MONUMENTS OF WEST BENGAL
Famous for its temples and local handicrafts, Bishnupur is the most important tourist spot in the district of Bankura. Way back in the 14th century, Jagat Malla, the 19th king of the Malla dynasty, established his capital at Bishnupur. Temples and artificial lakes constructed by the Malla kings make it a charming tourist spot. Under the reign of Vir Hambir, Vir Singh and Raghunath Singh, Bishnupur reached the zenith of its culture. In Hindustani classical music, the Bishnupur Gharana is very famous.
Bishnupur is famous for its temples. The Shyam Ray Temple, constructed in 1643, has terracotta walls depicting Lord Krishna and his gopinis frolicking in the garden. Beside the Shyam Ray Temple are the twin temples of Jorbangla, built in 1655. On the walls are scenes of battles fought long ago, hunting expeditions, and social life of the people, which give an idea of society during those times. Built in 1758 out of laterite rocks is the Radhey Shyam Temple, which leads to the ruined Rajbari. Adjacent to it is Goddess Durga's Sri Mandir, where Durga Puja is held traditionally every year.
Sarbamangla Temple and the Chhinnamasta Temple are two other famous temples. The Raas Mancha, a shrine built in the form of a stepped pyramid, dates back to the early 17th century, when Bishnupur was steeped in Vaishnavism. During the Raas Festival, all the Vaishnavite deities of the other temples were carried in a grand procession and assembled here.
During the reign of Vir Singh, a number of lakes were artificially created. Krishna Bandh, Jamuna Bandh, Kalindi Bandh, Poka Bandh and Lalbandh are some of them.
Lalbandh has an interesting legend behind it. Raghunath Singh II, after crushing a rebellion, brought back a Muslim danseuse, Lalbai. Jealous of her rival, Raghunath's queen murdered her king and drowned Lalbai in this lake. Locals claim that the wails of Raghunath and his drowned mistress can still be heard over the waters.
The Dol Madol Cannon is another landmark that echoes history. In 1742, during the reign of Raja Gopal Singh, this cannon was used to repulse the troops of Maratha leader, Bhaskar Pundit. The 3.8-m. long cannon has a barrel with a diameter of 28.5 cm. Built by experts, its exquisite engravings are clearly visible even today.
A visit to the Jogesh Chandra Archaeological Centre at Bishnupur is a must for tourists. It houses artefacts of the Malla kings. Items collected through periodic excavations are kept here. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 12 noon and again from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
The last week of December sees the start of the popular Bishnupur Mela. A variety of cultural programmes are held over the week. The festival has received the status of a National Fair.Snake shows and snake fights, locally known as jhapan, are conducted by snake charmers during mid-August. Bishnupur is famous for its sarees, the traditional Indian women's dress, especially for the baluchari and tassar silk varieties.
Terracotta and wooden horses, in a design unique to Bishnupur, are souvenirs that tourists are fond of picking up, along with dhokra art souvenirs and religious souvenirs representing Hindu Gods and Goddesses.
How To Get There :
Bishnupur lies at a distance of 151 km. by road from Calcutta and 210 km. by rail. Government and private buses leave Calcutta from the Shahid Minar bus terminus throughout the day.
There are direct trains to Bishnupur from Howrah, including the Howrah-Purulia Express, which leaves Howrah in the afternoon and reaches Bishnupur in the evening. One could also board a train from Howrah to Durgapur, from where there are buses and mini-buses throughout the day to Bishnupur. The distance from Durgapur to Bishnupur is 81 km.
Cassimbazaar, just north-east of Berhampur, has Hindu, Jain, Muslim and British landmarks. The town is a hinterland of three Ganga tributaries, the Bhagirathi, the Padma and the Jalangi. Cassimbazaar was the key trade and commerce town of 17th and 18th century Murshidabad.
The town has Maharaja Manindrachandra Nandy's Cassimbazaar Palace. The Palace has 100 pillars, all of which have exquisite lotus designs. Its walls are decorated with terracotta art. The front courtyard of the palace has 24 Jain temples. These temples commemorate all the Tirthankaras of the Jain religion.
There are ten Shiva mandirs in Cassimbazaar. During the 1800s, a small replica of the Katra Masjid, Murshidabad was built in Cassimbaazar.
Traces of British residence dot the colonial tableau at Cassimbazaar and there are several British graves to be seen. In 1658, Job Charnock, the founder of Calcutta, taught at Cassimbazaar for a monthly salary of Rs. 300. Towards the middle of the 19th century, the British built the Krishnanath College at Cassimbazaar, styled after England's Oxford University. Noted Bengali filmmaker, Ritwik Ghatak, was a student of this college.
