Narajole History in oblivion

Distance from Kolkata: 111 km
Driving Time: 3 hours
Road Trip: 1 day

This is a tale of a royal dynasty in Paschim Medinipur, tucked away in oblivion ever since the abolition of the zaminadari system. Despite being sunk in obscurity, a foray into Narajole was an eye-opener, as the estate was replete with architectural gems and historical tales. Follow Team WHEELS on this drive tour and cherish the rich history of a bygone era.

According to historian Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay, the name ‘Narajole’ was derived from the term ‘Jola’ meaning ‘water’ and ‘Nara’ meaning the left over stub of paddy. We found justification of the name in the last leg of the drive, as large tracts of paddy fields and marshy land stretched on both sides of the road from Bakultala to Narajole.

The route is pretty simple. From Kona Expressway proceed straight ahead and then turn left to enter NH-6. Follow NH-6 and cross Dhulaghori, Uluberia, Kolaghat towards Kharagpur. From Mechogram Morh (12.5 km from Kolaghat junction) turn right into Panskura-Ghatal Road (State Highway 4) leaving NH-6 through an underpass, which is currently under construction. Thereafter, proceed forward towards Ghatal by Panskura-Ghatal Road. At around 24 km from NH-6, look for ‘Bakultala’ near Shyam Sundarpur. Take a left hairpin bend into a narrow road from Bokultala and drive for 16.5 km to reach Narajole Bazaar.
From the junction at the bazaar turn right and proceed for another 600 meter to find the dilapidated royal arched gate on your right, guarding the Hawa Mahal. The entrance to the Narajole Rajbari is however, on the opposite side of the gate, a few metres through a kuccha road with a Shinghaduar and a Nahabatkhana to welcome the few visitors who come by.

Narajole is an ancient royal dynasty of Bengal. The royal family traces its origin to the era prior to British Raj. It is said that about 600 years ago, an ancestor, Uday Narayan went hunting in the dense forest. There, he saw an unbelievable sight – a crane was chasing a hawk and suddenly the entire place was lit up. That very night, Uday Narayan dreamt of an idol of Devi Joy Durga made of gold lying inside the jungle. Next morning, he went in search of the place he had dreamt of and found the idol of Joy Durga surrounded by valuable treasures. It was this idol, which was brought and still continues to be worshipped in the Joy Durga temple in Narajole thakurbari premises.
Later on, Uday Narayan Ghosh encouraged people to settle down in that area and gradually the jungle was cleared for habitation. After Uday Narayan, Pratap Narayan became the king. The Narajole Fort was built by his son, Yogendra Narayan. His successor Bharat Narayan encouraged growth of agriculture in the area. Kirti Narayan, his son, further expanded the estate.

During the time of Akbar, the Emperor of Delhi, Bengal’s Nazim Solemon Qurbani conferred Kartikram Ghosh the title ‘Roy’. Thereafter in 1596, Balabant Roy was conferred the title ‘Khan’ by the Nazim of Bengal and the family adopted the surname ‘Khan’.
Much later, it was Devendra Lal Khan, who during the Indian Freedom Struggle became famous as one of the zamindars opposing the British. He expired just after India became free. It was after him that the Devendra Lal Khan Road in south Kolkata near Race Course was renamed.
Later in 1953, zamindari system was abolished by the Government and the properties of Narajole royal family got vested in absence of any trust. After Debendra Lal’s death, Amarendra Khan became the legal heir. He married Anjali Khan – who was later elected as a Member of Legislative Assembly of West Bengal from 1957 to 1962. Although she shifted to Kolkata, she continued in her effort to restore and preserve the heritage. However, in her absence, the structure became dilapidated due to lack of maintainance and pilferage by the locals. At present, Rajarshi Devi, the last royal descendant lives in Kolkata.

Narajole Rajbari
Earlier, there was a garh (ramp or ground) around the Narajole dynasty, which was spread
over 330 bighas of land. It was divided in two parts – bahiragarh (exterior ramp) and antargarh (interior ramp), separated by a moat or canal.
The exterior ramp included the Hawa Mahal, Rasmancha, Dolmancha and the Sastha Shivalaya. The antaragarh begins with the Shinghaduar (main gate), Nahabatkhana adjoining the gate, Kacharibari (office building), Rajbari, thakurdalan and other living areas of the royal family.
There were around 240 rooms inside the Rajbari compound. The main Rajbari, built in 1840, was
beautifully decorated with artifacts brought mainly from Jaipur, Delhi and Lahore. Later, after the fall of the zamindari, it was turned into Narajole Raj College, which has now shifted away to a modern building.
A part of the moat, which still exists, is approximately 600 feet long and 40 feet wide; it lies beyond the Rajbari.

Joy Durga temple
The main deity of Narajole royal family, Joy Durga, is housed in a pancharatna styled temple inside the compound of the Narajole Rajbari. The temple is believed to have been built by Udaynarayan Ghosh in 14th century. It is the oldest temple inside the Rajbari, which has no authentic historical record.
At present, Joy Durga temple is the only edifice, which is somewhat maintained and continues to survive.
The deity of Joy Durga is a small idol of approximately 12 inches of height, made of astadhatu (amalgamation of 8 metals). It is said that the idol was stolen quite a number of times but interestingly restored the very next day.
The temple still continues with its nitya seva (daily rituals) and bhog. Simple anna (rice) bhog is available during lunch time between 12 noon and 1.30 pm – free of cost. Team WHEELS preferred to have prasad here rather than eat at the local eateries at Narajole bazaar. Team WHEELS made some contributions for the upkeep of the temple.

