I looked at the ruined mosque. Then I turned to my guide Abbas Bhai, a middle-aged Muslim gentleman clad in a sherwani.
“I have seen old brick mosques having their domes broken. Then why only this particular mosque is known as Fouti Masjid or Phuti Masjid. ?” I asked Abbas Bhai.
Despite the fact my hotel was close to Hazarduari Museum, I decided to start my tour with this dilapidated structure. Structure wise the Mosque is unique than many mosques of Bengal.
The Mosque is located near a railway crossing, almost 1 km from Hazarduari. Surrounded by Trees, thatched huts and a pond the 135 feet long structure looked like a sick giant counting its last days. Getting into the mosque is itself a problem for the aged as there is no stairs or even a raised platform. Curious local children were looking at us.
Abbas Bhai did not reply immediately. He was chewing paan. He spat some of it, looked back at me and said “Because Janab, in those mosques the domes were completed. They broke down at a later stage. In the case of Fouti Masjid, only two domes out of the five were constructed. The rest three was never made at all. It was incomplete. Nobody had read Namaz here. It was an unfinished work, a failed mission of Sarfaraz Khan – the grandson of Murshid Quli Khan. ”
He paused a second and said “It is not necessary that the grandson of a great man will be as great as him. Sarfaraz Khan was Nawab of Bengal only for two years. He was not at all clever or farsighted like his Grandfather. He died in war in the same year during which this mosque was build – 1740. History says he died as a result of a gunshot in the battle of Giria fighting against Alibardi Khan. But you know what he actually died of?”
Abbas Bhai looked at me quizzically with eyes glowing. He was a bit different from guides I had seen. I look at him and say “I have no idea.”
“He died because of lightning struck him down in the battle field. That is what the local legend says” Said Abbas Bhai in a dramatic manner. “It is said lighting struck this mosque almost the same time he died. That created a big crack in the dome and the work was abandoned.”
He lowered his voice and said “Do not believe those rumors that the mosque was constructed in one day. Actually after the death of Nawab, the construction work was stopped due to lack of funds. Thus the excuse of lightning damaging the roof originated. And the descendants of the Nawab made the story of one day wonder to glorify him.” Abbas Bhai chuckled at his own story.
Murshidabad is full of such ancient mansions, each having its own history. And if you happen to run across a narrator like Abbas Bhai, then the histories becomes fascinating story.
History of Murshidabad – The Land of Nawabs
The history of Murshidabad actually originated from South India.
In the late 17th century, one deccan brahmin was cursing himself. Due to poverty, he was forced to sell himself into slavery. He was bought by one Haji Shafi Isfahani, who was a Persian Merchant from Iran. The merchant gave him education and renamed him to Mirza Hadi after converting him to Islam. Returning to India, Mirza Hadi joined the service of the Mughals. His active role in Aurangzeb’s warfare in the Deccan gave him the title of “Kartalab Khan”. When there was a need for Diwan in Bengal at Dacca, Kartalab Khan was emperor’s automatic choice.
Though Kartalab Khan was efficient as an administrator, he went into confrontation with Azim-ush-Shan, the grandson of the emperor. In the year 1703, Kartalab Khan relocated his office from Dacca to Muksudabad on the banks of Bhagirathi River. He was now Aurangzeb’s most favored officer as he generated the maximum revenue. On 1704, Aurangzeb honoured him with the title of Murshid Quli Khan. He went on to become the first independent Nawab of Bengal and Orissa. Simultaneously he changed the city’s name to Murshidabad.
Murshidabad was once the most important city of Bengal, until Nawab Siraj-Ud-Daulah lost it out to the British Empire after being betrayed by Mir-Jafar. In 1757, when Robert Clive won the vital battle of Plassey, Murshidabad was said to be as prosperous as London.
At present Murshidabad is nowhere near London. Gone are the days of Nawabs. While you walk down the – the star attraction of Murshidabad, you will only find some run down houses, road side shanties selling foods and cold drinks besides Bhagirathi and saris drying on the walls of the premises. It is like going to view Taj Mahal after passing through a dirty slum. Recently some of these shanties were on fire and almost damaged the Hazarduari Mansion.
There is not a single standard hotel in Murshidabad. And by a standard hotel, I do not mean luxury. Let us not talk about room services anyways. In fact I was surprised to find one website claiming “Tourists can find many budget and mid-range hotels in Murshidabad with good facilities.” Good Facilities ?? A cut and paste job, I suppose!
If you are looking for standard hotels, you need to stay at Berhampore. Pity, in so many years there is even no Government Tourist Lodge at Murshidabad. The one that is at Berhampore is perhaps the worst Government lodge in West Bengal.
This town is one of the most historically enriched places of West Bengal, yet from bad communication roads to pathetic lodging is all what it has got as a reward from our State. I can bet that if Murshidabad was situated in any other state, it would have had three to four star hotels and an altogether different ambiance.
