Kathgola, (also known as Katgola) Gardens, in Bengali Kathgola Bagan, is a debutter (private religious trust ) Estate dedicated to the Jaina tirthankara Adinatha. It is located about half a km South-East of Mahimapur (modern Nashipur), a town in West Bengal, India just north of Murshidabad, the capital of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa during the reign of the Nawabs of Murshidabad. If you start from Murshidabad’s Chawk Bazar, proceed north to the Nashipur Rajbari, then turn East to arrive at the Garden (Bagan) complex.
Formally named “Chatter Bagh,” presumably after the profusion of elevated domes or chattris that, in a nod to the Rajput origins of the founder, are a dominant feature of the architecture, the Estate is now universally known as Kathgola (Kath=wood, gola=warehouse), a reference to the lumberyard that stood on the land before it was acquired for its current use. Originally built as a convenient place to host Europeans and Muslims whom the then-prevalent parda system precluded the owner from inviting to his family seat (Kuthi) at Jiaganj, the subsequent repurposing of the Gardens and their history since mirrors the evolution of Indian society over the past century and a half.
Overall Architectural Ethos
The Palace and Gardens spread over an area of 45 acres. The main Palace is a magnificently eclectic structure with huge Corinthian pillars married seamlessly with other Greek, Italian, Rajasthani, Mughal and Bengali architectural elements that speak to the myriad of influences sweeping the Indian sensibility around the times of its design and construction.
The interiors of the Palace and temple consist of magnificent Italian marble, intricate mosaic and tile work, Bengal lime works, polished pillars of sea-shell lime, wooden carvings etc. The entire palace is replete with chandeliers, period furniture, Italian marble and alabaster artifacts, huge Belgian mirrors and glass, artifacts of porcelain and marble, important and beautiful oil and water color paintings, portraits etc. The furniture is largely rose wood together with pieces in other rare and valuable woods.
The gardens historically were decorated with a profusion of Italian marble statuary and furniture, stone and alabaster carvings and artifacts depicting different kinds of fish, amazingly lifelike marble and porcelain flower-stands, intricately carved Mirzapuri stone structures, terracotta pieces, cast iron chairs and pillars, etc. Much of this treasure trove has been damaged or lost due to the ravages of time, inadequate maintenance budgets, petty crime and outright local vandalism, especially during the Naxalite era.
Adinath Temple and Dadabari
The Adinatha Temple or Mandir, dedicated to the first Jain tirthankara or preceptor, Lord Rishabha, hence Adinatha or Adishvar (Adi=first + natha or isvar=Lord), is the focal point of the estate. The marble image of Lord Adinatha sitting in the padmasana (Lotus) posture is reputed to be over 900 years old with its Anjanshala having been done by one of the greatest Jain teachers, the Karataragacch Acharya JinaDutta Suri (1075-1154) himself to whom Laxmipat Singh had unparalleled devotion and attachment, and to whose blessings he attributed his survival through various banking crises and his ultimate success and prosperity. There are 17 other images of Jain Tithankaras and other deities.
The architecture of the temple is distinctive in that it wraps a European bungalow-style facade around a traditional Jain interior. The interior is lavishly and sumptuously decorated with extremely fine traditional Bengali plaster-work (“chun-surkhi kaaj”) as well as Rajasthani/Mughal motifs. Famous for its intricate terracotta murals, seashell lime polished columns and unique patterns of mosaic flooring, the doors of the temple were covered in living memory with silver and gold sheets.
The Dada Bari. A structure devoted to the veneration of the aforementioned Dadaguru Jinadutta Suriji Maharaj, the dadabari contains a pair of Charans of Guru Maharaj, and was built at the same time as the main temple. Held to be a deeply auspicious religious site, the psychological resonance of this modest-looking structure emanates from the tale of how Dadguru Jinadutta Surji helped Laxmipat Singh survived one of the most important crises faced by the family bank.Sorely beset by the threat of bankruptcy when presented with a run on his bank in the form of a deluge of sizable hundis (sight or demand bills of exchange), a run wagging tongues attributed to the orchestrations of his business rivals and enemies, Laxmipat Singh went into a meditative trance in which Jinadutta Suri appeared to him and directed him to seek the assistance of a prominent Calcutta banker.That timely assistance, publicly delivered in the form of “16 oxcarts of gold bullion,” dispatched to Laxmipat Singh’s mansion in Jiaganj which was both his family seat and the site of his bank, saved the honor of the house of Budh Singh Pratap Singh and the credit-worthiness of the family bank. For this deliverance, Laxmipat Singh was eternally grateful to Dadaguru (and to his savior banker to whom he offered all of his zamindaris in gratitude but who was graciously content to take only one, nominal deed). Thereafter, whenever and wherever called for, Laxmipat Singh gave all credit to the Dadaguru and lavished upon the memory of his saviour whatever he could offer.