Natmandir: In front of the Joy Durga temple inside the Thakurbari compound, we were to see the stunning Natmandir. Heavily ornate, black in colour, it bears close resemblance with the Upasana Bhavan of Shantiniketan. We were told that Rabindranath Tagore, on his visit to Narajole Rajbari,
appreciated the wrought iron architecture and thus Upasana Bhavan was inspired by this structure.
The massive square wrought iron structure provides shade during prayers and its architecture is
definitely worth a drive. A few pieces of Belgian coloured glasses are still intact to narrate the rich history of Narajole royalty.

Sitaram Jiwer Mandir
In 1819, Raja Mohan Lal Khan built this Sitaram Jiew temple inside the Thakurbari, next to the Natmandir. At that time, Mohan Lal spent around `1 lakh to build the temple with stones brought from Ayodhya. The idols inside this temple are of Ram, Sita, Lakshman, Bharat, Shatrughan and Mahabir.
Mohanlal Khan initiated the Ratha Yatra celebration carrying these idols during Ram Navami. The rath (chariot) is housed beside the main approach road under a tin shed, quite visible to passer-by.

Govinda Jiew Mandir: This temple too is situated inside the Thakurbari compound adjoining the wrought iron Natmandir. It is said that Sitamram Khan, the first son of Sabharam Khan, built this temple around 1860 AD. Priests of both these temples readily regaled us with stories about the place.

Durga dalan: Lying on the east behind the main palace is the Durga dalan – another awe-inspiring ornate wrought iron structure of equal size as the one lying outside, totally in ruins. The entire structure is presently covered by weeds, pointing to the utter lack of maintenance or preservation efforts. A few original tinted glasses are still there and serve as a pointer to the indifference shown by the authorities.

Mrityunjoy Shivmandir: Outside the Thakurbari is the Mrityunjoy Shivmandir. It is a simple aatchala Shiva temple with terracotta inscriptions.

Kachari bari: Th e single-storied building, outside the Thakurbari, beside the car park is the kachari bari or office – now kept under lock and key. This was from where the administration was run by the zamindars.

Pochischura Rasmancha: This spectacular three-storied brick structure or Rasmancha is adorned by twenty five Deuls (roof). This rare piece of architecture is on the connecting road from Narajole Bazaar. It is a 40-feet high white structure having twenty five deuls on its two upper floors. The ground floor has long corridors, opening on all four sides.
Once dilapidated, the grand structure was recently renovated by Narajole Heritage Committee.

Sastha Shivalayas: Opposite the Rasmancha are Sastha (six) Shivalayas built in aatchalaa architectural style. According to historical inscriptions, the temples were built by Braja Kishore Khan, the fift h son of Mohan Lal Khan, in 1765. Adjoining the temples are three Raj Samadhis or graves of Narajole royal family.

Hawa Mahal: Another grand palace constructed by Raja Mohan Lal Khan was the Hawa Mahal also known as Chapa Bagan. It was actually an out-house of the zamindars meant for recreation. According to locals, it was used for drinking sprees and revelries with dancing girls by the zaminders.
The back side of the palace has a withered fountain and overlooks a vast pond with two Shiva temples at its entrance.
A massive arched gate on the connecting road stands guarding the building from a distance. Its boundary wall has completely vanished. With the decline of the zamindari, Hawa Mahal started decaying and today it stands as a mute spectator to the complete dilapidation of the royal properties.
The encouraging news is that the Heritage Commission under West Bengal Government has taken up the preservation of this palace.

Lankagarh Jalahari: This kind of structure is rarely seen in the entire West Bengal. It is a small palace constructed in the middle of a square-shaped lake – the primary attraction of Narajole. Located at Lankagarh on the main road towards Narajole bazaar, this brick structure on water was meant to be the summer palace of Mohan Lal Khan in 1818 AD, constructed at a cost of `80,000. A beautiful garden spread over 60 bighas of land was laid around the lake.
In 1988, following a brief renovation, the locals took initiative to set up a boating facility for the visitors in the lake in order to access the palace. However, at present, the facility doesn’t exist.

We wondered, while proceeding towards Narajole, how we missed the site. When we reached there we found that a couple of shanties obstructed the view of the palace from the road. The entrance lies between two Shiva temples, which lead to the lake and the summer retreat.
The heritage structure, after proper renovation will surely be a big draw for tourists. A little bit of planning, added attractions like a Son et lumiere (Light and sound) project and performance by the famous local patuas (painters) who sing the mythical tales can easily transform the retreat into a
magnificent heritage tourism project. We were told that the State Heritage Commission has taken up restoration work for several structures but there was hardly any noticeable activity.

Team WHEELS was guided by Sandip Khan, a descendant of Narajole family. A school teacher by profession, Sandip who lives in Narajole, belongs to the 21st generation. It seemed that he is sort of a one-man army fighting against all odds to preserve the heritage structures.
Team WHEELS returned to the city with a heavy heart, well-aware that such gems are lying in utter neglect, outside public realm, with no one caring enough to preserve such rich heritage.

Prasad is available at the Joy Durga temple inside Narajole Rajbari during lunch between 12–1.30 pm.
Local eateries are also available at Narajole bazaar.
Contact: Sandip Khan – Cell: 9733621495

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