Generally a city grows with time. Murshidabad with its past glory seems to going down, which pains me a lot. The lanes are narrow and crowded. Getting a car with skilled driver is a rare scenario. Locating an ATM is not easy. If you have to buy some Murshidabad silk sarees, you have to travel quite a distance inside the main city through narrow lanes.
Having said so much, I still love coming to this town. I must admit that one of the reasons to visit the place is my obsession towards historical monuments. After all once this was the last capital city of Independent Bengal, before to British shifted to Calcutta.
Other than the famous historical landmarks, there are several old ruined mansions scattered around. Walking down the roads, you will see still see old gates standing like a misfit amongst the new structures. Take a stroll in its outskirts and you will get surprised to land into enormous sized ruined mansions. Some of the monuments have been renovated by ASI and some by private initiatives. Thanks to our Mega TV Serial, some of the crumbling mansions have been renovated and received a new lease of life.
Recently Murshidabad Heritage Development Society has taken an initiative to rebuild the Heritage Mansions of Murshidabad and come out with high standard accommodation facilities by 2018. Until then the tourists interested in lodging at Murshidabad will have to be satisfied with the options available.
Though I thoroughly detest them, on my visit to this city I always stay at one of the dingy rooms of Hotel Manjusha besides the Bhagirathi River. The hotel is adjacent to the Nijamat Imambarah opposite to which you can see the magnificent Hazarduari Palace at a stone throwing distance. The hotel is an automatic choice for many just because of its location advantage. However, the room service is pathetic and it has no in house restaurant. On request the staff gets you food from local eateries. I never touch their highly indigestible curry, and stick to Roti, Dal and Fried Fish and Fried vegetable. Unfortunately the city has only two proper restaurants, which are around 1.5 km from Hazarduari.
A typical tour to Murshidabad is likely to take minimum two days. If your intention is to photograph the heritage building it is better to reach the earlier night by train and get two full day to explore the place. There are many historical mansions, some renovated, some crumbling , some untraceable and some lost forever. I am enlisting some of the prominent places to visit in a sequence.
Start your tour with the 1740 built Fouti Mosque. This is not because I started my tour with it. You never know how long the structure will survive as there is no initiative to restore the mosque. Though only two out of its five dome were completed, it still is a giant structure with five entrances and four attached towers. Inside there are small damaged staircases on each cornering it to climb up to its roof, which you will not find in any other brick mosques of the 18th century in West Bengal.
Each door frame is made of Basalt stone. Above the door frame there is the arch styled decorative element of lintel. The lintels are plain and not decorated. Maybe they were never decorated.
Another unique thing about this mosque is there are triple Mihrabs on the wall facing the middle entrance. The walls facing other door has single Mihrab. Usually there is single Mihrab facing each entrance of a mosque. Miharb indicates a semicircular niche in the wall of a mosque. It indicates the direction of Kabba in Mecca. Muslims pray looking at this direction. Except Katra mosque which boasts five triple Mihrab, even huge mosques like Adina does not showcase triple Mihrabs.
Climbing up the narrow stairs at Fouti Masjid is not advisable for everyone. The stairs are broken in many places and without wearing sneakers you will not get a grip. Occasionally you have a tread beside a dead rat on which flies and maggots will be found feasting. Once you are on the top, you have to keep in mind that three domes do not exist. If you falls down through any of those huge holes, it will definitely not be a good experience.
Traveling on the same road bypassing mango orchards one can reach an important landmark of Murshidabad – The Katra Masjid. Talking of Murshidabad Mangoes reminds the Nawabi era when team of researchers and mango specialists were employed to produce unique varieties of Mango. Abbas Bhai mentioned that urbanization has resulted in demolition of many orchards at Murshidabd, which has resulted in vanishing of some varieties. Replanting has resulted in lack of their legendary taste. Apart from other legendary mangoes Bimli, Ranipasand, Begumpasand and Shahdullah, special mention must be made of the mango named Kohitoor alias Koh e Tore. This is one of the legendary mangoes of Murshidabad, which has lost its original taste due to replanting. There were huge orchards of this varieties in Cossimbazar even 30 years ago, which ceases to exists now
Build within a span of two years (1723-24), Katra Masjid brandishes two giant towers. Originally there were four of them; two towers got destroyed in an earthquake. Much earlier one could get up the stairs of the towers, but now the doors to the towers are closed. The towers had domes like the mosque. Only two domes of the original four domes of the mosque exist. The structure was severely damaged by the earthquake of 1897.
There are five doors to the Katra Masjid. As mentioned earlier, there are triple Mihrabs on the walls of the mosque facing each door. Above the central triple Mihrab, there is an inscription in Arabic which says “La-l-la-ha illallah… Muhammad ur-Rasool-Allah”. This means “There is no god except Allah and Muhammad is his prophet”. There is a small stairs leading to a small platform to the right (of viewer) of the central triple Mihrab. This is the Minbar where sermons and speeches are given. In many mosques of Pandua at Malda, the Minbar is a raised platform made of basalt stone with quite a number of stairs which looks like a stone throne.
