AN INTERESTING STORY FROM AN ENGLISHMAN
Sometimes you travel your country thoroughly but overlook what is in your backyard. I had never heard of the place named Hetampur until I met this English gentleman named Ashley on a train journey to Bishnupur in 2010. Ashley was fond of heritage structures of West Bengal. A few days back he had visited Shantiniketan. From his tour, Ashley had developed a fair idea of the place and its surrounding. Apart from the usual tourist spots in the University town he visited Surul Rajbari and its surrounding terracotta temples.
“You see, I had a well-informed driver accompanying me.” said Ashley “This guy named Sanat observed my interest in terracotta panels and guided me to similar temples in Supur and Illambazar. Then he mentioned about this place named Hetampur, where he said one can see terracotta plaque showcasing Queen Victoria and the court of arms of British East India Company on the walls of a temple.”
Back in 2010, I was not aware of any such temple. So I urged Ashley to continue with his narrative. Ashley said “Hetampur is around 41 km from Bolpur on the way to Suri. I was not sure whether my chap was actually talking sense. I took a chance and asked him to drive on. Close to Hetampur is the settlement of Dubrajpur which has a small hillock which is uncalled for in that landscape. For a tourist like me, the place was a relatively lesser know rural town of Birbhum district. The scenario was just like what I expected to see in rural India. Taking a detour from the main road we reached the temple in no time. Indeed my guy was not bluffing. Apart from a European female figurine which he claimed as that of Queen Victoria, there were several European figures and somewhat amateurship attempt to create the court of arms.”
“… And then the most entrancing thing happened” added Ashley with a chuckle after a small interval. Then he continued with his story. “Sanat drove on towards Dubrajpur. Just after a few minutes of driving, I noticed a tall brick structure on the left side of the road. On first glance, it looked like a mansion with fusion architecture. However, on reaching in front of it I realized it was a European styled gate made of red bricks studded with pillars. I could even see some figurines on the top. Finding such a structure inside a non-descriptive village was quite enthralling. Sanat took me inside the complex and all of a sudden I found myself in front of a huge palace, crudely painted in yellow. The mansion was in crumbling shape with a bad paint job coupled with numerous modification of extreme horrific taste. It was past its glory days but you could not ignore its colossal structure. You see I had done bit homework before coming to India, and to my knowledge, the only similar style historical building which existed in West Bengal was the famous Hazarduari Museum at Murshidabad. I had not read about this Palace in any guidebook. So I rolled my eyes in amazement and I asked myself whether I was daydreaming.”
I was listening patiently to Ashley’s story. I must say I found it embarrassing that a visitor to my country has discovered something of heritage interest in my own backyard which I have never heard of.
Ashley could not highlight much on the history of the palace. All he could say that the name Hetampur was related to one Hatem Khan who defeated one Raghab Roy. He also mentioned that the mansion presently housed DAV school & a B. Ed college. The name of the palace was Ranjan Prasad alias Ranjan Mansion and it originally belonged to the Chakravarty family and the palace was built by Raja Ramaranjan Chakravarty. There were living quarters where some family members come and stay occasionally. Entry to the mansion was restricted and he somehow managed to convince the security guard to take a look inside. From other things inside the mansion, he mentioned about some fresco paintings.
On my return to Kolkata, I made a hasty inquiry about the place. I found Hetampur is 4 hours drive by car. One can also reach Dubrajpur by train and take a rickshaw to reach Hetampur. However, the options being limited to one train which reaches there pretty late in the day (11 to 11:30 a.m.). It was better to reach Bolpur Shantiniketan by 9:00 a.m. and drive to Hetampur in a hired car. The distance from Bolpur to Hetampur was just over an hour’s drive. The return train option from Bolpur was plenty too.
Before going to Hetampur I had a chance to read some excellent books on Birbhum. I understood that to know about Hetampur, I need to know about Rajnagar. Besides, there was an interesting temple at Suri too. I visited the place soon after and even wrote an article on it in a magazine.
I never wrote a blog post on Hetampur or Rajnagar. However, last month when I revisited Hetmapur, I decided to include the story of the two cities in my blogosphere from where I have been absent over a year. The place is still not exactly a tourist place and among the tourists visiting Shantiniketan, you will find hardly any takers for Hetampur or Rajnagar.
REVISIT TO HETAMPUR
My first to Hetampur was in 2011. After six years when I visited the place nothing seemed to have changed except a fresh coat of cheap paint. We were going to a friend’s place at Durgapur by car and thus stopped over to look over the place. It was a Sunday, so both the school and the B Ed College were closed. The structure of Rajbari is a bit like Basu Bati of Baghbazar. It is like a twin palace, each side is almost a duplicate of other. I have managed to get a copy of the original photograph of the palace which is a substantial evidence of my claim.
