25 December 2013

Merry Christmas !!


Though this year am struck at a physiotherapy clinic, working on my broken arm, I couldn't resist being overcome by the jovial Christmas spirit. Hope the festivities bring cheers to all the readers, after all this is one day when all Indians become Christians - school children dressing up as Santa Clauses, decorating Christmas trees, visiting the local church & feasting on cakes. Next year, I shall do a post with photos about Christmas celebrations in Delhi/Bangalore (assuming I get to go to Bangalore). This year, Pixelated Memories wishes you a Merry Christmas with this photo, one of my favorites. & remember people, its that time of the year when you are supposed to go big on charities & make others feel happy - kindle the Christmas spirit, don't be a Scrooge !!


24 December 2013

Muhammad Shah Saiyyid's Tomb, Lodi Gardens, New Delhi


"The black, pensive, dense
domes of the mausoleums
suddenly shot birds 
into the unanimous blue"
– Octavio Paz, late Mexican diplomat-poet-writer,
in his poem "In the Lodi Garden"

The year was 1434 AD. The whole country was aware that Wazir Sarwar-ul-Mulk had some nefarious designs in his mind even before he had conspired with rebel nobles to have the Sultan coldly murdered. Sultan Mubarak Shah Saiyyid is dead, long live the Sultan. Mubarak (ruled AD 1421-34) had efficiently safeguarded his domains against dangers both within & without while he lived but he could not foresee his own men conspiring against him, primarily because he had managed to break their influential hold over the kingdom through the newly devised system of frequent transfers to different parts of the country. The most able & resourceful sovereign of the Saiyyid Dynasty died leaving behind no heir to continue his lineage. The unscrupulous Wazir (Prime minister) was now openly involved in court intrigues over the choice of a successor for the deceased Sultan. That the Wazir had accumulated vast power & influence in his hands through his cunning & treachery was no secret – even the Sultan knew of it & had tried to check the same by appointing several nobles over the Wazir leading to open hostilities & eventually resulting in his own grisly murder - and now when one after the other the Sultan’s favored nobles began falling to their death, the power & cold-heartedness of the Wazir was most apparent. Worried, the nobles conceded to allow the Sultan’s nephew Muhammad Shah to succeed his uncle in the hope that he might be able to rein in the deceitful Wazir. Muhammad proved to be a pitiful excuse of a Sultan – he was fully aware of Sarwar-ul-Mulk’s involvement in his uncle’s murder yet failed to take action against him - his loyal nobles kept getting murdered or exiled & he was unable to stop it. Losing his patience over this long drawn out process, Sarwar-ul-Mulk decided to take forward action & made arrangements to murder the Sultan himself; only he did not reckon that the palace guards were still obedient to their real master – they seized the Wazir as soon as he made his intentions clear & finished him off real quick. With the last thorn in his side gone, the Sultan embarked upon a life of luxury & debauchery – displeased with his lax attitude & unconcern over administrative affairs, many of the nobles who once stood by him revolted. Muhammad’s sorry reign – one that saw inefficient governance, his enemies getting stronger, nobles & generals revolting & power accumulating everywhere except in the hands of the Sultan – came to an end in mere 10 years with his natural death. His son Ala-ud-din Alam Shah (ruled AD 1444-51) took the throne & embarked upon the construction of a massive mausoleum for his father.


Muhammad Shah's final resting place


The brief Saiyyid reign (AD 1414-51) saw a relaxation in the architectural austerity measures that were the hallmark of Tughlaq-era (ruled 1325-1414 AD) construction before the Saiyyid’s began their rule – the fusion of Hindu elements in Islamic construction details came in vogue – floral patterns, lotus finials & chattris were motifs drawn from Hindu iconography. But the Saiyyid reign had begun after another phase of Delhi’s fall – the Central Asian plunderer Timur had just invaded India & ravished the northern provinces including Delhi, spreading rape, destruction, death & plunder wherever he lay his eyes (AD 1398). The Tughlaq Empire fragmented into pieces following which Delhi became the battlefield as Tughlaq prince Nasir-ud-din Mahmud & the fearsome noble Mallu Iqbal clashed for control over the remaining wealth & power of Delhi. Khizr Khan (ruled AD 1414-21), Muhammad Shah’s grandfather & Timur’s vassal in-charge of modern-day Punjab capitalized on the situation & advanced to capture Delhi & its war-depleted treasury. Though the Saiyyids claimed direct descent from Prophet Muhammad, they did not fail to admire & adopt Hindu artistic features such as representation of floral designs which till some decades back was a taboo for Muhammadan artists. However, the Saiyyids lacked the capital to commission captivating palaces & splendid fortresses – they stuck to tombs (therefore earning Delhi the reputation of a necropolis during that period), & even here the artistic compositions were muted & the architectural features less flamboyant. 


