Experience Rich Cultural, Heritage
Pre colonial history of Bengal is closely linked with the emergence, growth and decline of Murshidabad. It has governed all the proceedings of the 18th century eastern India and provided the platform from which the colonial interests had launched themselves and subsequently became an Imperial power in 1857.
It is quite obvious that such a socio- political stage has enormous potential to engage any visitor from far and wide through its myriad cultural landscape. A seat of power of such a scale attracts lot of wealth, creativity and activity. For example the annual revenue of Bengal paid to the Mughal Emperor amounts to One Crore sicca Taka- in early seventeenth century was an unbelievable amount. In a cunning strategical move, Murshidkuli Khan shifted the administrative power centre of Bengal to the Bank of Bhagirathi- the prime life force of North India and almost in the geographic centre of the Province in 1701.
One primary policy decision triggered series of subsequent events. Sensing the potential for enhanced financial opportunity, trading community from ‘Nagore' town in the Rajput State of Jodhpur migrated to Bengal. They settled in the areas of Mahimapur,Jyaganj and Azimganj and got themselves known as ‘Shaherwali Community'. Over the years they accumulated enormous wealth and became an important factor governing the economy of Bengal. Mughal Emperor acknowledged their importance and had conferred the tile ‘Jagat Seth' ( cashier of the world). Jainism spread rapidly with the prosperity of the community in the localities of Azimganj, Jiyaganj and Katgola. While Murshidabad was being built according to the muslim traditions, Hindu philosophies governed the development of the Jiyaganj, Azimganj.
In fact four of the important Jain Tirths in Bengal, three lies at Azimganj- Sree Chintamoni Parswanath Bhagwan, Jiyaganj- Shree Sambhavnath Bhagwa, Katgola- Sree Adinath Bhagwan.
The large havellis, Mansions, Palaces, Gardens lay neglected and weathered. It draws today certain amount of History, cultural enthusiast and that too on a day visit. Whereas its enormous potential for Cultural tourism and pilgrimage remained unexplored. Its old trade links and networks also lay dormant for the want of sponsors. The circuit of Murshidabad-Jiyaganj-Azimganj is just waiting for the right kind of initiative and public support for its revitalization. Cultural tourism appears to be the right catalyst to trigger such an initiative.
No tourism initiative is sustainable unless it garners the support of its local community. Community initiatives are best when it rides on the pride for themselves and have a deep rooted attachment for the place. Fortunately the Shaherwali Community have a very strong social network bonded by the common religion of Jainism. They are very proud of their legacy and command large parcels of land, Heritage buildings, Artefacts and quite committed for its restoration. Being mainly a trader's community they value their assets and understand the need for its conservation. To them assistance of any kind is important and they also realises that unless they obtain public support their individual effort is not sustainable.
The Hazarduari Palace, or the palace with a thousand doors is the chief tourist attraction of Murshidabad. This three-storey palace was built in 1837 by Duncan McLeod for the Nawab Najim Humaun Jah, descendent of Mir Zafar. It has thousand doors (among which only 900 are real) and 114 rooms and 8 galleries, built in European architectural style. The total area of Hazarduari Palace is 41 acres. It is now a museum and has an exquisite collection of armoury, splendid paintings, exhaustive portraits of the Nawabs, various works of art including beautiful works of ivory (Murshidabad school) of China (European) and many other valuables. The Armoury has 2700 arms in its collections of which only few are displayed. Swords used by Shiraj-ud-Daulla and his grandfather, Nawab Alivardi Khan, can be seen here. The other attractions in this floor are Vintage Cars and Fittan Cars used by the Nawabs and their families.
The library containing rare collections is not accessible to the public unless special permission is obtained. The building, rectangular on plan ( 424 feet Long and 200 feet broad and 80 feet high). The Palace was used for holding the "Durbar" or meetings and other official work of the Nawabs and also as the residence of the high ranking British Officials.
Parallel to the north face of the Hazarduari Palace, stands the Nizamat Imambara, built in 1847 AD. by Nawab Nazim Mansoor Ali Khan Feradun Jah, son of Humayun Jah, at a cost of more than 6 lacs, after the Imambara built by Siraj-ud-Doula had been destroyed by fire. It took only eleven months to construct this Imambara. The Imambara, which is the largest in Bengal, is perhaps the largest in India.
This Palace was built by Sir Wasef Ali Mirza, Nawab of Murshidabad. This beautiful Palace was also the residence of Nawab Wasef Ali Mirza. This palace is very near to the Hazarduari Palace and is near the South Gate. The staircases made of marble and beautiful statues of this Palace are worth seeing. The entry fee is Rupee 1 (Indian currency) for Indian nationals.