There is a basalt slab on the top of the outer wall of the mosque above the middle door way. It is written in traditional old Persian, which is very difficult to decipher at present even by people in India who knows reasonably good Persian. I am yet to find first hand a person who can translate this properly. Meanwhile I am using the translation given in the book “The Musnud of Murshidabad” which says “The triumph of Mahomed of Arabia is the glory of heaven and earth. Let the dust of his feet fall on the head of him who is not the dust of his door.“
We checked out the small cells which used to house 700 odd people for reading Holy Quran. The cells are in double storied area surrounding the mosque. There are open space of about 13 feet and the cells on each side of the mosque. On the back side the open space is around 42 feet. The cells are about 20 feet square with archway doors and windows. They are interconnected with each others. Some of the cells, specially the one on two sides of the open praying area has broken down probably because of the earthquake.
The praying area of the Mosque is said to accommodate 2000 Namaz readers. When I first visited Katra Mosque, Abbas Bhai had pointed me out to square type mats of the floor. He said that the floor had 2000 such mats, each for a single person praying Namaz. The present entrance to the premises of the mosque is actually not its frontal side. The actual entrance to the mosque is now on its back side. There is a flight of stairs at the original entrance, which a visitor reaches at the end of the completion of the tour of the mosque.
The mosque is maintained by ASI, so naturally there is a garden area. There is a Shiva Temple in the complex of the mosque too. While I was resting on these stairs, Abbas Bhai said to me “Come on Janab, The Nawab is waiting for you.” As I look at him in startled manner, he explained his gesture. Under the stairs of the entrance to the mosque lies the tomb of Nawab Murshid Quli khan.
It was the Nawab’s wish that he should be buried below the stairs of the mosque, so that he could get foot dust of the noble men who would climb the stairs and enter the Mosque. The Nawab had a guilt feeling for his wrong deeds near the end of his life and hence this arrangement was done.
Near to the Katra Masjid lies the huge “Jahankosha Canon” perched on a pedestal. This 8000 kg weighing mass of steel was by made Gunsmith Janardan Karmakar of Dacca in 1637, under the instructions of Darogah Shere Mahomed and the supervision of Kara Ballav Das.
The canon is made of a composition of eight metals. Besides iron the other metals are tin , lead, copper , zinc , mercury, silver and gold. 17 kg of gunpowder was needed for a single shot! The Canon is 17.5 feet tall and once rested on a carriage with four wheels. The area where the present canon rests is known as Topekhana alias the armory. There is a touch hole at the back of canon, which helps to target the enemy. This massive mass of iron is under the jurisdiction of ASI.
Taking the road just opposite to that of Jahankosha Canon, one encounters the beautiful 1767 white painted structure named Chawk Masjid. The mosque was built by Munny Begum – wife of Nawab Mir Jafar. The mosque was build on the site of Chehel Satoon or the forty-pillar audience hall of Murshid Kuli Khan.
She was quite popular to the East India Company; hence, the mosque was quite important. She fell into the rare category of Gadinasheen Begums, to whom separate allowance was provided. The five domed mosque has some beautiful stucco floral design. It has a grand entrance and two small towers. A market was and is still this date located in front of the mosque. Since Chawk means markets, the mosque derived its name from that.
The Chawk Masjid falls on the left side of the road on your way towards the riverfront. Goings straight, one encounters the huge gate with a triple arched gateway surmounted with a Nahabatkhana. This marks one of the entrances to the Killa Niazamat area of Murshidabad. The arches were high enough to accommodate Nawabs riding on elephants.
Though this magnificent gate is now referred to as Tripoli alias Tripulia gate, it was actually known as Chawk Gate. This gate was built by Nawab Shuja Khan, who succeeded Nawab Murshid Quli Khan.
An interesting fact I read in the book “The Musnud of Murshidabad” is that there were three single arch gates near the chowk. They were also built by Nawab Shuja Khan. Of these two were at the entrance of two roads which meets in front of the Chowk gate. The other was in front of an “Ambhakhana” to store mangoes. Together they were known as “Tripaulia Gate”.
The Chowk gate is instead now referred to as Tripaulia Gate. The other two main gates were the South Gate and the Imambara Gate. The South gate was the main entrance gate to the Killa Nizamat area. I am not sure, but I guess the Imambara Gate is the gate of Nijamata Imambara which opens on the road near Hotel Manjusha.
The important tourist attractions inside Killa Nizamat area now constitutes of Hazarduari Museum, Niajamat Imambara, Clock tower, Siraj ud–daulah’s Madina, BachhiWali Tope (Canon), Wasif Manjil, and two small mosques near the river.
Situated on the banks of Bhagirathi River at Lalbagh, Hazarduari palace was built by Nawab “Humayun Jah” as his official residence during the period 1829-1837 at an astounding cost of 18 Lakhs. Duncan MacLeod of the Bengal Corps of Engineers was in charge of the construction. The palace has been converted into a museum. Though the conventional photographs showcasing the mansion is usually is of its frontal side, I personally favour its backside because of the rows of trees in its front.
