When I discovered a treasure trove in Cossimbazar; a Victorian styled palace and an ancient temple, nonetheless | Milaap

When I discovered a treasure trove in Cossimbazar; a Victorian styled palace and an ancient temple, nonetheless

When people hear the name Murshidabad, a number of things instantaneously come to their minds. How it used to be the first capital of Bengal, how it reached the pinnacle of prosperity under the rule of various illustrious Nawabs, how a Battle of Plassey became the ultimate deciding factor of the fate of Bengal and thus of India, how the fearless young Nawab Siraj ud Daulah died an untimely death being deceived by his own kin and courtiers and yet he never bowed down to the pressure of the British aggression, how the gorgeous Hazarduari, a palace with thousand doors still standing tall and strong as a notable fragment of Indian History and how the gorgeous Murshidabad Silk weaving industry has been capturing the attention of the ladies from all across the world since ages now.
 But Murshidabad is so much more than that, with its beautifully designed palaces proudly displaying their intrinsic architecture since ages, and the several significant temples and mausoleums safeguarding the various historical events and secrets that had transpired in the once opulent capital of the state of Bengal. But this article isn’t essentially about Murshidabad or the vast history associated with it. It’s about a lesser-known palace of Murshidabad, situated in the outskirts of the city of Berhampore, the city of Chhanaboras, a delicious sweet and the glistening golden-hued brass utensils.

Image 1- The frontal facade of Cossimpore Palace

Cossimbazar Rajbari, more popularly known as the Chhoto Rajbari is a wonder in itself that deserves much attention from travel enthusiasts. Situated around 240 kms away from Kolkata, the current capital of Bengal, Cossimbazar Palace is a beautiful structure, painted milky white, spread across a huge area, with its sprawling lawns and a wide number of sections.
I had vaguely heard about its existence from some peers belonging from Murshidabad, but I never quite had the opportunity or keenness to pay a visit to this not so well known place. But finally, when I did, I was more than overwhelmed. Not that it was found to be as majestic as the Umaid Bhavan Palace of Jodhpur, or as touristy as Buckingham of London; it was actually quite modest compared to those architectural wonders. But yet it had its own charm, whoever visited it, wished to stay a little longer so that they could have the chance to bask in the unusual and pleasant calm and the alluring beauty of the surroundings. Despite having not much idea about architecture, it seemed to me that the palace was a specimen of the Victorian style of Architecture, as was evident from the superfluous ornamentation in terms of the framework and structure, having been constructed using brick and mortar, with the classic tapering roof at the mid frontal part. The high ceilings and the ornate chandeliers that hung from those added to the charming Victorian interiors.

Image 2- The high ceiling and the stunning chandeliers in a living room of the Palace

The Royals have shifted their home to Kolkata long back but thankfully haven’t abandoned the palace. Regular and vigilant maintenance is carried out, which is why I found the palace to be extremely clean and well kept. The large living rooms with their ultra-high ceilings now showcase a wide variety of the Royal furniture including dining tables made of Burmese teak, sofas belonging from the British era, tables with marble top specially sourced from Italy, Belgian glass mirrors, vases of different shapes and sizes, toys and artifacts brought in from all around the world.

Image 3- Glimpse of a grand living room that used to function as a Ballroom/Naachghar in earlier times

Image 4- A fraction of another living room

Image 5- A long corridor as seen in one section of the Palace

Some bedrooms have been renovated for the visitors to see and to have an idea about how the Royals had their unique fan arrangement in order to keep the rooms cool and breezy. I came to learn about the identity of the Royals or the Roys as they were known, from the huge photo frames hung in the hallways and living rooms and the prodigious information boards placed outside the palace. It was quite fascinating to learn how the members of an ordinary family rose to the ranks of "Raibahadur" and "Maharajah" through their extraordinary enterprising and managerial skills. The Roys are known to have been great patrons of art and education and had expended considerable sums of money towards such causes. The scions of the family were said to have been brought up with the best of teachings ranging from the European Science and literature to the Indian Art and Shastras. There existed a sizeable and beautiful garden at the posterior side of the palace which is also claimed to be the fruit of conceptualization of one of the Roys from earlier times. The garden led our way to the "Pukur-ghat ", the once bathing pond of the Royals, now a huge dried up pit.

 Image 6- The bathing pond of the Royals of Cossimpore

As I aimlessly roamed in and around the mansion, I came across a diverse range of gems that included a grand Chandi mandap or Durga-dalan, where the annual Durga Puja festivities take place. Huge magnificent chandeliers were seen to be hanging from the tall ceiling and the Mandap was painted in the hues of bright yellow and white. It exuded splendor at every corner.

Image 7- The gorgeous Chandimandap or Durga-dalan of Cossimpore Rajbari

The tour guide proudly pointed out that this same Mandap has been featured multiple times in movies and television dramas. I wasn’t surprised; this kind of intricate artwork is slowly becoming a rare thing in cities owing to the growing urbanization and thoughtless razing of the ancient heritage buildings.

