“English” Castle at a village of Palaces

Gayen Castle - looks like a miniature version of an English Castle

“Gaine Castle – looks like a miniature version of an English Castle”

While driving through Taki Road from Barasat towards Basirhat, many curious visitors might have noticed an European Medieval style gate with two towers. On close observations it is perceived that on the top of the gate there is a statue of two Europeans fighting with a lion.

The gate is the entrance to a high walled enclosure. A signboard in Bengali states it to be State run orphanage. A smaller signboard says “No Entry without Permission”. It does not say anything about photography being prohibited. If it is early morning, one can jolly well take a chance to venture in the interior.

Grand Gate to Gayen Garden premises

Grand Gate to Gaine Garden premises

Statue of two Europeans attacking a lion

Statue of two Europeans attacking a lion

There is a caretaker named Dipen Mondal and a henchman who are in the best of moods in the early hours of the day. If one can pursue them with kind words and polite request, they may allow a restricted entry inside the premises. Two steps inside the enclosure and the first thing to attract the visitors is a mansion which resembles like an English Castle! With water body in its front and green vegetation around, a first time visitor on a cold winter morning can be virtually transferred to English countryside.

Welcome to the small settlement of Dhanyakuria near Basirhat, North 24 Parganas district at West Bengal. Not featured in the list of tourist destinations of West Bengal, the settlement showcases plenty of lavish mansions of fusion architecture, belonging to zamindars and merchants of yesteryear.

The “Castle” was never the property of any English nobleman. This was the Summer House alias Baganbari of the local Gaine family, who were one of the early descendants of the area. This vintage structure was built by Mahendranath Gaine, a wealthy landlord and businessman during the beginning of 20th century.

Gayen Baganbari alias Gayen Garden

The Castle looks run down and has a burnt out appearance. However, unlike the other English Castle like building (Tagore Castle) in West Bengal, this one looks unchanged in the frontal area. At first look it looks like a miniature of Windsor Castle with its battlements. The arches on the balcony and entrance doors were well designed and thankfully have not been modified yet.

Gayen Castle close up

Gaine Castle close up

On the right top side of the mansion, There is a circular empty space on the wall within a frame, which looked like had housed a giant clock. However, the caretaker said there is a similar frame like structure on the back of the mansion which has circular design embedded in the space. Maybe it was some kind of emblem, but now it is not legible.

Though the back side of mansion was not visible, I would see a spire peeping out. On the left end of the castle there is an embedded tower. Beyond it stood out a small towering structure, similar to a Keep or Kype (highest point and the center of defense of a castle) seen in Medieval European Castles. The design of the mansion was much like a Stone Keep Castle which was prevalent in England after Normans invasion. Although there was a waterbody in front of the structure, it is not a moat. Neither there is a drawbridge at the entrance of the building.

Structures with turrets near the gates of Gayen Garden

Structures with turrets near the gates of Gaine Garden

Since this a girl’s orphanage the caretaker will not permit an unsolicited visitor further beyond the water body. The premise is a large area, which showcases at least another old structure with turret near the entrance. The mansion seemed to have some designs on the outer wall. Two emblems exist on its wall. I am not sure about their details as I could not venture further. I have no idea how good are the interiors, but if the fragile exteriors are not renovated this rare architecture may well turn into rubble.

Dhanyakuria – the village of Palaces.

Once a part of Sunderbans, Dhanyakuria was converted into a proper settlement for living in 1742 when one Jagannath Das settled here with his family. Likewise families of many traders like Mandal, Gaine, Sawoo and Ballavs came and settled in the village and became affluent. This is when these families built up several mansions. The area was famous for Rice and Sugarcane. Vaishnav culture was predominant in the area.

Out of the many mansions in the vicinity, the mansions of Gaine, Ballav and Sawoo are still well maintained. The entry to the settlement is through a mid-sized lane from the Taki Road just besides the Gaine Baganbari. Going through this lane named Dhanyakuria Benepara road, one can see the pink building of Dhanyakuria High School on the left.