Mr Saiyyid surrounded by his relatives


One of the finest Saiyyid-era structure in Delhi & the only one in Lodi Gardens, Muhammad Shah Saiyyid’s mausoleum is built in the architectural style favored by the Saiyyid & Lodi dynasties. It consists of a large octagonal chamber surmounted by a high graceful dome & surrounded by a spacious pillared veranda running parallel to each side. Among the features displayed by the tomb are – a continuous eave (“chajja”) along the roof supported by equally spaced brackets, chattris (domes mounted on slender pillars) raised on the parapet above each of its sides, strong tapering pillars dressed with grey Delhi quartzite stone along each corner of the octagon (to afford enhanced structural stability), three-arch entrances on each side along the edge of verandah & inverted lotus finials atop the central dome & the smaller chattri domes. The squat but well-proportioned structure sits on a rubble plinth & can be noticed from afar. The parapet, the sixteen-sided drum (base) of the dome & the eight-sided drums of the smaller dome – each is distinguished by a row of kanguras (battlement-like ornamentation). Slender ornamental pillars emerge from each corner of the drum of the central dome – portions of the pillars & the kangura ornamentation have been turned brilliant red, perhaps a result of recent restoration work. Each of these adornments work in tandem to generate a cumulative effect of striking grace & symmetry. The verandah is reached by climbing a flight of stairs & one cannot fail to notice the captivating patterns that adorn the recessed niches that are built into the roof of the verandah – the four-pointed stars were once painted white; the straight lines, arches & embossments complement each other to form solemn symmetrical patterns; in the center of the star & embossed within an octagon is a graceful eight-petal flower pattern bearing in its center an intricate incised plaster design that puts to shame modern artistic compositions. 


Incised plasterwork in the roof niches along the verandah


Originally each side of the chamber bore jaalis (stone filigree screens), however these were lost with time & the western side was filled in to function as a mihrab (enclosure wall indicating the direction of Mecca, faced by Muslims while offering Namaz). With the loss of the lattice screens, each face came to possess an arched doorway leading into the chamber – each doorway is partitioned near the top with a heavy lintel beam so that the entrance becomes rectangular with an arched window slightly above it. The pillars that support the lintel beam curve near the top & flower into curves.

Inside the tomb, the quartzite walls ornamented with white plasters & medallions appear well proportioned. Eight graves – each covered with a layer of somber white plaster – line the chamber in three rows, the central one belongs to Muhammad Shah, the rest are construed to be those of his family members. Towards the top, the corners of the chamber are spanned by stone wedges to convert the eight-sided interior into a sixteen-sided figure in order to better support the weight of the massive dome. The dome & the chamber are separated by a line of arched alcoves set within rectangular niches topped by a span of quartzite stone & a band of calligraphic inscription. 


Dome interiors


The dome is massive (diameter 10 meter) & displays a central medallion set within two concentric four-pointed stars which touch to form an eight-point star at the circumference of the medallion. The sides of the two stars have been extended to touch the periphery of the dome & each of the eight polygonal quadrants formed were once adorned with a smaller medallion motif (with tails emerging radially from the center-facing sides), however only one such medallion exists now. The intricate designs are done in incised plaster painted in vibrant shades of red, blue, yellow & green to generate a mesmerizing picture consisting of floral artwork embossed within a circle of calligraphic inscriptions embossed within a larger circle of bewitching floral designs. The patterns are colossal and gorgeous, sadly though the photographs don’t do it much justice. The dome had suffered extensive deterioration due to water seepage & cracking of the plaster layers; however the same has been rectified recently (along with the fixing of cracks, repainting of discoloured walls & replacement of broken/missing tiles) by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) & Indian National Trust for Conservation of Art & Cultural Heritage (INTACH) in a conservation drive sponsored by Steel Authority of India (SAIL). My favorite part however remains the floral patterns etched in the stone brackets supporting the lintel beams (the pillar bursts I mentioned earlier), here’s a photo of the one decorating the mihrab –


