The princely states and the zamindari system may have been abolished long back and the past glory too has faded by this time. Yet, gorgeous palaces still stand tall, silent witnesses to past tales of grandeur. Team WHEELS discovered one such living piece of history – Mahishadal Rajbari in East Midnapore – only 100 km away from Kolkata on way to Digha and Haldia. We found it to be ideal for a historic drive out, particularly if one includes Tamluk, the birthplace of revolutionary Bengal.
The Mahishadal Raj Family
The history of Mahishadal royal family began during the reign of Akbar. Initially, it ruled over a village called Dihi Gumai. Birnarayan Roy Chowdhury, its first ruler belonged to the Tamralipta Raj family. Later, Kalyan Roy Chowdhury, a descendant of Birnarayan Roy Chowdury was first to be bestowed the title of ‘Raja’ with Mahishadal, Aurangabad, Terapara and Itamagra under his rule.
In the middle of the 16th century, Janarddan Upadhyay arrived from Uttar Pradesh to Bengal as an official of the Mughal court under Emperor Akbar. He arrived at Jiban Khali, presently known as Geonkhali. Kalyan Roy Chowdhury, the zamindar of Mahishadal had defaulted in payment of revenue to the Mughal emperor and consequently, his zamindari was given away to Janarddan Upadhayay and a charter issued bestowing him the title ‘Raja’.
Hereafter, his descendent, Raja Rajaram Upadhyaya brought in people and set up villages at Mahishadal while appointing several employees in different departments of the zamindari. Another descendent, Anandalal Upadhyaya, fought with neighbour, zamindar Durgaprasad Chowdhury, acquired his zamindarI and included Gumgarh and Kashimnagar to Mahishadal. Following his death, Rani Janaki, widow of Anandalal took charge of the zamindari in 1770. She was educated, skilful and an able ruler, generous and loving to her subjects; she not only organized an army of her own but also constructed many temples – the most noteworthy amongst them is the temple of Madan Gopal Jew, which still exists inside the Mahishadal Rajbari.
After the death of Rani Janaki in 1804, her grand-son (daughter’s son) Raja Guruprasad Garga inherited the zamindari. Thereafter, the zamindari passed on to Garga (Garg) family from Upadhyaya.
Motilal Pandey filed a suit in the Privy Council claiming the right of succession but lost to Raja Jagannath Garga – the son of Raja Guru Prasad Garga, who won in the Privy Council and was declared the legal heir.
As the time passed by, the zamindari of Mahishadal came under one ruler to the other under the Mughals, the British and finally to the Indian Government.
Today, the two palaces and the vast estate of the Mahishadal Raj bear testimony to the royal history of its family. Moreover, festivals like Ratha Yatra and Durga Puja celebrated with much fan fare as befitting to royalty, has given Mahishadal a special place in the history of Bengal.
Kalyani Devi, the wife of Deba Prasad Garga, was the last queen who died recently, on April 19, 2011. In fact it so happened that Team WHEELS unknowingly landed up at the Mahishadal Rajbari on the day of ‘Asauchanta’ (the last day of the Sradh ceremony) of Rani Kalyani Devi. In spite of being busy on a day when hundreds of local people flocked to the palace, Team WHEELS was cordially received by the present members of royal family, Hara Prasad Garga and his nephew, Saurya Prasad Garga; we were shown around the palace; visitors are permitted to enter the Mahishadal Raj on securing permission from the security at the main gate or the contacts below.
Mahishadal Raj estate comprises an old palace and a new one. The old palace, known as Rangi Basan Palace was built around 1840. At present, no one resides here, and the palace is under lock and key. Two impressive iron lions at the entrance of the grand edifice add to the royal splendour. The huge stable at the basement of the palace can still be seen. The majesty coupled with the royal ambience of the palace is praiseworthy. A tin shed beside this palace was once the stage for public gathering and jatras.
On the other side of the courtyard is the Durga Mandap. The biggest festival besides Rathajatra in Mahishadal Raj is Durga Puja which is held every year at this Durga Mandap. If you are planning to visit a Durga Puja in a royal household amidst rural surroundings then Mahishadal Rajbari should be your choice of a destination in the coming festive season.
