In continuation to my last blog to our time travel to Bengal Renaissance but have to mention that prior to arrival of the British , there were already many well established , sophisticated family in Kolkata with flourishing business . They traded in gold, silver, cotton , salt or were involved in shipping , transport etc. Much tempted with their prosperity and abundance British started taking over in the mid 18th century , these families had to think of some other options of sustenance , they had to join hands with the so called the lords of the provinces taken over and entered the administrations through various posts of ‘Munshis’, officials or commissioners . Soon they graduated to the titles of Rajas or most often sarcastically referred as ‘ejuraj’ or educated Raja, ‘Phool Babu’ or ‘flower-delicate fop’. They also commissioned British architects to build large mansions , mimicking antique doric , gothic & baroque styles among many others. The most common and major characteristics of all these mansions and Rajbaris ( as commonly referred ) were an inner courtyard with Thakur Dalan commonly used for Durga Puja, congregations, musical evenings or get together. The inner courtyard was surrounded by colonnaded balconies influenced from ancient greek and roman architecture. The family quarters were upstairs along with these balconies. Let’s take peek into some of the prominent families’ rich heritage and glories of their past.
Mullick Bari – Pathuriaghata
Mullick family had come into prominence from 17th century. Rajaram Mullick shifted to Kolkata from Triveni , his great grandson Nimaicharnan Mullick had invested in salt trade and real estate and in the process brought his family in political and social circle. At the time of his death he left 3 crore in his will . Baidyanath Mallick ( Ancestor ) climbed to the top of Chandranath Mountain to find an idol of goddess Durga ( Singhabahini ) . The priest of the temple gifted it to him and he brought it down with him to Triveni and later brought to Kolkata. The family adopted the idol has family diety . In year 1883, when Ramkrishna Paramhans ( Indian Mystic & yogi ) visited the family he was fascinated by the goddess and immediately entered a deep meditation .
Three large structures have already come up next to this building , one of them is the Barabazar branch of Metropolitan school established in 1887. Jadulal Mullick had numerous contribution in social sector. At one time he donated enormously to Oriental Seminary from where he passed entrance , school leaving examination . His son, Manmathanath Mullick bought pair of Zebras from Alipore zoological gardens to pull his carriage through the streets of Calcutta. He even got his carriage painted in zebra colors . He had nine types of carriages and a stable full of horses. Which was very much talk of the town during that time. One of the grandsons of Jadulal Mullick Pradyunno Mullick had 35 cars, out of which 10 were Rolls Royce . Though the palace has a rich heritage and lots of tales woven around and Mr Bejonbehary Mullick ( descendants of Mullick Family ) seems to be taking a lot of pride and pleasure describing glories of the past . Unfortunately, with limited resources and funds it’s tough to manage such a large property . Nevertheless, they have managed to keep up the property to certain measures trying to preserve the lost heritage.
Basu Bari ( Nandalal Bose )
Did you know the original constitution of India has each page beautifully drawn by artist Nandalal Bose . To illuminate text beautifully he had used gold leaves and colors made from stones . Nandalal Bose was also the one who drew the emblems for the India’s highest awards such as Bharat Ratna and Padmashri. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan for his contribution and was a pupil of Abanindranath Tagore . He eventually became the Principle of Kala Bhavan , Shantiniketan . Born in Bihar December 1882, he had a keen interest in pottery, craftsmen , creating and decorating gods and goddesses . He moved to Kolkata when he was 16 year old to complete his high school and college. Stumbling upon Abanindranath Tagore’s work he decided to study under him. Highly impressed with Nandalal Bose’s artwork , he was recommended to Government college of Art . Travelling across so much to widen his imagination and he was deeply influenced with cave art of Ajanta and , Buddhist stupa of Gaya and Temples of Mahabalipuram . His some of the other significant contribution were influenced from Indian history and mythology . He had also illustrated many of Rabindranath Tagore’s stories and poems and designed sets and costumes for his plays. Rabindranath invited Nandalal Bose to Shantiniketan , where he went onto to become the first Principal of Shantiniketan’s fine arts college. He was greatly adored and respected by his pupils and this is where he first met Mahatma Gandhi . Deeply moved with his Dandi March , Nandalal created the famous black and white picture called “Linocut” . He also created lot of decorative posters of various Congress meetings which later became very famous.
Nandalal Bose passed away in April 1966 and his more than 6000 of his works are showcased in National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. Nandalal Bose’s mansion know as Basu Bati / Bari is still one of the Calcutta’s most fascinating mansions , located in Bagbazar. This enigmatic house is hard to find amongst the bylanes. Originally it covered an area of 14 acres but years of division the property has been drastically reduced . Many small hutments , shops and restaurants have come around the property to reduce the traces of the palace. With these encroachments the palace has been retreated to narrow lane from the main road.
The exterior of the house is decorated , with massive columns with floral motifs and lion’s head connected by double rows of beads shaped in stucco. Islamic style archways open up to the ground floor with number of small waiting rooms and store rooms with large evidence of decay and rising damp. Originally the house boasted of four courtyards , the most magnificent being the main courtyard known as “Thakur dalan”, surrounded by tall columns. Like any other house, courtyard is an important part of the house where various religious and family ceremonies were performed .
The mansion was designed by the famous bengali engineer Nilmoni Mitra . He had also designed six to seven other grand houses Bagbazaar , however his work in Basu bari is note worthy . Though the other great houses during that era featured European style but Basu Bari had gothic style with Mughal and Ancient Bengali influence . The palace has witnessed many life turning events including the Bengal partition movement along with prominent personalities of those times visiting or staying there. Sadly, the palace is in decay and with no maintenance. From the exterior , the magnificent ruined façade of Basu Bari is a sad reminder of its former opulent life and past glories. It is tough to imagine there was a large garden with fountains , a stable and even a zoo. Despite obvious pride in their heritage home, the Basus find it very tough maintaining such a large house , which has also forced the family to gift part of the house and many artefacts to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. It’s a hope that these heritage treasures will be restored and maintained something that now seems impossible to achieve in private hands.
In the next blog we will look into some more Rajbari who managed to keep up their stature and grandeur in the present times . Watch this space.
Image courtesy : Google and Advayatales