Chiseled perfection


Even though Lodi Gardens is considered one of the most charming landscaped gardens of Delhi, the area around this particular mausoleum has been given a touch of finesse – the grass-blanketed surroundings give the impression of a grand structure standing atop a sloping hill with palm trees forming a large square enclosure around the hill & massive trees looming in the not-so-distant background. Had Alam Shah not been in a hurry to surrender his kingdom to Bahlol Lodi in 1451 AD & shift to Badaun (modern-day Uttar Pradesh), perhaps he too would have thought that his father’s tomb would one day be a picnic spot for couples, a rendezvous point for lovers & a hide-and-seek corner for children (Tombs those days were commissioned as family retreats & were built in gardens complete with walkways, fruit-bearing trees & artificial water bodies). Well-maintained shrubs lead up to the worn-out stone steps that lead to the plinth level; a dog finds refuge next to the Sultan’s grave while its counterparts are being chased away by a gardener as couples sitting on the benches & on the grass look about. Delhi winters, when the city’s inhabitants retreat to their warm blankets & even the monuments wear a blanket of fog around them is perhaps the best time to visit Muhammad Shah’s Tomb – the beauty lies in observing the cream-grey structure in the mist while at the same time drifting into thoughts of one’s beloved & wishing they were here besides you. That’s what I was thinking, drop a comment & let me know what you thought !!


Seen around


Location: Lodi Gardens, Beside India International Centre
Nearest Metro Station: JLN Stadium
How to reach: One can walk/take an auto or a rickshaw from the Metro station
Open: All days, Sunrise - Sunset
Entrance Fee: Free
Photography/Video Charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 30min
Relevant Links -

13 December 2013

Lodi-era Canopy Tomb, Mehrauli Archaeological Park, New Delhi


Mehrauli, which is the oldest continuously inhabited area in Delhi (it was apparently named “Mihroli” after King Mihr Bhoj who reigned several millennia back), is nowadays famous for the largest archaeological space in the city – the Mehrauli Archaeological Park. More of a necropolis spread over several acres that boasts of tombs, baolis (“step wells”) & wall mosques, the Archaeological Park also houses a lone canopy tomb not unlike many others seen in different parts of the city. Blackish in hue & retaining much of its original ornamentation, the canopy tomb dates back to the reign of the Lodi Dynasty (AD 1451-1526) & consists of a umbrella dome resting on twelve pillars. It stands next to Rajon ki Baoli, one of the finest step-wells that exists in the city; but sadly the local population, possessing but little education & being largely unaware of the heritage spreading over several millennia strewn around them, have condemned both the baoli & the tomb to the fate of a pig sty – filth (black as tar & equally thick), thorny outgrowth dense enough to prove non-negotiable & a large population of four-legged beings comprising equally of dogs & pigs & consisting of a few cows too that call this sewage & polythene filled pit their dear home are what lie in store for a visitor curious enough to brave the curving track of the Archaeological Park to reach this particular point.

Shrouded by foliage


If you still haven’t got the bigger picture, let me assure you that the path leading to the tomb is perfectly fine – a simple mud track cleared of debris & vegetation; in fact even on nearing to a certain extent the scene is pristine – the ruins of the semi-octagonal bastions at the corners of the wall that makes up the perimeter around the plinth on which the tomb stands give the appearance of a miniature fortress, a stone stronghold forgotten in this dense vegetation meant to guard the graves assigned to it for safe keep. The honks of cars & the chatter of humanity is lost on the way to this virgin corner; modernity is left behind; brilliant red birds, big black ants & vividly-colored butterflies are company here. Occasionally one might come across another person who would be as surprised on seeing you as you are on seeing them in this distant corner...
It is the stench that first reaches the visitor - the decay around cannot be ignored, not even if you put all your attention into photographing the structure!! Next comes the sight & sound – pigs grunting at you would not have been so terrifying if they were not so large & not accompanied by dogs that bared their teeth at the slightest pretext!! The pristine, virgin monument turns out to be part of a desolate, forsaken corner. Rubble from collapsed & collapsing structures is strewn around the tomb; the double staircase leading up to the plinth level is surrounded by this downpour of debris - at some places, the only way to reach the plinth is to leap over heaps of rubble collected on/around the stairs.


