Heritage tourism has always been a popular form of tourism. People love to flock to places of historical, to relive those times, to know their history and culture.
A rich past
The history of Bengal (West Bengal and what is now Bangladesh together formed Bengal) is very old. Stone age tools dating back 20,000 years have been excavated in the state.
• Texts such as the Mahabharata suggest that ancient Bengal was divided among various tribes or kingdoms: Vanga (southern Bengal), Pundra (northern Bengal), and Sushma (western Bengal).
• During the Gupta rule, the economy of Bengal was part of a global trade network. After the Guptas in the beginning of the 7th century AD, Sasanka, the king of Karnasubarna as well as the king of Gauda, ruled independently for more than three decades.
• The Pala Empire from the 8th to the 12th centuries was the first independent Buddhist dynasty of Bengal. Its rule brought about the golden age of Bengal. The Palas were followed by the Sena dynasty, who brought Bengal under one ruler during the 12th century.
• Islam made its first appearance in Bengal during the 12th century when Sufi missionaries arrived.Bengal later came under the Mughals, followed by the nawabs of Murshidabad.
• Smaller kingdoms like the Cooch Behar kingdom flourished till the advent of the British. For a few years in the first half of the 18th century, Bengal became a part of the Maratha Empire.
• The British East India Company established their hold on Bengal after defeating Siraj-ud-daulah in the Battle of Plassey in 1757, which they strengthened after winning the Battle of Buxar in 1765. Kolkata, or Calcutta, as it was then called, gradually became the principal city in British India.
• When the Mughal Empire ultimately fell in 1857 after the First War of Independence, the centre of Indian culture and trade shifted from Delhi to Kolkata.
• The city became known as the City of Palaces from the numerous mansions built during the colonial era when the city was the capital of British India.
This short history gives ample evidence that the state has a very rich history, and evidences in the forms of ruins as well as still-standing buildings attest to that. And these places draw tourists in droves.
Gour and Pandua
Both Gour and Pandua are located in Malda district. Gour was the capital of three dynasties of ancient Bengal – the Buddhist Palas, the Hindu Senas and the Muslim Nawabs. Pandua, once the alternate seat of power to Gour, has the third largest concentration of Muslim monuments in Bengal.It is located on the Indo-Bangla border, about 12 km south of Malda.
How to reach: Take Gour Express from Kolkata at night. At the crack of dawn you will be in Malda town. After a quick breakfast, hop on to a rented car and head for Gour.
What to see: The Pala and Sena structures no longer exist. You can see grand mosques and doorways built between the 15th and 17th centuries.
Bara Sona Masjid reportedly had 44 gilded domes, of which only 11 exist. Sadly, the gold cover did not survive the ravages of time. It was built in the 16th century.
Dakhil Darwaza is a 73-foot tall brick structure that formed the northern entrance to the citadel of Gour.
The Firoz Minar, with an 84-step spiral staircase, was built by Firoz Shah II in 1489 to mark his triumph over Barbak Shah. Its exterior is decorated with beautiful terracotta design.
Qadam Rasul (Footprint of the Prophet) mosque was constructed by Sultan Nasarat Shah in 1530 and is said to contain the footprints of the Prophet. The holy footprint on white marble was brought from Arabia by Pir Shah Jalal Tabriji.
Next to Qadam Rasul, lies the three-storeyed Lukochuri Darwaja, forming the eastern gateway of the citadel of Gour. It was was originally called Shahi Darwaja but locals settled for the name Lukochuri as, according to legend, the gate was used for the game of hide and seek between the sultan and his begums.
Close to the Lukochuri gate is the Gumti Darwaja. Just in front of this gate are the remains of the gigantic Chika Mosque. It is decorated with Hindu motifs, suggesting that it was once a Hindu temple.
Bais Gazi (22 yards): It was built by Barbak Shah in 1460 to protect his royal palace. The royal palace no longer stands, though.
A newly excavated site stands beside the wall. The excavation unearthed a central elevated platform surrounded by a circular stupa-like structure, suggesting a Buddhist religious structure. Excavation was also carried out at Jahajghat revealing the remains of an ancient port, which archaeologists say was an important centre of maritime trade. The rivers have long changed their course, though.
Murshidabad is a place with a lot of history attached to it. During the later years of the Mughal Empire, it was the capital of the province of Bengal. The Nawab Murshid Quli Khan made Murshidabad the capital city of Sube Bangla, comprising of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The East India Company reigned from here for many years after winning the Battle of Plassey in 1757. Travellers extolled its glory through ages.
How to reach: There are a large number of options for those who wish to travel to Murshidabad from Kolkata. You can take a bus or travel by train. Lalgola Express is the best bet for lovers of Indian Railways. Buses are always available from Esplanade terminus.
