Sunday 21 April 2013

The palace of a thousand doors

Talk of Lalbagh and the Botanical Gardens of Bangalore flash across your mind. The Lalbagh Gardens were started by Hyder Ali sometime in 1760 and subsequently developed by Tipu and after his death on May 4, 1799 by the British. 
However, there is another Lalbagh and this one is not a park but a locality of  the historic town of  Murshidabad in West Bengal. It is separated from Rajshahi district by river Padma.
The Lalbagh of Murshidabad has no botanical but historical importance. When Prince Farrukhsiyar of the Mughals came to Murshidabad from Dacca, he was assigned a palace at Lalbagh. Today, there is no trace of  the palace.
However, the Lalbagh here is home to one of the most outstanding pieces of architecture-the Hazarduari Palace ort the palace with a thousand doors.
This palace, a three stories structure, is situated on the eastern bank of the river Bhagirathi or Padma and it derives its name from its thousand real and false doors. It has 900 real doors and 100 structures that resembles doors but are not. They are all imaginary. They were built so that if any predator and enemy tried to enter the palace and escape, he would be confused between the false and real doors, and by that time he would be caught by the Nawab's guards.
The palace was earlier known as the Bara Kothi. It has 114 rooms.
This palace is the chief object of attraction in Murshidabad and it has so much of history that it would takes realms of pages and days to even narrate it.
The enclosure within which the palace is situated is also called the Nizamat Fort or Nizamat Kila. It was built by Nawab Nazim Humayan Jah of Bihar, Bengal and Orissa during 1829-1837 A.D. Now, Kila Nizamat refers to the campus where the palace is located along with the several other monuments such as Nizamat Imambara, clock tower, Madina mosque, Chawk Masjid, Bacchawali Tope, Shia complex, Wasif Manzil and two Zurid mosques.
Tourists call the Hazarduari Palace the Nizamat Kila or the Kila Nizamat The foundation for the palace building was laid by the Nawab on August 29, 1829 in presence of the then Governor-General of India, Lord William Cavendish Bentinck. The construction of this building was complete in December 1837 AD.
The concrete bed on which the foundation stone of the palace was to be laid was built so deep that the Nawab had to use a ladder to descend down. The suffocating atmosphere created due to the large number of people which stood surrounding them and the depth made the Nawab’s wife to faint. At last, after she was helped up, the foundation stone was truly laid and was declared to have been well.
The Hazarduari complex, in all, occupies 41 acres and when the palace was built it just cost Rs. 20.5 lakhs. The Palace has 114 rooms and eight Galleries. The architect was Colonel Duncan McLeod of the Bengal Corps, who also personally supervised the work.
The palace is now a museum which houses priceless paintings, furniture, antiques and other valuable artifacts. The most famous exhibit is the mirror and the chandelier.
The Palace museum has twenty galleries containing 4742 antiquities out of which 1034 has been displayed for the public. The antiquities include various weapons, oil paintings of Dutch, French and Italian artists, marble statues, metal objects, porcelain and stucco statues, farmans, rare books, old maps, manuscripts, land revenue records, palanquins mostly belonging to eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a bamboo from Assam and other objects.  The Durbar Hall of the palace which houses the furniture used by the Nawab has a crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling. It is the second largest chandelier in the world, after one in Buckinmgham Palace. It was gifted to the Nawab by Queen Victoria.
Another attraction is the two pairs of mirrors in the museum. These mirrors are placed at an angle of 90 degrees in such a way that one cannot see ones own face but others can see the face. The mirrors  was used by the Nawab to prevent his enemies from harming him. They were kept at a place so that the enemy cannot see his face and the Nawab could see the face. This is also called the magic mirrors and they are displayed just outside the gallery on the landing leading to the upper floors.
In the entrance porch of the palace there are two carriages, of which one is a camel carriage and the other is a Victorian carriage. Both of them were used by the Nawabs.
The lobby has photographs of several buildings of historical importance and also a huge stuffed crocodile and a thick bamboo from Assam.
Gallery no. 1 and 2 also known as Armoury wing and they house weapons like knives, guns, pistols, revolvers, cannons, lances, spears, shields, bows, arrows, rifles. Some of the weapons are inscribed with verses from the Quaran.
The Jamadhara and a bifurcated sword known as Zulfikar are associated with Mir Quasim. There are swords that belong to Alivardi Khan and his son Siraj-ud-Daula. The dagger with which  Muhammad i-Beg killed Siraj-ud-Daula can also be seen.
A huge cannon known as the Dutch cannon can be seen here. It was gifted to Alivardi Khan by the Dutch Government in 1745. It is also called Mir Madan Cannon. Mir Madan was a trusted lieutenant of Siraj-ud-Daula who died in the battle of Plassey in 1757.
