The architectural legacy of Tipu Sultan’s family in Kolkata

Few days ago, I visited New Market for shopping. While bargaining with the shopkeeper, a middle-aged man came to meet him. I noticed, everybody in the shop addressed him as ‘Shahzada’ (the prince). The stranger’s name did not resemble his outfit. Later, I asked the shopkeeper about the reason behind the stranger’s pet name. The answer surprised me. His great grandfather was the grandson of Tipu Sultan.

Tipu Sultan Mosque, Esplanade

For any resident of Kolkata like me, hearing the name Tipu Sultan, the first thing that pops out in mind is ‘Tipu Sultan Mosque’ of the Esplanade area and then ‘The King of Mysore’.

Surprisingly, Tipu Sultan never visited Kolkata but more than hundreds of his descendants live in this city. In fact, there are mosques in the megacity named after him. Consulting the books ‘Mosques in Calcutta’ by Pijush Kanti Roy and ‘Kolkatar Dhormiyo Sthapotyo Mandir o Masjid’ by Tarapada Santra, I found, six of the architectural legacy of the family still exists in Kolkata. Among them, Tolly Club and two mosques – at Esplanade and Anwar Shah crossing are well known. However, I planned to visit all of them the next afternoon.

Before proceeding, let me discuss the arrival of Tipu Sultan’s descendants to Kolkata.

From the pages of history:

As we know, Tipu Sultan, also known as the ‘Tiger of Mysore’ was killed in the fourth Anglo-Mysore War in 1799. After his funeral work, his descendants were allowed to stay there with a princely sum sanctioned by the East India Company. Two of Tipu’s sons – Prince Ghulam Mohammed Shah and Prince Anwar Shah were initially deported to Kolkata.

Tipu Sultan Mosque – Esplanade Crossing

But in 1806, the entire family was accused of being the ringleader of the ‘Vellore Mutiny’ and thus punished by the East India Company. They escaped and reached the marshy tract of the southern fringe of Kolkata. The name of that neighbourhood was “Russa Pagla” (now, Tollygunge). The entire family, containing more than 300 members, were initially bundled into mud houses. Obviously, they faced challenges due to the change in lifestyle but gradually they were accustomed and started to get back their own lifestyle. Prince Ghulam Mohammed Shah managed to convince the British to get the stipend that they were receiving earlier.

The first landmark by the family was constructed in the Esplanade area – Tipu Sultan Shahi Mosque. Later they formed a large estate including today’s Tollygunge Club where the entire family started living. Gradually the family members built many mosques and houses.

Unfortunately, the royal family could not hold their properties and many of the descendants of the present generations earn bread and butter by working as a rickshaw puller and daily labour.

Tipu Sultan Mosque (Esplanade):

I started with the Tipu Sultan Mosque at Dharmatala (Lenin Sarani-Central Avenue Crossing). Because of its location at the heart of the city, this is probably the most famous mosque (After Nakhoda Mosque) of Kolkata. The mosque was built in 1842. Once a marble plaque was present in the mosque where it was depicted “This Musjid was created during the Government of Lord Auckland, G.C by the Prince Gholam Mahomed, Son of Tippoo Sultan, in gratitude to God an in commemoration of the honorable Court of Directors granting him the arrears of his stipend in 1840”.

Tipu Sultan Mosque, Esplanade

Architecturally the mosque has similarities with Shalik Mosque of Basirhat. The structure consists of ten domes organised in two rows. The four octagonal columns of each side formed main minarets. Curved designs were depicted on the walls of the minarets. Surprisingly, the design on the minarets has similarities with Gothic columns. Eighteen other minarets are positioned between the main ones.

Shahni Begum Mosque (Ekbalpur):

My next stop was Shahani Begum Mosque. So, I availed a bus from Esplanade Crossing and reached Diamond Harbour Road. Alternatively, one can avail Metro Rail to Jatin Das Park followed by an Auto Rickshaw towards Ekbalpur and get down at CMRI.

Right after getting down from the bus, the decoration depicted on the gateway of the mosque caught my eyes.

