February 04, 2010

The Notorious Cannon by the Hazarduari Palace, Murshidabad

The Bagirathi flows barely fifty metres away, hidden from view behind the Yellow Masjid along the embankment to the west of the Hazarduari Palace in Murshidabad, the erstwhile capital of undivided Bengal in the 1700s.

Hazarduari is native for Thousand Doors. Of the thousand doors built into the palace, only nine hundred are said to be real, the rest, false doors.

I’m drawn to the lone white horse grazing in the lawns near the Imambara to the north of the Hazarduari Palace. Tethered to a rope it meanders in the short grass in what is otherwise a well maintained lawn separating the Hazarduari Palace from the freshly whitewashed Imambara, a massive structure leant relief by windows painted green. Workers are busy on the Imambara façade when I walk through the gate of the historic complex one early winter morning last year. The Sun is yet to break through the clouds even though it is well past the time even for a winter morning.

In the distance, the Imambara streaks the green of the vast lawn to the melancholy melody of Bengal history, at once glorious and bloody. The white horse has wandered further. A black goat now grazes along the façade of the Imambara that runs along close to 700 feet, parallel to the Hazarduari Palace to the south.

I walk in the direction of the horse and the Imambara, passing the Madina Mosque along the way, the only remnant of Siraj-Ud-Daulah’s original Imambara that accidentally burned down during a fireworks display before the new one was built in 1847 under the supervision of Sadeq Ali Khan in the reign of the Nawab Nazim Mansoor Ali Khan Feradun Jah, the son of Nawab Nazim Humayun Jah.

It was in the reign of Humayun Jah, a descendent of Mir Jaffer, the betrayer of Siraj-Ud-Daulah at the Battle of Plassey in 1757, that Duncan McLeod designed and executed the construction of the Hazarduari Palace in 1837.

By then the British were firmly in the saddle, the Nawab Nazim subject to the pleasure of his British overlords.

Families, college students, school children in uniform, rural youth, and couples among others crowd the approach to the Hazarduari Palace, its magnificent edifice reached by a sweeping staircase said to be among the largest in India, dwarfing the gathering crowd of visitors queuing up to tour it. Eight years in the making it is now the most visible landmark in all of Murshidabad, and probably the best maintained and secured.

Past the stately clock tower (Gharighar) designed by Sagor Mistri, part of Duncan McLeod’s team that built the Palace, I leave the four masonry lions in mid-leap adorning the four corners of the roof supporting the column bearing the clock behind as I turn off the cemented approach to the Palace and onto the grounds where the old Madina Mosque and a cannon stand. The Madina Mosque is home to a replica of Hazrat Muhammed’s tomb at Madina, hence the name.

I’m curious of the cannon. Cannons displayed prominently usually have a history to them. A local youth selling Murshidabad picture post-cards and poorly printed guidebooks illustrating locations of tourist interest within Murshidabad had enthusiastically pointed me to the cannon facing the Imambara when I asked him for directions to Bacchawali Tope.

Woh dekho, wahan hai,” he had replied, pointing to the cannon resting on a masonry platform by the old Madina. The white horse grazed in the vicinity of the ancient cannon pointing at the Imambara.

A group of four, two adults and two children not older than twelve years, lounged in the shade of the Madina, leaning against the iron enclosure while lighting up cigarettes. The two kids showed much enthusiasm lighting up while the accompanying adults condoned and indulged their enthusiasm in passing what they must believe is a necessary rite of passage into adulthood. When I looked their way the two adults moved away, smiling sheepishly.

The Bachchawali Tope got its name from the havoc it caused with pregnant women in Murshidabad on being fired, resulting in premature deliveries of babies, the blast was so great, reverberating across the settlement. It was never fired again. I wonder if its notoriety was one reason why it fell silent. Tope is native for cannon while Bachcha is native for child.

I find old cannons fascinating, and having seen a few on my travels I was nevertheless surprised to see the Bacchawali cannon fashioned from two distinct parts, the shorter portion the chamber, the larger one the barrel. The design is a departure from the cannons I had seen before, made of one single unit with the chamber and the barrel indistinguishable on the outside, with the Cascable ending prominently in a knob.

