Saturday, 29 November 2014



Basubati”, the palatial mansion of Nandalal and Pashupatinath Basu is an iconic landmark which still stands wearing a decrepit look. The year was 1874. The Basu family was Zamindars of Gaya. Mahendra Basu, the eldest son of Basu family inherited a large property from his uncle at Bagbazar. However, Mahendra could not enjoy his inheritance and died early, his two brothers- Nandalal Basu and Pashupatinath Basu build up the house with their inheritance after lying foundation in 19th October, 1876.

The first qualified Bengali engineer Nilmoni Mitra was employed by Basu family to design and build up the mansion. Nilmoni Mitra had built several remarkable mansions including the “Emerald Bower” (new location of Rabindrabharati University, formally Tagore House at B. T. Road) and Sadharan Bramho Samaj. He also redesigned the famous chariot of Mahesh which is used in the most celebrated Ratha Yatra festival of Bengal.

 However, Basu Bati was Mitra’s “magnum opus”. He builds up the huge mansion shifting away from the prevalent European style architecture. Instead his work seems to be inspired from the traditional Bengali style and Islamic pattern, the arches had distinctive Islamic flavor in them, while prevalence of lotus could be seen in different forms. He used highly decorative murals and reliefs using turquoise and amber paint work.  One hundred of paintings by famous painter Bamapada Mukherjee adorned the walls of Basu Bati. “Thakurdalan” of Basubati was very famous for its wall paintings, and relief work in plaster. This is perhaps one of the few examples where some Bengali motif and art are evident. This paintings are unmistakably, done by the chitrakars of Kalighat. This is mentioned in the “Ramkrishna Kathamrita”.


Joane Taylor describes the interiors of the house in this manner. The house once boasted of a gold ceiling, large chandeliers and twenty four feet high walls in the grand hall. A dancing room on the second floor included a stage, rows for chair for guests and a zenana on the upper level from where the ladies and children of the house could watch the activity below.” She also describes the room in details Although the carpets have long since gone, the room is comfortable with large ornately carved armchairs, marble side tables and statues and potted palms. Enormous oil paintings of the Basu’s ancestors line the room in gilt frames, a number of them painted by artist Bamapada Mukherjee.”

This residence has witnessed a number of historic events. Nandalal Basu was very religious. It is because of him Sri Ramkrishna and many other spiritual persons visited this house. S. N. Banerjee addressed an assembly of activists against the partition of Bengal. Rabindranath Tagore and Surendranath Banerjee visited the house often to hold meetings in the central courtyard. Swami Vivekananda apparently received his first civil reception after coming back from the Chicago conference at the “Basubati”. Rabindranath Tagore, too has used the mansion as a platform to call for strengthening the amity between Hindus and Muslims.

In the history of  Swadeshi Movement , Basubati fills up a significant part. The formation of the Swaraja Party took place here under the leadership of  Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das. The first Swadeshi Mela inaugurated by Kasturba Gandhi was held in this building. The famous student’s conference in which Anti-imperialistic slogans were raised aloud was held in the adjoining ground of the Basubati in 1931.The Boses gave shelter to the revolutionaries and arms and ammunitions which were later confiscated by British Police.


Kolkata’s grand colonial era architecture that has for decades been in a state of decay, this is especially true of North Kolkata, which is known for its old 19th Century homes that were once opulent residences of zamindars and industrialists. Most of the homes are enormous mansions that would be tough to maintain by anyone but the super rich. The families that continue to inhabit the houses are clearly barely able to do so, which is why the houses are in various stages of dereliction.

At the Shobhabazar ferry jetty look up at the glorious but derelict mansion that dominates the river bend. “Putul Bari’s ornate terrace juts out into the sky, wich a clutch of dancing figurines. Inside, the two top floors are held up by Corinthian columns surrounding a charming inner courtyard.  We were stood mesmerized at the middle of the courtyard, concentrated on the intricately designed figurines perched on the columns. Although the elaborate stucco and plaster fallen to the ravages of time, we could recognize almost all the members of the Hindu pantheon from amid thick layers of moss.

