Art News & Views

Hazarduari Palace Museum: One of the 7 wonders of India

by  Reshmi Chakravorty

Most of India's best-known palaces are named after the cities or towns where they stand. This one is different – Murshidabad's Hazarduari Palace, is named after the number of doors it has. Therefore it's called “Hazarduari”, should strictly speaking be thousand (“hazar” being thousand, and “duar” being door). This, incidentally, is not the only reason to visit this stunning palace - if you wish you can spend your entire day counting each door, but do set aside a few hours to admire the amazing museum that is a part of the palace! The Hazarduari Palace in Murshidabad (West Bengal) was designed in 1837 by General Duncan McLeod of the Bengal Engineers for Murshidabad's Nawab Najim Humayun Jah. An imposing three-storied rectangular building, it lies amidst sprawling gardens (covering a total of 41 acres) and is a fairly unblemished example of Italian-style architecture. The palace consists of 8 galleries and 114 rooms, with a colonnaded façade, a domed tower, high windows, beautifully ornate pillars and more, all of it a befitting venue for the Nawab's durbar,which was held here.

The Hazarduari was also used as a residence by the Nawabs and by high-ranking British officials. Much of the palace is now a museum, which contains an impressive array of memorabilia from the days of the British Raj. The collection on the first floor and the ground floor is a merry mishmash of artefacts, from marble statues to oil paintings, crystal chandeliers, ivory and teak furniture, fossils, stuffed animals and other belongings dating back to the time of the Nawabs of Murshidabad. Spread across the Dining Room, the Landscape Gallery, the British Gallery, the Nawab Gallery, the Dewan Gallery, the Prince Gallery, the Committee Room, the Durbar Hall and about half-a-dozen other areas, the museum's display includes some truly interesting items, a cannon used at the fateful Battle of Plassey, royal thrones, howdahs of silver and ivory, palanquins, phaetons and even two cars, purchased way back in 1914. The second floor of the Hazarduari Palace Museum houses an equally interesting collection of about 12,000 books and 3,000 manuscripts, in Persian, English, Arabic and Urdu. The Nawabs may or may not have been of a literary bent of mind, but their library certainly is well stocked. Wander through, and you will see examples of some of India's most priceless manuscripts, such as the original Ain-e-Akbari and the Akbarnama, written by Akbar's court historian Abul Fazal; a copy of the Holy Koran penned by the emperor Aurangzeb and another, weighing close to 20 kg and measuring around 4" x 3", written by the famous Haroon-al-Rashid, the caliph of Baghdad. Another among such interesting items of display in the museum is the testing plates which are supposed to crack if poisoned food is placed on them.

Let me guide you through the amazing displays that you can see in the Hazarduari Palace Museum. One of the most sought after gallery is none other than: The Armoury Wing (A & B) which is rich in historical contents and technical skills, the arms and weapons are shown here in a variety ranging from bow and arrow; swords and shields; lances and spears; knives and daggers; guns and rifles; pistols and revolvers, to wheels and cannons. They are often found inscribed with the verses from the holy Koran and noted for their delicate carvings and exquisite workmanship. Mention may be made of a metal helmet and a rhino-shield, which are of great value for their rich calligraphy and royal appendage. The pointed "Jamadhara" and a unique bifurcated sword called "Zulfikar" are normally associated with Mir Qasim . The swords are varied because of their usage. Among the arms displayed the few famous are the Sword of Alivardi Khan and Multi barrelled rifle, Sword of Siraj-ud-Daulla. The Dagger by which Muhammad-i-Beg killed Siraj-ud-Daulla can also be seen here. Remarkable of all is the cannon, which was used by Mirmadan in the Battle of Plassey in 1757.

The guns are mostly toradar or match locked, of which there are two kinds, namely Hindi or Indian and Turkish; and flint lock, made in Europe. The Carabines and Sherbacha are mostly of that period. The pistols, which are match lock, flint lock and percussion cap, are both Indian and European and it includes many which were presented to the Nawabs by The East India Company. The Swords are of all kinds and periods and countries. Damase swords made at Khorasan by Artizans from Damascus in Timur's time; Ispahani swords manufactured by Asadulla, the great sword maker of the time of Shah Abbas, King of Persia (1571 - 1629), many of which were made for him; Daggers of every kind, namely Afghanistan Chhoras, Peshkubz (Persian), Koroli (Turkish), Qama and Khagar (Arabic); Bhojalis (Indian); Shields, Bows and Arrows; Mohalas or iron pieces for tusks of fighting elephants. Tabrs and Zafer Takias and other varieties make up a collection. Most of the arms in the Palace Armoury are those actually used in battle by Nazims, their generals, Omras and men.