More picturesque is, however, the new palace called the Phulbagh Palace built in 1926, by Late Raja Sati Prasad Garga. Rani Kalyani used to reside in this palace. The Darbar Hall or the main assembly hall of this palace is in the ground floor. Although the Darbar lacks maintenance, the ornamental wooden furniture whispers numerous untold stories buried under the layers of dust. The huge oil paintings in the room are magnificent; each one with a story to tell. The massive wall to wall carpet in the Darbar Hall is still intact and vouches for the real touch of royalty. The Shikar Room with an excellent collection of stuffed animals is also in the new palace. There is a Billiard Room and a Musical Room where many musical instruments which the earlier Rajas used to play, are still kept on display.
The grand Gopal Jew Temple is situated inside the Mahishadal estate. This temple was built by Rani Janaki in the year 1774. The main deity of this huge temple is Gopal (Krishna as a toddler). The temple was built in the Nabaratna style of architecture. In the compound of this temple are two Shiva temples, a Jagannath temple and a Natmandir. The two Nahabatkhanas on the two sides of the entrance of the temple give a majestic look to the whole temple complex. The idols of the famous Rathajatra – Jagannath and Narayan – are in this temple.
The impressive Lal Kuthi, which used to be a residential house is also a place of attraction, located just behind the Phulbagh Palace. The daily puja and arati are still carried on in all the temples of the Mahishadal Raj by Rajpurohits including the Dadhi Baman Jew Temple which is situated behind the Lal Kuthi.
The Ram Jew Temple founded by Rani Janaki and the Rambagh or Deewan Palace at Rambagh near the Mahishadal station once belonged to the Mahishadal Raj but were later sold off. These are impressive structures and may also be visited, if time permits.
The vast fields, orchards and moats called garkhai or parikha, which surround the estate along with the Raj Dighi – the huge water body on 11 bighas of land, are inside the royal estate; all of which are ideal picnic spots during winter months.
The Mahisdal’s Madangopal Jew’s huge 206-years-old-chariot with 17 pillars needs special mention. It is said that in 1804, Raja Motilal Upadhyay made this 17 pillars chariot reaching a height of 75 feet. The chariot is fashioned completely out of wood. During the reign of King Jagannath Garg and again during King Lachmanprasad Garg’s era it had completely burnt down. Then, instead of 17 pillars, the number was reduced to 13. In 1860, a friend from France, Martineau Perud came to visit Lachmanprasad Garga in order to view the chariot. He suggested that the patternless semi circular pillars with frames and four peaks be done away with. These changes were incorporated in 1861 and replaced by four wooden images of prostrated men bearing flags with the insignia, which now adorn the four corners. At the bottom of the entire chariot, there are 36 wooden wheels protected by large iron batons and on both sides there are two wooden staircases which can be used to climb to the peak of the chariot. At the peak one finds a copper pitcher, wheel, flag and bell. The entire chariot is beautifully decorated with engravings of trees, flowers, birds etc. Maintenance works are carried out every year before the festival.
The chariot is drawn every year during the Rathjatra festival. Previously, cannons were fired from the Mahishadal Palace before the chariot began its journey but the practice was stopped by the Government. Even today, someone from the royal family like Mr. Hara Prasad Garga comes in a palanquin and is the first one to touch the rope of the chariot before the journey begins.
After a week-long halt at Gundichabati, it is drawn back again to the Rath Sarak – its original place in the Mahishadal Bajar. Thousands of people gather during this time to participate in the festival. A fortnight-long fair is also held during the Rathjatra festival in Mahishadal. The Mahishadal Raj has plans for a fair inside the royal estate this year, the Rathajatra festival being on 11th July this year.
In 2004, out of the original 95 acres belonging to the Mahishadal Raj property, approximately 65 acres were acquired and vested by the West Bengal Government. At present, only 30 acres of land are left with the Mahishadal Raj. Apart from a meagre sum as annuity for Rathajatra, no other help has been extended by the Government.
After the abolition of the Zamindari rights in 1947, the huge establishment and maintenance costs are being borne by the present Garga family members. Although some revenue is generated from lease for pisciculture within the estate and rents from the properties, the major part of the deficit is still taken care by the two existing royal families.
Only two branches of the royal family of the Mahishadal Raj have survived. Mr. Bhupal Prasad Garga (86) and his son Hara Prasad (50) live in Sarat Bose Road and Mr. Shankar Prasad Garga (55) with his son Saurya Prasad (28) reside in Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road; they are the ones carrying the royal legacy.
