Saturday, February 04, 2006

On the Grounds of Bhawal Raja

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to explore the Bhawal Raja's grounds in the company of my friend Tutul's Mama who lives in Joydebpur. We explored the RajBari and the Shoshan, the two largest structures remaining. But the highlight of the trip was a private house belonging to a relative of Tutul's, which used to be the temple of the Raja's younger sister. Unlike the other structures, this house is well-preserved.

Why the fascination with Bhawal Raja? I heard the story of Bhawal from my mother when I was a child and it captured my imagination. Bhawal was a large Zamindari (estate) close to Dhaka with its headquarters in Joydebpur. In 1909, the heir to this estate, Raja Ramendra Narayan Roy, died in Darjeeling. The story involves the appearance, in 1922, of a Sadhu in Dhaka. When this Sadhu visited Joydebpur, many people thought he looked like Raja Ramendra Narayan Roy. These people included the Raja's own sister who was delighted to have her long-dead brother back.

Eventually a legal battle ensued over whether this Sadhu was really the Raja of Bhawal. On one side were the British government (who had taken over the estate at this point in time because of the lack of heirs) and the wife of the Raja. The other side consisted of the Sadhu, the Raja's sister as well as numerous others from Bhawal. The British side insisted that the Raja had died in Darjeeling and was cremated there. The Sadhu's side claimed he had not died; that his body was not cremated, but had been left just before cremation because of a storm; and that a nearby group of Sadhus had rescued and revived the Raja who went on to become a Sadhu.

Popular versions of the story cast more evi aspersions on the Raja's wife. It was alleged that she was having an affair with the Raja's doctor and the two of them conspired to have the Raja killed.

In the end, after 20+ years of legal wrangling, the Sadhu won the case and the property. However, two days after the final victory, he died of a stroke.

The case is revisited in the book "Princely Impostor?", by Partha Chatterjee, which I read last year. The book is fascinating if a tad too long, and after thorough research in archives in Dhaka, London and Calcutta, the author concludes that he cannot decide if the man who appeared after 12 years was indeed the Raja or an impostor.

Back to Joydebpur. The first stop was the RajBari. This has become a government office suite now, housing the District Commisioner's offices as well as various courts. Some parts of the building were locked because it was Friday, which is weekly holiday. But we were able to enter otherr parts and look around. Sadly this was the same building outside of which a suicide bomber killed several people in 2005.

The next stop was the Shoshan. When I saw it I thought it was a temple, because of the spires. As each Raja in the dynasty died, a his ashed were kept in a spot and a spire built around it. There were several spires, and the picture of one Raja (Ranendra Narayan Roy) was inside one of the spires. Overall the Shoshan was in a bad state of repair.

The final stop was Tutul's relative who lives in the Mondir of the King's sister. The family got this property as part of property exchange after Partition in 1947. This property had some beautiful tile work, nice external work, as well as beautiful wooden doors.

Lastly there was the Dighi (pond), with a Ghat that is now destroyed. The Ghat was Rani Shwarna Kumari's. A marble plaque announcing her name was still part of the old delapidated Ghat. It had pock marks from 1971, when Pakistani soldiers apparently went at it with their bayonets.

Many thanks to Tutul, Mukul, Zia and of course Mama for this encounter with a childhood fascination.

Now the pictures: First the palace courtyard.

This is the wing where the Rani lived:

Workmanship on the top floor of the Rajbari:

Platform on 2nd floor from which Raja spoke to subjects (on the ground floor)

Window of a room in the RajBari:

Spires of the Shoshan:

Picture of Raja Ranendra Narayan Roy inside the spire built around his ashes:

Tiles in the house that used to be Raja's sister's Mondir:

More tilework representing Krishna with Gopinis:

External work at the ex-Mondir:

Plaque on the Pukur Ghat:


Seth said...

I believe I have visited that house! It is in Uttar Chayabeethi? The first place I ever lived outside of Texas was Joydepbur, and I cannot tell you how I long to return.

Shamsuzzaman said...

My name Shamsuzzaman Tutul Ilived injoydebpur .I am very pleased to read your article ''On the grounds of Bhal Raja''.I am very much interested about histry.There are many other glorious things about Bhawal Raja, there was PilKhana(Elephent Yard),a very large Dighi(pond)in western side of Raj bari(Royal palace). Kali mondir at joydebpur bazar, Madhab mandir near Kazi Azimuddin collage.A very big pond near PilKhana named hatir pukur.An old Shib mondir for which the place colled Shib bari.Bhawal pargana was a renowned place in undivided India.I am very proud to live here.

imtiaz said...

dear shamsuzzaman, i also heard the bhawal story from my nani.i got a book at krishnanagar ,Nadia depicting ther trial reports of 3 judges of bhawal trial -and how fascinating the story is/.Later I read Partha chatterjee book.ilike to visit joydebpur once I go to Dacca Wher my maternal leaves.By the time good bye and Khoda Hafiz.
Can you send me some photographs of Madhab mandir ,Ramendra PIc?Where are the descendents of raja staying now/ My email no is

tutulzaman said...