Unfortunately, in Basu Bati, you cannot realize that as the other part has been completely modified. Here you can realize that as a major part still remains intact. Earlier you could take a photograph of both sides from one corner. I had taken a shot like that in 2011, which I came out in Outlook Traveller magazine. It is perhaps the most used photograph of Hetmapur Palace in the cyber world. However, now a Boulevard of trees is in place between the two sides of the palace. The western portion houses the D.A.V. School, while on the eastern side there is the B. Ed College. The mansion’s architecture is heavily influenced by Gothic style. The back portion of the house is in a crumbling state.
Satyajit Roy did some shooting at Hetampur Palace during the filming of Goopi Gayen Bagha Bayen. It is difficult to say how much of the palace shown in the film was in reality and how much was studio set, as because since 1969 the palace has undergone drastic changes. Interestingly the ghat besides a pond adjacent to the palace still exists and can be easily recognized. Kaushik Ganguly’s “Arekti Premer Golpo” depicted mainly the terrace of the palace. The Palace was filmed in details during Sandip Roy’s Telefilm “Gosainpur Sargaram”. At that time there were no trees in the vicinity, and hence when the characters in the film walk in front of the mansion, viewers can easily understand that it is indeed a twin Palace.
On my earlier visit, the entry to the palace was restricted. However, at present on a Sunday when the college is closed a visitor can take a look at the premises. On the first floor, there is a huge courtyard with four small tin enclosures. These tin enclosures were used to store food grains, especially paddy. In Bengali, they are known as “Dhaner Gola”. The small doors to these enclosures still have ancient locks on them. One can see stucco decorations on the walls surrounding the courtyard. The staircase to the first floor has a trap door. The two sides of the door are fixed to the wall beside the staircase with chains. On releasing the chains the door shuts down the entrance to the first floor. We entered a class room on the first floor which has another adjacent class room beside it. There are multiple connecting doors between the rooms. On the arch of each door, there are exquisite fresco paintings. Surprisingly, the colour of each of these paintings is more or less intact. The walls still have traces of exotic decorations. Another set of multiple doors takes you to the balcony. The side housing the college has seen less drastic changes than the one housing the school.
There was another similar balcony on the school side of the palace, which perished with the vagaries of time but not leaving its traces which exists till this date. From the old photograph in the family album displayed earlier one can see the existence of the balcony, multiple doors and the fact that it was indeed a twin palace. At present, the multiple doors to that balcony have been sealed and transformed into windows. I think that transformation was done a long time back. This is because in Sandip Roy’s 1996 made film one can see that the balcony did not exist. They say there were 1000 doors in this mansion like Hazarduari. Sadly, only a few of the doors remain. The mansion is colossal and much of the part on its backside is in a crumbling shape. A white adjacent building belonging to the college has come up on the eastern side of the mansion.
On the top of the right side of the mansion, one can see the name of the house as Ranjan Palace with the date as 22nd June 1905. There is also the unique royal emblem of the Hetampur Raj family showcasing an antelope and a unicorn. The emblem is incomplete though. In the middle of the seal, there is a hollow circle, which seems to have served as a receptacle. The circle looks too small to hold a clock so one can wonder about its purpose. Surrounding the circle in small Bengali letters it is written “Ram Ranjan Chakravarty, Hetampur”. Around the logo is a name written in three parts. With some difficulty, one can read the name Sada Niranjan Chakravarty.
On the left side on the mansion, it seems there was a similar emblem with maybe another name. But nothing remains of that except a hollow circle.
The gate of the palace never fails to impress me. It has seen slow decay but not drastic renovation. Thus its originality has been kept intact till date. Similiar to the mansion the gate is twin gate with an arched entrance on both sides. Interestingly, just like the palace, the right gate has a name. It is the same name – Sada Niranjan Chakravarty. Also mentioned are the mansion’s name and the date. The left entrance has no plaque. Close scrutiny made me think, there may have been a plaque – long time back.
Interestingly on the interior of the gate, there is another plaque. Engraved on it in Bengali are the words “Ranjan Palace, Shri Gyan Ranjan Chakraborty, 22nd June 1905”.
The names had seemed odd to me on my first visit itself. If Ramranjan had indeed constructed this mansion, why Sada Niranjan Chakravorty’s name was engraved on the entrance gate and on the top of the mansion? Who was Gyan Ranjan Chakraborty?