The Bachchawali cannon’s cascable does not have the distinctive knob common to most cannons. Other distinctive features are the rings on the barrel, indicating cross sections bound together to make the barrel. The chamber portion is however devoid of these rings. From the outside it appears the chamber could be separated from the barrel. The size of the chamber indicates capacity for a large charge of gunpowder, estimated to be 18 kilos for a single charge. I can well imagine the blast waves resulting from its firing.

The cannon is about sixteen feet long, possibly more, both parts included, its origins approximated to 12th - 14th century A.D.

I walk over to the muzzle face and peer into the large bore, easily over a foot wide. The opening is half filled with mud and torn entry tickets issued at the counter at the gate.

I step away from the cannon, easily among the favoured sights in the Hazarduari Palace complex. Visitors having toured the Palace now stream steadily to the cannon, fascinated as much by its size as by its import, a great piece of artillery that evokes imagery of battlefields centuries ago. There’s much to imagine when peering into the muzzle of a cannon that last fired centuries ago.

The romance of history secures cannons their immortality on the first page itself.

Meanwhile a caretaker rushes the black goat to chase it outside the gate. It had not occurred to me that the goat might have crashed the party without a ticket. The ease with which it negotiated the lawns, munching away on the grass, indicated it was no first time visitor. The caretaker was smiling away as he rushed it with little more than sharp cries.

Apparently the black goat had not walked in alone. Its partner in crime, a ginger streaked rebel and the more daring of the two was wreaking havoc among unsuspecting souls, for while the black goat grazed peacefully on grass its partner sought the easier albeit daring route, stealth-charging a family bunched together in a group near the Madina Mosque.

While they were distracted by my pointing the camera in their direction the ginger streaked rebel made its way among them before chomping away at the food they had carried along on their outing that morning. If you look closely in the picture above you will see its tail sticking out from amidst the visiting group in the vicinity of footwear on the ground.

Soon enough, surprised and startled, screams rent the air even as the black goat came rushing past, chased by the caretaker bellowing loudly. The ginger streaked goat followed suit in the commotion of women and screaming children startled at discovering its presence in their midst and the caretaker hot on the heels of the scampering black goat.

Later I found the ginger streaked rebel meandering in the lane outside the gate to the north-west of the Palace. The black goat was nowhere to be seen. Puris stacked high in a glass case in the pani puri cart in front of the Yellow Masjid on the embankment of the Bagirathi was a challenge too many for the enterprising goat as it went about seeking the next gullible victim to raid unawares. I almost felt sorry for its predicament.

I could almost sense its disappointment at being chased out the gate in so unceremonious a manner. The very indignity of it!

The Yellow Mosque was fenced off with a board on the gate announcing in English and Bangla – Non Namazies Are Not Allowed.

I would assume it to include the marauding goat as well.


Anjuli said...

Once again you have transported me away to a wonderful place- via your words and your pictures. I found myself wishing the narrative would not end. You had me smiling with the goat's escapade- I looked at the pictures several times...wanting to capture every detail.

Thank you for another splendid post!

Serendipity said...

:) Nice post ..where is this place?

bobbie said...

An amusing tale of the goats!

That is quite a cannon! And I am curious as to why it was so important to have so many doors in the palace. But my favorite is the beautiful clock tower.

Anil P said...

Anjuli: An absolute pleasure to learn you enjoyed reading this post.

The early history of Bengal is fascinating. Murshidabad was the last independent capital of undivided Bengal.

The two goats were an enterprising lot, especially the ginger-streaked one.

Actually there's a Bakrigalli in Murshidabad as well.

Serendipity: Thank you. As mentioned in the post - in Murshidabad, West Bengal.

Bobbie: Thank you. It's a formidable cannon, high calibre, and easily over 800 years old.

I'm not sure why the Palace needed so many doors other than because it is so big to begin with.

A good question. I suspect the false doors were added to bring the tally to a thousand doors, even then the 900-odd real doors will be a difficult maze to negtiate.

The clock tower or Gharighar is off the paved entrance from the gate to the Palace.

Ghari is native for Clock or Watch, Ghar is Hindi for house / home.

kenju said...