According to Saurja Prasad Garga, there are plans for heritage tourism at the Mahishadal Rajbari, which may begin by the end of this year. If this endeavour succeeds one would definitely get a glimpse of the royal splendor while generating revenue to take care of the maintenance of the property.
Team WHEELS salutes the Mahishadal Raj family, which still takes pride in maintaining the sprawling property of Mahishadal, retaining its past pomp and glory unlike the many other royal families of Bengal who have sold off their properties at the first available option and in the course, wiping out many of these heritage relics of Bengal.
Contacts at Mahishadal Raj Estate:
Mr. Hara Prasad Garga – Cell 9830275928
Mr. Saurya Prasad Garga – Cell 9830053378
Phul Bagh Palace, P.O. Mahishadal, Dist Purba Medinipur.
There is no descent arrangement for tourists to stay overnight at Mahishadal. However, the tourist lodge, Tribeni Sangam at Geokhali (7km – 15 min drive) and the plenty of hotels including Millennium Inn and Hotel East West at Durga Chowk (15 km on way to Haldia – 25 min drive) are good options if you at all want to stay back.
Although there are few food joints at the Mahishadal Bajar, it is better to carry your lunch and drinking water in the car. You may also opt to pick up the meal from the Azad Hind Dhaba at Uluberia or Sher-E-Punjab Dhaba at Kolaghat on your way to Mahishadal (refer the map).
Tamluk was earlier known as Tamralipti. The archaeological excavations by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) along with the historical and mythological records have proved that Tamralipta was one of the most important centres of trade and commerce in India between 3rd Century BC and 8th Century AD. During this period Tamralipta had a strategic location as a sea port on the Bay of Bengal which served as a junction of various trade routes to east and south-east Asia making it an important site for commerce in this part of the continent.
Places to see in Tamluk-
Tamluk Rajbari: According to Kashidas’s Mahabharata, Lord Sri Krishna and Arjun came here to release the divine horse of Ashwamedh Yajna from King Tramradhwaja, who belonged to the Mayura-dhwaja (Peackok) dynasty. This is mentioned in Mahabharata, Bhagavat too. The dilapidated condition has made it more appealing and interesting. Negotiations are presently on between ASI and the royal family to renovate the palace. There is a beautiful Radhamadhav & Radharaman temple adjoining the Tamluk palace where the idols are still worshipped.
Barghabhima temple: This is an 1150-year-old Kali temple named after Devi Barghobhima. This temple is one of the 51 Shakti Peethasthans as per Puran. The small finger of the left feet of Sati/Parvati fell here when Lord Vishnu severed the sacred body of Goddess Sati into several pieces in a move to pacify Lord Shiva.
Tamralipta Museum: There is an archeological Museum in Tamluk. It is a must see place of the town. Kamal Kundu is the one of the prominent persons who did his best to run this museum. The museum contains many historic artifacts of tamra or coppers and ancient Greek inscriptions on copper templates. It has also preserved many historical relics of Bengal too.
Rakkhit Bati: . Famous historian late Tailakyanath Rakhit rebuilt this building. It is just beside the Bargabhima Temple. In the beginning of 19th century it was famous as a secret centre of the then revolutionary parties – the ‘Anusilan Samiti’ & ‘Gupta Samiti’. The first martyr of the freedom fighting movement Kshudiram Bose used to come here for body building, playing stick and to take part in meetings of freedom fighters. Kshudiram got inspiration, knowledge and power to fight against the British from here. Other famous freedom fighters who are associated with Rakshit Bari are Jadugopal and Dhanagopal Mukhopadhya, Purba Chandra Sen, Ali Samser, Banarasi Adhikari, Ganesh Das etc.
Matangani Sahid Smarak: This is located by a pond called Banpukur at Abasbari Para beside the Tamluk Court. In 1942, when Mahatma Gandhi called for Non Cooperation Movement, Matangini Hazra devoted herself to freeing the country. When, she along with a group of activists proceeded towards Tamluk jail, the British police fired on them and Matangini died on the spot. In memory of that incident the statue was erected in the same spot where Matangini took her last breath. Later, Mahatma Gandhi in praise of her bravery bestowed the title of ‘Birangana’. This monument was the homage by former Prime Minister- Indira Gandhi.
Rupnarayan River bank: The bank of river Rupnarayan is famous as a picnic for its vast scenic beauty.
Other places to drive around Mahishadal and Tamluk:
Geokhali – 7 km / Tamluk – 17 km / Haldia – 35 km.