Alivardi Khan and some other members of Nawab's family.

Views of  dense mango groves near Plassey. Murshidabad is famous for some of the finest varieties of mangoes in India.The Nawabs of Murshidabad and their Begums were great connoisseurs of this adorable fruit and that is the reason that the variety they savored most was named Begumpasand. The famous Battle of Plassey was also fought within these mango groves.

Plassey Station. This place which is about a few miles from Murshidabad town witnessed the famous Battle of Plassey in 1757 between Siraj-ud-Daula, Nawab of Bengal and Robert Clive of British East India Company.

( Photographs:  Arundhati Sengupta )

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Poems of a retired Engineer from Calcutta

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Poems penned by retired eminent Engineer Ramni Prasad


As I sit on the terrace
Of Mayfair Emerald in Kolkata,
I watch a heavenly phenomenon unfold

In the western sky.

The sun larger and red,

Seems sinking in the horizon

With an ever changing cloud pattern

A spectacle I watch in utter amazement.

The birds fly homewards,

Tired after the day’s toil,

Gather in groups,

Bidding goodbye to the restless world.

The dogs bark on the road below,

To settle some grave issues,

Then suddenly withdraw

And silence prevails again.

I go round the terrace,

On a leisurely walk.

Keep counting the mandatory rounds,

That falsely assures my fitness.

On the pavements below,

Ladies young and old,

Gather after their day’s toil,

To enjoy some mirth and merriment.

New apartment houses,

Keep coming up,

Served so far, by a single shop

The Ramakrishna Enterprises, working tirelessly.

Arpee Engineer, Nov.2012


Jawa, a deeply religious woman,

Partially owns a temple.

With other members of her family,

She worships many Gods and Goddesses.

The family shares the cost and toil,

And performs pujas round the year.

The Gods and Goddesses appear pleased

And the family is happy with their blessings.

Out in the large world,

Symbols of different religions predominate.

The Cross, The Moon and Star, The Trident,

And others seem uncomfortable with each other.

Somewhere the Gods laugh at the spectacle

Of human folly and myopic vision.

Residents of a microscopic planet earth,

Fail to see God’s awesome presence in the night sky.

When Carl Sagan beckons,

Go, have a glorious view of the Cosmos,

Which has been expanding since the Big Bang?

And will return to Brahma with the Big Crunch.

Arpee Engineer