My grandmother has narrated a million stories about life before Independence. Few were about village life, her childhood, second world war; while others were about Borgis- the local name given to Maratha warrior. She used to sine me a famous lullaby on them- “Khoka Ghumolo para Jurolo, Borgi Elo Deshe; Bulbuli Te Dhaan Kheyeche Khajna Debo Kishe“. The meaning went like- When the kid’s sleep, silence is set in the town. Then when Borgis come into the village; but Bulbul (bird) has eaten all the grains, how do I pay my taxes?”. This rhyme indicates how Borgis attacked at nights and wreaked havoc. Well, why am I writing about Bargis, because I will be sharing a tale from childhood collection. And also my relished stays at the Borgi’s built a heritage Rajbari in Itachuna.
Before visiting the Rajbari, I read about the place over the internet and planned a weekend trip. While getting a pre-booking online, I observed an interesting fact. All the rooms were identified after the Bengali joint family figure-heads like- Thakuma (granny), Boro Boudi (elder sis-in-law), KakaBabu (grandfather), JhataMoshai (elder uncle), Borda (elder brother) & many more. There were Mud houses also, to give the feel of village life of West Bengal. The price of Mud houses starts from Rs 1900 & goes up to Rs 2400 per night. At the same time, the room price in the Rajbari starts from Rs 2400 & goes up to Rs 8900 per night. The operating rooms are 14 in number, but total rooms are 63. Damn! That’s a vast area. Besides, we had to add a meal plan Rs 600 per person per day, which includes lunch & dinner, since breakfast is complimentary.
My mom always used to say some buildings stand up above the inanimate, as they murmur stories, chant songs, and incite reminiscence. One such establishment in Hooghly district of West Bengal still stands tall – The Itachuna Rajbari. Been home to a family of landlords, it gets the name from the brick, lime facade that still adorns it. Recent stories say Itachuna is haunted, others speak about the architecture- the glorious retrospective Bengal which left them spellbound. And few like me are barely moved by the tales it hides in its giant rooms, tall ceilings, antique furniture, and sweeping verandahs.
Since I was spending time with my grandmother, hence Itnachuna Rajbari was a 51min drive (38km). We started post breakfast on Saturday morning, and the weather was humid yet beautiful with clear blue sky, paddy fields on both ends of road & white fluffy clouds drifting away. The RajBari is the perfect hideaway for a weekend soaked in royal legacy. I was also called upon to confirm lunch at Rajbari before my arrival, as they serve both veg & non-veg meal till 2.30 pm. We arrived by 11.30 am at the Rajbari which was set in a utopian surrounding still untouched by time. I stood outside the iron gate gapping at the red-bricked enormous edifice because my stories are alive in front of my eyes.
We were greeted warmly, and all COVID precaution was adopted; as our bags & hands were sanitized before we entered the Rajbari. The car was parked inside the iron gate, & our driver was shown the dormitory. As I enter the Rajbari gate, I saw neatly cut green lawn with a few ducks wandering on it. And further away was a white arched entrance to the central courtyard. While on the right of the yard was the ”Natch Ghar” – meaning ”Dancing hall” on the first level of the building.
As we entered the Rajbari, I picked up this white arched entrance, which has intricate floral patterns designed with the words “Pita Swarga, Pita Dharma” inscribed on it. Along with Patterns, the name of Shri Safallya Narayan Kundu who built the Rajbari in 1766 was also engraved on the arched entrance.
Further, what caught my attention was the beautiful chandelier, and old hand-drawn fans mounted on the roof which took us to Thakur Dalan. Here the family’s ancestral deity ”Shreedhar Jiu” (Narayan) is seated in the synagogue. Till today prayer is offered 4 times a day with occasional mass gatherings during dusk prayers in the courtyard, swaying to the rhythm of drums, cymbals and bells.
We were residing in the Andar Mahal, hence walked towards the interior part of the Rajbari. We were offered Nimboo Pani at the Boithak- sitting room, where I could find out heaps of books century old & priceless photographs of Kolkata before Independence. It was absolutely amazing.
We eventually reached our room. I booked the Choto Boudi as I loved the over king-sized bed. The room was spacious, with all antique furniture and yet modernized for ease of the guest. Even the bath could be another room, for it was huge. It also has an attached changing room which had electric kettle & fridge with dressing table. Phew! This was elaborate, but they were elegantly decorated.
I freshened up and was ready to explore the mansion. My mamma told me this house reminded her of her’s grandfather’s home. We got hold of the protracted plight of stairs to reach the terrace, which was vast in width as well as length.
From here you can look across the backyard of the Rajbari, a lush green area, erstwhile ”Khamar Bari”, with a “Khidki Pukur”, a wall-bound pond for the ladies. Though Khamar Bari” is now converted to an outdoor shooting area.
The terrace reminded me of my childhood in the railway quarters with bougainvillaea vine. Time just stopped for the blink of an eye.
We then had lunch at the dining hall, where food was served in old “Kansa” ” (metal) utensils. The food was delicious (sold in the thali system with tea/coffee/snacks as an a-la-carte system). At Rajbari Provati (cook) prepares homemade food for the invitee. She is a locale of the hamlet & belongs to the family of ancestors who cooked for Zamindars. Post lunch, they did take orders for snacks & dinner. Later I decided for a catnap, as at 5 pm we had guided Rajbari tour. I noticed there was an essence of a disciple in everything.
