When it comes to the history of Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta), we are aware that it was the former capital of Pre-Independence India under the predominance of East India Company. But unless the past glory of Bengal is known and places of historical importance are visited, little would we realise the importance of Bengal in the national historical dominance. Do we also know that Murshidabad was the last capital city of Independent Bengal?
WHERE IS MURSHIDABAD ?
Murshidabad is situated on the Eastern banks of Hooghly River, mainly known as Bhagirathi river in West Bengal. Often referred as the land of Nawabs of Bengal. Although, Lucknow predominantly is well known as the “City of Nawabs” , but Murshidabad has a rich past well etched in the annals of history. It was named after Nawab Murshid Quli Khan, who was the Dewan of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa . This city now is well known for its silk weaves mostly.
At least half a century , Murshidabad which was declared the capital of not only Bengal but also of Orissa and Bihar by Nawab Murshid Quli Khan who was the founder. The former name of the city was Maksudabad. In 1706, when Dewan Murshid Kuli Khan was recognised as the Nawab of Bengal under the reign of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, he decided to move his capital from Dhaka (Now in Bangladesh) to the lush fertile banks of Bhagirathi in Mukusudabad which he later named as “Murshidabad” (in connection with his own first name “Murshid”). As Murshidabad was then a flourishing place for international trading hub for all noblemen and businesses. From 1706 till 1757, the significant year when the fate of the city and Nawab Shiraj ud- Daulah was decided as he lost the battle of Plassey against British Empire. And thus, began the downfall of the glory of Murshidabad with the advent of British Colonial Rule and thus became a centre of British administration for some time.
Murshidabad, was a wealthy hub of Jain Oswal Merchants some of them were known as Sheherwali’s , who also came down with a purpose to invest and prosper individually in trade and got settled down in the twin town of Azimganj and Jiaganj along the banks of Bhagirathi River. As Bengal, was known to contribute singlehandedly about 20 % of the Indian GDP and staggering 5% of the world market, mainly because of the prosperity of Murshidabad. Several remains of palaces, royal mansions, temples which were built around the cities, by the merchants and Nawabs, remains of which tells us glorious past of erstwhile capital even now. I was lucky to be invited to experience a heritage luxurious stay at Barikothi which is in Azimganj, an ancestral property of Dudhoria Family (Sheherwali merchants from Rajasthan) which is a 250 years old property and got renovated recently to cater tourist worldwide. And, also got the opportunity to explore the forgotten Capital of Bengal , Murshidabad over two days.
IMPORTANT PLACES TO VISIT IN MURSHIDABAD
Before paying a visit here little did I know that the most famous place in Murshidabad, Hazarduari Palace was actually built 72 years after the famous Battle of Plassey was fought in 1829, which means it had no connection during the reign of Nawab Shiraj Ud Daulah.
It was when Governor General of India – William Cavedis decided to build the palace by laying the foundation stone under the reign of Nazim Humayun- Jah. And the same was finally completed around 1837 which was formerly known as “BaraKothi”. Spread over a massive 41 acres, Hazarduari is one of the most important and prominent landmark palace in Murshidabad. As the name suggest, the regal palace is ornated with 1000 doors out of which 100 were made as false doors in order to mislead the convicts from escaping. The palace has an Italian styled architecture in the nineteenth century. It has a massive number of giant staircase (probably the biggest in India) at the main entrance with two stone lion statues on the either side of the entrance.
There is a huge collection of art and craft and as well as several artefacts to armoury, which has been displayed inside the museum. Most of these weapons were use in the Battle of Plassey. There is also a library inside the museum which has a huge collection of around 12000 books, manuscripts and other ornamental works.
Visit Timings: Monday – Sunday: 9.00 am – 5.00 pm
The entire complex also has Nizamat Imambara (a Muslim congregation hall), Wasif Manzil, Bacchawali Tope, Nawab Bahadur’s institution and three mosques that include the Madina mosque.