Dear Imtiaz Bhai,
I sent a mail in your E mail ID ,If you got the mail please write your requarmet about Bhawal Raja , I may send some picture of Bhawal Raj Bari and other important places which is related with Bhawal Raja . Yes I heard about MR.PARTHA CHETTERJEE and his book " THE PRINCELY IMPOSTOR " which is published from QUINSTON UNIVERCITY . I saw its internet verson ,If you got the book please give me some idea about the book.
Thanks/ Allah Hafiz
HAJEE BAG CELL # 01922800314
BANGLADESH.12 .10.08

Anup said...

Hi,this is Anup haldar here,i would like to know more about Bhawal's King and his reign because my GREAT GRAND FATHER WAS THE NAYAB IN RAMENDRA NARAYAN RAY'S REIGN and his name was HEMCHANDRA HALDAR.Please tell me some more things about the King's Ministers and please send me some more pictures of joydebpur as well as Bhawal
My E-mail id is

Nasrin said...

I like your feature but you might give some more information, like who was Rani Swarna Kumari. If you answer it will very obliging.

Anonymous said...

hi all
I am writing from India,Can anyone tell me,who was last raj purohit in Bhawalrajbari (where durga pujo use to happen)After taken over by Britisher...probably was he Lookhi narayan bhattacharjee as he was my great grand father and use to tell story about bhawal..can anyone find and let me before partition he left Bangladesh....Mail me at-

BULLY_007 said...

my name is PROTEEK BHAWAL....a BHAWAL ofcourse......but I don't know much about my forefathers.
Neither my dad. So, I'll be very greatful to you if you please tell me more about my forefathers if you know the story exactly.....

please e-mailur post tome at:

please help I want to know actually who I am....!!!

rajishnu narayan said...

hii everyone,,, i realy like the way you have describe the history of bhawal raj estate in a perfectly short manner.....
4rm kumar Rajishnu narayan roy chowfhury.

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone. This is Bob, an American here from Connecticut, working with scientists at BARI to help train them in techniques in plant disease diagnosis. My host here, Monir, drove me on his motorbike through the wonderfully colorful streets of Joydepbur, through Gazipur bazar, and on to the Shoshan Ghat, which was fascinating to look at and learn a little about its history, through Monir's translations, from a group of local young men. We stopped for tea on the way back, everyone is so friendly and smiles so nicely. It's a lovely country.

Anonymous said...

If anyone survived after the "Shannashi" was his beloved wife Her Majesty The Queen Bibhaboti, who had no heir and His Majesty's sister and her family members. The Majesty's family left Gazipur/Joydebpur for India. There was a lawsuit filed by the family member of the Majesty in Calcutta, when Indian filmkares were trying to make a movie on the history of the "Shannashi" and the her majesty The Queen, depicting the true story (of course as much as it was possible). To show the respect and for the sake of the dignity of the His majesty's family, the court issued a stay order on this movie.

Most of the males born at the Raj family died prematurely, and the main cause of their death was "syphilis". Mr. Partha Chatterjee in his book, "The Princely Imposter" gave vivid information about the life style of the family.

I am sure someone of the His Majesty's family might respond to this blog.

Anonymous said...

What is the condition of the palace? Was it safe to walk around inside it?

Anonymous said...

The palace is now owned by the Government of Bangladesh. During my last visit to Joydevpur back in the early 80s, the palace was used by the office of the District Commissioner.

Puja Mandir and a a building, where the sister of the King once lived was occupied by a Muslim family migrated from India by swaping their properties in India with the sister of the king's family.

As usual, the palace is not well kept. And don't belive that there is anything called "Historical Preservation Act", both in Bangladesh and India.

Sukanta Chakravarty said...

Hi everybody. I am neither linked with the (In)famous state of Bhawal, nor do I descend from a princely lineage. But still since my childhood, i had an uncanny sense of curiosity over the case. Through the blog, I was sort of revisiting the history with all its shrewd and cruel twists and turns. More such postings are awated.One more thing: The hermit was indeed the dethroned king, otherwise the story is incomplete. History teaches us both the virtues and vices that human civilization is all about.
Thank you once again for the blog.

ulysses said...

Thanks Sukanta - glad you enjoy the blog.

Jaya said...

Is there any building near Rajbari which belonged to Dewan Abinash Mitra?He was my great grandpa and would like to visit the place with my mom who lived there in her young age.

Jaya said...

Anybody has any information about Anukul Mitra,Dewan of Bhawal Raja?

Monikornika Mukherjee said...

My in laws seem to be the descendants of the raj pori baar...from the sisters' side of course of shonnashi raja. Isn't that fascinating???

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Swaran Chowhan said...

thanks to all for your valuable information

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this nice post which is linked to my ancestor. Rabindra Bhowal

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Anonymous said...

My great grand father Late Shri DWARKANATH MUKHOPADHAYA(Mukherjee) was the RAJGURU of three SONS of RAJA RAJENDRANARAYAN ROY , Raja RAJENDRANARAYAN ROY was very much pleased with My Great Grandfather so gave him a small peace of land, where my Great grand father built his big house name was'HYSTERIA NIWAS'in DHAKA. . Offcourse an unique name of his house ,because he treated several patients suffering in HYSTERIA,(Mental / Psychological disorder)without taking any money. I like to see some photographs of Rajbari's Temple where my Great Grand Father used to visit .