Karnasubarna was an ancient capital of King Gaureshwar Sasanka. The town is also associated with Lord Gautama Buddha, who stayed at Karnasubarna for seven days. To commemorate the sanctifying presence of the Buddha, a Buddhist Vihar was built in the front courtyard of the King's palace. Emperor Ashoka also enshrined the Buddha's presence at Karnasubarna with an Ashoka Stupa, the Emperor's legendary stone landmark. The Buddhist Vihar of Karnasubarna was also consecrated with the Ashoka Stupa.
The British built the Berhampur Court, a jail, a hospital and the Government Offices of Barrack Field. Robert Clive and Warren Hastings have lived at the Circuit House at Barrack Field.
The town of Mahimapur offers the visitor some charming relics of Murshidabad's glorious past. Murshidabad was named after Bengal's first independent Nawab, Murshid Quli Khan. His daughter's grave in Mahimapur lies close to the banks of the Bhagirathi River. Exquisite masonry craftwork adorns Azimunissa's grave. Despite river erosion, the intricate designs are discernible.
The Kath Gola is an ornate, four-storey, palatial mansion fringed with picturesque gardens. The front approach to the mansion is crafted with precision. The Kath Gola's interior was created with imported materials in the late 19th century. The Kath Gola complex includes an 18th century Adinath Mandir enclave. The walls of this temple are also intricately designed. A typically Jain style of ornamentation lends a unique beauty to this Jain temple. The Kath Gola and the Adinath Mandir were retreats into solitude for the wealthy Jain merchant, Dhanpat Singh Dugar, and his family.
Just north of the Kath Gola Jain Palace is the Nasipur Palace, a miniature replica of the Hazaarduari Palace. It was built in the 1900s by Raja Kirtichand Bahadur. The age-worn palace continues to exude a mystical beauty with its wide-ranging depictions of Hindu iconography.
The Jhulan Festival, celebrating the divine love of Radha-Krishna, is very popular. Held at the Nasipur Palace, this festival is conducted by the Hindu Vaishnav sect.
The Jafraganj Cemetery at Mahimapur has about 100 graves. Mir Jafar, known as the 'arch traitor of Bengal', lies buried in the Jafraganj Cemetery. He was the commander of Shiraj-ud-Daulah's army at the Battle of Plassey but betrayed his Nawab and nephew to side with the British. Most other graves are of Mir Jafar's family, including his wives, Mani Begum and Babbu Begum.
Across the cemetery is the Jafraganj Deohri. It used to be Mir Jafar's residence and palace. His son Miran's home was also a part of the Jafraganj Deohri. Only a part of the structure now remains.
On 2nd July, 1757, the 20-year old Shiraj-ud-Daulah, Mir Jafar's nephew and the Nawab of Bengal, was assassinated in Jafraganj Deohri. He was put to death by Mir Jafar's son, Miran. Thus, the Jafraganj Deohri is also known as the Namak Haram Deohri or, 'home of the ingrate'.
The towns of Murshidabad and Lalbagh are adjacent to each other. Lalbagh is considered a part of the town of Murshidabad. Together they contain most of the legendary spots that attract tourists to the district.
The Hazaarduari Palace, or the Palace with a Thousand Doors, has 900 real doors and 100 doors for the imagination. The Palace is also called the Nizamat Fort. Located near the northern bank of the Bhagirathi River, it is a premier landmark in the Lalbagh area.
Designed by General Duncan Macleod, and made with Italian marble, the construction of the palace was started in late August, 1829. It was built at a cost of 1.8 million rupees as the residence of Nawab Nazeem Humayun Jha. The palace is 24.4 m. high, with a 129.5 m. x 61 m. girth and a three-tier dome. The Palace Museum has eight galleries and 114 rooms. Built in the Gothic style of architecture, this palace was restored in 1991.
Nawab Humayun Jha conducted his durbars or ruling sessions on the second floor of the palace. His silver throne is on display as is a magnificent 161-tipped chandelier, gifted by Queen Victoria's to the Nawab. The Palace also contains antique mahogany furniture and a rare 'hide-and-seek' mirror.
The Hazaarduari Museum is maintained within the palace. The art galleries have a collection of rare oil paintings, artefacts, old arms and curios. Paintings by Marshall, Titian, Raphael and Van Dyke are notable in a collection of more than 400 oils.
