the rajbari bawali

The Rajbari Bawali near Kolkata in West Bengal

Rajbaris, or the palatial homes of Zamindars (landlords), have been an integral part of Bengal’s history, though many of them have fallen into ruin owing to ownership issues or lack of maintenance. The name “Bawali” can be traced to its first settlers, forest dwellers from the Baul. This erstwhile wetland, once part of the Sundarbans, was handed over as a reward to Shoba Ram Rai, an army officer under Maharaja Sawai Man Singh of Jaipur, who was Mughal Emperor Akbar’s commander-in-chief. The officer spearheaded a successful battalion for the Maharaja and was given 300,000 acres of land for his services—the rajbari is part of that. There is little information about what happened to most of the land, but his descendants, the Mondal family, continue to live at the Rajbari. They were the Nawabs, Thakurs of this region and led rich lives with the finest luxury India offered at that time.

Dating back to the 18th century, the palace on the sprawling grounds has been beautifully restored with handcrafted furnishings in teak wood, the original wooden shutters from the zenana painstakingly renovated and reused, ponds recreated, pavilions reclaimed and interestingly all other antiques and artifacts were rescued from other buildings of the colonial period and used, to give an authentic experience and luxurious as possible.

The Rajbari itself, an extraordinary, architectural masterpiece, was built around 250 years ago. It saw over 170 years of grand living, parties, and eminent guests but unfortunately post-independence, the Zamindars (landlords) lost much of their wealth and the house started to fall into disrepair. Many others disappeared altogether as the families started to disperse to rebuild their own lives. A few members stayed on, caught up in the memories of their former glory. At one stage, in order to raise money, it was used for film shoots and a movie hall. But it was not enough. It is only recently that The Rajbari, the only building now remaining from this time, albeit in ruins, has been salvaged and exquisitely restored to reflect the opulence, style, and grace of the Zamindars of Bengal.

The property has now been fully restored to showcase the fabulous past, architecture, opulence and history of this small part of the 24 Paganas; but more than that, it has created the perfect setting from which to assist in the revival of, and showcasing of, the traditional performing arts of Bengal. In addition, there is a strong focus on showcasing and supporting the local arts and crafts still employed by the surrounding village communities.

Total no. of rooms : 30, split into 4 categories
Classic Heritage Rooms (12), Zamindari Junior Suite (12), Royal Suite (4) and Dak Bungalow (2)

Distance : Approx. 35 Kms from Kolkata (1.5 hours’ drive)

Nearest Airport : Kolkata

Nearest Railhead : Howrah, Sealdah and Santragachi