I did my research done and got the answer. It is the time that I narrate you the story of Hetampur. However, we start our story from the twin city of Hetampur – Rajnagar. It is from Rajnagar that the actual story started.
THE STORY OF RAJNAGAR
Tracing back in the history of undivided Bengal, one finds that Rajnagar was a very important city. Once known as the “Gateway of Bengal”, Rajnagar was founded by the great Hindu king Bir Singh of Birbhum district.
Muhammad Shiran Khilji succeeded the Turkish maniac Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji as the ruler of Bengal in 1206. However, the descendants of Bir Singh known as Bir Rajahs continued to rule the western part of the district, with Rajnagar as its capital. When the Pathans were in the zenith of their power in the maximum provinces of Bengal, Bir Rajahs opposed them and successfully defended their kingdom.
However, powerful rulers do commit mistakes. Things changed in 1600 when a Pathan named Joned Khan who served as a commander under the then descendent of Bir Rajahs treacherously killed his master in conspiracy with the Queen. After the death of the Bir Rajah, Joned Khan took control over the administration of affairs. It is said he established the Royal Palace at Raj Nagar in 1600. Since then Pathan Rulers ruled the place and were known by the name of “Nagar Raj”.
The incident is mentioned in details The Annals of Rural Bengal ( 2nd Edition), Volume 1 by William Wilson Hunter, pages 430-431
“Two Patans named Assad-Ulla-Khan and Joned Khan, of the Patan race, from the north-west, one day presented themselves before the Rajah of Nagar. Their stature and manly bearing attracted his attention, and impressed him with such an idea of their prowess, that he resolved to take them into his service; and after their valour had been sufficiently put to the test, he raised them to the rank of commanders and confidential ministers. Under their administration, the country made great and rapid advances, and the people enjoyed the blessings of peace.
In course of time, however, the Patans became jealous of the power of their master and watched every opportunity to work his destruction. One of them, Assad-Ulla, became enamoured of the beauty of the queen and instigated her to favour their base designs. It is said that the king was fond of wrestling and that he had a special building set apart for that purpose, where he engaged daily in the sport. On one occasion, when Assad-Ulla presented himself there, the Rajah ordered his servants to refuse him admittance. This roused the anger of Assad-Ulla.
He returned with his brother Joned, forced an entrance into the hall, and fell upon the king. A serious conflict now ensued; and it is difficult to say how it would have ended, had not Joned Khan, at the instigation of the queen, with whom he also was in love, attacked them both, and threw them struggling into a well. Although the servants and retainers of the king stood by, they were prevented from interfering by the presence of the queen; so that both the Rajah and Assad-Ulla were drowned. The people mourned the death of their king, under whom they had so long enjoyed happiness and prosperity.’
Joned Khan.—The queen now assumed the royal power, and raised Joned Khan to the rank of Diwan. The administration of affairs was placed entirely in the hands of the Patan. Ere long the queen died, leaving a son as legal heir to the throne. After her death, the soldiers rose in mutiny but were speedily brought back to duty by the Patan. Joned died soon after, leaving the government in the hands of Bahadur Khan.”
Bahadur Khan alias Diwan Ranmast Khan ruled at Rajnagar from the beginning of 1600 to 1659, when he died of fever. Although by 1600, Bengal was under the Mughal Subahdars, yet the Pathan Zamindars continued their reign at Rajnagar as independent rulers for more than over 150 years. Rajnagar was still the capital of Birbhum with Pathans building up beautiful palaces and having luxurious Hamams (Turkish bath), beautiful gardens, mosques and an Imambarah.
From Suri, it takes an hour to reach Rajnagar (30 km) by local bus or a hired car. The first striking thing of Rajnagar is the Motichur Mosque. The roofless mosque has five doors of which three are operational and the rest two is ornamental. It is said once there were six domes on the top of this mosque but now only two exists. The brick walls have exquisite terracotta panels reflecting Islamic signs & symbols. The arches have floral designs reflecting strong Hindu influence. The mosque was in pathetic state until the State Archeology department did restoration work on it.
Moving further you will come to an open area on your left. Here beside a school building, there are the ruins of an Imambarah. The arches and the columns give an insight of what magnificent work of Islamic architecture this ruin used to be. I visited Rajnagar only once in 2011. In recent times, I have heard that the Imambarah has been renovated and painted in white.
Adjacent to the Imambarah, there is a water body called Kalidaha which has a small island in its center housing a ruined structure. Local folklore says that there used to be a Kali temple established by a Hindu king, probably one of the descendants of the Bir Rajahs. It was deserted after the Pathans took over the place.
