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Restoration hope for Jain relics

    Behrampore (Odisha): In absence of any government response to save the Jain architecture and monuments in Murshidabad, many of them around one-and-a-half century old and depicting a fusion of Jain and Bengal’s architectural styles, Murshidabad Heritage Development Society is planning to create a kitty to fund the restoration. The project, submitted with the Ministry of tourism three years back, involved an investment of Rs 150 crore.

    “There is a huge scope of developing tourism in Murshidabad and Jain monuments and architecture can be the jewels in the crown. There are numerous temples, ‘havelis’, ‘kothis’ and other monuments depicting Jain architecture in places like Azimganj, Jiaganj and Lalbag,” said Sandip Nowlakha, secretary of the Murshidabad Heritage Development Society.

    The success of Jagat Seth, one of the largest bankers in India during the early 18th century, attracted Jain business community in Rajasthan to settle in Bengal and start their own businesses. Most of the Jain families like Singhis, Dugars, Nowlakhas and Dudhorias took zamindaris from local nawabs in exchange of guaranteed annual revenue and also started money lending, banking and trading in Murshidabad. According to records available with the Murshidabad Heritage Development Society, there were around 10 billionaire families within one mile radius of Azimganj and Jiaganj whose combined wealth was much more than the entire British aristocracy.

    “The wealth has also prompted them to set up temples, monuments and palaces,” said Sanjay Doogar, vice president of the society. Doogar family owns the Katgola Palace set up by Jain businessman Rai Bahadur Lachhmipat Singh Doogar. “We have developed Katgola palace as a museum and it draws around five lakh tourists per year,” Doogar said. Katgola Palace, spread over 45 acres, is an outcome of a fusion of Greek, Italian, Rajasthani, Mughal and Bengali architectural styles. “Intricate mosaic, lime works and works of shell dust along with Mirzapuri stone, Italian marble and stone jaffries have given it a flavour which stands out among other architectural styles found in Murshidabad,” Doogar added.

    “There are several such palaces and temples which are integral parts of Bengal’s heritage tourism. We are trying to create awareness among the Jain families to start renovating them. While a few have started doing that, funds have become problem for some others. Moreover, restoration of such heritage properties involve a lot of technical handholding,” Nowlakha said.

    “We are also trying to showcase the Jain architecture and cuisine in Bengal across the country and abroad. While Murshidabad Heritage Festival is one of the important events towards that, we are trying to make it popular among European tourists too,” he added. One of the main contributions of the Jain settlements in Bengal was Sheherwali cuisine. The culinary style originating from Rajasthan got influenced by Bengali and Mughal styles and evolved into an entirely different genre which involves expensive ingredients and elaborate process of cooking.

    “Although it is not possible for individual Jain families to restore the Jain art and architecture in Murshidabad, we are encouraging members to find partners and develop the properties. A few new hotels have already come up in and around the area. With good home-stay facilities, we can turn this area into a hub for the tourists,” Nowlakha added. – Article Courtesy: The Times of India

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