The pink coloured L shaped Gayen House

The pink coloured L shaped Gaine House

The first grand mansion which greets a visitor to Dhanyakuria is that of the residence of Gaine family. Adorned with light pink colour, the L shaped Gaine Mansion is an excellent example of fusion architecture. The two storied mansion is studded with several Ionian pillars besides the long open corridors in both floors. These open corridors connect the rooms. Those on the back side of the buildings are covered with window shades. On each end of the mansion there is a roof dome which is a significant add-on to the grandeur of the building. The dome near to the entrance of the mansion is more decorated with colored glass ventilators. Earlier there used to be a small spire on the top of this dome which does not exist at present.

Inside the mansion premises there is a three storied tower adorned with a dome named “Nazar Minar”. It is well decorated with four Corinthian pillars on each of its corner. Although the first two floors have rounded archways, top floor has Islamic archways. Access to the interiors of the Gaine Mansion is restricted as they house residential quarters.

Wide angle view of Gayen house with Najar Minar

Wide angle view of Gaine house with Najar Minar

Close up of Najar Minar at Gayen house premises

Close up of Najar Minar at Gaine house premises

Long Corridors of Gayen house connecting all rooms

Long Corridors of Gaine house connecting all rooms

The Founder of Gaine Family was Gopinath Gaine. The Gaine family had a joint venture business with the Ballavs and the Sawoos. They dealt with trading of Jaggery, Jute and other Commodities. From the profit of that business, they invested in real estate and set up colleges and donated to charity.

Mahendranath Gaine, the worthy son of Gopichand Gaine, built this mansion about 175 years ago. He had direct business dealings with the British. Benefiting from business dealings in Jute, he started a Rice Mill at Dhanyakuria. He started Durga Puja in this house.

The descendants of Gaines are still well off. Except Kanchan Gaine who is in his 70s, the rest of the family members have settled down in Kolkata and other cities. There is a family get together at the Gaine residence during Durga Puja which is held every year with pomp and show. The idol is placed on the Thakurdalan inside the mansion. Durga Puja is celebrated maintaining old rituals. On the last day of the festival, involvement of people from Kahar community is still prevalent. These people carry the idol on their shoulders for immersion to the water body.

Gaine Mansion has been a film makers favourite since long. From yesteryear Saheb Bibi Golam to present day Satwenashi by Rituparno Ghosh, many a films have been shot in these premises.

Shyamsundar Jiu Temple besides Gayen Mansion, Dhanyakuria

Shyamsundar Jiu Temple besides Gaine Mansion, Dhanyakuria

Just besides the Gaine Mansion, there is the temple of the presiding deity of the family – Shyamsundar Jiu. This one storied building is also of L shaped painted in pink. The Temple is said to be established during 1821.

Coming out of the Gaine Mansion, a brief walk on the opposite lane takes to the Sawoo Mansion on the right. The white colored building has embedded Corinthian Pillars on its walls along with stucco decoration over window arches on its exterior.Some of the windows have shades on the arches, while some arches are subdivided into two smaller arches with stained glass design on them.

Fish eye view of front portion of Sau Mansion, Dhanyakuria

Fish eye view of front portion of Sawoo Mansion, Dhanyakuria

Window arches subdivided into two smaller arches with stained glass design on them, Sau Mansion, Dhanyakuria

Window arches subdivided into two smaller arches with stained glass design on them, Sawoo Mansion, Dhanyakuria

The entrance door with stained glass archway is generally open to visitors which lead to a courtyard. The two floors have long corridors connecting the rooms. Facing the entrance is a beautiful Thakurdalan having five archways studded with rich stucco work.

