Conserving heritage - historic Kolkata palace gets a makeover

June 3rd, 2010 - 10:18 am ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
Kolkata, June 3 (IANS) Sova Bazar palace, a historic residence in Kolkata built in the 18th century by Raja Nabakrishna Deb, a member of the aristocracy, has for the first time embarked on a makeover of its main living quarters and courtyard.

The Kolkata chapter of conservation body Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) is the nodal agency for the restoration project.

“We have started renovating the Thakur Dalan, the venue of one of the oldest Durga Puja (of the Deb family) for which the palace is famous across the country,” Rathin Deb, a trustee of the board of Sova Bazar Rajbari and a member of Intach, told IANS.

The Thakur Dalan courtyard of the palace is steeped in history. It hosted Kolkata’s first Durga Puja in 1757, the year Bengal fell at the Battle of Plassey. The puja was attended by Warren Hastings and Lord Clive.

Archives cites that it was at the “dalan” that Swami Vivekananda was accorded a civic reception on his return from the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893.

“The courtyard has five ornate arches. We have brought a group of artisans and restorers from Murshidabad who are currently restoring the intricate ornamental design on the arches. The facade of the arches was crumbling.

“Eventually, we will renovate the entire residential quarters of the palace,” Deb said.

The Heritage Commission of West Bengal, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and the board of trustees managing the palace have agreed to fund the project as and when required.

Intach will also source funds from agencies both inside and outside the country. The estimate, which stood at nearly Rs.1.8 crore when the project report was prepared initially, will be revised under a new composite report being prepared, a spokesperson for the project said.

Deb said the board of trustees that manages the Thakur Dalan, shrines and the quarters inside the palace complex has spent Rs.10 lakh so far on the renovation.

A courtyard is an important architectural component of any heritage residence in Bengal. Almost all old private residences of 18th and 19th century Bengal boasted of grand courtyards that were used as community and prayer space for extended families.

“The project is significant because this is the first time the main quarters of the palace is receiving a makeover. I am drafting a revised project report that should be approved by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and West Bengal’s Heritage Commission,” restoration architect and conservationist Manish Chakraborti, whose firm Continuity is preparing a new restoration blueprint, told IANS.

The first project report for the restoration work was drafted two and a half years ago.

Deb said: “We were not in a position to initiate any major restoration project after we renovated the Nat Mandir (a structure to put up cultural performances in the palace).

“Earlier the palace library that was used by educationist Vidyasagar and the naach ghar had been refurbished at a cost of Rs.12 lakh,” he said.

Another reason that delayed the project was “the nature of ownership of the Sova Bazar palace”, Deb said.

The palace traces its origin to the early 18th century when an affluent member of the Bengali gentry, Ramcharan Deb, was murdered by Maratha plunderers in Midnapore. His widow and children decided to settle in Sova Bazar. The youngest of the brood, Raja Nabakrishna Deb, purchased the home from a local trader and added to it.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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