Coming to the second part of my blog post on Murshidabad, I will cross the Bhagirathi to reach Ajimganj and explore the remnants of the Nawabi era. The city is no different from Jiaganj on the other side of the river. Here too you find narrow lanes with buildings on either side. Ancient architectures lie scattered here right from the bank of the river. It was once the stronghold of the Jain community, who were known as the ‘Seherwalis’. Come and explore this part of Murshidabad with ‘Footlooseinme’.
I stayed at one such heritage building within the Jain-Patty (Jain area). This building belonged to a Jain merchant during the times of the Nawab. It is one of the heritage buildings that has been restored into a hotel. This is not a promotional post, I am sharing my experience as I do consistently in my blog posts.
The community of Marwari Jain merchants settled here during the time of the Nawabs (Read their story in my previous post.) They made their settlements on either side of the river Bhagirathi – Azimganj on the west and Jiaganj on the east. These merchants travelled from smaller towns in Rajasthan to settle in Murshidabad (the capital city of Bengal), so they came to be known as ‘Seherwalis’ (meaning city dwellers). They moved from the dry regions of the west to the lush fruitful banks of the river in the eastern part of India, where they too flourished along with the city.
Starting this post from Bari Kothi (where I stayed), I will share the Seherwali story as I tour around Azimganj. As I mentioned in my earlier post, Seherwalis maintained the finances of the European traders, they also controlled the Nawabs and thus had a very important position in the political scenario of the 18th century. After settling down on either bank of the river, the Seherwalis gradually and smoothly adapted to the lifestyle and food habits here but maintained their identity. In this way, the new Seherwali cooking evolved which is an interesting vegetarian blend of Marwari, Bengali, Nawabi and European cuisine.
The Dudhoria was a well-known name within the Seherwali community and they were settled on the west coast of the river in Azimganj. The palatial house of the elder Dudhoria brother is known as the Bari Kothi. While the nearby equally large villa of the younger brother is known as the Rajbari. Both palaces are located beside the bank of the river in the Jain Patty. Bari Kothi belonged to Rai Bahadur Budh Singh Dudhoria. In the year 1774, the Dudhorias moved from Bikaner to Azimgang to make their fortune. They prospered and flourished in the money lending business and other businesses in silk and country-made cloth.
The two brothers, Budh Singh and Bissen Chand Dudhoria succeeded Harak Chand in 1862 at a young age yet thrived and became the zamindars of the area. They blossomed and expanded their business in multi folds. It was the golden era of affluence and opulence when misfortune knocked on the unexpected door. Things did not go the same way as they used to and at the same time, the capital of Bengal was moved to Calcutta.
All the major offices and the finance hub too moved along. Gradually the Seherwalis too moved to Calcutta and other places, leaving behind their palatial homes to age with time and ultimately fall in ruins. The highly protected strong room of Bari Kothi was once looted by robbers which also gave a major blow to the financial status of the family.
The brother-sister duo, the present owner of Bari Kothi envisioned bringing back the lost glory of the palace. They restored their ancient property with the help of Architect Dr Samar Chandra to convert it into a Rustic Luxury Heritage Hotel. The restoration was a massive task with huge manpower involved along with other resources. The manpower who worked here were local labourers from surrounding villages.
After the completion of the project, many of the labourers working here were retained, trained and converted into hotel staff. The hotel employs the locals and mostly ladies to care for the guests. This aspect of the hotel opens up opportunities for employment to the locals, provides the guests with a chance to interact and know the local culture and with a large team of ladies working, creates a safe environment for many solo female travellers (just like me.)
The rest of my Bari Kothi story will be through my pictures. On this side of the river, also lies the Char Bangla Terracotta temples, the Bhavanishwar Temple and many other terracotta temples – some are in ruins while a few are restored (all built by Rani Bhavani). Rani Bhavani was the Zamindar of Natore (in present-day Bangladesh). She became the zamindar after the death of her husband, Raja Ramkanta Moitra (Ray), the then zamindar of Rajshahi in 1748. Although it was rare to find a lady zamindar during that era, Rani Bhavani managed to be one and rule her estates with strong and capable hands.
She was known for her philanthropic deeds. She was a capable ruler and she is attributed towards the construction of many temples, water tanks, roads and ghats across Bengal. Her pious and generous nature brought her close to her subjects. In the same way, she had a strong hold on her army and drove away Nawab Siraj’s men who marched towards her zamindari with some lustful desire.
Apart from the terracotta temples, there is the ancient Kiriteshwari temple which is also one of the 51 Shakti Pithas in India. This is the oldest temple in Murshidabad. The original temple was destroyed in 1405 and was reconstructed by the Zamindar of Lalgoala, King Darpanarayan.
This bank of the river also has the final resting place of the Nawabs. The Roshni Bagh is the Makbara of Nawab Suja-ud-Daulah. There is a beautiful garden and a small mosque within the compound. While Khushbagh was the burial ground for the Afshar dynasty. Nawab Alivardi Khan along with his family and his grandson the last independent Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula were buried in Khushbagh.
Along with the trip to the mausoleums, my tour of Murshidabad ends. It was like travelling to a different era, where the reigns changed hands from various Nawabs, some worthy while others not, to ultimately falling into the hands of foreign rulers. My solo tour to Murshidabad was like a Ferris wheel that took me off the ground in the present day and toured me through the ages of the Nawabs and finally brought me back to the present to have my stories compiled in the pages of ‘Footlooseinme’. 🙂
One thought on “Seherwalis of Azimganj”
Very interesting post. It is only recently that Azimganj is getting its recognition. Just to let you know, even among Jains, Sheherwalis are treated differently because they adopted Bengali and European ways. This fact is not well-known beyond the community. Sheherwalis have contributed to the history of India in the way that they influenced the course of action but are hardly known or talked about. Thanks for documenting this part of Bengal and sharing it with us.