Such a gorgeous building! I love the title of the post too; many names from the Indian continent are so romantic sounding to me. I suspect I'd be disillusioned if I found out their meanings. Anil, you are a wonderful writer.

Riot Kitty said...

I love your pictures and narratives!

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Nice pics and write up. some additional info like where is this place would have been helpful

Anil P said...

Kenju: The Hazarduari Palace is massive, and hosts as display part of the armoury from the times of the Nawabs of Bengal, in addition to rare paintings by European Masters, and other artifacts used by the Nawabs.

Indian names change from region to region in terms of pronounciation. The naming will differ from say Tamil Nadu in the South to states in the West of India, or say, Central India, North India, the North-East India.

This is partly because of the phonetics associated to languages in use in the said regions.

Always a pleasure to learn you enjoy reading my travel narratives.

Riot Kitty: Thank you :-)

Srinedhi Hande: Thank you for the sugegstion.

The information of where this place is located is woven in the narrative since I usually avoid stating the information separately as in guide books.

VioletSky said...

If I ever make it to India will you be my tour guide?
Your stories are mesmerizing.

radha said...

What a wonderful way to describe the place. I wish you were given the task of re-writing all the history text books. It would create an interest among the children, who otherwise have to read the dreary books and listen to the drone of the history teacher.

Anil P said...

Violet Sky: Sure, why not. If I've time on my hands and the season is right, I might be able to show you a place or two. Thank you.

Radha: Thank you. I'm smiling away reading your comment. It made me happy.

The history books sure need re-writing, and more importantly need history tours to complement the academics part of learning.

And I did see one such school tour on the steps of the Hazarduari Palace, close to 50 high school students in school uniform seated on the steps while their teacher (I assume so), his ponytail tied neatly, face them like a conductor at an Opera and narrate the history of the place, pointing to the Imambara, the cannon, and the Palace.

It was in a language I did not understand, probably Bangla / Bengali.

This might be a rare one-off, but needs to be a mandatory.

Mridula said...

Anil the place look so beautiful through your lens.

Unknown said...

Nice pictures and explanation, tks for all the infor :) Have a happy weekend.

kestrel said...

I think the stately clock tower is really majestic. The canons did not look like canons at all and I would not have know if you did not explain, rustic but hugh. It always amazes me that the goats and horses are freely wandering around. Over here, we get excited if we see a cow, goat or chicken.

Lucy said...

I like the picture of the green window and the black goat, and the colours of the family's clothes against the white building.

The cannon is amazing - rather terrifying to think of it being used to fire enormous charges, it looks altogether too clumsy!

A lovely account as ever.

Anil P said...

Mridula: Thank you.

M.Kate: Thank you.

Kestrel: The cannon displayed is not mounted on a carriage like they would be as a part of the field artillery unit. This one is very old, about 800 years they estimate, and lacks the typical single unit finished feel usually seen of cannons.

It is a big, big cannon.

It's a normal feature, cattle roaming around, brings so much sanity to a place which would otherwise be crowded with people. The horse was tethered so I believe it "belongs" in the complex, perhaps for use in ceremonies, I'm not certain though.

Lucy: Thank you. The charges used to fire it are enormous.

Feather Gold said...

Anil, this post is pretty awesome. I can't describe how this made me feel, it was like part reading a children's book with beautiful pictures accompanying the story and part being transported to the actual place. Magical and lovely writing.

And thank you for stopping by!

Anil P said...

Feather Gold: Thank you. There's ample magic in the air around Murshidabad.

Kate said...

Much of my reaction to your posts are the same as your commentators... delightful, intriguing and informative. Thank you for taking the time to write like this!

Only one small question: what is a 'Namazie' or 'Namazy'?

Anil P said...

Katherine: Thank you.

Namazies are those who come to the mosque to offer prayers or Namaz. Devout Muslims rarely miss out on offering Namaz at masjids.

The board on the gate of the Yellow Mosque forbids entrance to those who do not intend to offer Namaz.

I think it might've have been meant for non-muslims, though I'm not sure if it also meant to include Muslims who might want to visit it but not to offer Namaz.

TALON said...