Oil paintings of all the Muslim Nawabs of Bengal are featured in the museum. Murshid Kuli Khan (1704 - 1725), Shuja Khan (1725 - 1739), Alivardi Khan (1740 - 1756), Mir Jafar (1757 - 1760) and Mir Kasim (1760 - 1763) are among those portrayed in the collection. Paintings of members of various Nawab-dynasties are also a part of this collection.
The armoury section features 2,700 different kinds of arms and ammunition. Swords used by Shiraj-ud-Daulah and his grandfather, Nawab Alivardi Khan, can be seen.
Items personally used by the Nawabs are also exhibited. Humayun Jha's collection of rare dining plates are notable. The green dining plates were designed to shatter in case poisoned food was served.
The museum's archives are on the third floor of the palace. The archives have English and Parsee books. 10,792 books and 3,791 ancient pandulipis, or traditional texts written on pandu leaves, comprise the large collection.
The Hazaarduari Palace is closed on Fridays and the second Wednesday of each month. It is two and a half kilometres from the Murshidabad rail station.
The Medina Masjid Clock Room is in the front courtyard of the Hazaarduari Palace. Shiraj-ud-Daulah created this clock room with specially imported karbala clay. The Mosque has an ornamented replica of Hazrat Mohammed's tomb at Medina. The middle portion of the inner walls is designed with coloured china-clay tiles. During Muharram festivities, the Mosque is closed to the public for ten days.
The palace courtyard also has a legendary 17th century cannon. Built by Janardan Karmakar in 1647, it is 5.5 m. long and weighs 7,657 kg. It used almost 18 kg. of gunpowder for a single shot.
The Wasef Manzil is a newer palace just behind the Hazaarduari Palace.
Bengal's largest Imambara, the Bara Imambara is located opposite the front courtyard of the Hazaarduari. It was built by Shiraj-ud-Daulah's and subsequently destroyed by a fire in 1846. In 1848, Nawab Nazir Mansur Ali spent 7,00,000 rupees to construct a new Imambara. The majestic Imambara is normally closed to visitors except on special occasions such as Muharram
The Khoshbag-Roshnibag-Farahbag garden-trio of Lalbagh has Persian-Arabic names to speak of their beauty. Khoshbag means 'garden of happiness', Roshnibag means 'garden of light' while Farahbag means 'garden of pleasure'.
Khoshbag is the final resting place for Nawabs and their families. Alivardi Khan, Shiraj-ud-Daulah, Begum Lutfunissa and many members of the Nawab-dynasties of Bengal were laid to rest in Khoshbag.
Roshnibag surrounds an 18th century mosque, credited to Alivardi Khan. Suja-ud-Daulah's grave, along with the graves of several notable Muslim families of Murshidabad, nestle in Roshnibag.
Smallest of the garden-trio, Farahbag, is beside Dahapara.
Located one kilometre south of Lalbagh on the Berhampur Highway, Motijheel, or the Pearl Lake, was once used for culturing pearls. The large oxbow lake is overlooked by the desolate ruins of a three-storey palace, built by Nawab Nawajas Muhammad, the eldest son-in-law of Alivardi Khan. After Nawajas Muhammad passed away, the palace passed into the hands of Alivardi Khan's eldest daughter, Begum Meherunissa, better known as Ghasiti Begum. Ghasiti Begum was the grandmother of Murshidabad's last Nawab, Shiraj-ud-Daulah.
Shiraj-ud-Daulah reigned from this palace until he was defeated by the British. Robert Clive too convened meetings at the Singhidalan of this palace. A Singhidalan represents period architecture for ethnically styled front verandahs guarded by statues of lions.
The Katra Masjid, severely damaged by an earthquake in 1897, was designed by Nawab Murshid Quli Khan to replicate the hallowed Kabah Mosque of Mecca. The Nawab himself is buried under the entrance stairs so that all may step over him as they enter. 700 karis or Koran Readers once lived in this huge mosque. The compound of the Mosque retains a Hindu Shiva Temple. The upper tier of the Katra Mosque is ideal for an aerial view of Murshidabad.
The Kadam Sharif is another mosque near the Katra Masjid.
The Jahan Kosha, or the 'world conquering cannon', was built in 1637 by Janardan Karmakar of Dhaka. The Jahan Kosha is 5.35 m. long, 1.35 m. in diameter, with a 45.5 cm. orifice for ejecting shells. It weighed eight tonnes, and used 30 kg. of gunpowder per shot.