Nestled in one of the few remaining leafy stretches of Bhagalpur, along the southern banks of the Ganges, is an imposing building that the locals refer to as ‘Tilha Kothi.’ But this Kothi or house, has many names, each representing a phase of its over 220-year-old history and the men who made it famous.
The story begins in 1773.
That was the year in which Bhagalpur became an important centre in the region, elevated as it was to being a district with its own collector. The first to occupy this post, with the blessings from Fort William, the East India Company headquarters in Calcutta, was Mr. James Barton.
With the post of Collector, came the house and in 1779 it came to be occupied by Augustus Cleveland who was appointed the Collector of Bhagalpur. An ace administrator, Cleveland was so successful in his job that he left an indelible mark on Bhagalpur. Tilha Kothi came to be named ‘Cleveland House,’ in his honor.
– Tilha Kothi came to be named ‘Cleveland House’ in honor of Augustus Cleveland
A prominent address of its time, Cleveland House finds mention in many a piece written during this time. Even the famous company-era artist William Hodges, once wrote about Tilha Kothi, and how it housed a beautiful park.
With Bhagalpur emerging as an important district headquarters, close to Calcutta, Cleveland House also got a steady stream of prominent visitors who stayed here.
– Warren Hastings visited Tilha Kothi en route to despoil Chait Singh, the Raja of Banaras
Among them was the de facto Governor General of India Warren Hastings, who along with Lady Hastings, came to visit Bhagalpur on 16 July 1780. Hastings was en route to Varanasi for his fateful meeting with Chait Singh, the Raja of Banaras. This was the time when Hastings was trying to extort money from Chait Singh.
Other guests of Cleveland included Sir Elijah Impey, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William in Calcutta, and Sir William Jones, founder of the Asiatic Society.
But perhaps the most famous guest Cleveland House received was Rabindranath Tagore, who visited this Kothi from 13 to 15 February 1910.
– Tagore is said to have written a few lines of ‘Gitanjali’ at Tilha Kothi
Tagore had come to Bhagalpur to attend the Third Annual Conference of the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad. It is believed that it was at Tilha Kothi, that he was inspired to write his book of poems ‘Gitanjali,’ that won him the Nobel Prize in 1913. A few lines of the poem are said to have been written here. Tilha Kothi’s current official name - the Rabindra Bhavan, reflects this last part of its history.
It is only fitting that today Tilha Kothi also tries to live up to the values that Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore lived up to. It is now part of the Tilka Manjhi Bhagalpur University.
The Tilha Kothi’s hallowed portals house its storied legacy of colonialism and high culture and the undiminished aura of its distinguished former residents.
Raman Sinha is a noted historian and Senior Professor in the Faculty of History at SM College, Tilka Manjhi Bhagalpur University (TMBU), Bihar.
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