Friday, 30 September, 2022
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Rabindranath and Alexander Castle

Chinmay Prasun Biswas

When daylight is almost fading the dusk full of chirping of birds seems to some extent indifferent. If anybody stands there in the hide and seek of light and darkness in front of a huge palace surrounded by trees he must ponder whether Rabindranth Tagore actually came here or not. Not only the footprints of the poet are left here, many famous people came to this castle which witnessed a lot of splendour and aristocracy. It is not the gable-wall of Tennyson’s poem Mariana but Alexander Castle in Mymensingh.

Though located in the heart of Mymensingh city, the natural beauty that still surrounds the castle is very attractive. The building has been built on about 26 acres of land in the court area of Mymensingh. Maharaja Suryakanta Acharya, the zamindar of Muktagachha, completed the construction of Alexander Castle in 1879. Suryakanta built this kuthibari within his garden house Shashi Lodge.

Two stories prevail behind the name Alexander Castle. According to one group the castle was named after Edward VII, the then British ruler of India and his wife Alexandra. According to the others the house building was named after Mr. N. S. Alexandra, the then District Collector of Mymensingh.

Whatever be the reason behind naming it can easily be assumed that the Maharaja did not show any austerity in constructing the house. Around Tk. 45,000/- was spent towards constructing this royal building. There is hearsay that Maharaja Suryakanta Acharya brought masons from distant China.

Construction style of this castle is different from other houses made of bricks and stones of that time. Even its style is different from all other heritage installations of that time. Huge quantities of iron and wood were used to build the house. That is why it is also known to many as House of Iron.

The whole palace was built on a cluster of pillars probably to protect the building from flood of the Brahmaputra. Survival of the building till today proves that those thick iron pillars and huge iron frames have been able to protect the building from torrent.

The sloping tin shed coming down from above looks almost like an old-style European house. The entrance can be seen only after crossing the stairs of many steps. There are fourteen houses on the ground floor. The part between the first and second floor is also nicely wrapped with wooden blinds. The whole building was once an extraordinary display of traditional handcrafts. Although those works of art have become gloomy in the course of time, the little work that still remains fascinates visitors.

From the ground floor, you can climb the iron-clad royal staircase to the second floor of the castle. There are seven bedrooms with high ceilings. The passage in front of the houses where it is attached has a veranda with a tin roof and then a veranda. Despite the weeds growing there today due to careless negligence, he once said that the verandah was once used as a tea party for many famous people.

Zamindar Suryakanta Acharya also made arrangements to keep the inner environment pleasant alongwith its external glamour. Mica and glitters were used on the ceilings of all the rooms to make it naturally air-conditioned. The rooms were decorated with beautiful works of art and pleasant-looking expensive furniture.

The main building of this royal palace was not only its main attraction. The zamindar of Muktagachha also showed his own craftsmanship decorating the exterior of the castle. There are two magnificent Greek statues on either side of the main entrance. Although the condition of these statues is now deplorable due to the weight of age it can be easily assumed that these statues once reflected the majestic spirit of this house.

It is known that in addition to the original two statues there were several other female statues around the building, but it is not possible to know where they got lost in the course of time. According to history, the castle was surrounded by a well-arranged garden with rare trees, shrubs, various species of animals and birds, reptile houses and fountains. Though almost everything has been lost, the two fountains noticed inside the garden still carry the mark of previous pomp. A long artificial lake was dug in the castle premises. Although the lake is now covered with water hyacinth, history informs that once there was a beautiful artificial lake here.

Alexander Castle was basically used as the guest house of Maharaja Suryakanta Acharya. Many famous people came to spend time here in those days. Rabindranath Tagore visited this house on 15th February, 1926 and spent four days there. According to information available from the internet Mahatma Gandhi also had gone in the same year.

Apart from them, George White, the then British general in India, Lord Curzon, Governor General of India, Francis Malcolm, Prince Duke Morris of Russia, Lord Wisborne of Ireland, Duke of Penabenda of Spain, Prince Yusuf Kamal Pasha of Egypt, Shawkat Ali and Mohammad Ali brothers, Chittranjan Das,  Wazed Ali Khan Panni, Sir Salimullah and many others came to Alexander Castle.

After partition in 1947 teachers' training college was built around Alexander Castle in 1948 and the palace building was initially used as classrooms. After constructing other buildings for the college this house was used as a residence of teachers and lastly as college library.  In 2019 Directorate of Archeology declared Alexander Castle as a preserved antique but official formalities of taking the building from college authority is still under process.

Like a moated grange in Mariana this depressed house is standing till today with thousands of untold histories to fascinate people and containing the fact that Rabindranath really came here.  

 

The writer is a former Commissioner of Taxes