Gallery no. 3 is the gallery containing royal exhibits. It houses several paintings and objects of silver and gold and several statues each of historical, political and religious importance. The gallery has been divided into three parts such as the Suthest royal exhibits which houses and exhibits huge oil paintings of the Nawabs such as the painting of Nawab Nazim Humayun Jah by Hutchinson and that of Nawab Nazim Feradun Jah by B. Hudson. One of the most renowned objects is an ivory palanquin used by Zebunissa, the daughter of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (1658–1707).
The next section is called the central royal exhibit, which displays several objects such as a silver Kamal howdah, an ivory Tanjam or sedan chair belonging to the Mughal Emperor Shahajan. The south west royal exhibit houses several traditional objects like palanquins, statues and paintings.
Gallery no. 4 is also known as the landscape gallery. It has paintings of several landscapes. It has replicas of the Statue of Liberty, bronze statues of knights, and famous paintings like the Scotch Warrior by G. Campbell, Scene of Thirty Years of War by Jorgenson.
Gallery no. 5 is the British portrait gallery. It has busts of the Governor-Generals of India and agents of the East India Company like Cornwallis, Bentinck, A. Thompson and others. All the paintings, except that of Caulifield, is by Hudson. The painting of  Caulifield is by Hutchinson.
The staircase leading to the upper portico of the palace is perhaps the biggest of its kind in India. Gallery no. 6 is known as the Nawab Nazim gallery and it contains portraits of the Nawabs of Murshidabad. It also has several brass objects.
Gallery no. 7 is the Durbar Hall. It is the center attraction of the palace museum. It is circular in plan and has four doors at the cardinal points, including fake doors. The hall also has a vaulted roof with the crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling. It was presented to the Nawab by Queen Victoria. Earlier when there was no electricity the chandelier was lit by 1001 candles; at present it is lit by 96 bulbs.
The hall also displays the royal silver throne which was used by the Nawabs to sit on, a Durbari Hookah and marble candle stands.
Gallery no. 8 is the Committee Room, on the left side of the Durbar hall. It exhibits the silver throne of Feradun Jah, an ivory sofa, and an oil painting of the Durbar Hall with Feradun Jah on the throne surrounded by high ranking British officials.
Gallery no. 9 is known as the Billiards Room. It has two billiards tables with their accessories, a pietra dura marble chess set and four remarkable paintings like the that of Colonel Duncan McLeod by Hudson. McLeod was the architect of this grand palace.
Gallery no. 10 is the portrait gallery of the Dewans and Nazirs. This gallery also displays several vases, chandeliers and furniture.
Gallery no. 11 is known as the Prince portrait gallery. This gallery displays paintings from the Nawabs' family album portraying the infancy and various other moods of the Nawabs. There are also several marble statues, cut-glass melons, vases, metal horses, porcelain bear.
Gallery no. 12 is known as the Western drawing room. It exhibits several items of  western furniture, decorative lamps, clock items and so on. It has paintings of King William, Lord Curzon by Wolic.
Gallery no. 13 is known as the Archive gallery. It has several archives of the Nawabs’ rule and also on the palace. It also has several letters, farmans (royal orders), documents, manuscripts in Arabian and Persian belonging to the Nawabs and Mughals.
Some of the documents speak about the administrative power of the Nawabs. There are letters like those written by Lord Minto to Lord Hastings and a royal order by Mughal Emperor Shah Alam.  It also has several valuable and old manuscripts written in Urdu    and Persian, including the Ain-i-Akbari by Abul Fazl. At the end of each page of Ain-i-Akbari, ornamental works with the smallest brush and pen are visible on the corners of  each page. It also has a library known as the Nizamat Library which has about 12,000 books.
Gallery no. 14 and 15 is known as the periodical gallery I and II. These two galleries are used to periodically display several objects used and brought or manufactured during the reign of several Nawabs. These include Humayun Jah's collection of rare dining plates, there are also some green plate which would shatter if poisoned food was served; others include several landscape oil paintings, an ornamental silver dressing table, floral and geometric motifs and so on.
Gallery no. 16 is known as the central landing or the Main Hall. It exhibits several oil paintings. One artifact is a silver trowel with an ivory handle used by Humayun Jah to lay the foundation stone of the building.
Gallery no. 17 is called the North-east landing first floor. It exhibits several paintings. The gallery is renowned for the beautiful statue of a European lady.
Gallery no. 18 is known as the North-west landing first floor. It  exhibits several paintings like the Swiss Landscape, City of Venice.
Gallery no. 19 is called the Painting Gallery and it houses paintings like the Holy Family by Franceso Renaldi, Cleopatra Cinderella by T. Young and so on. A must see is a needle work on a carpet which portrays a seated Queen Victoria with two babies, and a litho print of Humayun Manzil, another palace of Humayun Jah.
Gallery no. 20 is known as the religious objects’ gallery. It exhibits several objects used for religious purposes, like in Muharram and Eid.

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