Distance from Kolkata: 83 km
Driving Time: 2 hours
Road Trip: 1 day
Baganbati at Chakdighi, a grand property with sprawling premises and a rich heritage, was out of bounds all these years. It has recently been opened to the public as a day-out picnic spot. Team WHEELS explored this picturesque historic venue on a weekend drive-out.
With the launch of the all-new Nissan Kicks at Kolkata, Team WHEELS drove the robust and technology-intelligent Kicks all the way to Chakdighi Baganbati for the most awaited drive-out spree. With its exceptionally stylish exterior and spacious interiors, it is a powerful vehicle for a five-member team to venture on long drives.
Setting off at 10:30 am from Vidyasagar Setu, the drive down the Kona Expressway was a flying start. Once we were on NH-19 (NH-2), the Kicks simply glided over the road. The noise-vibration-harshness (NVH) levels were very well contained with minimal exterior noise filtering into the passenger cabin. After a 45-minute drive we took a refreshment break at the Nabanna Hotel in Singur – quite a flamboyant food joint along the highway.
We passed Azad Hind Dhaba and Hindusthan Hotel at Gopalpur in Gurap at about 12:30 pm from where we took the service lane of NH-19 (NH-2) on left.
The Nissan with its sculpted and robust stance and floating roof design drew a lot of attention on the road as we stopped the car at several spots to click enroute. Its stylish roof rail and an LED DRI with the bold V-motion chrome grille signature design was a show-stopper. The road from NH-19 (NH-2) to Chakdighi passes through a series of villages with no particular scenic beauty. The road from highway goes straight to hit a T-Junction called Dasghara Morh from where we took a right turn and proceeded towards Chakdighi. Thanks to the excellent suspension and ground clearance of the car, we could hardly feel the rough roads in spite of long stretches under repair.
From Dasghara Morh, we drove about 7 km to reach Chakdighi Baganbati, where a huge historic gate stood tall with ‘Baganbati’ embossed on it. After we drove through the gate into the porch, a staff member escorted us to a two-storey grand mansion called the Baithakkhana.
The owners, Ambarish Singh Roy and Swati Singh Roy, and their daughters Rai and Vrinda, welcomed us. We were as much astounded by the vastness of the living room and its classic colonial décor as with the warm hospitality of our hosts.
We sat down to glean a detailed account of the family history over tea and snacks. “Chakdighi,” Mr. Singh Roy began, “was the seat of the second-largest zamindari of our state, second only to that of the Maharaj Dheeraj Bahadur of Burdwan. This zamindari paid taxes directly to the British.”
History has it that the Chakdighi Singh Roy family came to Bengal as Dus Hazari Mansabdars under Raja Man Singh of Amer. Since 1868, the Singh Roys of Chakdighi are Yaduvanshi Rajputs and trace their origins to Raja Shaha Deo and the two legendary warriors Alha and Udal. This family was given the hereditary titles of ‘Rai’ and subsequently ‘Raja’ by the Mughal Emperor, Jehangir.
The family was responsible for momentous developmental work in Bengal including the abolition of polygamy and the setting forth of the Widow Remarriage Act in conjunction with a close friend of the family and a frequent guest at Baganbati, Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
The family established one of the only three Anglo-Sanskrit free schools in Eastern India with hostel facilities, as early as 1856. The school located at Chakdighi, known as Sarada Prosad Institution, is a Higher Secondary school with a current strength of over 1200 students.
The foundation of a free ten-bed hospital along with an operation theatre was laid during the same period as the Sarada Prosad Databya Chikitsalaya was established. Introduction of the Bengal Provincial Railways (BPR), the construction of an old age home and the commissioning and construction of a 32 km pitch road in the district of Burdwan, most of which are operational till date, was also undertaken by the family.
Prominent zamindars of the Baganbati were Raja Sarada Prosad Singh Roy, Thakur Raja Lalit Mohan Singh Roy Bahadur and the last officially recognized zamindar Thakur Raja Kamala Prasad Singh Roy. He is now succeeded by his only son and heir, Thakur Raja Ambarish Singh Roy – the host on our visit.