Makhan Lal Natta, an old man who owns a more than the 140-year old Natta Company (Natta Company has been a leading exponent of Jatra- a Bengali folk theatre form) acquired the property  in 1978 and now the third floor of this grand mansion doubles as his office. The rest of the rooms are occupied by tenants.

It is hard to believe that this magnificent building which served as a shooting location for Roland Joffe’s “City of Joy” and which Desmond Doig tagged as “a perfect example of Calcutta rococo” was built as a warehouse. Hence several warehouses were build in this area to store imported goods. But why such an elaborately decorated structure for a warehouse?  Well, the answer is surely lost in the mists of time.

Mallick’s of Pathuriaghata.

Before the advent of the British, there were already many well established, erudite families in Kolkata with flourishing business. They traded in gold silver, silk, cotton, salt. Or were involved in shipping, transport etc. When the British started taking over in the mid eighteenth century, these families used the situation to their advantage. They joined hands with them and entered their services as “munshis”(teachers), “banians”, officials or commissioners. They employed British architects to build large mansions, mimicking antique Doric, Iconic, Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque styles among many others. An outer façade of polished plaster made from lime of burnt shells, decorative tiles and murals, an inner courtyard with a “thakur dalan” (permanent place for the worship of the family deity) characterized these houses. The inner courtyard was surrounded by colonnaded balconies office at one end rooms for entertaining at the other. The family quarters were upstairs, again along the balconies.

Mallick family had come into prominence during the seventeenth century. Rajaram Mullick shifted from Kolkata from Triveni. His great grandson Nimaicharan invested in salt trade and real estate business and in the process brought his family into the political and social circles. At the time of his death he left over three crores in his will.  A fascinating legend is connected to this family. Rajaram’s ancestor Baidyanath Dey Mallick climbed to the top of Chandranath mountain to find a betweel idol of Durga (Maa Singabahini). The priest of the temple gifted it to him and he brought it down with him to Triveni and it was later brought to Kolkata. The family adopted the goddess as their family deity. Many years later, in 1883, when Ramkrishna visited the family he was enamored by the goddess and immediately entered a deep reverie.

Three large structures have already come up next to this building; one of them is the Barrabazar Branch of Metropolitan School, established in 1887. Jadulal Mallick had numerous contributions in social and law spheres. At one time he donated enormously to the Oriental Seminary from where he passed entrance, school leaving examination. Jadulal Mallick has a road named after him in the area. His son, Manmathanath Mallick bought a pair of zebras from Alipore Zoological gardens to pull his carriage through the streets of Kolkata. One of the poor creatures died soon after, yet he persisted. He even got his carriage painted in Zebra colors’. He had nine types of carriages and a stable full of horses.

One of the grandsons of Jadunath Mallick, Pradyunno Kumar Mallick had 35 cars; out of which 10 are were Rolls Royce. The Mallicks have contributed enormously for charitable purposes. The courtyard of Jadulal Mallick’s house has intricate cast iron works, one of the finest in Kolkata.

Sources: 1. “The Forgotten Palaces of Calcutta” by Joanne Taylor.
                2. “Glory dreams of Kolkata’s Rajbaries” by Namrata Acharya-Business Standard.
                3. “Past Glory of Bengal” by Rudrashu Mukherjee.
                4. “Bonedi Kolkatar Gharbari” by Debashish Bandopadhyay.
                5.  Blog by Amitava Gupta, under the title “Ruined heritage of a gloried past”.
                6. The Telegraph. 30th.October, 2013.
                7.  “Calcutta : An artist's Impression ” by Desmond Doig.
                8.  "Calcutta in urban history” by Pradip Sinha

   Research  -Santanu Roy.
   Picture Courtesy - Sudip Ghosh.        

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