What to see: Hazarduari Palace is the most famous and magnificent historical structure in Murshidabad. It is situated on the bank of the Bhagirathi, a tributary of the Ganga. The building gets its name from the fact that there are a thousand real and false doors – 900 real and 100 false. It is situated within the Nizamat Kila. Built by Nawab Nazim Humayun Jah, the construction took eight years from 1829. The magnificent 41-acre building, built at a cost of Rs 20.5 lakhs, has 114 rooms and eight galleries. The architect was Colonel Duncan McLeod of the Bengal Corps, who personally supervised the work.
Parallel to the north façade of the Hazarduari palace lies the Nizamat Imambara, built by Nawab Feradun Jah, son of Humayun Jah, the builder of Hazarduari, in 1847. Earlier, in its place, had stood another Imambara built by Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah which was burnt down by fire. This Imambara is the largest one in Bengal. It is divided into three large quadrangles.
The Wasef Manzil or New Palace was built by Nawab Sir Wasef Ali Mirza. The beautiful marble statues inside are worth seeing.
Bishnupur in Bankura district is famous for its terracotta temples and Baluchari saris. The town has a glorious past that is reflected in its rich architecture, music and handicrafts such as pottery and weaving. It prospered in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Ruled by a line of Hindu rajas of the Malla dynasty, Bishnupur developed a unique form of architecture and has perhaps the most brilliant and detailed terracotta work in eastern India that has withstood the ravages of time.
The Madanmohan Temple is the best known temple built in the Bishnupur style. It is in the form of a brick ratha or chariot, with a single sikhara(tower) and a curved Bengali chala-type roof. It is located in the Sankharipara area, and was built outside the fort compound by King Durjana Singh De in 1694 for his family deities of Lord Krishna and Radha. Its rich decorations and designs surpass the ShyamRai and Keshta Rai temples. There are impressive scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas carved on the temple walls.
The Rash mancha pavilion used for housing the idols of Lord Krishna from other temples during the Rash festival was built in brick by King Veer Hambir in 1600 A.D. This is the oldest brick temple in Bishnupur and is shaped as an elongated pyramidal tower surrounded by hut-shaped turrets.
The Jorebangla temple of Keshta Rai resembles two thatched huts joined together and surmounted by a single tower. This temple in brick was built by the Malla King Raghunath Singh in 1655.Pancha Ratna Temple of Shyam Rai was built by King Raguhnath Singha. It has the most intricate sculptural details amongst all the temples of Bishnupur.
The Lalbandh, Krishnabandh and Pokabandh tanks were built by the Malla kings around 17th and 18th centuries. These were made to provide water to the villagers and also to protect the town from attacksby the enemy by draining out the water towards them.
Cooch Behar has its own little place among heritage enthusiasts. The main attraction of Cooch Behar is the palace of Maharaja Nripendra Narayan. Designed to resemble the classical European style of Italian Renaissance, this magnificent palace was built by in 1887. The frontal facade consists of a series of arches resting on an alternate arrangement of single and Corinthian pillars. A porch is projected in the centre to provide the main entrance to the building through the Durbar Hall.
Cooch Behar is also full of temples, the most notable of which is the Madan Mohan Bari, located in heart of the town Cooch Behar. It was built by Maharaja Nripendra Narayanduring 1885-1889. The deities include Madan Mohan, Ma Kali, Ma Tara, Ma Bhabani and Katyayani.
On the occasion of Rash, the traditional Rash Jatra Festival along with Rash Mela is held in Cooch Behar town. It is among the biggest festivals of North Bengal.
If one considers the cultural heritage of West Bengal, one cannot miss out on Santiniketan. Santiniketan has a unique cultural identity. It was originally selected by Maharshi Debendranath Tagore in the 1860s for a residence and a prayer hall. Later Rabindranath Tagore started an experimental open-air school known as ‘Patha Bhavan’ here with the objective of educating the student in close liaison with nature. In 1921, the university named Visva Bharati came up as a centre of Indian culture and the meeting place of the East and the West. In 1951 it became a Central University and is specially known for the teaching of fine arts – music, dance and painting.
Among the attractions of Santiniketan are the various houses or bhavans associated with the life and times of Rabindranath Tagore. Among them are Uttarayan Complex, Cheena Bhavan, Kala Bhavan, Vidya Bhavan, Rabindra Bhavan, Hindi Bhavan, Nippon Bhavan and Sangeet Bhavan.
Pous Mela is one of the most famous fairs in the state, drawing people from all over as well as outside the state. It is held toward end of December, marking the foundation day of Santiniketan.
Holi, or Basanta Utsav, as it is called here, is another popular festival here, which is observed with all the colours and fervour. In this unique celebration, spring is welcomed through music and dances. Teachers and students greet each other with colours. All visitors take part in this revelry called Basant Utsav, which literally means ‘festival of spring'.
This beautiful way of celebrating spring through an ‘utsav’ was started by Rabindranath Tagore.
Written by Anushtup Haldar for Team M3.tv