Courtyard of Sau house at Dhanyakuria with the Thakurdalan

Courtyard of Sawoo house at Dhanyakuria with the Thakurdalan

View of the courtyard from the Thakur dalan od Sau Mansion, Dhanyakuria

View of the courtyard from the Thakur dalan od Sawoo Mansion, Dhanyakuria

Inner area of Thakurdalan at Sau house, Dhanyakuria

Inner area of Thakurdalan at Sawoo house, Dhanyakuria

Like the Gaine house, the Sawoo house looks well maintained too. The stucco work is freshly painted. European influence is predominant on them. The pillars of thakurdalan are of interesting style. Each pillar besides the archways comprises of a number of small Corinthian look like pilasters. Above each archway is rich stucco work on the Lunette (semi-circular wall area above the door). To reach the inner sanctum of the Thakurdalan which has a small backdoor, one has to cross another row of archways having similar design as the first.

Stucco work over arches at Sau House, Dhanyakuria

Stucco work over arches at Sawoo House, Dhanyakuria

Stucco work over arches at Sau House, Dhanyakuria

Stucco work over arches at Sawoo House, Dhanyakuria

Stucco work over arches at Sau House, Dhanyakuria

Stucco work over arches at Sawoo House, Dhanyakuria

I could not get much information about Sawoo family except the fact that the adjacent Radha kanta temple was built by Pratik Chandra Sawoo. Like Gaines and Ballavs, they were the Zamindars of Dhanyakuria. In 1885, descendant of Sawoo family – Upendranath Sawoo along with Mahendranath Gaine founded the first English School of Dhanyakuria. At present no one of the family resides in the house. There is a caretaker who is seldom seen in the vicinity. The interior doors and access to the top floor are usually locked.

Walking straight down the road leads to another lane on the right with a somewhat ill shaped statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose erected in the corner. Strolling down this path besides a pond leads to another magnificent mansion on the left – the two storied residence of the Ballav family.

Frontal view of Ballabh House, Dhanyakuria

Frontal view of Ballav House, Dhanyakuria

Ballav Mansion alias Ballav Bati was built by Shyamacharan Ballav almost at the same time when Gaine’s Mansion was constructed. Shyamacharan Ballav became rich by trading in Jute. He was known for being kind at heart and extremely generous. The present generation of Ballav has their descendents spread over various parts of West Bengal. Near Shyambazar area of Kolkata, there is a huge mansion of the Ballav Family.

Wide angle view of Ballabh House, Dhanyakuria

Wide angle view of Ballav House, Dhanyakuria

The exquisite cast iron gate at Ballabh House, Dhanyakuria

The exquisite cast iron gate at Ballav House, Dhanyakuria

Painted with green and white, the mansion has exquisite iron gates and fencing of same colour combination. Apart from being adorned with huge Corinthian pillars, the front side of the building has rows of stucco work over the corridors of both floors. The corridor of the top floor is totally covered with window shades. There is a beautiful and well maintained garden in the Ballav Mansion premises.

Corinthian pillars along with detailed stucco work on the corridors of Ballabh House, Dhanyakuria

Corinthian pillars along with detailed stucco work on the corridors of Ballav House, Dhanyakuria

Human figurines just above the gate of Ballabh House

Human figurines just above the gate of Ballav House

The most interesting part of the Ballav Mansion is the presence of some idols on the terrace of the house. Locally this Mansion is known as “Putul Bari” alias “House of the Dolls”.

On each corner of the terrace is a single figure with European attire. Just above the entrance there is a stucco peacock above which is figure that resembles a Roman centurion with a crown like head gear. On each side of this figure there is one male figure with mustache and turban. Maybe this was an indication of loyalty to the British Lords during the era of Raj.

At the end of the premises of Ballav house, there is a three storied tower which is design wise similar to the Nazar Minar of the Gaine family. Unlike Nazar Minar, this structure is outside the premises of Ballav House. Also it is painted in yellow and has two stucco human figurines on the top. It seems there were more figurines, but at present only two remains.

Three storied tower outside Ballabh House, Dhanyakuria

Three storied tower outside Ballav House, Dhanyakuria

Walking down further this road one encounters a huge Nine Pinnacle two storied Rasmancha on the right. During Vaisnava Ras Festival, idols of Radha Krishna idols are being worshiped here. The white colored structure looks like a Navaratna Temple at first sight. It has five arched entrance on each side of the ground floor. Just like Thakurdalan of the Sawoo house, each pillar besides the archways comprises of a number of small Corinthian look like pilasters.