The Nizamat Imambara is a huge white structure located right opposite to the royal Hazarduari Palace. In 1847 AD, Nawab Nazim Mansoor Ali Khan Feradun Jah built the Imambara after the Siraj-ud-Daulla’s Imambara was destroyed by a fire in 1846. This is the largest Imambara in West Bengal and also one of the largest in India. Nearly seven Lakhs were spent for its construction.
This Imambara is open for public, mainly during Moharram festival . And every year , a fair is arranged in connection with Moharram festival infront of the road leading to Hazardwari to cater free food and entertainment for the poor masses.
Madina is situated in front of the Imambara. Siraj ud Daulah himself, it is believed that he carried out the mud brought from the Karbala to the Madina. This Madina is kept open only during the Moharram festival so that the pilgrims can offer their respects there.
BACCHAWALI TOPE (CANON)
There is a big canon placed on a built-up alter right infront of Madina and the mouth is sealed with an iron plate. It was brought my Murshid Kuli Khan. It was a huge and powerful canon which required nearly 18 kgs of gun-powder for firing. While firing, the deafening sound was rumoured to be so powerful that it was believed , that several pregnant women had miscarriages. And hence they later named it as Bacchawali tope.
WASIF MANZIL OR THE NEW PALACE
The late Nawab Bahadur of Murshidabad , Wasif Ali Meerza constructed the present new palace has also the artificial hillocks along with its garden at the south of the Hazarduari Palace and was known as “Landscape Garden” but they hardly exist anymore. Many members of the Nizamut Family lived here. The palace is quite small in size, but it is as beautiful as any other royal palace.
JAHANKOSHA CANNON & TOPEKHANA
Next we headed towards a point, where Jahankosha Canon which means (Destroyer of the World) is kept. This cannon is twelve feet in length and three feet in width. It weighs roughly about 8000 kgs and about 18 kgs of gunpowder was required to fire. It was made by Janardan Karmakar of Dacca. It is situated inside the premises of “Topekhana” which is on the southern eastern fringes of Katra Mosque. Murshid Kuli Khan constructed the armoury. This armoury was built up beside Gobra Nala, a branch of the Bhagirathi, at a protected place.
One of the oldest mosque in West Bengal. It also houses the tomb of Nawab Murshid Kuli Khan and the same was built by him out of his desire during his later years. It is a prominent and a well maintained structure which is a must visit while in Murshidabad. The tomb of Nawab is in the north eastern side of the present city. The double-storeyed mosque is raised on a platform with a number of domes and four tall octagonal minarets, out of which two were destroyed. These minarets were used to keep weapons in the ancient days. At the two ends of the mosque, two domes measuring 70 feet in height, are still existing to-day in a dilapidated condition. Panoramic view of the entire city is visible from either of dome’s top. It is also a prayer place for thousand of muslim men.
Even now, the dilapidated mosque still bears the glory of the past. It is now maintained by Archeological Survey of India.
Story of this mosque is very interesting . So, while we were heading towards another prominent landmark , our guide from Barikothi suggested us to stop by to pay a visit to this mosque which is in state of complete dilapidation as the forestation has taken place surrounding it. Out of several folklores, one such story was that Sarfaraz Khan , grandson of Murshid Kuli Khan had this mosque constructed on a single day. But, before completion, the Nawab passed away leaving behind “Faut” a defect in the mosque and was abandoned & left incomplete.
TOMB OF AZIMUNNISA BEGUM
The place though looks quite peaceful and tranquil but has a ghastly folklore related to Azimunnisa who was the daughter of Murshid Kuli Khan. It is heard that once she fell seriously ill and as a cure was advised to have medicines prepared out of liver of infants. But after her recovery, she become accustomed with having the liver of infant as a habit. But the Nawab after he came to know about this, instructed his men to bury her alive.