On the left side of this water-body, you get to see the ruins of Palace of Rajnagar. There are two massive iron pillars standing tolerating the vagaries of time besides the remains of a bathing ghat. With the local fisherwoman catching fish in with their unique fishing nets in front of these ruins, you can run your imaginations wild about the scenario when the palace was in its full glory. The interiors of the palace are in complete ruins. There is also the remains of an armory in the vicinity.
Perhaps the most astonishing discovery of Rajnagar was the remains of a Hamam just beyond the school building. It looks completely ruined from outside, but surprisingly the dome shaped interior is more or less intact with exquisite floral design on its wall.
MEDIAVEAL HISTORY OF HETAMPUR
Jonad Khan’s grandson, Khwaja Kamal reigned at Rajnagar between 1659 to 1697. During the fag end of his rule, a Hindu youth named Raghabananda joined in his employment who was expert in swordsmanship. Khwaja Kamal did not survive for long after Raghabananda’s employment. After his death in 1697, the king was succeeded by his son Asadullah Khan. Raghab Roy did not develop good terms with this new ruler of Rajnagar and thus left the army.
After clearing the jungle of a certain area where once the ruins of Hetampur fort was located, Raghab Roy developed a locality around 30 km from Rajnagar and named it as Raghabpur. Slowly Raghabpur developed into a new prosperous locality.
However, peace was not in the destiny of Raghab Roy. Asadullah Khan, the ruler of Rajnagar died in 1718. During the period of rule of his son Badi-uz-zaman Khan (Reign – 1718 -1751), one of his Tehsildar (Senior officer) who visited Raghabpur had an argument with Raghab Roy at his garden regarding harassing a woman. The people of Raghabpur assaulted the Tehsildar. Being insulted he reported this to Badi-uz-zaman, who took strict action.
The aftermath resulted in a rebellion in the area. Badi-uz-zaman sent a senior army general Hatem Khan, who tactfully defeated Raghab Roy and suppressed the rebellion. Hatem Khan was praised by the king and handed the place to the general renaming it as Hatempur. With the passage of time, Hatempur became known as Hetampur. It said that it was Hatem Khan who constructed the fort of Hetampur too. But this claim is debated by some, who say this fort was made during the period of Sher Shah Suri (Ruler of Bengal 1538-1539). Hatem Khan had merely reconstructed it.
It may be worth mentioning here that after the death of Raghab Roy, Badi-uz-zaman Khan appointment his son as the Nayeb (Caretaker) of 22 Parganas and asked him to build a new locality at Hetmapur for his stay. The Roy family future descendants became Gomasta (Secretary) and Ijaradar (Lease Holder) of the Rajnagar Zamindars.
After the death of Hatem Khan between 1720 to 1725, the fort of Hetmapur was handed over to his close associate Hafez Khan with the approval of Badi-uz-zaman Khan. During his rule, Hafez Khan got acquainted with one employee of Rajanagar named Chaitanya Charan Chakravarty who was a singer. Hafez Khan was so impressed with him that he brought him along to Hetmapur to stay. Chaitanya had a gala time as long Hafez Khan was alive.
But fortune did not favour Chaitanya Charan Chakravarty for a long time. Hafez Khan had a past history. His actual name was Osman; the son of an army general employed under Emperor of Delhi. Osman had eloped with Sherina (Original name Amina), the daughter of the Emperor. The monarch was all set to have Sherina married to his wife’s nephew Hussein Shah. Nowhere it is mentioned about the emperor’s name, but going by the period it seems to be Shah Alam II (1728 -1806).
On their elopement, Hussein Shah was extremely upset and went on searching them throughout the country dressed as a fakir. Hussein Shah ultimately located Sherina and Hafez Khan when he visited Hetampur and met Hafez Shah in the disguise of a fortune teller. He understood that as the ruler of Hetampur, Hafez Khan was a now a formidable enemy. A letter was sent to Delhi for reinforcement in order to attack Hetampur.
After waiting for a considerable time, there was no reply. Hussein Shah could have approached Badi-uz-zaman Khan, but he was not sure whether the king of Birbhum would entertain him without any official permission from the Emperor.
A desperate Hussein Shah decided to go for another plan of attack. In the year 1942 Marathas had camped at a place named Kendua near Suri along with their ally Mir Habib. Mir Habib was a sworn enemy of Alivardi – the Nawab of Bengal between 1740 -1756. Mir Habib had constantly guided the plan of operation of the Marathas.