Nine Pinnacled Rasmancha, Dhanyakuria

Nine Pinnacled Rasmancha, Dhanyakuria

As mentioned earlier, the Vaishnava culture was predominant in Dhanyakuria in its early periods and the huge Rasmancha is evidence to it. At a stone throw distance from the Rasmancha is the gate of Sawoo Baganbari alias Sawoo Summer palace. A huge gate adorned with Corinthian Pillars leads to the garden. The premises have an extensive area much like the Gaine Baganbari. The Sawoo Baganbari mansion is impressive too, but nowhere near in glamour and grandeur as compared to the Gaine Castle.

Sau Bagan Bari, Dhanyakuria

Sawoo Bagan Bari, Dhanyakuria

A trip to Dhanyakuria can be a refreshing weekend day tour especially during Durga Puja when the grand houses celebrate the festival and the silent hamlet becomes alive. Or if one prefers serenity and just wants to appreciate the fusion architectures of the grand mansion, a winter weekend trip can be enjoyable too.

 How to reach Dhanykuria

The best way to reach Dhanyakuria from Kolkata is by car via Barasat. From Barasat it is just over 30 km. You need to drive straight via Taki Road towards Basirhat. Keep looking on your left after Berachampa and you will spot the gate of Gayen Baganbari. A few couple metres after the mansion, the Dhanyakuria Benepara Road on the left leads to the settlement. Please note that the Taki Road is not one of the best roads for driving specially after Berachampa. You need to be careful while driving.

If you fancy going by train, take Basirhat local from Sealdah and get down at Kankra Mirzanagar Station. The journey is around 1:30 hours. From the station take a local transport which will take you to Dhanykuria via Kankra Kachua Road. There are many transportation options available as this road passes by the popular temple of Saint Lokanath at Kachuadham. On reaching Dhanyakuria you may hire a cycle rickshaw for sightseeing.

Where to eat

There is no descent eatery at Dhanyakuria. It is advisable to carry food and water.

Special Thanks

Arka Dutta , who accompanied me to Dhanyakuria

References

1. Chakrabarti, Ranjan (Editor) : Dictionary of Historical Places: Bengal, 1757-1947 ;Primus Books, Aug 2013
2. Mazumdar, Jaideep : Red bricks hint at glorious past , Times of India, Kolkata Xtra, Time Travel, 24 May 2014
3. Sengupta, Somen : Next weekend you can be at … Dhanyakuria, The Telegraph Metro, 6 December 2009
4. Biswas, Parna : Maha Astami te 108 ti pradip jwale Dhanyakuriar Rajbari te, Khabar 365 din (Bengali Newspaper), 20 September 2013

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61 thoughts on ““English” Castle at a village of Palaces

    • AMITABHA GUPTA says:

      Yes, Bengal has rich architectural heritage, most of them neglected. But now people have started developing a sense of heritage, though in the name of restoration many unwanted modification are taking place.

  1. balaka says:

    I really feel sorry that West Bengal Govt(both previous and existing) does not take much initiative in promoting tourism in these places. Thanks to bloggers like your we at least get to know about the existence of these grand palaces.

  2. Tania says:

    The pictures are simply stunning. Makes me want to visit this place RIGHT NOW. Can you please tell me approximately how long will it take to cover all the palaces you have mentioned? Will a single day be enough or would you suggest a halt?

    • AMITABHA GUPTA says:

      It will take half a day to cover Dhanyakuria. Start early by car… say around six in the morning. Will take around two hours by car. Road condition is bad.The best time to visit the place is during the winters.

