In the footsteps of Wajid Ali Shah, Walking tour of Metiabruz
In the footsteps of Wajid Ali Shah
Walking tour of Metiabruz, an initiative of ITC Sonar, Kolkata
See also: Metiabruz Dawat, ITC Sonar, Kolkata
On 13 May 1856 a steamer, name McLeod, docked at the Bichali Ghat in Metibruz, in the southern fringes of Calcutta (now Kolkata). On board was the disposed king of Oudh (or Awadh) Wajid Ali Shah.
Little did he know that he would never return to his capital Lucknow and it started the beginning of a home in exile.
Oudh (or Awadh), a princely state in present day Utter Pradesh (UP). The kingdom was founded in 1722 but it lost most of its power due to the treaty of 1801, this treaty effectively made part of the state of Oudh (Awadh) a vassal to the British East India Company.
But the big blow was to come half a century later, when Lord Dalhousie, the then governor general of the East India Company, annexed Oudh (Awadh) under his annexation policy, with the help of James Outram, the British Resident of Lukcnow.
As a result in early February 1856 Oudh (Awadh) was annexed to the British Indian territory and Nawab Wajid Ali Shah disposed. He was granted permission to travel to Calcutta with 500 men.
On March 13, 1856 he left his favorite Zurd Kothee Palace in Lucknow for the last time. He travelled till Varanasi (via Allahabad) on a palanquin and then boarded the McLeod steamer from Varanasi.
When the two month long gruesome journey ended, at the Bicahli Ghat in Calcutta, the Nawab was almost burnt out by the scorching heat.
Nawab Wajid Ali Shah rented a bungalow on the river front, belonging to the Maharaja of Burdwan, paying Rs 500 as monthly rent. At that time Garden Reach was a beautiful colonial river side settlement complete with English styled bungalows with manicured lawns.
Wajid Ali Shah still had faith in the British sense of justice and wanted to put his case before Lord Dalhousie, the governor general of India. Receiving no justice from the governor general the disposed nawab wanted to move to London and place his case before the Queen and the Parliament, but illness prevented him from doing so.
Strangely the queen mother, Malka Kishwar, stepped forward to lead the expedition all the way to London. She was accompanied by the the disposed nawab’s brother and son.
Within a year things took a dramatic turn and with the breaking up of the Revolt of 1857, Wajid Ali Shah lost all hopes of getting back his kingdom. On 15 June 1857 Wajid Ali Shah was arrested and imprisoned in Calcutta’s Fort William. After spending 26 months in prison he walked out as a free man.
With all hopes of getting back is kingdom dashed, Wajid Ali Shah spent the remaining three decades of his life in turning the Metiabruz area into a mini Lucknow or chota Lucknow.
After his release from the Fort William he was allotted a beautiful house in Garden Reach, with grand views of the Hooghly, which probably reminded the disposed emperor of his Gomti.
The milk white 1846 built building and its design was apparently inspired by the Temple of Winds of Athens. The latter was also the inspiration behind Metcalfe Hall on Strand Road. In those days it was known as the Parikahana (house of fairies) and it was where the emperor was entertained by musicians, poets and dancers. Toady it serves as a residence of the General Manager (GM) of South Eastern Railway (SER).
Wajid Ali Shah soon started building several palaces like the Qasrul Baiza, Murasa Manzil, Noor Manzil and Adalat Manzil. Soon Imambaras and Mosques started coming up, slowly Metiburz started turning into a mini Lucknow.
Wajid Ali Shaw also came up with an open air zoo, which housed tigers and leopards along with a reptile house. Rare animals and exotic birds were procured from different parts of the world.
Wajid Ali Shah left Lucknow but Lucknow never left him and the transformation was not restricted to built architecture alone. Poets and musicians were attracted by the splendor of Metiabruz and art and culture flourished.
Food had its influence too and there are strange stories of how the potato got added to the biryani.
Recently under the name Kitchens of India, where the ITC Hotels showcases India’s unique, forgotten and undiscovered cuisines, ITC Sonar hosted the Metibruz Dawat from 16 – 23 April 2016.
As a part of the Metibruz Food Festival the ITC Sonar also hosted a Metiburz Walk on April 23, 2016.
After the death of Wajid Ali Shah in 1887 the British demolished most of his pleasure houses and those that survived were pull down later by real estate developers, but the religious structures, like the Imambaras and Mosques, survived and can still be seen to this day.
Although it is difficult to compare present day Metibruz with Lucknow, but still Metibruz can be an interesting exploration even for a resident of Kolkata.
