Ghumchakkar’s Diary – 55 (Little bit of Lucknow – Metiaburz, Kolkata)

It is at the outskirts of Kolkata, at modern day Metiaburz, the tenth and last Nawab of Awadh – Wajid Ali Shah, had tried to build a replica of Awadh. At the time when Wajid Ali Shah had acquired the throne, Awadh was being protected from British by a treaty. On 11 February 1856, his kingdom was annexed by the British. The Nawab had at that time decided not to put up a resistance since he knew that his army would not match that of the British and any confrontation would only lead to blood shed.

After losing his kingdom, the Nawab had decided to plead his case to Queen Victoria because of his firm belief in the British sense of justice.With this in mind, he started off traveling going first to Varanasi (via Allahabad) in a palanquin and then started off in a steamer (called McLeod) from Varanasi to Calcutta. He was accompanied by his close relatives and an entourage comprising of musicians, servants, cooks, pet animals etc. When the steamer reached Metiaburz, it was scorching hot and looking at the health of the Nawab, the physicians adviced against any further travel. He settled down in a rented bunglow on river front while his mother, brother and son decided to continue the journey to England.

Bichali Ghat

In 1857, the First War of Independence spread to Lucknow and the sepoys placed one of Wajid Ali Shah’s son to the throne of Awadh. The British imprisoned Wajid Ali Shah in Fort William along with his Prime Minister. The British had apprehensions that he would become a rallying figure for the sepoys. This event killed his last hopes of returning to Lucknow. After his release from Fort William, he was allotted a building which was called Parikhana (currently called called BNR House in Garden Reach near the headquarter of South Eastern Railway).

The heartbroken Nawab tried to carve out a miniature of Lucknow in Metiabruz. The Nawab had been given several houses with large areas which were on a raised platform/dome of earth or soil (mati). That is how “Matiya Burj” name was coined. The nawab spent out of his income to setup a second Lucknow in this place. It was on a sunny Saturday morning, I decided to pay a visit to Metiaburz. Since my current residence is in South Kolkata, the easiest (and probably the fastest) way to go there is to take a auto-rickshaw ride from Jadavpur Thana to Taratala more. From Taratala more, you need to jump onto a bus which is going towards Bichali Ghat (Bus Route Number 12, 42 and 42B). These buses would go straight along Brace Bridge, past line of container trucks, through Circular Garden Reach Road (with factories on either side of the road) and finally would reach the Bichali Ghat Hawkers Lane (or Bichali Ghat Road).

Bichali Ghat Road is a narrow, crowded small lane with rows of shops on either side and a hustle and bustle of people, hand pulled and cycle rickshaws and two-wheelers. You need to navigate along this lane which ends at Bichali Ghat.

Bichali Ghat

Bichali Ghat

The ghat is just like any other ghat on Hoogly river. Regular ferry service operates between Bichali ghat and Botanical Garden. There is no special pointer to suggest that this is the place where the Nawab would have landed. There are rows of bamboos being stacked in one side of the ghat and you can see people rushing up and down on their way to catch the next ferry service.

Sibtainbad Imambara/Shahi Imambara

Gate of Sibtainbad Imambara

Returning back from Bichali ghat, you need to come to the end of the lane and on your right is the gate of Sibtainbad Imambara (at the side of the road). This imambara is a smaller version of the imambara in Lucknow and contains the grave of Wajid Ali Shah and his son Birjis Qadr. Right at the entrace, there is a marble plaque which declares that this is the mausoleum of last two kings of Oudh. The entrance gate has an ornate design.

Once inside, you have a courtyard with stained glass windows, chandeliers, wrought iron ornamentation and royal emblems.Inside, there is a large hall. Entering from the door, on your left is the grave of Wajid Ali Shah with a crowned “tazia”. Next to the grave is a throne and sword and shield belonging to Wajid Ali Shah. On the right, you have a collection of items including books and a scripter written by Wajid Ali Shah himself. At the extreme right is a separate room with the tomb of Wajid Ali Shah’s successors. There are several other artifacts inside.

There was a Shahi Masjid (literally meaning Royal Mosque) in Metiaburz which was in my wishlist but it was 1:30pm and the heat was intense. I decided to keep it for another day and return back.

The Calcutta Biriyani

Whenever we talk about Calcutta Biriyani, the name of Wajid Ali Shah comes to the fore front. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah tried to rebuilt a replica of his beloved capital with grand Islamic structures, parikhana of damsels, a zoo of animals, kite-flying, kabootarbaazi and food from the royal kitchen. He believed in “Khao aur khilao”. However, since he was under financial pressure, his chefs deviced a way to make up for the limited meat for Biriyani. They added egg and potatoes to the biriyani creating what we know now as Calcutta Biriyani. Potatoes were brought to Kolkata by the Portuguese and was considered a novelty. It was expensive but less expensive than meat. The benefit was that potatoes maxiized the volume of the Biriyani.

Wajid Ali Shah was a patrone of art and literature. A large number of musicians thrived in the court of the Nawab and enriched music. The most notable was enrichment of light classical form of thumri. Wajid Ali Shah was a magnificent patron of music, dance, drama, and poetry, and he himself a gifted composer. During his time the Kathak dance left the temple and entered into royal courts.Like the Performing Arts Wajid Ali Shah also patronised literature and several poets and writers in his court. The famous poet Ghalib also received the gracious patronage of Wajid Ali Shah. Although Metiaburz is located on the outer fringes of Kolkata, very few people visit this place. This is definitely a place to visit on a weekend to experience the grandeur of the last Nawab of Awadh.

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