And Quiet Flows the Bhagirathi

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

(A reminiscence from the lost capital of Bengal-on the banks of Bhagirathi)

 

Bhagirathi River is a distributary of the Ganges (Ganga). It leaves Ganga just northeast of Jangipur, flows south, and joins Jalangi at Nabadwip. The banks of Bhagirathi earned a very special place in history for sheltering towns like Murshidabad and Palashi. During the reign of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the capital of undivided Bengal, Bihar and Orissa were shifted from Dhaka to Murshidabad. The name was coined by the first Nawab of Bengal Murshid Quli Khan. Being a capital of the entire eastern segment of today’s India plus Bangladesh, this little-known town spurted into the limelight in the early eighteenth century. People from all over the subcontinent such as the Jains from Rajasthan, Debi Singh and likes from Punjab, the Britons, the Dutch, the Portuguese and the French poured into Murshidabad and started settling there.

 

Though very close to Calcutta with excellent rail connections available from Sealdah and Kolkata stations, it was only in the year 2014 that I finally decided to make a short trip to Murshidabad with my wife. Having read so much of the bustling activities and cosmopolitan nature of Murshidabad during the Nawab era, the overall impression of the town was quite appalling. The place seems to have frozen in time since the mid-nineteenth century. The town’s importance, however, started waning after Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of British India, transferred the capital from Murshidabad to Calcutta in 1772. More appalling is the fact that today it is even worse than any of the smaller rural towns of Bengal. The picture of an abandoned town, and a ghost town in the night.

 

Horse-drawn Tongas and Toto are the most popular means of transport in the town. We availed both for our sightseeing journey in Murshidabad. The most talked-about and imposing edifice is Hazarduari Palace (palace with thousand doors). 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 massive palace in Greek architectural style has 900 real doors and 100 false doors. It has now been converted into a museum. The palace was built by Duncan McLeod for Najim Humayun Jah, a descendant of Mir Jafar. The only surviving structure built by Siraj-ud-doula is Madina Mosque in the palace forecourt. It is an ornamental replica of Hazrat Muhammad’s tomb at Madina. Another monument at the perimeter of the palace is Nizamat Imambara. The Imambara, considered to be the largest in India, was built by Nawab Nazim Mansoor Ali Khan after the Imambara built by Siraj-ud-doula was destroyed by fire. A majestic clock tower sometimes referred to as ‘Big Ben of Murshidabad’ stands in the forecourt of the palace. The only drawback compared to the original Big Ben is that it does not work and chime now. 

 

The exhibits displayed in the palace include Nawab Siraj-ud-Doula’s prized possessions, the swords used by him, cannons and other weapons and armories used during the Battle of Plassey (1757), oil paintings of the Dutch, French and Italian artists, rare marble, porcelain and stucco statues, farmans, rare books and manuscripts, palanquins owned by the Nawabs, and various other antiquities. The palace is located on the bank of Bhagirathi. Unfortunately, in the year we visited, we had to find our way to the bank of beautiful Bhagirathi. The stalls of vendors selling their wares almost obliterated the river and its bank. On the opposite bank is Khosh Bagh cemetery where lie the graves of Siraj-ud -Doula, his wife Lutfannasha, Nawab Alivardi Khan, and some other members of Nawab's family. And a little further towards Calcutta is Palashi (Plassey) on the bank of Bhagirathi. Some dense mango fields are located on this bank, and the orchards are there since the era of Bengal Nawabs. 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 Battle of Plassey, or the first fight for independence, was fought in the dense mango field in the year 1757. On 23rd June 1757, Nawab Siraj-ud-Doula, who was already in the bad books of the British East India Company, led a force of around 50000 soldiers to encounter Robert Clive’s paltry 5000. But nothing went right with the young Siraj on that fateful day. First, the outcome of the battle was decided much before Siraj’s army moved into Plassey. The ugly fangs of one of the greatest betrayals that changed the face of Indian History were at play. The cunning traitor was Mir Jafar, uncle of Siraj. That is why the main gate of Jafarganj Palace of Nawab Mir Jafar was named Nimak Haram Deori (the traitor's gate). Both the palace where Siraj-ud doula was brutally killed and the gate lie in total ruins today. Across the road and just opposite this palace lays the Jafarganj cemetery built by Mir Jafar. 

