W could have been the iconic Writers’ Building with a historical and political significance, Waldorf – one of the oldest Chinese restaurants in Park Street or the Walking Tours that give a glimpse into the heritage and history of the city. But I couldn’t let go of an opportunity to cover an interesting topic that is essentially all about the Bengali culture and rituals – Wedding(biye in colloquial Bengali).
Wedding (Biye) –
A host of deep, meaningful rituals seeped in culture and tradition are performed amidst colorfully elegant and immensely creative decorations. The Bengali weddings are celebrations of colour, camaraderie and beauty . They are elaborate affairs with celebrations spanning for 2-3 days from morning till night. The rituals and their executions are subtly different among the two main subcultures in Bengal, the Bangals (Bengalis with roots in Bangladesh) and the Ghotis (Bengalis with roots in West Bengal).
Pre-Wedding Rituals –
Paka Katha or Pati Potro– Generally applicable in arranged marriages, this is a formal meeting between the family members of the bride and groom to agree upon the various aspects associated with the marriage. Paka Dekha is the term used by the Ghotis while Pati Potro happens among the Bangals.
Ashirvaad – The bride and groom are blessed by the elders of the family along with gifts pertaining to jewellery, saree and other items. This is followed by an elaborate feast. For certain households, ashirvaad happens only on the evening of the wedding.
M is for the famous actor Mithun Chakraborty, the mouth-watering delicacy Mishti Doi (sweet curd), the writer and activist who gave voice to the plight of tribal population- Mahashweta Devi, the oldest underground train in Kolkata called Metro and the amusement park near Strand road overlooking Hooghly river in Kolkata – Millennium Park. But through M, let me take you to one of the most favorite beach destinations in the state – Mandarmani and the last site for Murshidabad Diaries – Motijheel.
In the last few years, Mandarmani or Mandarmoni in East Midnapore District has turned out to be one of the largest and fastest developing seaside resort village of West Bengal. Red crabs crawling around the 13 km long beach is a special attraction here. Trying to avoid the much crowded Digha, people have started moving to the more tranquil and serene Mandarmani beach.
The distance between Kolkata and Mandarmani can be covered in 3.5 to 4hours by car (180 kms approximately). Roads are in quite good condition. Train options are available till Contai/Ramnagar/Digha and most of the resorts offer to arrange for a pick up from there. Sher-e-Punjab on the Kolaghat expressway is a great hotel to stop over for breakfast or lunch with aloo paratha being their speciality dish.
While the town has ample options for stay and most of them are on or near the beach, Aqua Marina Drive Inn takes the cake away for being not only right on the beach but having rooms that lets one view the sea from both the room and balcony. For luxury stay, Rose Valley resort and Sana Beach resort are the best options.
Variety of fish items like pomphret, prawns, hilsa etc along with crab dishes are a must try in this place. Most of the resorts have their own restaurants serving local Bengali cuisine that include a large variety of sea food. Tender coconut water is a great thirst quencher in this locality.
Sight seeing –
The beach – The beach is a great place to take a walk around and indulge in sea bathing.
The Delta or Mohana – This is the place where a river meets the sea. It is about 5-6 km from the main part of the beach and is beautiful with a scenic backdrop. On one side of the river there are dense pine trees, while on the other side is the fishing village.
Tajpur – Tajpur beach is barely twenty minutes from Mandarmani beach by car. It is being developed into a port now.
Shankarpur – This beach is around ten minutes from the Tajpur beach. Sea waves get wilder in these beaches.
Water sports – While the Government has stopped paragliding after an accident, beach bikes are still available.
Best time to visit –
Mandarmani can be visited throughout the year. During monsoons,the water level goes very high and waves reach till the walls of the resorts.
K is definitely for the city of joy – Kolkata. It also stands for Kalighat in South Kolkata famous for its Kali temple, the hill station Kalimpong in North Bengal and the area famous for sculpting of clay idols in Kolkata – Kumortuli. Since I have almost reached the end of Murshidabad diaries, the two places of interest that define K for me are Katra Masjid and Kathgola Bagan.
