Monday, August 27, 2012

Silent History: Murshidabad

There are events which change rulers, which change lives of people. And then here are events which change the course of a nation's history. There are places which are loud on every page of our history books. Then there are places which remain silent witnesses of the stories of treachery, of greed, of shame and survive ages. The Battle of Plassey is one such event and Murshidabad is one such place. I am no expert in history but I sure am intrigued what made us the nation we are now.

NH-34 is a highway only by its name. But the company of Kushanava, Debsathi, Sugata and Mousumi made the bumps and pits a little more bearable. Reaching the hotel at 1am is no walk (drive) in the park. But once there, the crew instantly chose to take a power nap for the day ahead.
Initially a guide-less roaming was proving to be irritating, but when we finally got a professional guide with us, the not-to-scale map printed on the back of our hotel's menu card found a place somewhere which no one remembered after that. First in our list was MOTIJHEEL and KALA MASJID.
The 'jheel' or a lake (not in picture here) is a horse-shoe shaped one and was actually custom-shaped for the protection of the queen of a Nawab here. Also, it was used to cultivate pearls. There was a signboard erected here saying: "The cultivation was done by trained professional and not morons, so do not try it at home." (Just kidding!).
There is an intriguing story about a hidden treasure in this mosque's premises. It is said that once a British officer discovered that there is a treasure locked up in an entry-exitless compartment inside the thick boundary wall of this mosque. He tried and cannon out the treasure one day but failed to reach the required depth inside that brick wall. On the very next morning, he died of spitting blood. I don't know how much true is the 'story' but we all saw that two century old cannon hole in the wall. It is still untouched.

Moving up that heated up day, we reached a very interesting piece of metal work. The JAHAN KOSHA CANNON. When we reached this place, it appeared a bit odd to find something important like this left open in the sun. But after touching the body of this 22 feet long devil, I came to know why. It wasn't freakishly hot like the iron grills surrounding its platform. It had a soothing warm heat all over it. Made out of an alloy of eight metals like iron, copper, gold etc., it is one of its kind. Imported from Dhaka (present Bangladesh), this cannon has a shot range of 6 miles (same as the radius of the atom bomb in the movie The Dark Knight Rises)
Actually, this was not my first visit to Murshidabad. I had been there about 11 years back, when I had just taken my std 10th board exams. At KATRA MASJID I was missing a camera very badly  in my hands back then. And even today, I could not forget that. I was glad that few of the shot which were just a blink of the eyes of that teenage boy then are now a proper jpeg files.
This mosque was build by Murshid Kuli Khan, the grandfather of the last free Nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud-Daula. It has a prayer area which can accommodate 5000 namazis at the same time.
During the last days of Murshid Kuli Khan, he started to go down the remorse alley. With all the religious and political torture he made his people go through, he realized that the only way to his salvation is their forgiveness. He made the arrangement of his own tomb under the staircase of the doorway though which Namazis were to enter and exit the mosque, so that the dust from their feet may fall on his tomb and he may gradually be delivered from his sins.

And where there is a Nawab, the business of luxury finds its way in spite of all odds. Four brothers from far away Rajasthan came down to Bengal to trade the exotic scent of the Kath Golap, the wooden rose.
From the name of the flower, the area came to be known as KATHGOLA. Now totally extinct from the area, this was a rare rose with the colour of wood. They made a splurge palace in the north of Lalbagh with a signature Marwari bathing arrangement.

Within the boundary of their palace, there is a temple called PARESH NATH TEMPLE which houses an idol of Paresh Nath, the first disciple of the fouder of Jainism - Mahavir Jain.

Under strict orders, I had to take out my shoes and cameras were not allowed inside, so I didn't go inside the temple.  Kush, Sugata, Debsathi and Mousumi went in and later described it to me. Standing outside, me and our guide- Mr. Sorkar had a little views exchange on the state of tourism of the town and the maintenance of the remnants. He told me that the tourism ministry is not totally ignoring the spots, but is surely capable doing its job better.

Then we went to the HOUSE OF JAGAT SETH, the Mahajan (and alleged co-conspirator of the murder of Siraj ud-Daula). Saw a pair sarees made of the world famous Muslin silk, common household  and business instruments used back then, a 400 years old Belgian glass mirror, a sensual portrait of the then famous 6'2" tall dancer Hirabai  and this underground passage to i-dont-remember where.

Next stop was NASHIPUR PALACE. Initially the place seemed to belong to a philanthropic zamindaar.
But as Sherlock Holmes has said, "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data" I had to change my opinions once I came face to face with the facts of the building.