Protected by bastions


The dome of the tomb rests on an eight-sided drum (base) & is ornamented with leaf motif emerging from the lotus finial. The drum too displays leaf motif though of a different design while the roof of the tomb is marked by a row of kanguras (battlement-like decorative pattern). The pillars that support the dome are simplistic rough, rectangular blocks possessing ornamentation only along their top where they mutate into four-pronged brackets to support the weight of the dome. The inside of the dome reveals floral artwork in incised plaster directly underneath the finial – it appears that once the design must have encompassed most of the dome but it was lost with time & subsequent restoration work limited it to the present state. At each point where the pillars meet the dome, the brackets take a decorative form resembling a lotus bud with more curves sprouting out of it topped by an intricate design; a row of ornamental arched alcoves inlaid within rectangular niches & flanked by floral plasterwork moves around the inside of the dome dividing it into two halves horizontally - but not all the alcoves & lotus brackets are the same - many are simply shorn of all decorative features that their counterparts proudly flaunt, perhaps some conservation artist thought its better to have a plain plaster surface than display remnants of the original artwork.


Adorned by lotus brackets


Several graves are scattered underneath the canopy, more surround it, covering both the plinth & the ground around the tomb with a carpet of dead & their mausoleums – some of these are in perfect conditions with their rounded tops & sharply-defined edges, others are broken & crumbling, some even have grass sprouting through their broken faces. There must be at least a score graves here – the canopy seems to be a favorite burial spot at the time!!


Surrounded by graves


The red-sandstone plaque installed by INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) close to the tomb reads –
“The colonnaded tomb stands on a rather large plinth over which are several graves. In a ruinous condition, the staircase to the plinth leads from each side of an arched opening that leads to a flat domed chamber. The corners of the plinth are emphasized by semi-octagonal bastions. Towards the east of the tomb canopy are remnants of another similar building.”

I assume it’s not just me but every heritage enthusiast-photographer who feels a strange thrill, a sudden rush of adrenaline at discovering a hitherto hidden & largely forgotten structure such as this tomb. No matter how debilitating the stench around it is, or how dangerous those big, bad dogs appear, there is a beauty in such structures that defies their surrounding & the condition they have been subjected to. If only the whole of the Archaeological Park is landscaped & beautified (much like the unbelievable conversion by Lady Willingdon of the erstwhile Khairpur Village to the splendid stretch now known as Lodi Gardens) so that more people can behold the architectural gems that the Park houses.


Framed by ruins


Some heaps of debris scattered right & left only adds to the charm of these centuries-old monuments!! Be there to see for yourself! (& while you are at it, you can also spare some time for the other monuments in the park, am adding the links at the end of this post)

Location: Mehrauli Archaeological Park
Open: All days, Sunrise to Sunset
Nearest Metro Station: Saket
Entrance Fee: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
How to Reach: After getting down at Saket Station, one can walk to Lado Serai bus stop. Buses are available from different parts of the city for Mehrauli & one can alight from the bus at Lado Serai stop itself. The unmarked entrance to the Archaeological Park is through an iron gate opposite Ahinsa Sthal (situated couple of hundred meters away from Lado Serai, refer Pixelated Memories - Ahinsa Sthal)
Time required for sightseeing: 20 min
Note – There are no facilities (toilets, food & drinking water) available within the Archaeological Park. While you can avail food & refreshments at one of the restaurants at Lado Serai, you can only find toilets at the shopping malls close to Saket Metro Station, almost a kilometer away.
Other monuments within the Archaeological Park -  
  1. Pixelated Memories - Balban's Tomb
  2. Pixelated Memories - Jamali Kamali Complex
  3. Pixelated Memories - Khan Shahid's Tomb
  4. Pixelated Memories - Metcalfe's Chattri
  5. Pixelated Memories - Metcalfe's Ziggurats
  6. Pixelated Memories - Ruins, Mehrauli Archaeological Park
  7. Pixelated Memories - Quli Khan's Tomb

