Resting places of the Nawabs
Our visit to Murshidabad was like paying tribute to the city, and remembering the wonderful times when it was a thriving place, full of riches and fine buildings
The Nawabs of Bengal were once powerful, wealthy and influential. Their tales of luxury still amaze readers across the world.
They faced a tragic end when the British toppled them, but the stories of their glorious and somewhat tainted past are scattered across India.
We visited Murshidabad in West Bengal, India where lies the family burial place of Nawab Alivardi Khan.
He created the Khushbagh (garden of happiness) near the banks of the River Bhagirathi. The garden was one of the finest in the region, with almost 108 species of roses in it. It was so dear to him that he asked to be buried in it.
From Murshidabad you can visit Khushbagh in two ways, you can either cross the river by boat and then hire an auto-rickshaw, or you can go across the new bridge on an auto-rickshaw which will take more time and will cost more.
Early one morning we took the regular ferryboat across the river. We had a delicious spicy breakfast at a place near the dock and then got on a reserved auto rickshaw that cost about 50 rupees.
Within a few minutes we reached Khushbagh. It is far more beautiful in real life that it is in pictures.
It is a big garden divide into several architectural styles where blooming flowers and foliage reign.
The place looks and feels out of the world where you can only hear the birds chirping and leaves rustling.
Out of the thirty-four people buried in Khushbagh, thirty-two were killed. Only Alivardi Khan and Siraj ud-Daulah's wife Lutfa died naturally, whispered the gardener to us.
There is no fixed fee for a guide. The caretaker or the gardener usually show tourists around, and they are happy to get 30 or 50 Rupees for their effort.
The history of Khushbagh does not paint a rosy picture. After Alivardi's death, his son-in-law Siraj became the Nawab. In 1757, he lost the battle of Plassey to the British mainly because of betrayal by his commander Mir Jafar.
Siraj, his family members and loyal friends were all killed, and were all buried here in Khushbagh.
The guide took us to all the graves including those of Mir Madan, Amina (Siraj's mother) and Ghoseti Begum (Siraj's traitor aunt, one of the main characters behind the mass murder).
In the middle of the garden, under a beautifully carved structure, covered in black stone, is the grave of Alivardi Khan. It is the largest grave in Khushbagh. The other graves are covered with cement and white stones.
Only one grave has an epitaph written in Persian, and this was also the only one covered in fresh rose petals.
This is the grave of Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah, the last independent Nawab of Bangla, Bihar and Odissa. After his demise, the British colonial era of darkness began.
When he was killed, he was only 24 years old.
Behind him is the grave of his brother, and at his feet are two graves, one of his wife Lutfa and the other of his lover whom he named Aleya.
There is a beautiful ancient mosque in the garden where Nawab Alivardi used to pray.
Just by the main entrance there is a small house where Lutfa was allowed to live and pray at her husband's grave until she died.
This arrangement was made by Miron, the son of Mir Jafar, one of the main characters behind Siraj's killing.
From the garden of happiness we went to Namak Haram Deuri, the door of betrayal.
This was Mir Jafar's palace where Nawab Siraj was killed. There is a giant entrance where we stopped to take pictures, but the guard was unhappy about it. He kept saying that the owner does not like tourists taking pictures.
Out of sheer curiosity we asked the guard about the owner, and his prompt reply was, "Of course the descendant of Mir Jafar Ali Khan!"
We immediately understood why Mir Jafar Ali's descendant did not like Bengalis!
Next to the house is Jafarganj cemetery, the family graveyard of Mir Jafar, where he and his next few generations are buried in a row.
Interestingly, other than the family members and servants, some of Miron's pets, one pigeon and one falcon (some say a pair of pigeons called Heera and Panna) are also buried here.
The caretaker of the graveyard informed us that all the women are buried inside the walled area, as their purdah continued even after death.
Miron himself is not buried here. His grave is in Bihar where he died after being hit by lightning.
Contrary to popular belief, Mir Jafar and his descendants are not as hated in Murshidabad as they are in Bangladesh. Here, somehow people do not treat Siraj or Mir Jafar differently as both were rulers of Bengal.
Next, we went to see the grave of Murshid Quli Khan, the founder of Murshidabad.
He was born a Hindu Brahmin, but later converted to Islam.
It is said that Murshid Quli Khan heavily regretted his wrongdoings, so he wanted to be buried in a unique way so that passersby could trample on his grave and the dirt from their feet would purify his disturbed soul.
So there he is, since 1727, under the stairs of the renowned Katra mosque, which most visitors never notice. Murshid Quli Khan also built a Hindu temple in the mosque complex.
Our visit to Murshidabad was like paying tribute to the city, and remembering the wonderful times when it was a thriving place, full of riches and fine buildings.
Everything may be gone now, but the wind still blows the same way here as it used to 300 years ago.