The walk was led by Shahanshah Mirza, the great great grandson of Wajid Ali Shah and I was lucky enough to assist him.
The participants consisted of a series of dignitaries from the different foreign embassies and consulates including the French, US, German, Turkey and Norway. There were also fellow bloggers like Indrajit, Dolon, Poorna and Pooja.
Last but not the least was the ITC Sonar team, represented by Atul Bhalla (General Manager), Urbish Dutta (Head Concierge) and Arundhuti Ghosh (Public Relation Officer)
After a brief breakfast we headed off for Garden Reach and Metiabruz in an air conditioned coach. On the way a documentary on the South Eastern Railway was screened and Shahanshah Mirza briefed the participants on the walk.
The first stop was the Bengal Nagpur Railway (BNR) Office presently the headquarters of South Eastern Railway (SER). The massive red building was constructed in 1907 at a cost of rupees seven lakh and built in Indo – Sarasenic architecture.
We were received at the gate by Samrat Ghosh (Chief PRO) and Pallav Mukherjje, who took us for a tour of not only the building but also the entire complex. No wonder the star attraction of the complex was the GM’s bungalow, which once served as the residence of Wajid Ali Shah.
Next stop was the Sibtainbad Imambara (also called Shahi Imambara) which was just a short bus ride away. We were greeted at the gate by the Akhtar Mirza, the manager of the Imambara, who lead us inside the Imambara through the stupendous gate way. The gate of the Imambara towers above the chaotic traffic of Metiabruz on the southern fringes of Kolkata.
Sibtainbad Imambara is smaller and less ornate version of the Bara Imambara in Lucknow and houses the grave of Wajid Ali Shah and his son Birjis Qadir.
The grave of Wajid Ali Shah is crowned with a tazia, similar to the one of Imam Hussain, the third imam of Shia Islam.
Stained glass windows, massive chandeliers, royal emblems and wrought iron railings create a royal atmosphere.
From the Sibtainbad Imambara we walked through the narrow winding lanes to reach a kite shop. It was Wajid Ali Shah, who introduced the art of kite making and the sports of kite flying in Kolkata. Even today the Metibruz kite makers are known to the best in the country and their kites are in demand all over India.
Next we followed another set of lanes and by-lanes to reach the Bichali Ghat the place where the dispose Nawab Wajid Ali Shah landed.
The ghat still has the same name and is an important hub for bamboos, which come floating to the ghat from different parts of Bengal and Assam.
On the other side of the Hooghly River is the Botanical Garden and today regular ferry service operates between the Bichali Ghat and the Botanical Garden.
Legend has that, once a tiger escaped from the Wajid Ali Shah’s zoo and swam all the way across the river and killed a staff of the Botanical Garden.
The last and final stop in Metibruz was the Shahi Masjid (literally meaning Royal Mosque), but due to intense heat we decided to skip it.
Finally we headed for the Victoria Memorial, where several of Wajid Ali Shah’s books have been kept and digitized.
We were greeted at the gate of the Victoria Memorial by two large digitized prints. The first contained the an ornate astronomical and astrological calendar prepared by Wajid Ali Shah.
The second one consisted of a digitized print of two pages from the book Musammi Ba Banni, a book on Kathak Dance authored by the Wajid Ali Shah himself.
Note: Two separate detailed articles will be coming up in my blog soon
- The Splendors of Metiabruz
- South Eastern Railway (SER) or Bengal Nagpur Railway (BNR) Complex
- ITC Sonar for taking the initiative for such an innovative walk
- South Eastern Railway (SER) for their guided tour of the complex
- Sibtainbad Imambara Trust for all their cooperation
- Shahanshah Mirza, my co- host for the Metiabruz Walk
- The Metibruz Walk Participants for braving the heat and humidity
- A Saturday morning through the winding lanes of Wajid Ali Shah’s Metiaburj, The Telegraph, t2, by Rumela Sinha, May 7, 2016,
- So much for justice by Shahanshah Mirza, The Statesman, Jan 5, 2014
- A nawab’s legacy hangs by a thread by Shahanshah Mirza, The Telegraph, Jan 14, 2014
- Another time another place by Soumitra Das, The Telegraph, March 19, 2004
- Lost Splendor by Soumitra Das, The Telegraph, Feb 29, 2008
- River retreats by Sounitra Das, The Telegraph, March 22, 2009
- The other Oudh, Jaideep Mazumdar, Outlook, July 7, 2008
- Wajid Ali Shah’s kingdom in Kolkata, Sudipta Mitra (Blog)
- Little “Awadh”in Kolkata, Astounding Bengal (Blog)