09 December 2013

Hetampur Hazarduari Rajbari, Birbhum


Yes I know I haven't written in a long, long time. Cutting a long story short, I was with my friend Kshitish on October 9th travelling from Durgapur (where my college is) to Calcutta to enjoy the Durga Puja festivities when the bus we were in was hit from behind by a speeding truck. Besides breaking my camera, I also ended up with 14 fractures in my left arm when it hit the metal backrest at great velocity. Also my arm muscles got crushed, the skin burst apart because of the impact & the wounds were so severe that I  had to get over 100 sutures, 6 excruciating surgeries & 4 skin grafts. As of now, am recuperating at home - thanks to physiotherapy & medicines, the bones & the muscles are healing gradually, but I still have extensive neural damage that restricts the movement of my joints so I can't open any of my fingers or rotate my elbow & wrist joints. The doctors have advised me not to travel for 3-4 months more atleast. In the meanwhile, I'll complete the articles that I was supposed to write but never got around to researching, starting with this one that I was working on at the time of the accident. I am not guaranteeing that the posts would be regular & numerous like before, but I promise I'll do my best!! Happy reading!!

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Next to a wide highway crawling through lush green fields lies a small rural hamlet, more of an agglomerate of mediocre houses, tiny shops & shanties, roadside eateries & unpaved, pockmarked & rain-drenched roads – each of these suitably encapsulated within a little grove of its own by the roadside. Massive trucks & lorries loiter past; migratory birds call their pit stops here; the spread of vegetation soothes the eyes; the water bodies that naturally come to life after every cycle of rains provide spots for the flora of the region to flourish, the fauna to quench their thirst & the kids to escape the tropical sun & the humidity that comes with the rains in this part of the world. Dark, ominous clouds shroud the sky, bringing with them hordes of insects, especially dragonflies, masses of which try to follow every moving body – be it a truck, a person or cattle. The greenery, the highway snaking through it & the gnarled trees – each of these together conspire to present a picture of harmonious bliss, an idyllic setting unimpeded by the rush of modernity engulfing the world round it, undisturbed by the events, big & small, happening near & far. The impression of an Indian village is further completed by the presence of small hutments, still smaller temples & cattle grazing around the fields & the water bodies.


The remains of the impressive palace & the modern school building (right foreground)


But sticking out like a sore thumb in the middle of this little green paradise is a huge palace that would perhaps have felt more at home in the plains of Europe. Ill-suited for an Indian setting, it was constructed when the Europeans – the British, Dutch, Portuguese & French – came calling at India’s shores in search of riches & treasures & claimed a position of power & authority to both commission & influence construction activity reminiscent of their native places. The Indian subjects, including the Nawabs & the Zamindars (vassals) - each of them exploited & subjugated in one way or the other - were only too eager to please their European lords in order to avoid further taxation & hardships. The Nawabs, merchants & wealthy govt. officials adopted European cultural & architectural practices – soon, it was Gothic & Victorian architectural that came to define the building scene in India, even in far-flung villages like Hetampur where the British had made their writ established. In 1905, the royal family of Hetampur (a corruption of “Hatempur”, after the then Zamindar Hatem Khan) commissioned a massive Gothic palace, the protagonist of this post, as their privileged residence – the gigantic structure boasts of 999 doors in its plan (one less than the thousand doors of the Murshidabad royal palace as a mark of respect to the most powerful rulers of Bengal), hence christened as “Hazarduari” (“Thousand doors”) “Rajbari” (“Royal residence”) – but one look at the building & one bemoans the fate of the palace that has certainly seen far better days.