The building claims to have thousand doors of which 900 are said to be real and the rest to be false doors. At the entrance to the museum there are two Victorian Lion statue on each side of the staircase. The museum timings are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with closure on Friday. Entry fee is Rs. 5/- for Indian citizen and US $ 2 for foreign nationals. Photography is not allowed inside the museum.
The three storied structure has 120 rooms which displays several antique materials including oil paintings made by eminent Dutch, French and Italian artists, elegant statues made of porcelain, marble and stucco, rare books, old maps, mirrors, palanquins and a fair number of weapons. To explore the museum properly, you need minimum four hours. It is difficult to describe the artifacts in the Museum, But I will try my best to remember.
Just after the entrance in the ground floor, there is a painting of Nawab Humayan Jah as well that of Duncan Mcleod. A miniature model of Hazarduari is in the display. A Canon standing on wheels can be seen which was once used by Mir Madan, Nawab Siraj Ud Daulah’s Faithful Commander. In the Armory wing (also known as Galley 1 and 2), among the weapons displayed are Nawab Siraj Ud Daulah and Nawab Alibadi’s sword, Nadir Shah’s Javelin, Rhino Shield, Indo Persian sword, Sword with Arabic inscription and a Dagger with an ivory hilt.
Among the firearms, I was fascinated to see a small portable canon. It reminded me of Balaram Pandit’s portable canon mentioned in Saradindu Bandopadhyay’s Novel “Tungabhadrar Tire” (On the Banks of Tungabhadra). Other firearms included a six chamber pistol, a muzzle loading gun, seven barrel gun and a pistol with a safety catch.
On the second floor there are 18 galleries. I am just highlighting a few items here. Among the paintings worth mentioning are those of painting of Nawab Humayun Jah and Nawab Feradun Jah (Gallery no 3) , “Scene of Thirty Years of War” by Jorgenson, and “Scotch Warrior” by G. Campbell ( Galley no 4) and “Burial of Sir John Moore” by Marshall (Gallery no 3). A very significant painting is that of Robert Clive receiving Diwani of Bengal from Shah Aalam II in 1765.
Gallery no 3 has an ivory palanquin used on elephants back for woman folk to ride. But perhaps the most impressive object of this Museum is a large crystal chandelier with 96 lamps and a sliver throne with its umbrella in Durbar Hall. The porcelain vases, needle work on carpets, plates of Nawab Humayun Ja, decorated Silver Dressing table are worth mentioning. The green coloured plates of Humayun Jah would break apart if poison was served on them! I am not sure how many plates were there in original and how many remained till the end.
Hazarduari Museum looks beautiful in the night with lights on it. I wonder why cannot a light and sound show cannot be arranged at Hazarduari or Katra Mosque premises.
Tip : While Shooting photograph of Hazarduari Museum , remember that the premises close down at 6 p.m. However the lights are not on until the sunset. In winter you will get more time to shoot with a Tripod as sunset is over by 05:30. Sunset is much less in summer and you may be pressed for time.
Opposite to the Hazarduari Museum is the huge Nijamat Imambara. Entrance inside this building is only allowed during Muhharam. The white painted mansion was constructed during the reign of Nawab Ferdaun Jah under the supervision of Sadeq Ali khan in 1847-48, after the old wooden Imambarah constructed by Siraj-Ud-Daulah was destroyed in consecutive devastating fire in 1842 and 1846. The earlier Imambarah was much closer to the Hazarduari Museum.
The Nizamat Imambarah is the largest one in Bengal and one of the largest in India. It is 680 feet long and the central block is of 300 feet in width. The mansion is rectangular in shape, divided into three quadrangles. The central quadrangle houses the Medina, the symbolic representation of burial place of Prophet Muhammad. The white structure surmounted by a dome is adorned with several pillars and arches standing on a raised floor decorated with ornamental China tiles.
The entrance from to the eastern quadrangle is from the side of the main road through a big gate which has a nahabat khana on its top. The western side quadrangle of the Imambarah showcases a five domed two storied mosque having a beautiful covered terrace adorned with massive pillars facing the river. One can get a great view of this mosque standing from the terrace of Hotel Manjusha. One can easily guess as the riverside looked from the terrace in the 19th century. There is another gate which opens directly on the road.
Regarding this mosque I found interesting information in the book “A History of Murshidabad District” by Major J. H. Tull Walsh. He mentions while describing the Imambara “To the west, on the bank of the river, there was a Hindu temple. This was razed to the ground, and another was built in place of it at Ichaganj. On the site of this temple, on the bank of the river, a two-storied Musjid was erected. This Musjid comands a very beautiful view…”
I am yet to trace where is Ichaganj at Murshidabad. I would very much like to know if that replaced temple still exists.
