Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Mahishadal Rajbari, Haldia

Located around 60 km to the Southwest of Calcutta (Kolkata), in the Mahishadal administrative division in Haldia subdivision of Purba Medinipur (East Midnapore) district is the Mahishadal Rajbari, home to the Gargs of the Mahishadal Raj. Spread over a large area, Mahishadal Rajbari consists of two palaces, a cutchery or court house, a ghat, a large navaratna temple, all surrounded by a protective moat spanned by bridges. The vast property left to decay for many years is now being renovated and opened to visitors. Mahishadal Rajbari is an ideal weekend getaway from Calcutta, especially for history buffs.


The Phul Bagh Palace, Mahishadal



Coat of Arms of the Mahishadal Raj
The history of the Mahishadal Raj is a long and interesting one. Birnarayan Roy Chowdhury of the Tamralipta Raj family was the first to settle here. The village known today as Geonkhali, located in the Mahishadal block, was then known by its original name, “Jiban Khali”. Sometime in the 16th century, Birnarayan’s descendant Kalyan Roy Chowdhury, who was the zamindar, was found to be defaulting in revenue payments. Emperor Akbar had him removed, and replaced him with the young Janarddan Upadhayay who had come to this part of the country from what is present day Uttar Pradesh. The Upadhyays were granted the title Raja and ran the Zamindari well for the next four generations. However when Anandalal Upadhyaya died in 1804 without a male heir, the zamindari passed to his daughter’s son, Raja Guruprasad Garg. The Gargs remained the zamindars of the area, contributing substantially to the social welfare of the area until independence and the abolition of the zamindari system.


Canon inside the Phul Bagh Palace
The word Rajbari is Bengali literally means “King’s house”, but a more accurate translation would probably be “stately home” or even “palace”. The principal structure in the Mahishadal Rajbari complex is called the Phul Bagh Palace. This was built in 1900 and was originally meant as a guest house, which would explain its lack of a “zenana” or ladies’ quarters. The architectural style is a mix of classical, colonial and central Indian and it looks rather magnificent set in the middle of a vast and open garden. The Maharani Kaliyar Dala Devi was probably the last resident of the Phul Bagh Palace. The descendants of the Mahishadal Raj now live in Calcutta, although the link with their ancestral property remains. The palace was in a dilapidated state for many years, but is now being repaired and painted. The interiors of the ground floor have been converted into a museum, containing many interesting articles, such as weapons, old furniture, Belgian glassware, stuffed animals that the Rajas hunted and even the letter from Lord Lansdowne granting the title of “Raja” to the head of the family at that time. There is also a large collection of photographs. The Gargs were great connoisseurs of music and the who’s who of Indian Classical music have visited the palace and performed here. The palace was, and remains a favourite with filmmakers, and many films have been shot here. In and around the Phul Bagh Palace are many more smaller but beautiful mansions and a small army of guards is employed even today to guard the property.

Mahishadal Raj old palace

Mahishadal Raj Cutchery
Some distance away from the Phul Bagh Palace, lies the old palace of the Mahishadal Raj. This was built in 1857 and is in a derelict state today. It is a large and magnificent two storied structure, with beautiful arches above its windows. A basement with what is probably storage space may also be seen. Close by is the cutchery (court house) and the magnificent Radha Gobindo temple, which houses the family deity of the Mahishadal Raj. Built in Bengal’s well known “Navaratna” or “Nine Jewelled” style, the exterior of the temple is ornamented but does not contain the terracotta tiles that Bishnupur is famous for. Above the main entrance to the temple, a tablet written in an ancient form of the Bengali script offers some clues as to its origins for those who can read the script. But damage during renovation and painting makes it quite a difficult exercise. Within the Mahishadal Rajbari complex there also exists a brick octagonal Rasmancha.


Plaque above entrance to Radha Gobindo Temple

The Navaratna Radha Gobindo Temple
Ideal as a daytrip or a weekend getaway, Mahishadal Rajbari may be reached via car in about 3 hours. Directions may be found here. Alternatively, the Howrah Haldia local will take you there for cheaper, and the place you need to get off at is the Satish Samanta Halt. However, this may be difficult for the elderly since there is no raised platform. Satish Chandra Samanta was an Indian freedom fighter and a member of the Lok Sabha from 1952–77. There is a museum in his memory also located close by. Alternatively, you may get off at the Mahishadal station, but that is some 4 km away from the town. A trip to Mahishadal Rajbari can easily be combined with a visit to Geonkhali and Gadiara. One of the principal attractions of Gadiara is Robert Clive's Fort Mornington Point, details about which may be found in my blog post here. Hotel Triveni Sangam is one of the only hotels in the area and offers basic but acceptable accommodation. For booking, visit their website here. Mahishadal is also famous for its Rath Yatra or the car festival of Hindu deity Lord Jagannath. A trip during this festival is particularly rewarding for photographers. For those with a sweet tooth, Mahishadal’s “Mihidana” and “Chhanar Mudki” are a must have.

- by Deepanjan Ghosh


SUGGESTED FURTHER READING

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Many thanks to my sister Deepshikha and mother Snighdha Ghosh for planning this trip and making all the arrangements.

SOURCES

Taylor, Joanne - The Forgotten Palaces of Calcutta
http://www.telegraphindia.com/1050424/asp/calcutta/story_4653047.asp
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