Hussein Shah visited this camp and met Mir Habib and Maratha Commander Bhaskar Pandit. He gave his introduction as the nephew of the emperor and asked them to assist him to defeat Hafez Khan and capture Sherina. Initially, the Maratha chief was not interested, but on being promised enough booty they decided to attack Hetampur.
Hafez Khan has just become the father of a child. He was taking care of his wife and child when Marathas attacked. Initially taken aback, Hafez Khan decided to counter attack. At that time he recognized the fakir as his rival Hussain Shah. Hafez Khan took hold of his rival and when he was about to behead him, Mir Habib cowardly attacked Hafez Khan from the rear with a spear which killed him instantly.
Sherina witnessed the death of his beloved. Realizing that the soldiers will be demoralized by his death, she led the counterattack and drove back the raiders. However, fate was on Hussain Shah’s side. It was most unlikely that the Marathas would have resorted to a counterattack. Fortunately, soldiers from the army of Badi-uz-zaman joined him as because the letter sent to Delhi for reinforcement has finally reached its destination. The soldiers broke into Hafez Khan’s fort.
However, the princess was not in the destiny of Hussein Shah. As her enemy approached her, Sherina committed suicide along with her infant son by jumping into a deep pond inside the fort. Badi-uz-zaman was so moved by her actions that he laid a memorial in her name inside the fort. The Fort does not exist anymore except an area of elevated land opposite to the entry point of Hetampur from the highway. The memorial of Sherina Biwi still exists in near that elevated land. Locals are aware of its presence.
Just before entering the Dubrajpur road from the More Gram Panagarh state highway, you will find a narrow country lane on the right of the highway (opposite to a petrol pump). Driving straight to this lane will bring you to the grave of Sherina Biwi surrounded by the shade of the trees. Hafez Khan’s grave was supposed to be nearby, but after over 250 years no one has a clue to its location. The place is peaceful so far. Nearby is a water body which was supposed to be a moat around the fort. At present, it is a non-descriptive but peaceful place.
After the death of Hafez Khan, Chaitanya Charan Chakravarty was in dire financial distress. Following the untimely death of his elder son Brajanath, he did not survive for long. The second son of Chaitanya, Radhanath Chakravarty who was born in 1768 was very ambitious and opportunistic. He is considered to be the founder of Hetampur Raj family. From the childhood, he had the indomitable wish to acquire land and he waited for the right opportunity.
THE FALL OF RAJNAGAR
In the coming years, things did not shape up well at Rajnagar. Soon it was no more the capital of Birbhum. Mughal rule had ended in Bengal and also in India after the battle of Palashi (pronounced by English as Plassey) fought on 23rd June 1757 which changed the fate of Indian history. The British were the new rulers of India. Asad-uz-Zaman, the King of Birbhum refused to pay more taxes to the British. In 1763 he was defeated after several battles with the British appointed Nawab of Bengal – Mir Qasim. Later Asad-uz-Zaman got restored to his estate but much of his autonomy was lost after he was forced to have a conditional treaty with the English. Ultimately Suri became the headquarters of the East India Company.
Regarding the terms of the treaty, It is mentioned in The Annals of Rural Bengal ( 2nd Edition), Volume 1 by William Wilson Hunter, pages 436-
“A treaty was afterward concluded between the parties, the conditions of which were: i. That the English should have one-third share of the Rajah’s rental. 2. That they should not interfere in the affairs of Beerbhoom. 3. That on all occasions of importance, the Rajah should consult with the English. After this, Asd Jama (Asad-uz-Zaman) regularly paid tribute to the Nawab. He also gave 1000 biggahs (360 acres) of land rent free to Moonshee Anup Mithra, in return for sums of money lent to the Rajah. He bestowed 6500 biggahs (2200 acres) of land as Jagir for educating his son”.
THE RISE OF HETAMPUR
With the decline of Rajnagar, the conditions of the descendants of Raghab Roy began to decline and Radhanath’s fortunes began to rise. Radhanath began acquiring land even by taking a loan. Between 1781 and 1799 he undertook lease of 19 Mouzas at Birbhum and several mahals (zamindari area) from the Nawab of Murshidabad. He became independent Bengali King of Birbhum and by the irony of fate descendants of Roy family came on his pay roll.
After Radhanath’s death, his elder son Bipracharan was the most successful ruler of the Hetampur Raj family. Within seven years of his father’s death, he made his Kingdom, the largest in Birbhum. He lent Rs. 50,000 to Bibi Rajibunissa of Rajnagar Raj family who was in a bad shape after getting defeated in the hands of British. In return, he secured more lands.