Katra Mosque is about one and a half km from Murshidabad Railway Station on the Berhampore-Lalgola Road. This imposing structure was built by Nawab Murshid Quli Khan in 1723-24 and it remains one of the most important tourist attractions. The gorgeous building with its huge domes and high minarets has a simple cemetery of the Nawab below the front staircase.
Jahan Kosha, a huge cannon, is about 1 km of Katra. It was built in the early 17th century by craftsman Janardan Karmakar of Dhaka. Kadam Sarif is a beautiful mosque near Jahan Kosha said to contain a replica of the footprint of Hazrat Mohammad, the prophet. The canon is 17.5 ft long and weighs 16,880 lb., with a girth of 5 feet at the touch hole end. The diameter of the touch hole is one and a half inches, and that of the orifice is 6 inches.
About half a mile from the Hazarduari Palace is Jafarganj the ruined palace of Mir Jafar. The Cemetery contains the tombs of the Nawab's Nazim, from Mir Jafar to Humayun Jah. Mir Jafar's father Syud Ahmed Nazafi, Alivardi Khan's sister, Shahkhanum, Mir Jafar's widows, Munni Begam and Babbu Begam, Mohamed Ali Khan, the brother and Ismail Ali Khan and Asraf Ali Khan, the sons-in-law of Mir Jafar, lie buried here. This cemetery was built by Mir Jafar, over an area of 3.51 acres.
Khosh Bagh lies on the opposite banks of Bhagirathi. The grave of Nawab Alivardi Khan, Alivardi's Mother, Siraj-ud-Doula and his wife Lutfannesha and other members of the Nawab family lie here. The Khosh Bagh cemetery is built over 7.65 acres of land.
Katgola, the palace garden of Raja Dhanpat Singh Dugar and Lakshmipat Singh Dugar and their famous Adinath Temple were built in 1873, by Harreck Chand. The walls of this temple are also intricately designed. A typically Jain style of ornamentation lends a unique beauty to this Jain temple. It is about half a km South-East of Mahimapur. Though some of its glory has been lost, it still remains a major tourist attraction, chiefly because of the beautiful temple with an admirable work of stucco.
Nasipur Palace is about one and a half km from Murshidabad Railway Station on the Berhampore-Lalgola Road. This imposing structure was built by Nawab Murshid Quli Khan in 1723-24 and it remains one of the most important tourist attractions. The gorgeous building with its huge domes and high minarets has a simple cemetery of the Nawab below the front staircase.
Footi mosque Footi Mosque is an unfinished work by Nawab Sarafraz Khan. Though not well publicised, it is worth seeing for its unique architectural style. About three quarters of a mile to the east of the Hazarduari Palace, at Kumrapore, is the Footi Masjid. It is said to have been built by Sarafraj Khan in a single night.
Motijheel is about one km South of Lalbagh. This beautiful horseshoe shaped lake was excavated by Nawazesh Mohammad, the husband of the famous Ghasseti Begum. In the palace adjoining it (now in ruins) Lord Clive celebrated the acquisition of the Dewani of Sube Bangla (Bengal, Bihar & Orissa) in 1765. Moti Jheel was the home of Warren Hastings when he became the Political President at the Durbar of the Nawab Nazim ( 1771 - 73 AD ). Sir John Shore, afterwards Lord Teinmouth, also lived here. Moti Jheel is also known as the "Company Bagh", due to the fact of it having been in the occupation of the East India Company. The only old building existing is the Mosque of Shahamat Jang.
The name Berhampore is an English transliteration of the vernacular name Bahrampur, the derivation of which is explained as follows by Mr. Beveridge [ Old places in Murshidabad, Calcutta Review 1892 ] - "Berhampore (Baharampur) seems to be a corruption of the Hindu name of the place Brahampur , i.e. the city of Brahma. Brahmapur is the name which the original mouza, or village, bears on the collector's revenue-roll. Probably the name comes from the place having been a settlement of Brahmanas.
One of the bathing places in the river is called Bipraghat or Brahman's ghat. The name does not appear to be in any way connected with the Muhammedan name Bahram. There is a place about 5 miles to the north-east and on the high road to Murshidabad, which has the very similar name of Baharamganj. Probably this has the same origin as Berhampore, though it may be connected with Bahram Jang, a son of Muhammad Raza Khan, otherwise Muzaffar Jang".