The Idol of Hanumanji. This image of Hanuman miraculously appeared from below the ground which it had lain buried seemingly for ages.
Initially intended as a garden house (in Bengali, baganbari) wherein the founder could retire with friends, retainers and the occasional visiting dignitary or the endless stream of British officials who needed care and cultivation, to enjoy the finer aspects of the life bacchanalian, the largest and dominant structure on the estate is the three storied structure referred to as the Kathgola Palace. The ground floor comprises a central drawing room, surrounded by a study/library, a billiard room, a dining room, and a bedroom. On all four sides, generous porches allow for cross ventilation and the pools East and West of the structure as well as the baoli to the North provide natural air-conditioning 1870s style. The first floor comprises a central hall with two bedrooms, a music parlor and a family room furnished in the Indian style at each corner of structure and porches all around. The second floor contains a bedroom and a private sitting room that offer superb views of the surrounding countryside from a perch roughly sixty feet above ground level.
The richly ornamented facade of the structure is dominated by the approximately 50 foot high Corinthian pillars that rise from the carriage porch to a total height of some 75 feet. Roughly southeast of the Palace lay a smaller (now lost) structure that housed the family quarters (the janani chowk or women’s quadrangle). To the north west of the Palace (north of the facing pond and directly west of the baoli), lay a menagerie (Bengali, chirikhana) and to the south west (south of the pond) are the remains of the kitchen (rasoda). While the facades remain, the interiors of the menagerie and kitchen are lost. The scale of the kitchen, however, gives a sense of the scale of entertaining contemplated.
Furnished, among other means, by the simple expedient of shipping to Murshidabad, by carriage and cart, some time in 1870s, the entire contents of Ostler and Co.’s Calcutta showroom—acquired, reputedly in a single transaction for the then sum of Rs 150,000 (conservatively, at the devalued 1876 rupee to GBP exchange rate, GBP 13,300 at 21.625 pence to the rupee, 1876 USD 87,000, 2011 economic status value GBP 8.5 million, USD 23.5 million) — the interior rivaled those of the finest royal residences of the epoch. Given its scale and the quality of the construction throughout the estate, the lavish accouterments, the cost of the gardens, orchards, structures and statuary, wells, ponds, walkways, follies as well as the temple and its endowments. a conservative estimate of the overall cost of construction of the estate would have to be an order of magnitude greater. [Informed estimates of construction costs needed.]
Other notable structures
Among the other notable structures in the gardens are the imposing entryway which incorporates European and Rajasthani decorative elements into the basic archetype of a “Naubatkhana,” a band-stand from which orchestras would entertain visitors and a clock tower (now lost) as well as accommodations for visiting Jaina mendicants (also largely lost). A key feature of the overall aethetic of the estate is the relatively open and sparse feel: entering through the Naubatkhana, the only structures that stand out in the open vista are the Palace and the walls of the baoli and the menagerie. An aerial view (typing Kathgola in Google Earth, for instance) is both illustrative and instructive: over 90% of the estate is orchards and gardens, keeping the clamor of the world at comfortable remove. The most noteworthy structures are:
1. The Naubatkhana. The main entrance is a regal three storied intricate limestone molded entrance to the magnificent Gardens. Guests were greeted with Shehnai Vadan and Nagaras from the upper decks and welcomed with the sprinkling of rose water and flowers from the lower decks in traditional Indian greeting.
2. The Bauri (baoli). Also known as a step well, the baoli at Kathgola is a lovely three-storied structure with three levels being below ground. The broad steps lead down to two levels of diases, only the 1st being accessible during the monsoon season (when the water table is high), the lower only during the summer. The steps going down to both levels and to a third dais on the lowest level, are made of intricately carved Mirzapuri stone. The diases are designed for their “air conditioning” effect during the summer. The walls surrounding the Bauri resemble those of a fort. Bulls going round the Bauri lifted water for an ingenious irrigation system to water the extensive and lush gardens.
3. The 5 ponds. Each was decorated with beautiful Italian Marble fountains and steps on six sides going down to the water level. Majestic Chhatris on the four corners of the ponds played host to musicians and chess players.
4. The Bandstand. A raised circular bandstand made of carved Mirzapuri stone adorns the middle of the garden. A Belgian glass house stood on the band stand. During the day, children of the founder’s family trained in dance and drama in the glass house. In The evenings the stand hosted bands that played Western music for guests.
5. The Zoo. Collecting exotic animals and birds was a passion of the founder. These were housed in the lovely menagerie that overlooks the extensive gardens on one side and a pond on the other.
6. The Zenana Mahal or janani chowk. A two-storied structure built for the ladies of the family, this once had a magnificent facade decorated with beautiful Italian marble, Mirzapuri stone and contained many valuable artifacts. Only women and male members of the family were allowed to enter this building.
Content and Images credit: www.wikipedia.com