 

The woe of Nawab Siraj-ud-Doula did not end with betrayal. He was pinned down by a severe monsoon storm over Bhagirathi which drenched the troops and damped the unprotected gun powder. Any hopes for pulling up dimmed when his most trusted commander Mir Madan was critically injured from the accidental break up of a canon gifted by the Portuguese to the Nawab’s armory (the canon is on display in Hazarduari). Finally Siraj’s valiant effort to pursue and beg his soldiers to continue the fight went in vain. Though unsavory it was a decisive victory for Robert Clive and the British. The battle flung open the inroads for the British in the sub-continent. William Dalrymple has mentioned the intrusion in his brilliant and captivating book “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-Doula of Bengal in 1757, the French in 1761, Tipu Sultan of Mysore in 1799, and the Marathas in 1803 and again finally, in 1819."

 

Three days after the Battle of Plassey, an important meeting had taken place between Robert Clive, William Watts, and Walsh and Mir Jafar, Miran, and Rai Durlabh at Kathgola Garden House located in Lalbagh area. This is one of the few surviving buildings from the era of the eighteenth century Bengal Nawabs. At this point, I admit that I had no inkling about Siraj-ud Doula’s palace. As much of history I know of and have seen in my lifetime, every famous ruler built a lavish palace to live in. But at Murshidabad from where Siraj ruled there was no trace of his residence. Later I learned that he did indulge in profligacy, which led him to build a vast palace on the low lying bank of Bhagirathi. Bhagirathi, those days, had the notoriety of changing its course very frequently. In absence of dams there used to be a flood almost every year. Over the years frequent inundations of the palace, for being located on a low lying area, led finally to the disappearance of the massive Mansurganj Palace – the house of Nawab Siraj-ud-Doula. Perhaps the last mention of the Palace dates back to 24th June 1957, a day after the Battle of Plassey. On that day Robert Clive placed Mir Jafar on the stone throne in Mansurganj Palace. The stone throne used for the coronation of Nawabs is now kept in Victoria Memorial in Calcutta. 

 

The other surviving buildings which buzzed with activities when Murshidabad was at its prime and worth visiting are: 

 

The House of Jagat Seth. The house is now a museum, where some rare coins and emeralds are among the exhibits. Jagat Seth means 'Banker of the world' and this title was first bestowed upon Fateh Chand in the early 18th century by Emperor Muhammad Shah gave 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.

 

A miniature version of Hazarduari was built by Kirti Chand, who was a descendant of Debi Singh of Punjab. Debi Singh was a notorious tax collector and had settled here in the early days of East India Company. The palace known as Nasirpur Palace or the house of Debi Singh has an imposing fa├žade. Although abandoned and in ruins today, the palace continues to house idols of Gods and Goddesses. It is because the famous Jhulan Festival is still held on its premises.

 

Architecturally similar to Katra mosque was a mosque built by Azimunnisa Begum. Azimunnisa Begum was the daughter of the first Nawab of Bengal Murshid Quli Khan who named the place Murshidabad. Like her father, she is also buried under the staircase. The mosque today is in a state of ruins.

 

Except for the remains from about 150 years of history since the beginning of 1700 AD, nothing else was there. For instance, the ruins of Mir Jafar’s Palace were unkempt with an overgrown jungle inside. Even the gates were closed to the visitors. It appeared to me that the town was not able to keep pace with time. With dusk, the town retires into a quiescent state. Sleepy and neglected, it hardly boasts of once being the capital of undivided Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa and commercial capital of India. Unlike its counterpart in Oudh (Awadh), the culture, the lifestyle, and culinary art associated with the Nawabs and Begums were strangely missing. There were vibrant moments on Bhagirathi, like festivals on boats; illumination and fireworks, hosted by the Nawabs on the river. The river now flows quietly totally oblivion of its past. 

 

 

 

 

 






murshidabad
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.

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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.

mushidabad

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 )






Comments

Ghitza said…
Very nice landscape here ...nice to visit a place like this, nice to admire nature and to meditate
bob collins said…
Lovely, Interesting place to visit.
Anonymous said…
nice pictures..places in the pictures r great
Wendy Scott said…
Some truely beautiful buildings and the history is wonderful.

very well done. Wendy
Wesley said…
"well expressed your views about Murshidabad place.Great collection of ancient history. Keep Going"
Wesley
Unknown said…
Very well described with complimenting beautiful pictures. Must visit.
Unknown said…
Well described with complimenting photographs. Must visit this winter.

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