JUFFRAGUNJ PALACE, NEMAK HARAM DEORI AND JUFFRAGUNJ CEMETRY
Juffragunj palace is the palace of the hero of the traitor Mir Jafar Ali Khan who was known to conspire against Shiraj Ud Daulah’s defeat and assassination. Miron, son of Mir Jafar, kept Siraj Ud Daulah in captivity in this palace. Mohammadi Begg killed Sirajudowla brutally at the orders of Miran and hence the entrance of the palace is known as Nemak Haram Deori.
The cemetry is situated beside the main road ,a few distance from the palace. It is where the family of Mir Jafar were mostly buried . The burial of his wife and children have beautiful blue and white tiled carvings engraved on it. At first, there was a kitchen garden here but later it was turned into a cemetery as it was preferred by Begum Shah Khanam. She was cremated here in the year 1766.
Close to the Jagat Seth’s house, there is a huge palatial house in yellow which belong to ill-famed Debi Singha who is quite historically renowned. Around the glorious era of Murshidabad, Debi Singh came down from Panipat for trade. After a good trial, he succeeded in getting appointment in the Revenue Dept by the Britisher under Dewan Reza Khan. But gradually, he was able to exert his influence among the people of English company and thus became all in all. He was known for his barbaric and brutal behaviour where he executed the innocent masses for not paying the taxes. The Rajbari also houses beautiful Laxmi Narayan Mandir and a Kali Mandir, it has an entertainment courtyard called the Nat Mandir where the famous courtesan Hira Bhai used to perform dance for Debi Singha. The present Nashipur Raj Dynasty has sprung up from Gopal Singha, son of Balwant Singh, who was the adopted son of Debi Singha.
HOUSE OF JAGAT SETH
One of the wealthiest and the most influential merchants who came down to settle and started the money lending business. Jagat Seth’s House is in the north of Nashipur . At the time of Murshid Kuli Khan, Manik Chand , who was the son Hirananda, came to Murshidabad and established a mint in front of his residence in the west banks of Bhagirathi. From Manick Chand, he was given a title of “Jagat Seth” (banker of the world) for possessing such enormous amount of wealth. The house which was earlier in dilapidated state has been turned into a museum now for the masses.
One of the last stop before we headed back to our boat which was part of our luxurious experiential stay at Barikothi, was Kathgola Palace and its sprawling garden. The big garden palatial house is one of the most beautiful and royal with architectural excellence. In 1870, when Rai Bahadur Lakshmipath Singh Dugar laid the foundations of Kathgola, it was made sure that future visitors or onlookers will be transported back to the regal past. The palace is ornated with grand Corinthian pillars in the front and has a clear architectural influence from Greeks, Italian, Rajasthan and Mughals. The interiors consist of Italian marble, intricate mosaic, Bengal Lime works, Pillars polished with Sea Shell Lime, Wooden Carvings etc. The entire palace is decorated with chandeliers , period furniture, and has Belgian mirrors and glasses . It is said that Lakshmipath Singh ji had a very refined taste and brought his entire collection shipped all the way from London’s famous Osler & Co company to Kolkata.
KATGOLA GARDEN AND CAMPUS
The garden is a sprawling 45 acres land filled with huge number of magnificent fruit bearing and flowering plants. It also has Italian marble fountains, statues, flowerpots, Gumbajs and cast iron chairs. There is also a step well, called as Baoli which goes unto 3 levels down below the surface. It has steps which goes down to all the floors and the dias on the ground is made of intricately carved Mirzapuri stone. There is also a huge pond which has a beautiful Italian marble fountain right infront of the palace. There is also a zoo inside the garden.
The campus also has a temple of Shri Shri Adinath Ji . It is located at the end of garden, and has intricate terracotta murals, sea shells lime polished columns and unique mosaic floors. The idol is said to be about 900 years old. This temple is not to be missed if exploring Kathgola campus.
