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City Palace of Burdwan Maharaj – GetBengal story

10 May, 2024 17:27:47
City Palace of Burdwan Maharaj – GetBengal story

A slice of British royalty can still be viewed on a posh lane of Alipore in South Kolkata, the Victorian mansion with a lovely driveway often given for weddings and parties. This happened to be the erstwhile City Palace of the Maharaja of Burdwan. By the late 19th century, the aristocracy of Bengal was largely influenced by Western education, art and architecture. Man of these zamindars or landowners due to the huge amount of wealth amassed were equally held in high regard by the British traders and rulers who bestowed upon them several titles. Grand European styled mansions came up in what we today know as South Kolkata complete with lavish lawns, courtyards and ballrooms to entertain their British counterparts to parties and get-togethers.

One such City Palace still stands in Alipore, though much is worn out, the approach driveway is unkempt, surroundings have tall apartments of the rich and mighty of the city and tucked behind them are Calico draped hoardings that try to hide the dirty driveway. But once you are in, the imposing yellow mansion with its elegant entrance porch will greet you in all its splendour. The porch is supported by fluted Corinthian columns with the Burdwan coat of arms sitting proudly on an impressive façade. 

The Burdwan Raj was founded by Abu Raj Kapur of Lahore in 1657 and his descendants gained prominence both during the British and the Mughal eras. The family was one of the premiere zamindars of undivided Bengal and once had 3,00,000 tenant farmers on an area of 8,000 square miles. The family was also known for their loyalty to the British that helped them to gain the Coat of Arms and the right to personal salute of 13 guns. One of the illustrious heir was Maharaja Bijay Chandra Mahtab who succeeded his father in 1888.  


Bijay Chand was adopted by Maharaja Aftab Chand Mahtab who died without heirs, and his widow adopted Bijay Chand Mahtab, son of Ban Behari Kapur, a relative of Mahtab Chand Bahadur, a past ruler of Bardhaman Estate. At the time of adoption, in 1887, he was only a child, therefore, the Court of Wards along with the Diwani-i-Raj, Ban Behari Kapoor, (the natural father of Bijay Chand), ruled the estate up to 1902. In 1893, the title of 'Raja' was bestowed on Ban Behari Kapoor. The government permitted the Raj in 1897 to maintain an armed force of 600 people and 41 cannons. In 1899, Bijay Chand Mahtab passed the entrance examination of Calcutta University, and was the first in the Raj family to obtain a formal educational qualification. In 1902, he came of age and was invested with full ruling powers to the throne of Bardaman Raj. Next year in 1903, the title of 'Rajadhiraj' was bestowed on him at the Delhi Durbar. A pompous coronation was organised in the palace at Bardhaman, where Lieutenant Governor Bourdillon was present to bestow the honour. 

In 1908, he toured England and Europe and later wrote a book named ‘Diary of a European Tour.’  He was also noted for his philanthropy, especially in education and health. In 1908, he donated Rs. 40,000/- towards construction of hostel and other facilities for Ranchi Arts College, Ranchi, where Burdwan Raj also held large estates. Bijoy Chand Hospital was founded by him in 1910. He was a member of the Bengal Legislative Council from 1907 to 1918, and of the Imperial Legislative Council from 1909 to 1912. He was associated with the state administration in subsequent years and Member of Executive Council of Bengal for the years 1919–1924. Bijay Chand Mahtab was deeply involved with Bengali literature. He was president of the reception committee in the 8th session of the Bangiya Sahitya Sammelan held at Bardhaman in 1914. From amongst the twenty books he wrote, mention may be made of Impression, The Indian Horizon, Meditation, Studies, Vijaygitika (collection of songs composed by him), Troyodashi (poem), Ranjit (play), and Manaslila (science-play).

The Burdwan family lost much of its land to Partition. The majority of the Burdwan estate including 10 Country Palaces, tea gardens and mines, became part of Bangladesh. Today their main estate in Burdwan is an educational institute and still supported buy the Maharaja’s estate trust fund. The mansion in Alipore was built by Bijay Chandra Mahtab and still the marble plaque mentions the name of the house as Bijay Manzil. The mansion had stables to keep both horses and elephants. They are no more. Some of the rooms are occupied looking over to a sprawling garden. Some priceless paintings hang on the walls. This mansion has seen many elegant cocktail parties hosted for British dignitaries including Viceroys and Governor Generals. The verandah is semi-circular and holds memories of the shooting of ‘City of Joy’ movie. The magnificent staircase leads to empty rooms with French doors and Ornate Belgian chandeliers in green and red. They have a famous Chinese Room that is unfortunately gathering dust today with the tiger skins and broken furniture, marble tables, that had once witnessed grand balls. 


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