      Getting access to premises of the Castle and taking its photograph solely depends upon your communication skills with the caretaker,

  3. Sumitra says:

    Hi, recently I visited a place named Itachuna Rajbari in Hoogly District in West Bengal where the film Lootera was shot and ever since then I have kind of getting an urge of visting old buildings and palaces in and around Kolkata. Thats when I found your blog, next Sunday I am going to visit Dhanyakuria. So thanks for the blog and beautiful pics. Last Sunday I visited South Park Street Cemetery and also a place named Putulbari in Ahiritola area. This is the building where City of Joy the movie was shot in 1992 however the owner did not allow me to take snaps inside the building. It will be great if you could visit this place and I can be your companion.

    • AMITABHA GUPTA says:

      Itachuna Rajbari at Khanyan is quite famous. I did a Professional Photoshoot of the entire masnion for Mylestone and Journeys sometime back. Try visiting Bowali Rajbari at BudgeBudge or Balakhana near Purbasthali. They are good heritage homestays too and the buildings are lovely.

      I have visited South Park Street Cemetery several times and also have visited Putulbari at Ahiritola long time back. Now a days usually they do not allow photographers inside thanks to the acts of several photo enthusiasts who took too much liberty while shooting the interiors.

  4. Sumitra says:

    Thanks a lot for the info Amitabha, I will surely plan a trip to the Balakhana this coming December. Meanwhile please could you advise how to reach the Bowali Rajbari and if photography is allowed or not. Also do let me know if any prior permission is required. If YES whom to contact.

    • AMITABHA GUPTA says:

      Bowali Rajbari is like Itachuna Rajbari … it is a heritage resort….so if you are staying there you can take photographs of the rooms (just like Itachuna)… or else you may have to be happy with the courtyard photos only.

      Try this website : http://bawali.in/

      The contact person is Mr/ Sanjeev Khanna. His number is given here. Try talking to him before you go.
      They also offer Day visit packages.

  5. Deepak Roy says:

    Excellent job done. This excites me and many people like me. Alas! West Bengal Government does not take initiative to promote these places as a tourist spot.

    • AMITABHA GUPTA says:

      When Heritage Places like Murshidabad and Ambika Kalna does not yet have Government Tourist Lodges yet, What more you can expect in places like Dhanyakuria ? Murshidabad has some moderate hotels but Ambika Kalna has next to nothing !

  6. Anindya Gaine says:

    Hi, thanks Amitabha for capturing the wonderful history and architecture prevailing at that time. Just a request… Our correct surname is “Gaine” – can you please change of same?

    Regards

    Anindya Gaine

    • AMITABHA GUPTA says:

      Thank you for taking the trouble for pointing me out the correct spelling. All corrections have been done.

      I was myself not sure which spelling is correct. There is not much printed reference in English on Dhanyakuria. The most popular article making rounds in in the internet is an article published in The Telegraph by Somen Sengupta years ago, where the surname is mentioned as “Gayne”. Also I did not know any of the family members.

  7. Gautam Sawhney says:

    Hi Amitabha, i think you have done a great job in capturing and showing the beautiful side of The Heritage Side of Kolkatta …The Castles you showed above i have visited there and Spelling should be Gaine instead Gayne … Like you’ll see Gaine House banner outside the the Castle ..

    • AMITABHA GUPTA says:

      I did not find any banner when I visited the Castle. The Solitary printed article on Dhanyakuria in English I found said it was “Gayne”. But now since a member of the family has informed me that the correct spelling is “Gaine”, I have corrected it in my article.

      Talking of spelling, you too have misspelled my city’s name in your query. It is Kolkata and not Kolkatta. 🙂

  8. DHRUBA JYOTI ROY says:

    It is my heartily congrats to you for this kind of pictures of my village.
    But I want to know that did you know anything about RAJA ROYBAHADUR GADADHAR THAKUR he was also live there.
    If you know anything about him please tell me and also tell me who was the first person to live here before SAU, MANDAL, JAGANNATH DAS.
    i can only give you this little information about Gadadhar thakur was he live in nadia (alias is nodey) village which is under Dhanyakuria.