His grandson Ramranjan was given the title of “Raja” in 1875 by the then Governor General Lord Northbrook as a gesture of his helping the people during the famine of 1874 at Birbhum. He was in good terms with the British and in 1877 he was further given the title of “Raja Bahadur” by Lord Lytton.
In 1905, Ramranjan completed the building of “Ranjan Prasad” as the new palace for the residence of the Royal Family. Ranjan Prasad was built in the shape of a castle with 999 doors which made it comparable to Hazarduari of Murshidabad. In fact, many still refer it as Hetampur Hazarduari. (Hajar is one thousand in Bengali, duari means doored). Once there used to be a functional clock on the top of the immense gateway. Now only the framework remains. There were few statues around, reminiscent of the once maintained garden in the compound. On my last visit this month, I found they too cease to exist.
Ramranjan had five sons and four daughters. The eldest was Nitya Niranjan who died at an early age of 20 in the year 1890 due to cholera. His wife was expecting a child at that time. After Nitya Niranjan’s untimely death, this child birth brought happiness to the family. His name was Gyan Ranjan Chakravarty. This is the name which is imprinted on the plaque at the gate of the palace. Unfortunately, Gyan Ranjan did not survive for long. Like his father, he died young in the year 1914 at the age of 23. Ramranjan had passed away two years before that in 1912, so he did not have to suffer the death of grandson as he did from the death of his eldest son.
I assume that since Gyan Ranjan Chakravarty was the offspring of the eldest son of Ramranjan and thus the future heir. Hence, after Ramranjan’s death, Gyan Ranjan’s name was inscribed at the gate. After Gyan Ranjan’s death, it may have been removed from the outer side of the gate.
After the death of Ramranjan and Gyan Ranjan, Satya Ranjan became the eldest son of the family. Satya Ranjan Chakravarty (1874-1934) was the last person in the Hetampur royal family to receive any title from British Government. He was bequeathed with the title of Raja. The other three sons of Ramranjan were Mahimaranjan (1876-1930), Sada Niranjan (1880-1934) and Kamala Niranjan (1883-1932). The estate was divided among brothers. The right side of the palace belonged to Sada Niranjan, hence since his name is on the plaque. Maybe all the heirs had their names engraved in other plaques which have been wiped by the sands of time. The left side of the palace belonged to Kamala Niranjan.
Kamala Niranjan had interest in painting. Thus the two class rooms on the first floor on the front side of the mansion are adorned with painting on the wall and the arches above the door. Kamala Niranjan also had his independent emblem with his initials which can be still seen on the wall of the room facing the balcony. Four out of fresco work on the arches depicts scenes from Ramayana and one from Vishnu Puraná.
Mahimaranjan Chakraborty is famous for editing and compiling the three volumes of “Birbhum Bibaran” which is a detailed description of history and heritage of different places of Birbhum. Published by Harekrishna Mukhopadhyay in 1917, it is still one of the most referred books for individuals interested in Birbhum’s history.
The four daughters were Bhupabala, Nripabala, Rasabala, and Anilabala. The first two daughters died at a very young age.
Presently no one of the family stays at the palace. The last person of the family who used to reside at the palace was Madhabiranjan Chakravarty (1940-2015), grandson of Kamala Niraranjan Chakravarty. A portion of the Hetampur Palace has been turned into Girl’s hostel. There are two trusts which are in charge of the mansion.
When I compare the present status of the Hetampur Palace with that of its photograph in its golden days, a sigh of despair comes out automatically. The palace is just over 100 years old. Yet its character has changed drastically. From an example of fine fusion architecture, the look and feel of the palace have gone down to below ordinary. I do not mind a palace like Basu Bati or Nimtita Raj Bari collapsing down slowly and slowly because it is collapsing with its character. Here we have a mansion that has lost its character over the years just to stop beyond demolished. The trust takes all the decisions and letting out the mansion to school, college, and a girl’s hostel may be a gambit to save the structure from collapsing. However, this attempt has snatched away the soul of Hetampur Rajbari. What is left is not even a proper skeleton. Still, whenever I visit Hetampur, I still look with awe at the pillars, the staircase, the ceiling and the fresco paintings and remember its golden era.
