Photos: Prabir Das
Locals have different names for this place. Some call it the Natore Rajbari, others call it the Rani Bhabani Palace. This place is also known as Pagla Raja's Palace and Natore Palace. Whatever you want to call it, this Rajbari is one of the most beautiful royal palaces in Bangladesh which used to be the residence and seat of the Rajshahi Raj family of zamindars.
The Natore dynasty is regarded as one of the most powerful and unified empires of the 18th century in this region. In 1706, contrarily in 1710, Raja Ramjiban became the first king of the dynasty and he built his Rajbari at Natore on an area of 50.42 acres of land that is enclosed within two rings of moats as a part of the defensive system. He governed up to 1734 AD and died that very year. After his death, his adopted son Raja Ramkanto became the king and got married to Rani Bhabani in 1730. When Ramkanto died, Nawab Alibordi Khan handed over the responsibility of the zamindari to Rani Bhabani who expanded the empire further.
The present palace of Natore is situated in the centre of the district on a total area of about 120 acres.
This once-stunning structure was equipped with different elegant features in its architecture like the massive gateways, large tanks, orchards, courtyard, ponds, canals, and temples. Different features like the geometric and floral panels in plasterwork on the façade, the clerestory windows originally fitted with coloured glass panes, the classical nude female sculptures, the series of Corinthian columns and semi-circular arches in the typical classical Roman style, the spiral iron staircases, and the black and white marble floor will surely take you back to that period.
The total area of the Rajbari is divided mainly into two parts- Baro Taraf and Chhoto Taraf. It also has buildings like the Rani Bhavan, Kachari Bhavan, Guest House, Madhu Rani Bhavan. Boro Taraf, the main palace block, is now used as the Deputy Commissioner's office which faces a large open lawn to the south. Now as you walk across the vast area of the palace, you will discover seven surviving dilapidated buildings of different sizes from that period and a handful of temples (temple of Kali Anondomoyi ma, temple of Shyam Shundor and temple of Shiva.) But little remains of its past grandeur due to sheer neglect. The delicate ornamentations of these colossal gateways are long gone; instead, they are now adorned with thickets and debris. A modern day cement sculpture of a drowning deer in the pond will surely jar the sensibilities of heritage lovers, but that is how the people, who now occupy these heritage sites, have altered them. The Natore Rajbari is one of those treasures of the past that demand care and preservation. We should not forget how these monuments give us a glimpse of Bengal's zamindari life during that time. It is a priceless remnant of our heritage that we must safeguard and honour for ourselves and our future generations.