Madina of Old Imambara
The only remain of the old Imambara is its Madina, situated almost halfway between the New Imambara and Hazarduari Mansion. In the 1902 published book “A History of Murshidabad District” by Major J. H. Tull Walsh, a detailed description of this Imambarah is given. Major Walsh mentions that “On the first day of the erection, Suraj-v-Dowlah (Siraj-ud-Daulah) brought bricks and mortar with his own hands, and laid the foundation of the building himself. In the middle of the Imambara, the “Medina” was situated. The plot of land on which this Medina was built had been dug out to the depth of six feet, and had been re-filled with the sacred earth – i.e earth from Mecca.”
I have read in many guide books Siraj-ud-Daulah had personally bought the sacred earth from Mecca. However I am yet to find any evidence that the Nawab himself went to Mecca. Even in the book “The Musnud of Murshidabad” by Saroda Roy, it is only mentioned that “Serajudjdowla himself carried on his head the first basket of materials”.
Just Beside the old Madina, there is a canon. Popularly known as “Bacchewali Tope”, this canon was test-fired only once. The result was not a good one as it let to the miscarriage of several pregnant women within 10 km of the vicinity.
Near the canon, there is a beautiful clock tower. Once it was surmounted by a colossal bell whose sound could be heard from a great distance. There is a closed chamber in the clock tower and the door remains locked too. So I am not sure if the bell still exists.
On my each visit to Murshidabad, I have found the clock was not functioning. The tower was designed by Sagor Mistri, and like Big Ben of London, the dials could be seen from a long distance, especially from the opposite side of Bhagirathi. On each of the four corners of the roof of the ground floor there four shields, supported by four lions.
Just opposite to the Gate of Hazarduari Musuem is the Zurud Mosque painted in yellow. Situated on the banks of Bhagirathi, it is said to have been built by order of Nawab Siraj Ud Daulah in one night.However, in recent times, the paint of yellow mosque has worn off to a great extent and looks more white. The corrosponding photograph which I showcase here was taken in 2008.
There is a corresponding similar looking Mosque, near the South Gate close to Wasif Manjil alias New Palace. That is painted in white and looks pretty from the boat.
Wasif Manzil or New Palace
A few yards from this enclosure is the Wasif Manzil which was once the residing place of Nawab Wasif Ali Mirza. The original palace was destroyed by 1897 earthquake and was rebuilt in 1904. Wasif Manzil has some rare artifacts inside it lying in utter neglect and full of dust. Until 2011, tourists could enter inside purchasing a ticket of Rs 1.00.
Unfortunately at present the mansion remains closed. From the front side, it is impossible to understand the colossal size of the building. If a curious tourist ventures to the backside of the mansion, he will be surprised to see the massive Begum Mahal of the Nawab, which at present lies in ruins. Some Hotels have developed besides the palace.
Inside the premises of Wasif Manzil, there lie the remains of huge machinery with wheels. Actually, this is the remains of smaller scale turbine manufactured by Ruston Gas Turbines based Lincoln, England. Small turbines were used to generate power in offbeat locations.
I was told by one official at Wasif Manzil that this was used to illuminate the interiors of Hazarduari Palace. The engraved words Ruston and Lincoln still exist on the machinery.
Near the southern gate of Wasif Manzil are two pillars on either side of the road surmounted with an Iron Eagle on each of them. Just besides them is the earlier mentioned white mosque on the banks of Bhagirathi.
Around 3 km to the south of Wasif Manzil lies the horseshoe shaped lake named “Motijheel”. It is difficult to imagine standing near this pond that Nawazish Muhammad Khan, the son in law of Nawab Alivardi Khan had built a beautiful palace named here named “Sang I Dalan” along with an immense gateway and a mosque. Nothing remains of it except the mosque named “Kala Masjid” and some graves including that Nawazish Muhammad Khan himself.
The widow of Nawazish Muhammad Khan, Ghaseti Begum lived after his husband’s death. Later in 1756, Siraj ransacked this palace and took away many valuables. He later built a palace named Hira Jheel on the other side of Bhagirathi. Nothing remains of Hirajheel Palace at present too.
After Mir Jafar became Nawab, he built a palace named “Baraduary” (Palace with twelve doors). In 1765, Robert Clive stayed in that mansion for six days during negotiating with the Nawab for getting the Dewani transferred to East India Company. It was even the home of Warrren Hastings in 1771-73 when he was political resident at the Durbar of the Nawab Nazim. Moti Jheel is also known as Company Bagh, as it was occupied by East India Company.
There are several myths about Motijheel too, but pictorially it has nothing much to offer. In recent times an Eco Park named “Mothijheel Park” has come out in the vicinity. If a general tourist interested to visit the Eco Park, then only going to Motijheel is justified. Otherwise if one is not inclined towards history no point coming here.
On the way back a country boat ride takes the visitor to the family grave of Nawab Siraj-Ud-Daulah at Khosbagh on the western side of Bhagirathi. Khosbagh is very well maintained and one feels very peaceful. The grave of Siraj and his wife Lutf-un-nisa are there in a very plain and simple manner inside a mausoleum. Also inside this mausoleum is the grave of Siraj’s grandfather – Nawab Alivardi Khan.