Due to COVID, only 5 rooms to stay has been reopened, so along with us, there were other two family. And at 5 pm we all gathered at the Andar Mahal Dalan, where the guide was waiting. He has been associated with Rajbari for a century now. We commenced the tour where he explained the Rajbari has five portions – a village Courthouse, a Ballet Dancing Hall, Kitchen house, Guesthouse and an Andar Mahal for ladies.
Hence we set out with the Kitchen hall a long alley with massive metal vessels, which is currently not in use. In front of the kitchen was the Dancing room from where a spiral iron stair leads to an exit. Towards the extreme left in an enclosed closure was a Well. And that was used as a dumping place of dead bodies happened out of any rift within the Rajbari. It was scary, but I was amused at the same time.
We took a troll of the garden where I saw a small swimming pool for kids & sitting area for tea & snack.
Further, we moved towards the Khidki Pukur, where these mud houses are made, along with a canteen.
Utilizing the back lane, we came to the second section of Rajbari, where there is two accommodation still under construction.
Our last visit was the Nach Ghar-dancing room, beautifully adorned, with many dark stories hidden. The place generally remains closed, only opened during the tours.
We terminated the tour with the evening Aarti at that Nat temple.
It was 7.30 pm, time for tea & some flute session. The locale person played the charismatic flute, and I was just lost in the music.
Afterwards, in the evening, I was lucky enough to meet Mr Dhruva Narayan Kundu the 14th generation of Kundu family. He warmly invited us for chit-chat and allowed us to take a peek in the history of the Itachuna Rajbari.
He took off with the fact that the property is 250 yrs old, constructed by Shri Safallya Narayan Kundu in 1766. And current descendants of Safallya Kundu – Rabindra Narayan, Dhruva Narayan(himself) and Basav Narayan Kundu. This Rajbari is also recognized as ”Borgee Danga” as it boasts the wealth and abundance of a Borgi Landlord family of Bengal.
Mr Kundu takes us back to that period in Bengal’s history when she was periodically looted and pillaged by the Maratha Borgis. Nawab Alivardi Khan then ruled Bengal in the mid of the 18th century. During that period around 1742 theses Maratha cavalries, known as Borgis, under the guidance of Bhaskar Pandit and Raghuji Bhosle strode into a peaceful Bengal, looking for its fertile land and taxes.
Apocryphally, the Mughal era had descended in India, and the prosperous age of the Maratha’s had begun. Nawab Alivardi Khan fought heroically to lay aside his kingdom the first time, but the consequences of the attacks were devastating. And Bengal was also passing through a period of Famine, and the inability to pay taxes to the Borgis left people vulnerable. It is one of the immense mass violence and destructions in the history of India.
This plundering and looting of Bengal continued for 10 years until the Nawab of Bengal established a peace treaty with the Marathas. Nevertheless, these attacks left a lasting impression on the minds of ordinary people. But the beautiful landscapes and natures bounty led many “Borgis” to take root here. The Kundan were one of such Maratha warriors, now known as Kundu’s who settled here. They began their own trade, became wealthy, intermingled with the locals, and soon were considered ”Bengali”.
Merely with the Independence & new policies of abolishing the Raj-culture hindered other flourishes of the Rajbari. The Kundu family did experience a downfall in heritage as well as lifestyle. But currently, the property is managed by Kundu brothers in collaboration with a heritage homestay firm named Mylestones & Journeys. They have worked to reestablish the prestige. And made all efforts to upkeep and maintained the royal heritage in this rustic part of the village side.
After the hearty conversation, I also met Mrs Kundu, who facilitates a local NGO promote handmade articles like a scarf, pen, diary, jewellery, painted wooded cutlery etc. I did purchase a few things & suggested to promote theses online for better sales. We had an early dinner and went to bed. I did learn that the Rajbari is haunted, since moving around after 11 pm is prohibited. Many people on the internet are alleged they have heard of the squabbles, cries, opening & closing of doors and sounds of dancers wearing anklets are listened to. Alas, I was not lucky.
Early morning, I woke up with a bang on the door, the waiter stood with a teapot and two cups. The flute music flowed into the air, and I could breathe the fresh scent of the earth. Sat on the open portico sipping my tea and soaking myself in the music. It was so calming.
I did go on a morning walk in the village, across the mansion.
While returning from my walk, I saw a temple of Shiva with a majestic marble sculpture of divinity. The Kundu gave up praying to the idol after a death in the family just before it was inaugurated. A Shivling outside of sanctum Sanctorum is, however, worshipped by villagers.
Looking in and around the Itachuna Rajbari, I was reminded a few lines of a famous Bengali poet Jibanananda Das, “Banglar Mukh Ami Dekhiachi, Tai Ami Prithibir Rup Khujite Jai Na ar.” It roughly translates to “I have seen the face of Bengal, so I don’t seek the beauty of the earth anymore.” It’s the truth West Bengal’s beauty lies in the moments of serenity that exist amidst the bustle of its cities.
How to reach
The nearest airport is Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, which connects to all major metros. From the airport, you can book a cab for Itachuna.
Burdwan is the nearest railway station, & many trains halt here. You can board a train till Howrah, & then take any Burdwan bound train via mainline or Memari /Panduah local. Get down at Khanyan station, which is next to Talandu station (Bandel, Adisaptagram, Mogra, Talandu, Khanyan). From the station, you can take an auto.
You can either drive or book a cab and drive to Itachuna from Kolkata or neighbouring cities. Either opt for Durgapur Expressway or Kalyani Expressway as per your location.