OTHER ATTRACTIONS OF HETAMPUR
After proceeding on Dubrajpur Road from the highway for around 450 meters, you come across a lane on the left with two elephant statues on each side. It is a downward sloping path. Driving down one enters a rundown ancient gateway. On its front “Hetampur Raj Higher Secondary School” is written in Bengali. As you wonder how can there be a functional school inside this crumbling structure, you realize that the path you are driving through is actually the interior of a mansion. This may have been part of a portico. On your right, you could see the remains of a long corridor and an entrance to the palace which is in rubbles. The school is far ahead on the right. The gate is new, but the building looks ancient. It was probably a part of the old palace once upon a time. There is an old Radhamadhab temple with a huge courtyard attached with the palace.
One important thing the mention here is at the entrance of the gate you will again notice the royal emblem on its top as was in Ranjan Palace. Here in the emblem is more or less intact, and the puzzle of hollow circle seen at the palace is solved. One can see a crown here in the middle of the emblem. At Ranjan Palace, that hollow circle must have been to hold the crown in a special manner. Maybe special lighting arrangement was made to highlight it. However, in the old photograph the hollow circle remains, so either it was never implemented or it malfunctioned long ago. After over 100 years, no one is there to answer it.
It was raining heavily when I reached the old Rajbari. I somehow managed to take a one handed shot of the seal with my other hand holding an umbrella.
Chandranath Shiva Temple
Built in 1817 by Krishna Ranjan Chakraborty, father of Ramranjan Chakravarty, Chandranath Shiva is an octagonal temple having nine towers (Nava-Ratna). It falls on the left while driving towards Dubrajpur.
In the frontal side of the temple, you can see several incidents of Hindu mythology and society inscribed in Terracotta. You can also see plaques displaying European men and women on the temple walls as well as Coat of arms which has some likeness to that of British East India Company. Artificial doors with stucco work decorate the walls of this temple. Other than European figurines, there is an erotic plaque involving a European and a local woman.
Dewanji Shiva Temple
On the same road, before reaching Chandranath Shiva temple you get to see three Shiva Temples on your left among some houses. Out of the three, one Rekh-Deul type temple known as the Dewanji Shiva Temple has some impressive terracotta sculptures on its wall. The most significant plaques are that of Court of Rama on the central arch panel and that of Krishna leaving for Mathura with Gopinis crying around on the top wall panel. Historical facts say that this temple was built during the second half of 19th century by the Mitra family of Chhinpai.
Radha Damodar Temple, Suri
Suri is the administrative headquarter of Birbhum district. Keeping Suri as base one can visit the temple and hot springs of Bakreswar or take a ride to Massanjore dam. Bakreswar is famous for being one of the 51 Shakti Peethas On the death of his beloved Sati, Lord Shiva carried Sati’s body and danced around the universe with it. Then Lord Vishnu came to rescue. Using his Sudarshana Chakra, Vishnu cut down Sati’s body into 52 body parts. When these parts fell on Earth they became holy spots to pray to the Goddess. These places are named Shakti Peeths.
It may worth mentioning that Suri also has a very beautiful terracotta temple known as Radha Damodar Temple located at Sonatorpara locality of the town. It is not known as to when this temple was constructed but the style of design suggests the end of 17th century or beginning of 18th century.
The Aatchala temple has some exquisite terracotta plaques with intrinsic details on their wall. The central panel has plaques of prominent Krishna Lila scenario like Rasachakra and Vastraharan (Stealing of clothes) of Gopinis. The left panel depicts another Krishna Lila scenario where Krishna is seen dancing on the head of Kaliya Snake while his fellow serpents are praying for forgiveness. The right panel has a rare combination of prime Hindu Gods on their Vahana and a fairly detailed plaque of Bishnu in Anantashyana posture. On the left side one can see Ganesha on Mouse, Bishnu on Garura who is eating a serpent, Vayu ( God of wind) on deer, Indra on an elephant and four headed Brahma on Swan.
The wall panels of the temples are in good shape too, but the base panels are severally damaged. The base panels depicted mostly war scenes. It is wise to keep in mind while locating these brick temples that in common Bengali dialect people refer them as “Pora Matir Mandir” (Terracotta Temples).
And yes…. do not forget to try the local sweet “Morobba” during your visit to Siuri.
The most popular tourist spot of Dubrajpur is the “Mama Bhagne Pahar”. It is the area that is scattered with a large number of huge boulders. A pair of almost spherical natural boulders of granite rock, one balancing on the top of other is termed as Mama and Bhagne ( Maternal uncle and nephew). One of the boulders has been worshipped as “Pahareshwar Shiva”. In recent times a huge temple has been built over it.