That palace is something else! All those doors - what an interesting design!

I love the photo of the horse and the black goat grazing together.

That cannon is huge! I can't begin to imagine the size of cannon balls that would fire out of something that large in diameter!

Goats - they are so cute and so darned clever!

Great writing, Anil, and beautiful photographs. I felt like I was with you on your journey!

Amber Star said...

Anil P. I must discuss this with you right now. Duncan MacCleod built the buildings. I don't know if you have heard of the Western movie, western as in not eastern or Indian, but about a man who came to earth from another planet and there could only be one.

"In 1986 fantasy/action thriller has since spawned two sequels, a popular syndicated TV series, numerous comic-book spinoffs, and a loyal (if somewhat oddly obsessive) following of fans. Directed by music video veteran Russell Mulcahy (which explains the dizzying camera work), the original theatrical release made hash of an intriguing story about an "Immortal" from 16th-century Scotland (Christopher Lambert) who time-leaps to modern-day America with his archenemy (Clancy Brown) in hot pursuit. It becomes a battle to the death (yes, Immortals can die), and Lambert seeks survival training from an Immortal mentor played by Sean Connery. Dazzling, energetic, and altogether confusing in its original form, the film has since been released on video, laserdisc, and DVD in this revised widescreen "director's cut," with additional footage, director and producers' commentary, a photo and artwork archive, the original trailer, and an official time line of the film's evolution from script to screen. A must for Highlander fans ... and you know who you are! --Jeff Shannon" I am one of those oddly obssesive fans of the stories.

It did a double take when I saw the name in your text and on the sign. Duncan MacCleod in the movies and tv series could not be killed except by someone from his home planet and then the death had to be by beheading. Therefore our "hero" lived many ages looking exactly as he did when he came. Which in the case of Adrian Paul was very handsome with Chritopher Lambert....not quite so much. Here are some links about the movie and the tv series.

What a beautiful palace. Well, all of it is beautiful but the first part of the 1,000 doors is of a western style. Like many of the mansions and manor homes in England....well, you know...Duncan McCleod had his influence in there.

The horse and goat are interesting. I thought goats would eat the grass down to the roots and it wouldn't come back, but that must be sheep. I looked and Maryland, a state in the US, uses goats to keep their capitol grounds trimmed. The funniest part of your post was the ginger goat in amongst the family. Can you imagine the pandemonium when the goat took off...well, I guess you would, since you were there. What a shock for the family.

I guess the white building with the green trim is a mosque? It is a pleasing building, but it does resemble a train station. Pay no attention to me...I'm goofy tonight.

The saffron color of the clock tower is beautiful. Is that from the setting sun or is it just that color all the time?

Having gone through a great deal of anguish to give up smoking it saddens me that the children have started. It will be three years in April since I quit and still every now and then I really would love a smoke. I don't. I know I am one cigarette away from a pack a day again, plus I'd have to clean everything again and then have to go through the darn withdrawal again. It just isn't worth it.

You are right...that is a biggo cannon. I'm glad they never fired it again. I wish they would all stop.

The part about the ginger streaked goat tickled me and I laughed. My family probably thinks I'm crazy in here laughing all alone.

Now I've written you a book of a post. Sorry it is so long, but it had been a long time since I've visited and I chattered like a monkey tonight.

Really...Duncan MacCleod...oh my! Perfect end to a wonderful day. I just love coming here...I learn something new everytime.

am said...

"The future you trace in the sands of time,
Will tempt the waves into washing over it.
Instead, let the ocean embrace you,
And I will show you how to ride the waves of life itself."

I like your writing and your photographs and this poem of yours that I found as I scrolled down the page in wonder. Will visit again. Thank you for your encouragement for my job search.

Kind wishes,

Krystyn @ Really, Are You Serious? said...

You write so beautifully...it's like we are there.

And, there is something about that green shutter with the goat. It's fascinating to me.

Shyamanga said...

As usual, another beautiful read embellished by snappy visuals.

Which camera do you use? Planning to get myself one? What do you suggest for a not-so-amuter?

What About The Girl? said...

You are undeniably a brilliant storyteller! These pictures are a collection of historic and/or travel photos! Remarkable!