Some of the 999 doors - View from an inner courtyard


The Hetampur royal family was established by Radhanath Chakravarty who rose from meager beginnings & subdued the Roys, the then ruling family, to establish a stronghold which he further fortified by buying huge tracts of lands in & around Birbhum & defeating contending rulers & zamindars. He accepted British suzerainty & was granted the title of “Maharaja” (a nominal title, literally “king”, bestowed by the British government; abolished along with the vassal system & hereditary titles when India gained its freedom) by the British Indian government in 1796. His sons & grandsons further expanded the family’s territorial domain & influence & they finally became the most powerful family in the whole of Birbhum, bringing their former masters, the Roys & the Rajnagar family, under their thumb. Maharaja Ram Ranjan Chakravarty (born 1851, died 1912) rendered invaluable help to the government during the disastrous famine of 1874 & was thus granted the title of “Bahadur”. He commissioned the magnificent Rajbari (it was then known as “Ranjan Palace”, christened after the Maharaja) & though he himself did not live long enough to enjoy the pleasures afforded by this Neo-Classical mansion, he left it behind as a souvenir of his rich & fertile reign.


Built to awe - This is just the gateway of the complex!!


A grand red brick gateway, supported by massive Corinthian pillars & interspersed with arched windows & entrances, ushers visitors inside the huge complex that houses the forgotten palace. Marked by slender protruding eaves supported on equally-spaced brackets & topped by several feminine figurines with their arms outstretched, the gateway itself is a commanding structure – the central portion, raised higher than the extremities & supported by tall pillars gives it a militaristic look – on first sight it seems as if there would be armed guards keeping an eye at visitors from the red-painted arched windows on the first floor – but reality often betrays expectations & imaginations – small children no more than 7-8 years of age look at us with wide eyes, giggling & scuttling away as soon as we fish out our cameras. The palace houses a DAV school & a B.Ed college in its premises & hence the young scholars.


The royal quarters


Enter the gateway & one comes against a vast expanse that renders even considering this stretch as part of a palace compound into a struggle. Several trucks were parked shoulder to shoulder, many of them filled with what looked like coal, others revving up & readying to move out; mounds of debris & coal lay hitherto over open, dust-laden ground. Elsewhere, weeds & creepers seemed to have overtaken the entire ground, from the broken wooden doors that lay half-hidden amidst the all-encompassing vegetation to the moss-laden octagonal well that appeared more green than brown – so much so that we could not photograph the twin wings that make up the palace from the front & had to make do with a side shot. Stepping through the desolation, the ruinous state of the once magnificent palace came as no surprise – the thick, yellow pillars had turned brownish-green due to decay; all the features that described the Victorian architecture of the structure, including the ornamental tops of the Corinthian pillars, the plasterwork along the pyramidal roof & other decorative features such as the crenellations along the roof are almost gone, turned into an indecipherable, indistinguishable smudgy mask over the yellow walls & the blue rooftops; most of the original expensive Burma teak doors & windows have since been stolen & were never replaced. That the massive palace was once an impressive example of English architecture in this distant corner of the world is beyond doubt, but today a clothesline & broken furniture strewn around the structure mar the little grandeur & sophistication it is left with. Sadly the interiors are in an even worst state compared to the exteriors – by the means of wooden semi-walls & divisions, the ground floor (painted vivid blue throughout!!) has been partitioned into separate quarters for the several families that now live here. A thick layer of dust covers everything that does not move, from the wooden partitions to the portraits on the walls; in an especially secluded corner marked by thick cobwebs, an old Bajaj scooter stands next to old riff-raff including wooden cupboards, plastic containers, a few clothes & an idol of an old, bespectacled man.


Shabby & ignored - The palace interiors


Through the maze of rooms & their sub-divisions we finally found the stairway leading to the upper floor – a huge trapdoor angled along the incline of the staircase was a surprise to us as this was the first time we were seeing something like this - the heavy steel door could be forced shut at the time of aggression or an enemy siege. The first floor is considerably well maintained compared to the ground floor – the walls retain their original character; the framed photographs hanging on the walls were covered only in a minute layer of dust. The harmony was shattered by a disused, broken wooden palanquin comfortably tacked in the verandah, its musty interiors stuffed with old files & wood shavings, a hay stack lying along one of its sides & submerging the wooden poles that the bearers would have once held to carry the palanquin & the royal personage seated within. In one of the rooms sat the present head of the Hetampur royal family - an old Zamindar bent double with age, whose cough could be heard resounding through the whole floor – one of the attendants tending to him told us that both the "Raja" & his wife are gravely ill, both of them having had a stroke within a quarter year of each other. But the Raja was gracious enough to allow us to photograph his palace provided we did not make much noise (fine, I must have told the attendants about this blog & the other publications I write for along with the sentence “But we have come from Delhi!!” to coax them for permission).