Khosbagh was built by Alivardi Khan and much later after Siraj’s death; it was maintained by Lutf-un-nisa. It is said once over 108 varieties of roses bloomed in this garden. Khosbag also has a Mosque inside it. The place has few takers compared to other tourist spots. There are several graves belonging to the family of Siraj but only the graves inside the mausoleum has been identified. The Grave of Sirja ud daulah is easily identified from the plaque adjacent to it. As the book “The Musnud of Murshidabad” located on the east of the grave of Siraj Ud Dualah is the grave of his own brother Mirza Mehendi. To the south of Siraj’s grave is that of Siraj’s wife Lutfunissa. Adjacent Lutfunissa is the grave of Mirza Mehendi’s Wife. Two brothers lie side by side and their wives lie below them side by side. On the western side of Siraj’s grave on the central part of the mausoleum under an arched structure lies the grave of Ali Vardi Khan. The grave of Sharf-un-Nisa, wife of Ali Vardi’s is on the southern side of his husband’s grave. As per the book the rest two graves are that of Ali Vardi’s daughters.Now, Ali Vardi had three daughters Meher-Un-Nissa (Ghaseti Begum),Amina Begum (Siraj’s Mother) and Munira Begum. As per my knowledge goes Amina Begum and Ghaseti Begum were drowned by Miran while they were crossing the river in a boat.Thus,both had a watery grave. Then, how come his two daughter’s grave are here?
The local guides at Khosbagh tell cock and bull story about the remaining graves. They show two graves outside the mausoleum as that of Amina Begum and Ghaseti Begum without any clue from where they got the idea. Like this they identifies many other graves with God knows from what source.Many historians and professor of history believes these stories too and write articles based on the guide’s account! I have asked the guides for reference of books which they have failed to comply.
At Murshidabad, there is no bridge to cross the river. If you have a car, it will be placed on the boat (No Kidding) and transported on the other side. A wooden platform is made on the boat and the car is placed on that. It feels bit scary to cross the river for a first timer.
Dahapara Dham and Kiriteshwari Temple.
Within a distance of 8 km North of Khosbagh is the Religious Dahapara Dham and the famed Kiriteshwari Temple. The Temple is flat roofed one with a dome shaped pinnacle. It is famous because it is one of 51 Pithasthanas where the Kirit (the crown) of the goddess Sati said to have fallen. There are two chrachala temples in his vicinity as well a ruined temple too.
Dahapara Dham is the birthplace of Saint Jagatbandhu Sundar. Born in 1871, he is believed to be reincarnation of Krishna as an avatar. There is a beautiful Temple at the Ashrama of the saint. For Religious minded tourists at Murshidabad a visit to these two places is a must.
Ratnewshar Temple, Bhattabati
Perhaps the less visited place on the western side of Bhagirathi is the Ratneshwar Temple at Bhattabati. The name can be traced to the regime of Nawab Hussein Shah (1493-1519), when 1,200 Bhatta Brahmin families from Karnat in south India settled down here. Nothing remains of the Bhatta Families but the 200-year-old Pancharatna Ratneshwar Shiva temple, which boasts some exquisite terracotta artwork. The Terracotta work includes a Shadabhuja Gouranga, A Mahishashur Durga Panel with a Chalchitra, Matsya Avatar of Vishnu and several soldiers in Terracotta.
I was so impressed with the Terracotta work photographs, that I had made a day trip to Murshidabad to visit only this temple. Many of the panels have been damaged but the star attraction remains the Shadabhuja Gouranga. This Terracotta figurine is so immense than the other similar statues I have seen earlier, that on my visit I mistook it to be a Six armed Krishna. Shadabhuja Gouranga is a combination of Rama, Krishna and Chaitanya. I had written a separate blogpost on Bhattabati earlier.
Mosque of Begam Ajimunnishah
The next day we ventured to the northern part of the town. We started with ruined mosque of Begam Ajimunnishah alias “Kalija Khaki Begum”. One of the lower chambers houses the grave of this infamous daughter of Murshid Quli Khan. Incidentally, like his father the grave is below the staircase.
The story goes that other than being a nymphomaniac, the Begum also had this habit of eating livers of freshly slaughtered children. The most popular version was that she was finally buried alive in this grave by his husband.
Namak Haram Deori
There is nothing left of Nawab Mir Jafar’s palace in Jaffraganj except a dilapidated gate referred to as “Namak Haram Deori”. Popularly it is believed that in this palace Mir Jafar’s son Miran stabbed Siraj Ud Daulah to death. Another theory is Siraj was actually murderd at Hira Jheel Palace.
The gate is not under ASI and this marvelous and historical piece of architecture is progressing towards a slow but steady end.
Adjacent is the Jafar family’s graveyard. Here you can find the grave of Mir Jafar, his son Miran and other members of his family. Interestingly the graves of the begums are enclosed within walls.
