It is hard to imagine, but 176 km north of Kolkata is a small heritage city that in the 18th century rivalled the mighty capitals of Paris, London and Vienna. European travellers who visited Murshidabad, the capital of the Nawabs of Bengal, were so impressed with its scale, beauty and architecture that they wrote glowing accounts comparing it to the greatest cities that they had seen.
In the 18th century, Murshidabad rivaled the mighty capitals of Paris, London and Vienna
Today, known more for its famous silk, Murshidabad is still a city steeped in history. The city became prominent in 1704, when Murshid Quli Khan the Diwan of Bengal under Aurangzeb, transferred the capital from Dhaka to here and named it after himself! He obviously had big ambitions, because within 12 years he became the Nawab Nazim of Bengal.
Go to Murshidabad today and you will find old monuments that echo its glorious past. The most famous is the Hazarduari Palace built for Nawab Nazim Humanyun Jah of Bengal who ruled between 1824-1838.
It is called Hazarduari because it has 1000 doors of which only 110 are real, the rest are an amazing architectural illusion! While the exact reason for this peculiarity in design is not known, researchers have speculated that this could have been a security feature, to protect the Nawab from assassins and palace coups.
The Hazarduari Palace has 1000 doors of which only 110 are real; the rest are an amazing architectural illusion
That is not surprising. The Murshidabad of the early 19th century was a centre of political intrigue. After the battle of Plassey in 1757, the real power in Bengal passed on from the Nawabs to the East India company and while the Nawabs maintained a semblance of power, with the paraphernalia of a royal court, they did not have a free hand in governance.
Ironically, this grand palace was only used for durbars, ceremonies and as a guest house for visiting British high officials. The later Nawabs were even critical of it. Syed Hyder Abbas Meerza, a descendant of the Nawab, explains “Apparently the Nawab Nazim was not too happy with the Italianate architecture which seemed inappropriate for a native prince. Also, the size and space were considered to be too small. The family always lived in the numerous mansions they owned around the palace”.
Today, the palace is a museum run by the Archaeological Survey of India or ASI and has some spectacular antiques on display.
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Murshidabad is located in West Bengal. The nearest railway station to the Hazarduari Palace is Murshidabad Railway Station, at a distance of about 2 kms. The nearest airport is Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport, at Kolkata, 239 Kms away.
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