The unique trapdoor


Two of the rooms, now converted into classrooms, still display much of the original paintwork they were embellished with including floral motifs (around the arched doorways & even the light switches!!) & striking frescoes depicting scenes from Indian mythology, splendidly painted & vividly-colored,  executed in arched niches above the many doors that line the room's perimeter. Even the roof overlooking the wide staircase is done in huge, green & pink, four-pointed star motifs inlaid with more floral patterns. From the corridors one can look down to the courtyards enclosed by the palace (& wonder what are those big, black silos doing in the courtyard??). Looking at those numerous doors sprouting out from each wall & guessing which one leads where one indeed feels like “Alice in Wonderland”.


One of the vivid frescoes executed in a large room that now serves as a classroom


The palace building is flanked by an equally large white building which houses the school & college & thankfully possesses considerably lesser number of doors than the palace building. Between the two, a narrow path leads to the roofed shelter where the royal chariot is parked – though the chariot appears as if it could be of service for a few more years, the shelter itself is crumbling apart with the paint flaking off the walls, the pillars caved in at places & the whole area submerged in black muck & hay. One has to get her/his shoes dirty to photograph the chariot. At one time, there must have been elephants roaming the massive grounds of the palace complex & their trainers working on them; Sadly, even the horses are missing at present. Strewn around the shelter lay branches hacked off from trees, perhaps to be used as fuel wood; an upturned & grievously crushed motorcycle stood vertically upturned in the middle of the log pile – hilariously I hoped the inhabitants won't burn the motorcycle when they light the fire!! A large room that can be entered from the door preceding the chariot shelter houses a small police station too. The contribution of the Hetampur royal family towards the police & education system is quite evident – the colleges & schools that exist in this small administrative sub-division have all been founded by the royal family.


Portraits - The one on the top is that of the Chandranath Shiva Temple nearby that is patronized by the royal family


Adjacent to the white building is a flight of stairs that leads to the huge pond teeming with lotuses & flies alike. Sitting on the steps closest to the pond is bliss, especially since my friends Kshitish & Aakash are there to discuss college gossip & girlfriend stuff. It totally turned out to be a boy’s day out for us.


What would it look like in spring!!?


As we stepped out of the small hamlet & started walking along the highway towards our next destination, we fell into a discussion regarding the state of the ruined palace & what would happen to it in coming few years – the Raja & his wife seemed so frail & terribly ill, will their family care for this hereditary possession after they have passed away?? Or will it fall into an even bitter state of neglect & despair?? Interestingly, the Rajbari has featured in several films made by Hindi & Bengali directors, most notable among them being Satyajit Ray!! Regardless of the palace's short & forgotten theatrical association, one is forced to ask why the government should bother with its upkeep & conservation when there are so many more magnificent instances of architecture & heritage lying in equal or worse state of disrepair/disregard. Why would anyone, except for heritage enthusiasts like us, bother about an old, crumbling building that exists in a seldom-visited part of a far-flung state where even basic facilities of residence & safety are non-existent (read my post about the nearby Chandranath Temple here - Pixelated Memories - Chandranath Shiva Temple, we came across a small roadside eatery where even normal-looking bottled beer tasted evil).


I wish I was also taught in a palace :(


Some enlightened souls might argue that some structures are meant to disappear after their lease of life has expired, but they forget that it is us who through our ignorance & selfishness allowed these buildings which form an important link to our colonial past come to a stage where their structure has fallen apart & originality lost. That these should be preserved & restored to their original state even when the monetary/tourism benefits are not foreseeable in the near future is non-negotiable. We can only hope that following this & similar articles the tourists flow in & with them comes awareness & effort before it is too late for this & other splendid architectural specimens.
Our thanks to the Raja for allowing us to photograph his estate to our heart’s delight!!

Location: Hetampur village, Birbhum
How to reach: SBSTC Buses are available from different parts of Bengal to Hetampur. Alternately one can reach Suri, the headquarters of Birbhum & take a bus from there to Hetampur (Approx. 1.5hr away). The Rajbari is known to everyone, ask your way around.
Entrance Fee: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 1 hr
Relevant Links -