Another thing to be observed in this cemetery, which tourists and even many historians seems to have overlooked, is some ceramic tiles on the floor of the cemetery which showcases English lifestyles.
Down the road, the tourist encounters the Hazarduari look-alike Nashipur Palace. The palace was earlier in shambles. At present, this property of tyrant Haryanvi feudal lord Debi Singh has been renovated for the tourists. The two storied house has a flight of stairs with an imposing facade.
There is a temple located centrally inside this mansion. It feels good to stroll on the huge courtyards, Natmandir and the long corridors.
House of Jagat Sett
The next stoppage was the house of financier Jaggat Setts, which was actually their banking premises. In the book “The Musnud of Murshidabad” it is mentioned that “At Mohimapur, a few yards from the Nashipur Rajbari, are visible the ruins and remnants of the old Banking house of the Jaggat Setts….”
Regarding their residential mansion, It is also mentioned in this book that “The major portion of the house has been cut away the river, which tradition says could one day be blocked with Jaggat Sett’s treasures, so vast they were.” If this was the condition in 1905 (date of the book), no wonder no trace of the house is visible more than 100 years later.
It is sad as because at that mansion, Nawab Mir Jaffar had that famous meeting after the battle of Plassey with Robert Clive, Watts, Scrafton, Miran and Dullavram, where it was mentioned to millionaire Omichand that the treaty he signed was of no value. Omichand had threatened earlier to disclose the plot of betrayal against Siraj Ud Daulah and a treaty was signed to give him Rs 30 lakhs after victory at Plassey. Apart from the book “The Musnud of Murshidabad”, this event is mentioned in District Gazetteer of Murshidabad by L.S.S. O’Malley.
It is erroneously mentioned in many websites and books that this meeting took place at Kathgola Gardens.
There is an arrangement of guided tour here, where we could see antique furniture, coins, utensil and dresses inside the banking premises. At the back of the house is an underground passage. In the same premises there is the Laxminarayan Temple, which has been renovated in recent times. The Garden is well maintained. Photography is allowed other than inside the banking premises.
Right from my childhood, I have heard of the hidden treasures of Jagat Seth and numerous stories written about it. Let me elaborate the reasons behind this stories.
Jagat Seth was not actually any particular person, but a title given to one of the descendants of Manik Chand. He was an advisors as well as banker of Nawab Murshid Kuli Khan. On the death of Nawab, Manik Chand surmised maximum of his wealth. In 1715, Mughal emperor Farrukhsiyar conferred Manik Chand with the title of “Seth”. His adopted nephew Fateh Chand was given the title “Jaggat Seth” (“banker of the world”) by Mughal emperor Mahomed Shah in 1724.
After death of Fateh Chand in 1744, his grandson Madhab Rai was conferred with the title “Jaggat Seth” His son’s child, Swarup Chand, received the title of “Raja”. They were the biggest financiers of their time and was instrumental in the defeat of Siraj Ud Daulah. Ultimately due to a misunderstanding were murdered by Mir Kasim in 1763 in Munger fort and had their body thrown into the river.
Madhab Rai’s eldest son Khushal Chand took the title and he became the treasurer of the East India Company. He was supposed to have hidden lots of jewels, which he disclosed to no one before his death. Thus, the fables of hidden treasures of Jagat Seth came into existence.
Khushal Chand was childless. So he adopted a nephew Harreck Chand, who was directly conferred the title by the English. From a Jain Harrek Chand became a Vaishanava. It is who made constructed the Laxmi Narayan Temple in this premises in 1798. This Temple is described in the book “Musnud of Murshidabad” as “The Hindu temple built of porcelain tiles by Harreck Chand in 1798.”
Harreck Chand’s son Indra Chand was the last of the descendants to have this title of “Jaggat Seth”. From Harreck Chand, the Seth’s family continued as Vaishnavas.
Kathgola Bagan or Kathgola Gardens
The last stop is the one of the post popular tourist spot of Murshidabad – the Kathgola Gardens. The complex was built by the late Rai Bahadur Lakshmipat Singh Dugar (1836-1888), one of the leading zamindars (landlords) and bankers of Bengal. It is because of several varieties of wood roses were grown in this garden, it was actually known as “Kath Golap Bagan” which is pronounced now as “Kath Gola Bagan”.
On entering the premises, the first thing which strikes the visitor is the entrance gate itself. Adorned with Corinthian pillars, lion statues, stucco floral design, the gate is surmounted with a beautiful Nahabat Khana adorned with colorful stained glasses.
Walking through a boulevard the visitor approaches the Ticket counter. The entrance fees to the garden is Rs 10/-. There is an official guide who takes you around telling the tales. The tour starts with an exquisitely designed step well on the left with a lion statue, which was renovated in 2007 -08 . A marble statue of a man in a relaxed position can be seen besides it. Just opposite to the step well is an run down enclosure with yet another lion statue at the entrance. This once housed a private zoo.