E said...

The little goat! It's as if I was there with you. Wonderful post :)

neha said...

Stunning photos! Especially love the one with the goat and the green window.

Anil P said...

Talon: The cannon balls powered by the large charge must pack quite a punch. Thank you.

Amber Star: I hadn't heard of the movie you mentioned. The plot seems action packed.

Duncan McLeod was the architect. He brought in the Italian style, and for a moment Greek Doric flashed in my mind, what with the sweeping staircase ending in a pillared terrace, and up more floors.

I saw more folks in West Bengal (Calcutta and Murshidabad actually) smoking than anywhere else I've been in India. And like you rightly said, it takes one cigarette to return to the habit, best to resist the urge to smoke.

In Muslim majority areas in India, goats are a common sight.

Am: Thank you. Glad you liked my short picture poem. At times, out on my feet and travelling about, thoughts express as verse.

Krystyn: Thank you. The contrast between the green of the shutter, the white of the Imambara, and the jet black of the goat, the only animate element in the picture can lend well to the composition of the picture.

Shyamanga: Thank you.

I use a Nikon D80 fitted with a Nikkor 24-105 mm lens. Earier I used a Tamron 28-300 mm lens with the D80.

I've only used Nikon, so I would suggest a Nikon, a Nikon D40 or a Nikon D40x should do fine as well. Focus on getting a good lens. Optics will matter more than the camera body.

The Nikon D80 has not given me any problems until now.

TGF Cherry Blossom Street: Thank you :-) This made my day.

The pictures will hopefully document India as widely as possible. This is not even a scratch on the surface of what India has to offer a traveller. Much more remains to be done.

Elizabeth: Thank you.

Neha: Thank you.

Sarah Laurence said...

Thanks for the tour. I loved the goat images – the pictures are well composed and surreal. It's such an odd combination to my western eyes: livestock and classic architecture.

Anil P said...

Sarah Laurence: Yes, I can well imagine the unusual contrast that livestock present when juxtaposed with classic architecture.

There's much Mughal or should I say Islamic architecture to be found in Murshidabad since the Nawabs started out as vassals of the Mughals. While the city (more of a town actually) has fallen from glory from its Nawab ruled days, the descendants of the Nawabs of Bengal, for there were many successions to the throne, and so also many of the descendants of the courtiers in the court of the Nawabs still continue to live in accomodation passed on from generation to generation.

Moreover, even after the Nawabs lost their political power they were not hounded out of Murshidabad, at least not all of them, as usually happens when power changes hands, and so continued as symbolic figures, retaining presence in Murshidabad.

Goats I can understand. They're usually to be found in areas with Muslim presence, at least this is the case in India. The horse I am not so sure, but possibly it might belong to someone owning a tonga (a horse transport) to ferry tourists around.

Muharram is when the streets in Murshidabad come alive. I was told by workers busy with the Imambara facade that it is thrown open during the Muharram celebrations. I wonder if horses are used then as a part of the celebrations. But more likely it is part of a tonga.

indicaspecies said...

You have a unique way of narrating stories and I like it.

Anil P said...

Indicaspecies: Thank you.

Alpana Verma said...

Hi Anil,
while searching for images of hazardwari palace,I landed here on your beautiful blog.
I read few of your posts they are really great!
This post is really very well written,specially pictures are great!

Anil ,If you have no objection ,i would like to get two pictures for a post in hindi [which i am writing on same palace].
1-one picture of canon
2-one picture of board showing history.
If you have any objection ,please let me know,Post will be published on monday morning.

-I am writing in hindi about important places of attraction in india ,because such matter is very very less available in hindi on web.
hoping you for your co-operation.


Anil P said...

Alpana Varma: Hello Alpana. Thank you for your kind comments about my writing and pictures.

Nice to know of your effort.

I'm okay with your using the two pictures you requested for use in your post if you are fine with providing a link on your post to the source (the main url or the post of the url) here.

Alpana Verma said...

Thanks Anil for your Co-Operation.
Yea I gave link of this post .
You may please check it tomorrow at this site.

Thanks ,

Anil P said...

Alpana Varma: Thank you for informing. I'll have a look at the link.