Prominent visitors to the Baganbati included Viceroys, Governors-General and others illustrious personalities like the great scientist Satyendranath Bose, author Tarashankar Bandopadhyay, painter Jamini Roy, J.P. Ganguly, Birendra Krishna Bhadra, Maharaj Kumar Robin Ray of Santosh, Salman Rushdie, Satyajit Ray, U. N. Brahmachari, Rashbehari Ghosh, Shyama Prosad Mukherjee, Mother Teresa, Ustad Kale Khan, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Munawar Ali Khan, Ustad Raza Ali Khan, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, among others.
The Singh Roys were the hereditary Rajas of Bundelkhand, Mahoba. To cater to their very distinct palate, the local cooks had to be specially trained in their House delicacies, before their food could be served to the guests. The specialty items included a variety of koftas and kebabs, viz., the galawat kebab, kheer kebab, ghee kebab and shabdek. Another lip-smacking delicacy of the Royals was the gosht masallam in which, the whole goat was stuffed with other animals and surrounded by dry fruits and roasted in open air for nearly 48 hrs.
The Singh Roys, unlike the other Rajasthanis, ate sweets made of cottage cheese. The most renowned sweets were khaas sandesh, chop sandesh, monohora, mihidana, bedana bonde, lady kenny and chhanar jilipi.
The entire property of Baganbati stretches over 45 acres of land. It includes five main buildings within the premises, viz., the Baithakkhana, Andarmahal, Thakurbari, Kacharighar and Jalmahal. The Baithakkhana was meant for guests, whether to have discussions regarding the stately affairs or to host the Governors-General and Viceroys of colonial India, and hence the colonial style.
The most striking feature of the Baithakkhana building is its scientific architecture. It has wind tunnels running below the building which makes the house very cool even during the hot and humid summer days.
The manager of the estate, Sushanta Dutta, gave us a guided tour of the Baganbati. Right behind the Baithakkhana is the Andarmahal, which was built in the Rajasthani style of architecture. It was here that all the ladies of the Baganbati stayed. Interestingly, they had to come out of their comfort zone, to the Baithakkhana from time to time, to receive eminent guests, as listed above. The Andarmahal is currently being used by the family for their own stay, during their occasional visits to this place.
The Kacharighar, as the name suggests, was the office of the zamindars. It was primarily meant for tax collection and is located a little behind the Andarmahal. Right in front of the Kacharighar is the Thakurdalan.
The Baganbati, built by Thakur Bhairav Singh 364 years back, will now be performing their 285th Durga Puja in the magnificent Thakurdalan. This 300-year-old tradition is still being carried out with the unabated enthusiasm and devotion. There is also a Jatraghar adjacent to the Thakurdalan, where jatras or palas (folk plays) were held during Durga Puja. The Thakurdalan is positioned in a way that the ladies of the family could enjoy watching from the Andarmahal.
The Baganbati is replete with seven ponds and two mango groves. The ponds have beautiful names like Andarpukur, Chandni, Tubtubi, Dighi, Padmapukur, Badampukur and Anturpukur.
The circular room in the Jalmahal, on the western side of Chandnipukur, is the place where the legendary Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar stayed whenever he came to teach the children of the Singh Roys. Other prominent figures who were put up at the Jalmahal were Sir Steward Hogg, the then-District Magistrate and John Woodroe.
Durga Puja at Baganbati
There are more than fifteen permanent employees taking care of the estate round the year. During Durga Puja, which is a grand affair for the Singh Roys, a good number of people are employed on a temporary basis. The Puja is however done in the Rajput style. It is called pratipada adi kalpa, which starts from pratipada and continues for fifteen days, till the day after Lakshmi Puja. People from far and wide come to the Baganbati to attend the Puja.
One cannot stop marvelling at the hall with its huge tables, a round table with a marble top and a twelve-seater oval table, with chairs around both of them. Right above the table was a long-hand punkha, which hung from the ceiling. A man had the dedicated job of a punkha-puller in the Baithakkhana. You will be mesmerised at the sight of the crystal chandeliers that hang from the ceiling.