Gate of Shahni Begum Mosque

I crossed the gate and entered the mosque complex. I noticed the foundation plaque in Parsian. According to the book ‘Mosque of Calcutta’ by Pijush Kanti Roy, the translated version of the inscription is: “Shahni Begum, the daughter of Prince Shararuddin, the son of Tipu Sultan. Hijri 1256.”

Shahni Begum Mosque

The yellow-coloured mosque is adorned with six green domes, three each in two lines at the centre. Besides, composition of high and low minarets on all sides around the domes adds gravity to the structure. The minarets are placed in four corners square in shapes and bigger, on the other hand there are six minarets between the junction of the domes.

The outer wall is decorated with arch shaped stucco work.

Front view of Shahni Begum Mosque, the mosque was built by Tipu Sultan’s grand daughter

Shahni Begum Mosque was a treat to my eyes.

Zohra Begum Mosque (Mahabirtala):

Next I visited Zohra Begum Mosque. First I reached Taratala by bus and then by auto rickshaw I reached Mahabirtala.

Zohra Begum Mosque

Zohra Begum was the second wife of Tipu Sultan. She built this mosque in 1941 and gifted 37 bighas of land as Waqf property for the maintenance of the architecture and charitable work.

The courtyard of Zohra Begum Mosque

Architecturally, Zohra Begum Masjid was built in a ‘Dakhani’ style, unknown in Bengal at the time. Through the gate, to the right is the place for ‘wazu’ (the ritual cleansing before prayers). On the left is the covered courtyard where ‘namaz’ (prayers) happen. The terrace contains six domes (three each in two lines), with four minarets at the four corners, and four smaller minarets.

Tollygunge Club (Tollygunge):

Next, I visited the Tollygunge Club. Thus, I got an auto rickshaw and reached in front of the club.

As I mentioned earlier, the architecture was initially built by Prince Gholam Mohammed Shah but later Sir William Cruikshank acquired the building and established the club as an equestrian sports facility in 1895 to “promote all manner of sports”. It is spread over 100 acres (400,000 m2).

The club is closed due to the restrictions imposed by the Government for Covid-19 pandemic. Thus, I was not allowed to go inside.

I came back to Tipu Sultan Shahi Mosque at Prince Anwar Shah Road and Deshpran Shahmal Road Crossing.

Tipu Sultan Shahi Mosque (Prince Anwar Shah Road-DSP Road Crossing):

The mosque was established in 1843. Architecturally this mosque has a huge resemblance with the one built on Esplanad. A pond is placed in front of the mosque for ablution purposes of the devotees before joining the prayer.

Architecturally the mosque consists of ten domes organised in two rows. The four octagonal columns of each side formed main minarets. Curved designs were depicted on the walls of the minarets. Surprisingly, the design on the minarets have similarities with Gothic columns. Eighteen other minarets are positioned between the main ones.

Tipu Sultan Mosque – At the crossing of SP Mukherjee Road and Prince Anwar Shah Road

The outer wall is decorated with arch shaped stucco work. Similar kinds of work can be found in several old houses of Kolkata.

The mosque compound contains a scenic garden where the tomb of Prince Gholam Mohammed Shah is kept.

Coming out of the mosque I crossed Deshpran Shashmal Road and availed a bus towards Rashbehari Crossing for my last destination of the afternoon – Burial Ground of Tipu Sultan’s Family.

Burial Ground of Tipu Sultan’s Family (Satish Mukherjee Road):

Behind the Kalighat Pumping Station, the cemetery of Tipu Sultan’s Family is neither mentioned in the map nor can it be found easily. Consulting with the book ‘Mosques in Calcutta’ by Pijush Kanti Das, I was informed that the address – 51/1 Satish Mukherjee Road. Google Map reached me to the destination.

The monument is encroached by the intruders. The tomb is now converted to a slum and there was a public display of disrespect to the departed souls. They do not allow people to take photographs of the monument. Later I found an article that was published in The Telegraph but the situation was not improved.

I was upset with this fact and felt guilty. It seemed like my beloved city was unable to let the souls rest in peace.

Bibliography:

  1. “Mosques in Calcutta” by Pijush Kanti Roy
  2. “Kolkatar Dhormio Sthapotyo Mandir o Masjid” by Tarapada Santra
  3. Mr. Shaikh Sohail for information.
  4. Few articles published in The Telegraph, The Times of India

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