Katra Masjid –
Katra means market and since there was a local market near this mosque, this justifies the name Katra Masjid. It is a mosque and tomb of Nawab Murshid Quli Khan. Its importance lies not only as a great centre of Islamic learning but also for the tomb of Murshid Quli Khan, who is buried under the entrance staircase. The most striking feature is the two large corner towers having loopholes for musketry.
The mosque stands on a square plinth. It is built with bricks and surrounded by double storied domed cells. The rooms can accommodate seven hundred Quran readers in total. Four big minars (pillar) stand at the four corners. The two towers or the minarets in front of the mosque are 70 feet high and 25 feet in diameter. The whole mosque is quadrangular in shape, has no pillar support but is supported by a raised platform instead below the mosque. After the earthquake in 1897, the mosque, its dome and two minars have been destroyed.
The entrance to the mosque is by fourteen flight of stairs under which the Nawab has been buried. It is believed that he wanted his burial in such a place where the dust of the visitors would fall on his tomb as a way of seeking repentance for his sins. Born a Hindu Brahmin, Quli Khan was bought by Mughal noble Haji Shafi. Folk lore has it that once the Nawab had known about his Hindu lineage, he had approached the Hindu society seeking acceptance but had been marked as an outcast. Out of vengeance, he had rampaged a lot of Hindu temples. However the present Shiva temple in the premises stand as a testimony to his changed mindset of embracing both the religions in due course.
From the iconic Jadubabur Bazar in Bhowanipore, Kolkata to one of the most important Bengali poets of this generation – Joy Goswami , the all-rounder National level cricketer Jhulan Goswami, the paradise of bird lovers situated in Alipurduar ditrict – Jaldapara National Park and the neighbourhood in North Kolkata fanous for being the home of the country’s pride Gurudev Rabindranath Tgore – Jorasanko, J had a magnitude of options. I decided to pick up two categories, one that is at the core of rural Bengal – Jatra and the other as continuation of Murshidabad series – Jagat Seth’s House.
Jatra or jatra pala is a folk theatre form still popular in rural Bengal. The word jatra means journey or going. The origin of jatra – intrinsically a musical theatre form is influenced from the ritual of songs and dance which formed part of the religious festivals in villages. It is traditionally credited to the rise of Sri Chaitanya’s Bhakti movement, wherein Chaitanya himself played Rukmini in the performance of Rukmini Haran. Dramatic elements in the compositions of these songs and dances like conversations among the various characters of the mythological stories on which they were based were given histrionic interpretations by the performers. Jatras were performed in a square or round area of flat ground with the audience sitting all rounds. There were reserved entry or exit points and the actors moved into the square from the midst of the audience. In the first half of the twentieth century, Swadeshi Jatra became very much important. Jatras were performed to make the people conscious of the British dominance over Indians. Quite a few times the role of a female character gets essayed by a male actor.
The season of Jatra starts from September with Durga Puja being the starting point and ends when the monsoons are just about to come. The whole troupe travel to rural places to perform their play. These troupes are booked in advance by the organising committee and then announcements are done on a cycle rickshaw through microphone in different styles. The Jatra Pala in Bengal lasts for four long hours with full action packed dialogues. Six to seven songs are also performed in the play. These kinds of songs are known as Jatra Gaan. Jatra has also given birth to a popular actors who have gained fame in the medium of theatre and cinema eventually.
There were so few words with the letter I that it was getting difficult to pick up a relevant word for the day. The heritage Indian museum in Kolkata, the iconic educator and reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar who worked towards upliftment of women’s status in the society and ISKON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) in Mayapur – the Kirtan capital of the world with devotees of Lord Krishna gathering from various continents. However, in my quest to bring out some more interesting facets of the state, I have decided to continue with Murshidabad diaries with the featured subject for today being Imambara.
