Clues to longevity of the family tradition abound in Muktadgacha Palace, which lies 10 miles to the west of Mymensingh town.
From the , disappeared, magnetic ball that once toped a palace dome as a lightening conductor, through the Japanese designed ‘air conditioned’ accommodation in the courtyard, to the French built revolving stage in the small theatre (no prizes for guessing at which famous Parisian night club the inspiration for that came from!), the clues are all there.
Most Zaminders in the Bangladesh of the ‘British time’, were new rich; grocers, salt merchants, agricultural traders or farmers, who acquired the tax farming rights to some district, and in the time honoured tradition of such people in Britain before Commonwealth, acquired with those rights, a lavish lifestyle, reflected particularly in their residences. Their tenure, however, rarely lasted more than three generations, and aristocratic development in Britain has suggested that any family that survives the tradition of ‘rags to rags in three generations’, become a family of culture and learning, great patrons of arts and sciences. Such influences often suggest a longevity of wealth and substance.
I suppose at least you can say for such new rich in India, they owed their position to money, rather than becoming favourites at court, as was often the case in Britain.
Muktagacha was probably originally built in the first half of the 16th Century, and there are clear signs of Mughal period influence in some of the older structures.
A complex, but apparently continuous link runs through subsequent holders of office and rank, to 1947, when the adopted son of the last of the great Zaminders, Maharajah Sashi Kanta Acharya Chaudhury, left in a hurry, following partition.
From the cells, said by a guide with, perhaps, as much imagination as history, to be used to imprison the parents of about to be wed girls who failed to recognise a custom known in Europe as ‘Droit de Seigneur’ as a right of the Zaminder, to the ’99 Elephant Court’, which now houses rather more armed police, and from the remains of the foot lit revolving stage for dancing girls to the curious ‘air conditioned’ structure that dominates the middle court, there is much to intrigue and fascinate.
Architecturally, it is not hard to identify the period of influences, and in at least one case, the date of construction, since a steel girder bears the name of Frodingham, also note at Narail Landing Place.
Earthquake damage, almost certainly from 1897, is also in evidence, although it appears that the greater part of the structure survived intact.
And in the environs outside, and equal wealth of attractions. 5, maybe 6, temples, including the 16th centre originated Shiva Temple, with no less than three intact Shiva Lingams in black marble, of three different sizes.
Few historic sites in Bangladesh, except perhaps, the extraordinary Natore Rajbari..interestingly, the home of another aristocratic survivor from Mughal to Raj period... have as much to excite and inform as this outstanding attraction.