On exit from the gallery and on the staircase landing area you will find the most interesting exhibit; the damaged Dutch Cannon presented to Nawab Alivardi Khan by the Dutch Government in 1745. It is generally known as the cannon of Mir Madan, a trusted lieutenant of Siraj-ud-Daulla who is said to have died in the battle of Plassey due to the bursting of the cannon.

After having a glimpse of what is available at the armoury wing one tends to get more curious to visit the other famous and explicit galleries! Some of the other important galleries are as follows:

The Durbar Hall: Being the centre of attraction in the entire palace, Durbar Hall is conspicuous by its circular plan and vaulted roof with four doors at the cardinal points. A very large crystal Chandelier of exquisite workmanship is suspended in the centre to illuminate the entire hall with ninety six lamps. The grandeur of the hall is projected further by a royal silver throne with its "Chattri" and a Durbari Hookah in front. The marble platform shows the delicacy of intricate lattice work and gilded patterns. Two unique marble candle stands in this hall stand as witnesses of exquisite workmanship of the bygone era.

The Halls of Royal Exhibits: It is noted for the magnificent display of the masterpieces of paintings, silver and ivory objects, even metal and marble statues. The gallery throws a welcome light on socio-religious, political and cultural life of the people of the bygone era.

The Landscape Gallery: The theme of this Gallery is primarily landscape paintings in the palace collection. Displayed  here are remarkable paintings which include the forceful composition of a "Scotch Warrior" by G.Campbell, "Hunting Party" by William Beechey, "The Ocean" by M.B. Pratt, "Sea view" by Schotel, "On the Bosphorus" by D. Temper and the famous "Scene of thirty years war" by Jorgenson. The bronze statues on the marble table top represent the heroic gestures of some bold knights including the sculptures of Nelson and Napoleon Bonaparte and a pair of miniature replicas of the Statue of Liberty.

The Archive Gallery: This gallery of archival treasure selected from the library and the record room of Hazarduari Palace, Murshidabad, is a spectrum of the rule of Nawabs of Murshidabad in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, of the Mughal Empire during the last few centuries. The Nawabs of Murshidabad apart from being rulers and governors of these provinces were indeed connoisseur of art and patron of literature and culture. The exhibits displayed in this gallery have been meticulously selected from a huge collection in such a way that it should provide a picture of the life at the time of "Nizamat" The gallery exhibits, valuable manuscripts of Persian and Arabic language varying their subject and scope wiz. religion, medicine, history and poetry. The document section contains very rare and important farmans (Royal Orders), proclamations, indentures, formal letters, official correspondence etc. in Persian, which was the official language of the Mughal emperors and Nawabs, and some of them in English because of the inception of European Companies and British influence in India. These documents also speak of the administrative power of the Nawabs conferred upon them by Mughals, their skill to govern the affairs of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, their relations with the Companies and British administration, their gifts to English friends and an exchange of their greeting and sorrow, their agreements with British powers regarding administration and financial matters and many more aspects of the Nizamat. The calligraphy also throws light on the aesthetic sense of the Nawabs. The royal farman of Mughal emperor Shah Alam II (1765), Khat-i-Taziyat (Condolence letter) by Lord Minto on the death of Nawab's grandmother Babbu Begum dated (1809), Private letter of Lord Hastings to Nawab Mubarak Ali Khan date 1787-1788 are displayed here.

The Painting Gallery: The gallery has been exclusively organized for display of some of the beautiful paintings in the collection of the Palace. Those deserving mention include "Holy Family" by Francesco Rinaldi, an enchanting and lively presentation of “Bacchus and Ariadne” which shows the Greek god of wine trying to induce Greek deity Ariadne, 'Cavaliers of Venice' by Marchetti, 'The Marquis of Spinola' by Van Dyke etc. A needle work on carpet portraying seated Queen Victoria along with two babies and a litho print of Humayun Manzil (another palace of Humayun Jah) are also interesting.

There is still an enigma of aura with the Hazarduari Palace Museum which has not lessened. Time immemorial has passed since its conception but the grandeur it still prevails attracts many visitors to just come and see the monumental palace which is now the museum and pride of West Bengal, India and one of the seven wonders of India.

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art etc. news & views is a monthly magazine published from India in order to promote art and culture. It intends to raise awareness about art all around India and the world. The magazine covers art exhibitions, auction highlights, market trends, art happenings besides Antique, Collectibles, Fashion, Jewellery, Vintage, Furniture, Film, Music and Culture.