Dubrajpur has several brick temples. Unfortunately, many of them have decayed to a great extent and have been unskillfully restored making them into an eyesore. This includes the famous triple temple at Mudipara and the thirteen Pinnacled temples near Bazar area
Among the remaining temples, two temple clusters at Ojhapara have some terracotta panels and stucco work left. If you are coming from Hetampur, just before reaching Mama Bhagne Pahar there is an angular road to the right named Dubrajpur Saribagan road. Drive through it and take the second right turn which is just before the Dubrajpur municipality stadium. After driving for about 700 meters you will come to a modern temple to your right and immediately after that an old brick gate to your left.
The brick arched gateway with an extended wall and an old age Banyan tree around the corner can give you creeps in a rainy day afternoon in the fading light. The drainage canal which overflows during the rainy season is very wide compared to a village. The area of Ojhapara is surrounded by the wall to a great extent. Other than temple there are some old structures inside the area. It is similar to a fortified wall, but I think this was a part of a Thakurbari like Ambika Kalna or Chandrakona. Most peculiarly locals refer to the arched gateway as “Mogol’. Their logic is that the arched gate looks like Islamic architecture.
The first cluster has three east facing temples which are crumbling with each day. The temple on the northern side is a Rekha Deul pattern temple with practically no terracotta work. The temple in the center looks like a Nabaratna temple. Sukhamay Bandopadhyay in his book “Temples of Birbhum” suggests that this was originally a thirteen pinnacled temple. He also mentions that one Ram Chandra Nayek constructed this temple in the mid eighteenth century.
Only the terracotta plaques of the central arch panel of the central temple remain. It is in a sorry state. There are traces of crude restoration with yellow paints. In the center is a detailed panel showing the marriage of Shiva. I have never seen such a detailed terracotta plaque displaying marriage of Shiva other than at Sonamukhi. It pains to see it in a decaying condition. On the top left and right side of the panel are plaques with Goddess Durga as Mahishasurmardini and Goddess Kali standing over Shiva. The extreme southern temple is an Atchala with some intricate fresco work with floral design.
Walking further you will come across a cluster of five temples on the southern side. The three temple from the western side is on a single platform while the two from the eastern side is on another platform. The eastern side Deul type temples built by the Ojha family in the mid 19th century has been completely renovated. The other three were built by the Mahato family in the same period. They are in better shape that of the Nayek family temples. The western side temple is a Rekha Deul, center one is a proper trayodasratna alias 13 pinnacles and the eastern side temple is a Bongiyo Deul. Rekha Deul temple has some terracotta work on its wall along with stucco work. The Bongiyo deul has mainly stucco work. The 13 pinnacled temple has terracotta plaque showcasing court of Rama on its central arch panels, while the wall panel shows battle scenarios and dasavatar panels.
How to Go
If you plan to visit these two places while visiting Shantiniketan, you will need to hire a car and spent another extra day. Suri is 60 km from Bolpur. There are several trains leaving from Howrah Station at Kolkata to Bolpur. The train journey takes around 3 hours. Hetampur and Dubrajpur can be completed as a day tour from Kolkata by car. You can reach Hetampur via Durgapur Expressway, Panagarh, and Illambazar
On the other hand, if you plan to take this on a separate tour, take a train journey of 5 hours to Siuri from Howrah. It is better to reach the night before and check into the hotel so that you can have one full day for visiting Rajnagar and Hetampur. You can catch a train in the evening and return to Howrah in the night. The other tourist destinations around like Masanjore & Bakreshwar can be visited keeping Suri as the base.
Where to stay and eat
There are plenty of places to stay at Bolpur and Suri. However Suri being a business hub, it is better to book in advance before coming, especially if you are visiting on weekdays. Suri has some good eateries. There is no decent place to eat at Hetampur and Panagarh. On the Moregram Panagarh Highway, there are some roadside Dhaba.
- Ritwick Ghosh, Kanad Sanyal, Sagar Sen and Aritra Biswas who have accompanied me on my journeys to Hetampur and Rajnagar
- Kishore Das, who provided me with some inputs on Hetampur
- Banani Bhattacharya who helped me to decipher some murals and panels.
- The Annals of Rural Bengal, Volume 1 by William Wilson Hunter, LeyPoldt and Holt, 1868, New York
- Temples of Birbhum – Sukhamay Bandopadhyay, B.R. Publishing Corporation, 1984
- Hetampur Kahini (The story of Hetampur) by Kishorilal Sarkar, Rarh Prakashan, 2016
- Birbhum Bibaron (Birbhum description) in Bengali by Harekrishna Mukhopadhyaya, Edited by Mahima Ranjan Chakravorty, Prakashbhumi Publications, 2009