Monday, November 6, 2017

Andul Rajbari and beyond - frozen and yet decaying time on a spatial ecstasy

There are times when certain monumental architecture along with natural habitat give you immense possibilities to imagine about the past places. Andul, all of a sudden becomes one of such places. During the Haldia travels Kaleidoscope used to cross a not so conspicuous rail bridge carrying signboards before and after denoting the canal as Saraswati River! Kaleidoscope has seen rivers transforming into canals and becoming worse than a mere drain in his life time (click here for details). Saraswati river is no different, however, sometimes, the riverbed is filled with conspicuous and typical Bhagirathi water because of high tide or because of monsoon. The Indian railways have kept a considerable space while building up the small bridge which also indicates its potential widening in recent past. However, if you read R. C. Majumdar's (1971) History of Ancient Bengal, you will find that the river was an active large tributary and distributary of Bhagirathi in 16th Century AD.

District Gazetteer 1909:

Once in 2012, National Library, Kolkata gave Kaleidoscope a rare opportunity to go through the Bengal district Gazetteer edited by L S S O'Malley. He copied portions of the chapter on Andul because of course he wanted to visit much heard Andul Rajbari. O'Malley wrote Andul was a village connected through Howrah-Nagpur railways. The place includes Mahiari (Mauri, hence Maurigram raiway station) and Andul. It was a good market place and it covered a good square mile and a half. "There is a high brick tower with 5 stories approximately 165 ft height. On top of which can be reached by a long series of steps inside (now only portions planks). This tower is one of the several erected during the early phase of British rule for Semaphore signalling." (p. 149). He also wrote about the palaces built by Malliks and Mitras of Andul and Kundu-Chaudhuris of Mahiari. Mallik family settled with Gaur Charan Mallik who settled during Muhammadan rule. Mitra-Majumdar served under Lord Clive and Kundu Chaudhuries were traders and money lenders and with accumulated wealth achieved Zamindar status over years. Today's most conspicuous palatial building belongs to that of Mitra family.

The imagined space:

This brief historical note is essential to imagine the legacy that the place has. A river, a busy market hub of mostly of coconut and crops, active connection with Britishers, trade connection through the river Saraswati, collection of taxes and some redistribution - schools, library, health centers and the like! Let us start from the Semaphore signalling tower near Unsani bridge at Khatirbazar. The first sight of that brick tall structure with typical arched windows now decked with outgrowths hear and there held Kaliodoscope's hand to see the river from high above. If it wasn't the Bengal gazetteer, he would have easily imagined this to be a watch tower where people with archery or perhaps canons waited day and night to protect their business center from external attack through the river. The bridge that helps you cross the river now is covered with shops and hence the river has disappeared literally. The tower, if and only if Kaleidoscope could climb he would have seen the ignored yet busy business hub of Andul-Mauri imagined space. As he searched for the palaces he had to go through alleyways - typical alleyways which might have appeared large and wide roads centuries ago. Kaleidoscope whenever revisits a place which he had visited in his childhood, he always find that place a little (or lot)less spacy - as you grow (old), you tend to find a shrinkage of space. It was a afternoon napping phase of the ongoing Rash fair near Kundu-Chaudhuri's palace. The palace shows a slow but steady decline of the architecture - yes all these buildings are unmanageable today. Neither any of them will fall down all of a sudden. Hence a slow and steady end of the days of feudal lords.

Portion of Kundu-Chaudhuri palace

Similarly, the most conspicuous Andul Rajbari - the palace of Mitra family with a massive extravagant pillars and a large opening at the western side welcomed Kaleidoscope with a golden sun effect. The kings have given up and written the dangers of roaming around or entering into the palace. The once spectacular building demanding awe from all the spectators is now humble facing time. It is carrying the mark of time on all of its body and soul. Like a dying time and decaying space, increasing capital encroachment has made it impossible for the palace, its open space and the river to converse with each other - yes the river goes a little beyond the front gate at the western side of the palace. Taller late capital apartments have blocked the private conversations between the two in a lonely summer noon or in a quiet moonlit night. However, the river still flows in high tide, brigs water from Bhagirathi and washes the Andul shore with whispers of history. While with age like Kaleidoscope they too find their places as becoming less spacy, the river Bhagirathi with her high tide continued to provide encouragement to Saraswati  it whispers "someday all the prisons are blown to dust and like dust in the wind imagined spaces walks with ecstasy." 

The conspicuous tower

Series of arches

An wooden plank suggesting the old staircase which would have directed towards the top. At present the inside of the tower is a popular place for people to urinate!

In a typical sunny day you can find different sheds of bricks within a single frame,

Part of Kundu-chaudhuri palace

The extravagance of Kundu Chaudhury palace. Though time has market its way it still is standing tall

Those nostalgic iron arts

Windows of Kundu Chaudhury's palace

Those beautiful glasses

Kundu Chaudhury institution - a school

The conspicuous pillars of Mitra Family palace (popularly: Andul Rajbari)

The sporting club at the ground floor and estate's declaration of the danger of the old building

One of the few decks still surviving

The palace annexed temple

The nearby Saraswati River

The appraoch road of palace and the juxtaposed late capital apartments

Me and Arun da


O'Malley, L. S. S. (1901) Bengal district Gazetteer: Howrah. New Delhi: Logos

Majumdar, R. C. (1971[reprint 2005]) History of /Ancient Bengal. Kolkata: Tulsi Prakashani

Note: Author is indebted to his University senior Arun Makal for taking him to these places on his well maintained pulser.

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