Magnificent mansions of Kolkata| Last Updated: March 13, 2013 at 4:13 PM
Kolkata’s reputation as ‘the city of palaces’, made me decide to see some of these remnants of the past. The moment I get off the plane, the air I breathe in seems fragrant with history, redolent of a bygone era.
I begin my tour at Sova Bazaar Rajbari, founded in 1757 by Nabakrishna Deb, who began as a munshi (clerk) to Warren Hastings, the first governor general of India (1773-1785). It is a five-minute walk from the Sova Bazaar metro station and consists of two major buildings on either side of the road.
Says Aloke Krishna Deb, a descendant of Nabakrishna, who lives in a nondescript two-roomed flat, a few houses away from the celebrated palace: “We practically ruled Sutanuti at one point of time.” Sutanuti, the northernmost of the three villages that constituted Calcutta, is where Bengal’s rich had their mansions. He starts my tour of his palace from the freshly-painted thakur dalan or hall of the deity, maintained by the family ‘without any outside help’. This is the place where Nabakrishna held Durga Puja celebrations and where Swami Vivekananda was accorded a public reception on his return after delivering his famous speech at the Chicago Parliament of
Religions, held in the US in 1897.
The next stop is Naya Bazaar Mullick Bari, which represents typical architectural trends of 19th century Bengal. The façade is in the classical Doric/Palladian and Neo-classical style, with fluted Corinthian pillars. Unlike the British-built red-brick-and-sandstone buildings in Central Calcutta, the Bengali houses have lime plaster on the pillars and walls. Kaustabh Mullick, the present owner, shows me around. At one end of the inner courtyard is the thakur dalan, next to which is a marble statue of a Greek goddess. “My ancestor Nandalal was a zamindar (landed aristocrat),” says Kaustabh.
A short walk from the Mullick Bari is the house of Sir Jyotindra Mohan Tagore, of the Pathuriaghata Tagore family. Built around 1850, the palace is famous for its mural panels on either side of the entrance and exquisite marble busts outside the thakur dalan. Near Thakur Bari, the house where Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore was born, is the massive Pathuriaghata Ghosh Rajbari. Built by Khelat Chandra Ghosh, the mansion’s pillared and arched inner courtyard is possibly the most elegant of the North Calcutta houses.
Inside, a marble staircase with wood paneling on either side ends in a corridor lined with blue and white elephants, originally used as flowerpot stands. A striking feature in the dining hall, which was once a nach ghar (dance hall), is a Belgian cut-glass chandelier. In the study a Thomasson Chronometre grandfather clock, brought from London to Kolkata in 1819, holds pride of place.
The Belgachia Palace rivals the Chor Bagan Marble Palace in opulence and scale of construction. At the entrance is a marble bust of Alexander the Great on a stone pedestal. “The staircase is an engineering marvel because the entire flight of steps does not have any support from beneath and those cast-iron statues can be found only in Buckingham Palace,” says Sailen Mullick, the present owner of
the mansion. Built almost a hundred years ago, the house has 54 rooms, adjoining it is a huge rectangular lake. Noted film-maker Satyajit Ray shot two of his masterpieces — Jalsaghar and Ghare Baire — in this sprawling one-acre mansion.
The Marble Palace is the best known and possibly the most elegant in Kolkata. Adjacent to the flat-roofed Jagannath temple, built in 1821 is a pond with elaborate fountains and a teeming population of pelicans. Of particular interest are the marble lions that dot the gardens outside the palace.
Walking distance from Marble Palace is Jora Sanko Thakurbari, an impressive red building that was home to the Tagore family — to which Rabindranath belonged — for nearly two centuries. The building where Rabindranath spent much of his childhood has now been converted into Rabindra Bharati University. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Another palace in the vicinity, the Laha Bari, near College Street, has porticos and colonnaded verandas that are a perfect foil to the exquisite chandeliers and stained glass windows inside. A discussion about Kolkata’s palaces would be incomplete without a mention of Tripura House on Ballygunge Circular Road, designed by architect Martin Burns. The exteriors of the building are minimalist, with a profusion of oriental motifs inside.
Best time to visit: Kolkata can be visited anytime of the year. However, summers tend to be extremely hot with temperature soaring above 40 degree Celsius. Winters are pleasant and temperature dips to as low as nine degree Celsius. October to March is the best time to visit the city. Kali Pooja, the high point of celebrations in Kolkata, generally falls in October.
How to reach: By Air: Kolkata is well connected to Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, etc. Many hotels also arrange for taxis to pick-up tourists from the airport. By Rail: Kolakta has two railway stations – Howrah and Sealdah. Cities like Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune, Ajmer, Allahabad, Amritsar, Varanasi, etc. are connected to Kolkata by rail. By Road: Kolkata is well connected by road to most major cities in the country. State-owned buses connect all the major parts of West Bengal to Kolkata.
The article was originally published on voiceof.india.com
First Published: July 31, 2012 at 5:00 AM