No need to use one's imagination on what happens when a merciless dacoit is made the revenue collector of the zone. (what was the Nawab thinking?!). By misappropriating the state taxes, he had build a huge palace for himself. The taxes were collected by inhuman means too. The defaulters were brought to the palace and were locked up in a dark cellar, only to be executed by hanging on a pre-fixed date in the Phansi Ghar (the Hanging Room) of the palace. Our guide even showed us the gargoyle through which the blood used to flow out to the outer sewer during the annual sacrifice ceremony, human sacrifice.
And, not surprisingly enough, Debi Singha too, during his last days, started to regret all that he did during his last days. But he did not chose to get below the feet of people. He chose to rather please the Gods. He made a whole compound  of temples for all the Gods he could remember from the Hindu mythology. Grandest of which was that temple of Radha-Krishna (which is just adjacent to the Phansi Ghar).
This seemed truly funny. All your life, you do all the evils one is mortally capable of for your very own greed and at the end, make an array of temples or get under the staircase to nullify them. How easy!
Then was the little spot where the history of our nation took its turn. The spot where the last free Nawab of Bengal was killed by his own men - Mir Jafar and Mohammad-e-Begh. The NAMAK HARAAM DEWRI. This hammered in the last nail in the losing of the Battle of Plassey and the start of British regime in Murshidabad, then through Calcutta, in India.

From end to end, all the tourist places are in a span of less than 7 km in the area of Lalbagh. A song of normal length (played in the car's deck) was stretching for two to three spots. At 2 in the afternoon, we stopped to have lunch. And there was no surprise that when Kushanava, Sugata and Pronabesh are having food together, the stipulated budget is at least exceeded. The day had roasted the right side of my face and made a tandoori of the left side. But still, we had the biggest attraction Murshidabad left. Under that weirdly cloudy sky and the strength-confused sun rays, we reached the HAZARDUARI.
The palace of more than a thousand doors (true and fake combined), stands as a symbol of the British colonial rule on the later Nawabs of Bengal. Previously used a courthouse for the three provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, this is now a museum housing a magnificent display of Nawab's armory and luxury. Leaving our cameras outside, we took the tour of the palace only to be awestruck by the merciless daggers, trick mirrors, ivory palanquins, royal furniture, collection of  handwritten real historic letters and documents and what not.

Just opposite to this palace is the Ghadi Minar or the Clock Tower and the BADA IMAMBADA, India's longest Imambara till date.
Giving a rest to our aching feet, the crew sat on the stairs of the Hazarduari palace admiring the remains of the grandeur of whatever is left of the Nawabs.
While walking towards the Bhagirathi (the Ganges) flowing by the boundary of this area, a complete rainbow (not in this picture) in the midst of the dark clouds and the bright sun did a good job in giving us a complementary thing to see. And nothing suits your walk better than a little bit of nostalgia.

Looking at the century old design of the horse pulled carts, a seat on the edge of that fishing vessel parked in the water, missing a few people on the trip, missing a few people in general in the setting where history is scattered all over the place. Yes, without a tired body you cannot appreciate these things. Guess, everything has an advantage.

The evening at the hotel was high on stories of supernatural (gods and ungods were equally present). And the worst effect of this was on Mousumi (she found it hard to fall asleep before 5 in the morning) and me (I, after a long time, was talking in my sleep). A jackpot sleep was reported by Sugata. Kushanava was anyway eager to fall asleep before dinner but once he finally did (after dinner and with a bad throat), he was reported to play football in his sleep.

Anyway, next morning we had only one place to touch - the KHUSHBAGH, the tomb of the famous Siraj-ud Daula. After assassinating him at Namak Haraam Dewri, his body was cut into six pieces and was taken around the city of Murshidabad for display.
After, the devilish satisfaction of those who found it amusing, Siraj was taken on the other side of the Bhagirathi and was buried at this place. After him, all his family members and associates were also buried in this place. Our curiosity on the supernatural was aroused once more here when the rickshaw puller here told us that the locals here used to hear the 'wailing of the Nawab' about 15-16 years back. I am not sure, how true was that, but I had no problem in digesting it as a nice story.
At times, Mousumi was remarking about the place "its just tombs and tombs". Initially, it sounds a bit waste of money to come and see only tombs - torturing rulers, victimized civilians, tombs of people sealed in them alive. But if one sits and looks at them as a reflection of the history, one can truly become depressed on what actually has paved the path of the society we live in today - slavery, greed, conspiracies and death.

My personal take on a place like Murshidabad is - Lesser such places on earth, the better.

Nevertheless, I had a fantastic weekend and wish to see more of my land :-)

Till next time,
Cheers! :-)


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