The walls of the Baithakkana tell the gallant stories of the Singh Roys through portraits and priceless paintings. There’s a rare portrait of a potbellied Napolean Bonaparte. A fresco hangs on one of the walls which was sculpted on a stone sheet by the sculptor of Sarnath, using natural colours. A beautifully-coloured lithograph of Queen Victoria, autographed by her, is another major attraction.
In one corner of the living room is a beautiful library which has a rich collection of books from the past 200 years. There are books on history, English literature and Sanskrit, and periodicals.
The first pocket book of Charles Dickens, Walter Scott, and the first translation of the Arabian Nights in English by Sir Richard Burton are some of the priceless collections you will find in the library.
We were very excited to learn that it is the same house where Satyajit Ray shot his renowned film, ‘Ghare Baire.’ But Ambarish is not too keen on letting out the house for film shoots any more as there’s always a possibility of the property getting irreparably damaged in the process.
Baithakkhana – First Floor
The Singh Roys then invited us for lunch which was a delicious spread. Post-lunch, Mrs. Singh Roy escorted us to the first floor of the Baithakkhana where many more surprises awaited us. As we took the stairs leading to the first floor, our jaw dropped in amazement at the sight of the 1950 Britannica Encyclopaedia in its original wooden case, and also two Japanese paintings carved out of matchsticks on either side of the staircase.
On the first floor lies the great dance floor which hosted ballroom dances. The first floor now has three sets of seating arrangements all of a very distinct style – the Imperial set on the dance floor, the Lazarus of France in the landing and the Chippendale set in the Black and Gold room. What caught our attention was the central sofa set in each of these areas. The family is trying to revive the original look and feel of the sofas, which is a very costly affair.
Mesmerising was the view of so many chandeliers on one ceiling, most of them Belgian. We were told that they have a total of thirty-three chandeliers from Osler, of which, the biggest one is in the dance floor hall. The Governor General’s writing desk with a footrest at one end of the dance floor adds to the depth and grandeur of the hall.
Mrs. Singh Roy then guided us to the two most important bedrooms, one for the Governor-General and the other for the Viceroy. We were stunned at the rich antiquity, in terms of the quality of the wood (Burma teak or mahogany), the intricate work on the wood and the design of each piece of the bedroom furniture.
In the Governor-General’s room, we were fascinated to see the four wooden flower bowls, designed on each corner of the bedstead, where fresh flowers were kept for filling the air of the bedroom with a sweet fragrance. This room is Mrs. Roy’s favourite. Another very striking feature of these bedrooms is the way the mosquito net hangs from the ceiling.
We were then taken to the huge balcony overlooking the Singh Roy estate. As we made our way down the wooden staircase with beautiful tinted glasses on our back, and overlooking the grand living area, we were temporarily transported to another era.
According to Ambarish Singh Roy, “The Baganbati is a personal property. Hence no revenues are generated from this property. Some amount of revenue is generated from the ghaats, bajaar, ponds on account of pisciculture and the mango groves. However, we are trying to restore the property and give a serious thought to revenue generation as well.”
Day-outs at Baganbati
The Singh Roys are planning for homestay and eventually transforming Baganbati into a heritage resort. During Durga Puja, they always receive a lot of special guests. As of now, he’s ready to let out the huge ground in front of the Baithakkhana for picnics.
It was almost 4:30 pm by the time we were through. We took leave of the Singh Roys and set out towards the city in our agile Nissan Kicks. It took us less than two hours to hit Kolkata. As we drove out from the Baganbati, our hearts and minds were totally mesmerised by the royal essence of Baganbati.
Info-box: Chakdighi baganbati
Day-out timing : 9 am to 5 pm
Ground charges : Rs 10,000 (max. 100 heads)
Guided tour : Available
Food : To be arranged by party
Drinking water and toilet : Available
Car parking : Available
Restrictions : Loud music and liquor
Contact: +91 9830187395 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Published in Kolkata on WHEELS: February 2019