    it will be very helpfull for me if you give such information

      • Dhruba Jyoti Roy says:

        Anyway thanks once again, one last request to you that if you visit dhanyakuria next time please visit chalker bari (a white coloured house) or ask anyone about kali puja held at roy bari

  9. Maria says:

    Looks very interesting… you know I read lot of news that one palace in Karnataka is gone because its not been preserved well and all visitors scribbled nonsense there… so its ok I guess to keep this lawn monument out of reach… My college building looked like one of those buildings painted dull yellow and had green doors too. Your a explorer, you really write good content, very nice. Its charming that lion and man fighting emblem and water body near by too… It will be nice if this building got converted to some educational institute, anyway, nice.

  10. Siddhartha Bhabock says:

    Sawoo Bari is my mamar bari and Gaine bari is my masir bari. I have lived in both, in Sawoo Bari as well as in Gaine Bari. Gayen bari is more elegant from outside but Sawoo bari is much better from inside. The rooms in Sawoo bari have wall size English mirrors, beauiful staues and artistic paintings and the rooms are very well decorated. I have spent my childhood in these two buildings in Dhanyakuria.

    • AMITABHA GUPTA says:

      I have visited the courtyards of both the houses…. of course i could not gain entry to the rooms…

      I have found Sawoo house interiors to be more grand with its Grannd Thakurdalan , Fresco work, exquisite Window Panes.

  11. Shinjinee Gain Biswas says:

    These are the ancestral places my grandpa used to talk about, I belong to this Gain clan, but we have long moved out of bosirhaat, only my father visited this place when he was too young…. thank you for putting the pictures. Have never been there, but now will definitely try to go there.

  12. Ashokendu Samadder says:

    Once in a winter morning I passed by the place in car along with some of my friends. The very unusual sight of the olden structure suddenly appeared before my eyes in that countryside of Bengal really surprised me. As my then companions did not feel or show any interest to that, I could not stop there even for a moment to take a snap of the ruins. Now, having gone through your write-up & photos I lament. But I promise to visit the place once in very shortly. Regards.

  13. Ashokendu Samadder says:

    Some one, I remember, once told me that the famous Hindi movie Sahib, Biwi aur Ghulam was shot in one of the ‘palaces’ of Dhanyakuria. Is it true? Another thing, what I want to know are all the buildings placed in the same locale? Can one visit them in a single spree?

      • Siddhartha Bhabock says:

        Yes! Some portions of the Hindi film starring Meena Kumari was shot in the Gaine-bari balcony overlooking the main entrance. The interior scenes were shot in some other Zamindar-bari but not in Dhanyakuria.

    • AMITABHA GUPTA says:

      Except the castle , you can get inside the premises very easily. As regarding interiors of the mansions, Sawoo mansion is easily accessible. Regarding the other two, try your luck during Durgapuja.

  14. Bikram Roy says:

    Dear Mr Gupta
    It was very detailed and informative article by you. Great work .
    Looking forward for more.

  15. Shyamal Chatterjee says:

    Nadia village is adjacent to Dhanyakuria. It is a very charming place to visit. The descendants of Raja Gadadhar Roy are living here. Visitors of Dhanyakuria may try the scenario of Nadia village.

  16. soumick mitra says:

    i recently visited Basirhat, it was a wonderful experience.
    Also had a glimpse of these Rajbaris
    .this article gave full infos about the Castle.
    A nice detailed article and wonderful snaps.

  17. Koustav Biswas says:

    Wonderful!!Im just spellbound by the architecture and beauty of the buildings and the place as well.I will surely visit the place.Actually i was trying to locate the shooting spot of the film “Dadar Kirti”.If im not wrong this is the place where some portions of the film shoot was made.Rally appreciate the blog.

  18. Aniket Dutta says:

    Hello Sir,
    This article is very insightful. However I would like to know if there are any contact references for shooting at this place for a movie. I am sure there should be a permission permit for the same. If you could guide me here.

    Thanks and regards,
    Aniket Dutta

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