Image 8- The point of entry to the Chandimandap

The Radhamadhab Temple houses the idol of Radhamadhabji or Lord Krishna, the Kuldevata or the family deity of the Roys. It also has the holy Tulsi-Mancha at the center of the temple. Tulsi is a plant belonging to the genera Ocimum that’s according to our ancient religious scriptures is said to be instrumental in keeping evil spirits at bay.

Image 9- The Radamadhab Temple inside the Cossimpore Palace where the family deity of the Roys, Radamadhabji is worshipped  daily with reverence and rituals

Image 10- The Holy Tulsi-mancha at the center of the Radamadhab Temple complex

The local guide said that the Radhamadhab idol worship takes place without fail every morning and evening at a fixed time by a particular family of priests, the same family continuing the rituals for generations. Amazing, isn’t so?
There are two other notable temples, one being the Lakshmi Mandir, which is said to have been the first house of the Roys when they shifted their base from their ancestral village in Burdwan to Cossimbazar, a bustling marketplace in those days. This temple has large lotus motifs painted on its walls, as a symbolic gesture of veneration for Maa Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of wealth.

Image 11- The Lakshmi Temple inside the Cossimbazar Palace Complex that used to serve as the first home of the Roys when they migrated from Burdwan to Cossimbazar in pursuit of their destiny

Image 12- The beautiful Shiv Mandir inside Cossimbazar Palace Complex

Another is a Shiv Temple which is an absolute marvel, situated on the right-hand side of the Lakshmi Temple. I also got to have a close view of the massive festive kitchen and the adjoining dining hall, where umpteen number of devotees get to have "Prasad", during festivals like Durga Puja, Kali Puja that are still celebrated with much pomp in Cossimbazar Rajbari.  
 Unfortunately, the crunch of time didn’t allow me to get to the topmost section of the palace that has a watchtower in there which offers a panoramic view of the Cossimbazar area. To be able to see and enjoy an unhindered view of all of these, at a measly rate of INR 30, is equivalent to a jackpot win, in my opinion. However, if people may spare more bucks, they can opt to stay in the palace itself, a section of which has been transformed into a luxurious boutique hotel, named "Roopkatha". There’s also an adjoining restaurant and silk garments shop, facilitating the stay and shopping pursuits of the guests.

Image 13- The rear side section of the Cossimbazar Palace, facing the beautifully landscaped royal garden and the bathing pond

Image 14- A beautifully sculpted effigy of an angel at the entrance 
 
However, even though this blog was conceived chiefly in order to express my appreciation over the picturesqueness of Cossimbazar Palace, I should still point out that Cossimbazar is not just about its palace and grandeur, but there’s an equally or even more noteworthy place nearby the palace that should be visited by all, just to smell the air, feel the texture of the centuries-old tree's branches that had witnessed a significant chapter of the Indian History, the unfolding of the Bengal Renaissance. The Pataleshwar Temple only a rough 6 minutes away from the palace grounds is an ancient temple, wherein the Shivlingam had appeared by natural means from beneath the earth.

Image 15- The Pataleshwar Temple, approx. 6 kms  from the Cossimbazar Palace

Image 16- The Kathiganga River flowing right beside the Pataleshwar Temple

Image 17- Another view of the Kathiganga River captured from the exact point where immolation of "Sati" was practiced

Image 18- Who possibly can guess that this is where several young women were brutally ripped off their right to live; the trees are the only living witnesses to the helpless screams of the unfortunate girls and their families

This particular temple is situated on the bank of a river that locals have named "Kathiganga". On the same river bank adjacent to the ancient mandir, the barbarous practice of "Sati" was used to be held at a rampant rate with great fanfare.
Much later, it had come into the notice of the local reformists, who under the leadership of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, worked immensely hard, endured many difficulties and successfully went all the way to the abolishment of the gruesome practice.
I was unknowingly and carefreely taking a stroll on a cemented part of the riverbank, when a local school teacher noticed me there and graciously disclosed before me, the utmost magnitude the ground held, that I stood upon at that moment. Even though I knew my history, shivers came down my spine listening to the tales from a local’s mouth, whose ancestors as he claimed had gone through the similar ordeal of helplessly seeing their widow daughters getting burnt alive on their deceased husband’s funeral pyre.
My trip to Cossimbazar had begun with much zeal and eagerness to see the unseen and to know the unknown. I was filled with oodles of elation whilst taking a trip down the "history lane", through the walks in the long well-lit corridors, and studying the details in the awe-inspiring hall rooms. Needless to say, Cossimbazar Rajbari was a revelation.
However, my trip concluded with the rewinding of a few horrific accounts from the past, which made me ponder hard whether women were safer centuries ago behind closed doors in the times of Sati or they are now postmodernization when frequent cases like Kathua and Nirbhaya have been shaking the nation and society alike. I am yet to get an answer.
But for people who like to indulge in art and architecture, history and culture, nature and flavor, Cossimbazar and its assets are sure to make your heads turn in amazement and tickle your love for nostalgia. Indeed, when beauty and history conspire, a marvel is created.