Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Palatial mansions in a rural village? - Dhanyakuria, W. Bengal

Mansion in Dhanyakuria, W. bengal. Cafe Dissensus Everyday
In any Indian villages, in particular, Tamil Nadu you may either run into small temples dedicated to Muneeswaran / Ayyanar or Pilliyar (Vinayagar). Of course,  you may occasionally run into a big farm house once occupied by a Zamindar or a wealthy Mirasudar (in Tamil Mittadar). If move just in further  and go into Aghraharams (in Tamil Nadu many of them disappeared) - places occupied by Brahmins, you will be much impressed to  see a countless houses with similar size,tiled front ( locally called tazvaram), sharing common walls and looking quite alike on both sides of the streets.  Beyond these, you seldom come across unique structures. Have you ever heard of a remote Indian village far removed from the urban jungle and madding crowd with many palatial buildings characteristically built in local classical style with a mix of English design? Yes, it may sound weird or may be tagged as somebody's imagination. Neither it is an exaggeration nor is it figment of some body's imagination. Yes, there is a village with palace like buildings, not in any part of south India, but it is in the northern part of the 24 Pargana District of West Bengal.

The name of the village is Dhanyakuria, about 30 km from Dum Dum Kolkata's Airport. This nondescript village is not known to the outsiders and it is a store-house of  Bengal brand of hybrid architecture, a fusion of native - Indo-Islamic and English styles. What is so special about them? They were all built by several Zamindar families (landowning classes), belonging to different castes.  The Sens, Lahas, Roys, Bhattacharyas and Gayens ruled the roost.  The rich families during the colonial days held a strong grip on the villages owned by them and the people living there. 

These rich landowning class  built these palaces to showcase their, money power, pelf  and sophistication during their heyday. These  rich families later became traders and made a huge bundle  and much of it in jute, jaggery, and rice. Each one of the building is a master piece  that has survived the vagaries of nature and time and is still  fairly taken care. Proving the transient nature of existence,  the rich builders lost their sheen and money power, but their palaces stoically stand as  spectators  to their past glory and opulence. Their descendants own some of them and they find it difficult to maintain them as the cost is prohibitive. Positively, a visit to this place will make the visitors spell-bound as no other village n India  has such an array of huge mansions of beauty and grandeur built in the colonial era.

It is a 3- hour  drive  to reach this place from Kolkata.  One surprising fact is people who have been there say that most people living in the city and its surroundings have neither heard of the place nor about the huge mansions. 

Dhanyakuria: Rashmancha, Amitabha Gupta - WordPress.com
Dhanyakuria: 9 pinnacled Rash mandir.  indiamike.com
The  massive Rashmancha which looks like a typical Navaratna temple so common in Bengal. It is a two storied structure  with 9 pinnacles that served as the place of worship of Radha and Krishna during the Vasihnav Ras festival. It is white in colour and has five arches on each side of the ground floor.
Gayen bari House. clickr
Gayen Bari (Garden House of the Gayen family), an impressive building built with a blend of local and  classical and Indian forms. Gayen Bari  also blends Islamic style as  the tower  called Nazar minar is built on Corinthian pillars with Islamic arches on the top floor.
Dhanyakuria: Gayan bagan bari, cafedissensusblog.com

 It is a three-story domed tower and the first two storeys have arches that are rounded while the arch on the top story reveals an Islamic influence in the shape of the arch.
Gayen Bari Mansion. afedissensusblog.com/
The entry to this building is restricted. Quality of maintenance is below normal. The  entrance gate is huge and has two towers at either side and it looks like a castle with pond in front.  The striking features one can notice atop the gate are images of two men fighting a lion.
Gayen Bari Mansion. clickr
The towers and turrets add zest to the building. But, they need to be taken care of as there are reports of  roots of plants spouting from the towers. Besides,  there are tall unwanted trees here and there and quite a bit of foliage all around the poorly managed  ground.
 Gayen Bari is ‘L’ shaped and has two domes on the top. The entire building is painted in a shade of pink. It is designed in such a way one can view family deity's temple - Radhakrishna in the back part  from any one of the rooms within it. A unique feature is the overhanging balcony with iron railing that links all the rooms from one corner to the other. This building is now a state run home for girls.

Dhanyakuria: Gayan bagan bari,cafedissensusblog.com
Inside shaw bariSanjoymahajanPhotography
The Sawoo Mansion, that belonged to the Sawoo family is an interesting structure. It is the garden house of the Sawoo family. This white building is poorly looked after.  This structure has a thakur dalan with  big arches and pillars. This structure is dominated by giant pillars and stucco decoration on the window arches.
Sawoo house Amitabha Gupta - WordPress.com
One noticeable feature is some windows do have stained rich color glasses with nice designs.  Unlike the Gayen Bari, this mansion is  deserted and there is no semblance of human activities around.


Ballabh Bari, as locals  commonly call it  Putul Bari (the Bengali word ‘putul’, means ‘doll’) has different appearance unlike other buildings in this villages. What is giving extra zest to this mansion is the  nicely-made statues. The mansion has a giant  iron  gate adding majesty to this structure. Unfortunately, the building looks faded here and there as the paint peels off in many places,Painted in green and white, the coating is not good enough to stand the changing climatic conditions in this part of Bengal.  The mansion has pillars and stucco work on the corridors of both floors like other mansions. Noticeable figures are: On the corners of the terrace, there are European statues, a peacock figure right above the main entrance to the mansion;  there  is a figure wearing a crown; on each side of this figure is a moustached and turbaned male figure.  Just outside the premises is a three storied tower that is reminiscent of  the Nazar Minar of the Gayen Bari. but the color is almost faded. The interior of this mansion - in white and green  is similar to the other mansions  with a thakur dalan.
Ballabh House, DhanyakuriaAmitabha Gupta - WordPress.com
 The mansion has a nice garden, but it is overgrown. Once upon a time, it was a well-maintained garden.  Again it's upkeep is poor as one can see fallen tree leaves and foliage  all along the ground. The owners pay a visit during the Durga Puja celebrations as other owners. This building is being taken care of by a solitary caretaker. his job is a tough one, considering the size of the building. The huge gadens of some of the mansions were sold in the past and they are dotted with residences.
https://cafedissensusblog.com/2017/04/12/dhanyakuria-the-village-of-palaces-in-bengal/

http://sanjoymahajanphotography.blogspot.com/2014/07/dhanyakuria-village-of-palaces.html