Standing in the middle of the complex is a three storied Grand Mansion with a water body in front of it. I am not very sure when was this Mansion constructed but this is perhaps one of the best example of fusion architecture, prevalent during British Rule. Like Hazarduari, photography is not permitted inside its interiors. That is a pity as the interiors are filled with Belgian Mirrors, Italian Marbles, Porcelain artifacts, huge chandeliers, paintings and age old rose wood furniture. Only ground floor is accessible to the visitors.
Located almost in south east adjacent to this grand mansion, there is a dilapidated two storied house inside an enclosed area The mansion is usually under lock and key. This is the Zenana Mahal, where only woman and man of the family were allowed to enter. It is in a bad shape and recently there has been a thought to renovate this into a heritage resort. There is another waterbody besides the Zenana Mahal, where boating arrangements have been made in recent times.
In the middle of the garden there is a a band-stand from which musicians entertained. visitors. Nearby is the Adinatha Temple , dedicated to the first Jain Tirthankara Lord Rishabh. The idol is said to be 900 year old. The temple architecture is another fine example of fusion architecture. The long pillared corridors with window shutters reminds of the Nilkuthi structures. Other than that there was example of Mughal, Jain architecture as well as Bengali plaster work.
Apart from these, close to the Jain temple, there is flat roofed structure named Dadabari, dedicated to the Dadaguru Jinadutta Suriji Maharaj, who had helped Lakhsmipat Singh Dugar to overcome a financial crisis.
NEARBY PLACES TO MURSHIDABAD
Baronagar ( 23 km)
Usually, the tourist visiting Murshidabad completes their journey at Kathgola Gardens, but I insist tourists for driving further to Jiyaganj. Jiyaganj has some beautiful Jain Temples as well.
Crossing the main ghat of Jiyaganj, the visitors have to drive further to a small ghat. From there the tourists cross the river in a mechanical country boat (locally known as Bhutbhuti) to Baronagar on the other side of the river.
Baronagar was the abode of Rani Bhabani , who built several temples here. The most famous is the Char Bangla Temples, where four char chala temples stand facing each other. The temples have some of the exquisite Terracotta Panels of Bengal. Beautiful Terracotta panels can also be seen in the Jora Bangla Gangeshwar Temple. Other prominent temples are the Bhabanishwar Temple and the Panchananda Shiva Temple.
I plan to write a detailed post on Baronagar at some later time.
Berhampore (14 km)
It seems unbelievable but despite going to Murshidabad and Baronagar thrice, I have never been to Berhampore. Even I have taken a single exclusive tour to Bhattbati, but some way I am yet to visit this historical town.
Berhampore was essentially a British Cantonment area, especially after the battle of Plassey in 1757. Cossimbazar was a fortified area for some time. Both British and Dutch had established their factory by the middle of the 17th century at Berhampore.
Out of the places to see at Berhampore, Cossimbazar Choto Rajbari is the star attraction. Ticketed tour of the premises is allowed as well as photography. The Cossimbazar Boro Rajbari was in a bad shape but has been renovated in recent times. Other interesting places to visit are the Dutch and English cemetery, Byaspur Shiva Temple, Dayamayi Kali Temple and Satidaha Ghat. If time permits take a stroll in the Krishna Nath college, which is somewhat similar to the Oxford University Museum of Natural history.
How to go to Murshidabad
Hazarduari Express at 06:50 from Kolkata terminus at Chitpur is the best option. Return journey can be done by the same train which leaves at 16:40 or by Bhagirathi express which leaves at 06:21 terminating at Sealdah Station. There are many other trains too.
Where to Stay and Eat
You can stay at either Murshidabad or at Berhampore. Out of the two Berhampore has better lodging options covering all budgets, but staying in Murshidabad means you are more close to the action.
While at Murshidabad there are only two descent eateries, Berhampore has quite a number of options.
What to shop
There are many curio shops on a lane behind Hazarduari. Look out for Brass Canons, Swords and Shields. These are essentially local handicrafts of Murshidabad and are very much affordable. Also items made of Indian Cork (Shola) is another specialty of Murshidabad . Murshidabad Silk Sarees are also in high demand. But as mentioned earlier, you have to take rickshaw ride in the interiors of the city to buy the Sarees.
1. Ritwick Ghosh and Abbas Bhai who made my first trip to Murshidabad memorable.
2. Koustav Bhar, who allowed me to use some of his photographs of Murshidabad after my third lot of photographs were lost.
3. Reema Nandy, who allowed me to use her photograph of Cossimbazar New Palace.
4. Devashish Nandy, who allowed me to use his photographs of Kiriteshwari Temple and Dahapara Dham.
1. The Musnud of Murshidabad (1704 -1904) by Purna Chandra Majumdar. Published by Saroda Ray, Omraoganj, 1905
2. A History of Murshidabad District (Bengal) with Biographies of some of its noted families. Compiled and Edited by Major J.H. Tull Walsh (Civil Surgeon of Murshidabad). Published by Jarrold and Sons
3. Bengal District Gazeetters (Murshidabad) by L. S, S. O’Malley. Published by The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, Calcutta , 1915