Motijheel is situated 1.5 kms away from the Murshidabad town in the south. The son-in-law of Ali Vardi Khan, Nawazish Muhammad Khan who excavated the Jheel and also constructed a palatial building beside the jheel for the purpose of residence of his beloved wife- Ghaseti Begum. This palace was decorated with different varieties of flower plants and precious marbles. The grave of Nawaish Muhammad Khan is also situated in here. It is heard that Siraj Ud Daulah being jealous at the pomp and grandeur of this palace, got another very beautiful palace Hirajheel constructed not he opposite side of the Bhagirathi River.
One has to cross the river as Khoshbagh is situated on the other banks of the river. It is a place where Nawab Siraj Ud Daula, his wife Lut-fun-nessa and Nawab Ali Vardi were buried . On the east side of the tomb of Siraj Ud Daula , lies the tomb of his brother Mirza Mehdi. It was built by Nawab Ali Vardi. After the death of Shiraj Ud Daula, Lut-Fun-Nessa decided to supervise and took charge for the upkeep of the cemetery by beautifying it.
Given a days time, we had more or less covered the major places mentioned above in Murshidabad and then headed back to our boat for our much awaited lunch on Bhagirathi River. We headed back to Barikothi after a scenic sunset moments not the river. If one can spare one more day , then there are few other places of interest one can explore in Azimgunj area.
JAIN TEMPLES OF MURSHIDABAD
There are about six to seven well known Jain temples in Murshidabad out of which mostly are in Azimganj around the vicinity of our Heritage Hotel, Barikothi.
The district of Murshidabad has a plenty of Jain temples most of which are built in the eighteenth century. Jain Temples are believed to have blossomed in Murshidabad with Jain migration during the Nawab era. Some other Jain families from Rajasthan came and started residing near Murshidabad to capitalize the great business market of Murshidabad then. They also built many temples which are now important place of worship for the present Jain /sheherwali dwellers .
Some of the famous Jain temples which can be visited are Shwetambhar Jain Temple, Adinath Ji Jain Temple, Pareshnath Jain Temple and couple of other temple which are mostly located close by.
TERRACOTTA TEMPLES OF BARANAGAR (AZIMGANJ)
Sometimes, when we mention the Terracotta temples in Bengal , often one boil down to few places like in Bishnupur . But, the fact is ,there are many places where terracotta temples are located, sadly they are mostly in dilapidated condition. One of the well kept temple is Char Bangla Temple in Murshidabad which was built by Rani Bhavani who was the queen of “Natore” which is now part of Bangladesh. This exquisite temple has intricate detailed work of various deities on its wall.The temple is mainly dedicated to Lord Shiva and Bhabani.
Because of constant change in the course of Bhagirathi River, the temple is slowly coming under the wrath of river which might result in erosion of such important historical monument.
There are few other temples around that area which are not in very good condition but definitely worth visiting are Ek Bangla Pancha Shiva temple, Bhabaniswar Temple, Gangeswar Jor Bangla Temple. Read more on Terracotta Temples.
SOME QUICK FACTS ABOUT MURSHIDABAD
HOW TO REACH :
Murshidabad is at a distance of 200 kms from Kolkata. Nearest airport is Kolkata and from there it takes about 4-5 hours by road or by train.
There are plenty of trains which departs from Kolkata (Howrah/ Sealdah Station) which reaches Murshidabad by 4 hour. The nearest railway station are Azimganj and Jiaganj .
BEST TIME TO VISIT :
It is accessible all round the year . But, I would recommend that best time to explore extensively is during winter season that is specially the months between Nov- Feb.
WHERE TO STAY :
There are several budget hotels scattered in and around Murshidabad . However, if you are looking for something luxury with a hint of heritage legacy . Then I would recommend Barikothi Hotel which is a 250 year old ancestral house which has been converted into a luxury hotel. For booking head to my blog on Barikothi . For bookings please visit : https://barikothi.com
So, did I give you enough reasons to make your plans to visit Murshidabad?
What I feel that it’s a place of utmost importance which needs to be highlighted before the legacy is permanently lost in the annals of dying history. I would be happy to have your comments or suggestions, if any, about anything that you would like to share about my article.