Berhampore the headquarter of the district and situated on the eastern bank of the Bhagirathi, is 9 km south of Murshidabad and 187 km (by rail) north of Calcutta. It is connected with the latter by the Lalgola branch of the Eastern Railway the alighting station being called Berhampore Court. Out of the several buildings, the finest one is of the Krishnath College to the south of the barracks, established in 1853. This College was formerly known as the Berhampore College and the present name has been given to it, in memory of Raja Krishnath Roy the husband of Maharani Swarnomoyee who had died in 1844.
The College has an imposing building and a fine clock tower. The roof of the College is of expensive wood shingles. Berhampore town is an early possessor of water-works which it owes to the generosity of the late Maharani Swarnomoyee, who in 1894, undertook to furnish it with a supply of filtered water. Being the land of business and administrative function, Berhampore at present is a fully grown up area (24°,10' North latitude to 88°,15' East longitude).
The barracks round the Square Field at Berhampore [Location Map - Square Field, Berhampore : 24°05'N 88°15'E] , which is a lawn of about 40 acres, and which is one of the most beautiful in Bengal, were erected in 1767 AD. Each side of the Square field is 402.36 metres (161894 sq metres in area). Berhampore was selected as the site for a cantonment in October 1757, After the destruction of the fortifications at Cossimbazar and the decisive victory of Robert Clive's troops at Plassey. Mr. John Brohier who was deputed for the purpose, arrived at Cossimbazar on the 5th of October, 1757, and reported that the principal part of the factory at Cossimbazar had been burnt down and that the fortifications of the factory were incapable of being repaired effectually. He suggested the construction of a fort, and also submitted the plan of a citadel and fortifications with which he considered it necessary to enclose the place. According to his estimate 12,000 tank diggers and 5,000 coolies (or porters) were required to ram the ground, clear away rubbish, fill up tanks, bring in brush wood, serve brick layers and do other things.
The importance of Murshidabad sinking with the rise of Calcutta. As the need for a strong garrison disappeared troops were removed, and in 1857 there were no European troops to check the mutinous outbreak, only two guns and a battalion of native infantry, the 19th, and a battalion of irregular native cavalry. The European troops brought from Rangoon to check the mutiny were quartered in the barracks and were not finally withdrawn until 1870. In those days the Civil Court and Treasury buildings were about a mile to the south-east of the barracks. These are now occupied only by the Sessions Judge's Court and record-rooms.
The Cantonment of Berhampore will always be remembered as the scene of the first overt act of the Indian mutiny of 1857 AD. It must be remembered that there were no British troops in Berhampore cantonment at that time, and none anywhere nearer than Calcutta. The native troops at Berhampore, in February, 1857, were the 19th Bengal Infantry; a corps of irregular cavalry, and a battery of artillery with native gunners.
"There were in the morning no apparent signs of disaifection, but, before the evening had passed away, Adjutant M. Andrew carried to the quarters of Colonel Mitchell a disquieting report, to the eifect that there was great excitement in the Lines; that when their percussion-caps had been served out to them for the morning's parade, the men had refused to take them, and that they had given as the ground of their refusal the strong suspicion they entertained that the cartridges had been defiled". Under the guidance of Colonel Charles Macgregor, the Nawab Nazim Feradun Jah of Bengal threw the weight of his influence into the scales on the side of order and peace, and the the mutiny of a regiment which might have been converted into the rebellion of a Province, was suppressed. Later The 19th Regiment was marched down to Barrackpur, to be there disbanded as a punishment for the outbreak.
Already, before the disgrace of the mutiny of 1857 was forgotten, Berhampore was the theatre of another display of rebellion in 1859. This time it was not our native troops that had revolted, but a section of the British Army. In May, 1859, one of these regiments, the 5th European Regiment (1st or 2nd Battalion, The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers), stationed at Berhampore, broke into open rebellion.
Hiuen Tsang , the famous Chinese pilgrim and a Buddhist scholar who travelled India extensively during the period from 629 AD to 645 AD during the reign of Harshavardhana, mentioned in his famous travelogue that he had visited the capital city of Karnasubarna in the year 638 AD and saw in his own eyes the palace, the Rakta-mrittika Mahavihara and a Buddhist Stupa said to be built by King Ashoka. The travel account left by Hiuen Tsang is an important source of Indian history. Early history of Bengal is still shrouded in obscurity for want of historical resources.
As such travel account of Hiuen Tsang appears to be a very important resource to the historians.