Kolkata has always been known as the ‘City of Palaces’ and a recent visit to Marble Palace, located at Muktaram Babu Street off Chittaranjan Avenue confirmed that. I was probably four or five years when I had first visited Marble Palace, which was built in 1835 by Raja Rajendro Mullick Bahadur and was christened as the Marble Palace by Lord Minto as 126 different types of marbles from all over the world were used to create this beauty.
Of course, back then, neither the history of the place nor the exquisite works of art — ranging from statues to paintings to objet d’art to furniture — had appealed to the young mind. It was the zoo and the aviary that had impressed me the most.
Since then much time has passed and never in those passing years did I have the good fortune to visit this beautiful mansion. But then, recently Lady Luck shone on us — the editor, the managing editor, the photographer, his assistant and me. And we were able to knock on the gate of the illustrious Marble Palace — our very own Acropolis.
Usually C. R. Avenue wears a busy look, but the day we had set our date with the Marble Palace, we reached the Mahatma Gandhi Road crossing in record time and soon came across a narrow lane on the left at the corner of which stood an yellow and blue signboard announcing that now we will have to turn left for ‘Marble Palace’. We did and soon arrived at the Palace, shining as brightly as a marble.
We were awestruck even before we entered the premises. A ballamdhari guard welcomed us and just as the car went around the front lawn, we saw a beautiful marble fountain and four lions in four corners of the lawn. The moment our car was parked, we were received by Brotindro Mullick (seventh in decent from Raja Rajendro Mullick Bahadur) who took time out from his busy schedule to spend the day with us.
We learnt that the Marble Palace is one of the oldest mansions of the city. It is older than St Paul’s Cathedral, G.P.O. and the High Court buildings and it is set on 12 acres of land. The area houses the Palace, the residential quarters, the temple of Lord Jagannath, the zoo, the aviary and so on. It is still a working residence.
We first went to pay our respects to the statue of Raja Rajendro Mullick Bahadur. Born June 24, 1819, he was the adopted son of Nilmony Mullick, a successful businessman, who was known for his high intellectual attainments and his charity works. Raja Rajendro Mullick was only three when his father passed away. Soon, thereafter, a civil suit was started between his mother. Hiramoni Dasi and his cousin Vaishnavdas Mullick. It was around this time that the Supreme Court appointed noted barrister Sir James Hogg as Rajendro’s legal guardian. Rajendro Mullick grew up to be a man who exuded moral strength, uprightness and fearlessness. His worldly wisdom complimented his aesthetic sensibility and he was known for acts of benevolence. In 1866, during the Orissa famine, he opened a free kitchen in Calcutta where hundreds of starving destitutes were given free meals. This tradition of free kitchen exists even today and food is served to destitutes and no distinction is made on the basis of caste and creed.
The titles of Rai Bahadur and Raja Bahadur were conferred on Rajendro Mullick in 1867 and 1878 by the Government for his charity work. He also donated many rare species of animals and birds to the Zoological Garden. He built this Palace when he was just 16 years old and he wanted it to be ‘the temple of art and beauty’. Raja Rajendro Mullick Bahadur died on April 14, 1887, but his legacy lives on. And we couldn’t wait to be a part of it ourselves.
So, our next step was to take a closer look at the fountain and the lions (which is the insignia of the Mullicks) on the front lawns. The fountain depicts the four seasons and is a beauty in itself. After inspecting the lawns and the pool area, we walked down the long alley on the western side of the house to enter the Billiard’s room where the heads of two moose deer welcomed us.
Once inside, we were rivetted to the spot. We just did not know where to start this adventure from. Should we just sit down on the cool marble floor and gape at the beautiful designs or should we admire the bronze dancing girls, or the statues of Apollo and Mercury or just allow the sheer grandeur of the room to sink in? Talk about being in a dilemma!
After spending about 20 minutes in this one room (which, of course, as the name suggests, possesses a huge billiard’s table which is at least 100 years old), we stepped into the next one. Here, the lights were off and we were for a second greeted by a larger-than-life figure. We were a wee bit intimidated. When the lights were switched on, we came face-to-face with a statue of Queen Victoria, carved from a single piece of wood. Brotindro Mullick informed us that the statue was originally placed at the helm of a ship that was shipwrecked at the Calcutta Port and then it was brought to the Palace. You will have to see it to believe it. Majestic is the word that can describe it best.
Well, this was the beginning of our tour. It took us three hours to explore the Palace. Right from the reception hall to the thakur dalan to the courtyard to Ruben’s chamber, the Ball room and Durbar hall (these are located upstairs)— Marble Palace revealed to us why it should be called the Marvel Palace. Take a look at the box titled ‘What Left Us in Awe’ and you will get some idea. But, you will have to come here and explore it yourself. Because if you don’t, you are not a true blue Kolkatan.
The mirrors, the chandeliers, the original paintings by Ruben, Reynolds, Raja Ravi Verma, Bijoy Chandra, the sculptures, the clocks, the statues of various Roman gods and goddesses, Madonna, Jesus Christ, Lord Buddha (on the lawns) Sophocles, Napolean, Chinese vases, Burmese incense burner and many other paintings, antiques and objet d’art will leave you spellbound.
Every nook and corner of this Palace showcases the eclectic aesthetic sense of Raja Rajendro Mullick Bahadur. But our journey was far from over. There was still so much to check out. Like the zoo where we found some really energetic spotted deer and the two-horn antelope, the aviary which is the home to the saras, geese, ducks and some beautiful birds and the artificial hill which has a majestic lion protecting the mouth of a cave.
Seriously, Marble Palace has so much to offer and you can don the mantle of Indiana Jones and explore the rich cultural heritage of the Palace. Or you can just be like Alice in Wonderland. We were a little bit of both. It was 4.00 pm when we bid adieu to the Palace but each one of us made a silent promise that we will be back again, soon.
And we just can’t wait to fulfill our promises!
Address: 46, Muktaram Babu Street, Kolkata: 700 007
(Near Mahajati Sadan on C. R. Avenue)
10 am-4 pm daily, except for Mondays and Thursdays
Photography: Strictly prohibited
Parking: Allowed within the Palace premises
Admission: Admission is free for Indians, but foreign tourists will have to take permission from the West Bengal Tourist Information Bureau 24 hours in advance before visiting the Palace.
Tourism Centre, 3/2 B. B. D. Bag, (East), Kolkata -700 001.
Phone: (033) 2248-8271, 2248-8272, 2248-8273,(Reservation & Information Office), E-mail: www.wbtourism.com
WHAT LEFT US IN AWE