Imambara (Nizamat Imambara) –
Imambara in Murshidabad is names as Nizamat Imambara. It is located in the same campus of Nizamat Kila right opposite to Hazarduari Palace. It is a Shia muslim congregation hall. This was built by Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah in the Nizamat Fort Area. It was built with wood and had soil brought from Mecca. It caught fire and nothing was left of the place except the old Madina Mosque. The new Imambara was built in 1847 during the era of Nawab Nazim Feradun Jahunder the supervision and direction of Sayed Ali Khan just opposite to the Hazarduari Palace and very near to the banks of Bhagirathi river. This is 680 feet long and is the largest Imambara in Bengal. A new Madina Mosque was constructed within the Imambara.
H could have been the magnificent Howrah Bridge that has almost become synonymous with Kolkata , Hilsa – the favorite fish of Bengalis , Hogg market – the vintage market in Kolkata and Hooghly district – famous for Bandel church, Tarakeshwar temple, Hooghly Imambara and Chandannagore town which is renowned for lighting during Jagadhhatri puja. But my pick for the day is another iconic structure Hazarduari Palace in Murshidabad.
Hazarduari Palace –
Murshidabad is known for its historical lineage and Hazarduari Palace is the one of the most significant historical and famous tourist spots in the state. It was built by architect Duncan McLeod during the reign of Nawab Nazim Humayun Jah of who had Bengal, Bihar and Orissa under his power. It is located in the campus known as Kila Nizamat or Nizamat Kila that also houses Nizamat Imambara, Clock Tower, Madina Mosque, Chawk Masjid, Bacchawali Tope, the Shia Complex, Wasif Manzil, the two Zurud Mosques and the Nawab Bahadur’s Institution surrounding it.
Hazarduari means the one with a 1000 doors. Out of these thousand doors, one hundred are false doors. If any person had ill-intentions that they managed to pull off successfully, the concept was to prevent him from escaping by creating confusion between the real and false doors. The palace has a grand flight of thirty-seven steps of stone out of which the lowermost step is 108 feet long . It is supported by seven huge pillars. On either side of the staircase, two statues of masonry Victorian lions are situated in sitting posture. The palace was the designated place for holding durbar and conducting meetings with the Britishers.
The palace is now converted to a museum displaying paintings, furniture, cutlery items and other antique pieces like the mirror where one can see the image of people standing on either side but not their own. This mirror had been kept in the durbar hall for the Nawab to keep an eye on his people and their activities. The durbar hall has a silver chandelier hanging from the ceiling that is believed to be a gift from Queen Victoria and is the second largest in the world. The main gates have Naubat Khanas (musicians’ galleries) over them and are so large that it is believed that an elephant with howdah could pass through it easily and comfortably.
Knowing my obsessive fascination with food, B for Biriyani should have been the ideal choice. But I had too many choices again. Birla Planetarium in Kolkata – the largest planetarium in Asia and the second largest in the world, the historical Belur Math founded by Swami Vivekananda, the age-old Botanical Garden in Shibpur, Howrah, Bengal’s Baul music (folk) that unites Hindus and Muslims alike and famous places to visit like Bolpur (houses Visva Bharati – the university set up by Rabindranath Tagore) and Bishnupur (famous for Terracotta temples). But there were two subjects that defined Bengal for me – Byomkesh Bakshyand Berhampore.
Byomkesh Bakshy –
Created by author Shardindu Bandopadhyay, Byomkesh was one of the first and finest detective (though he preferred to call himself Satyaneshvi or the truth seeker) characters in Bengali literature. Accompanied by his best friend and writer Ajit Kumar Bandopadhyay in almost all the cases, he was unique in having a family of his own. The stories of Byomkesh were set during the time period of 1930-70 and the author managed to capture the vibrancy of Calcutta through his writing. While the television series starring Rajit Kapoor brought the detective closer to audiences nationwide, the curiosity about this character grew manifold when director Dibakar Mukherjee made a movie Detective Byomkesh Bakshy starring Sushant Singh Rajput in 2015.