Bangaliana remains incomplete without the touch of Tagore. Every aspect of our lives has been magically presented in his work -- poems or prose, painting or music.
On 9 December 1883, Tagore married Mrinalini Devi, or Bhabatarini, daughter of Beni Madhab. Zaminder Ray Chowdhury, the poet's maternal uncle, lived next door to Beni Madhab and made the match between young Tagore and Bhabatarini.
Mrinalini Devi's house still remains in her ancestral home, Fultola village, some 35 minutes drive from Jessore town. It is a plain farming pasture. A narrow road fringed with large trees leads to Dakkhin Dihi.
In the year 1994 the house was vacated by the Khulna Administration and responsibilities transferred to the Archaeology Department of Khulna. The following year, doors of this historic dwelling were opened for visitors; two busts of Tagore and Mrinalini Devi were placed outside Rabindra Complex Dakkhin Dihi and a stage – Mrinalini Manch – erected in front of the house.
It was built in late nineteenth century. However, the house does not share the same amount of fame as does the Shilaidah Kuthibari in Kushtia or the Shahzadpur Kuthibari in Sirajganj, where the poet stayed during his days of managing the family Zamindari.
Sometime back, a young architect – Salma Begum – based her thesis on this lesser known house and re-kindled the interest on this house with a Tagore connection.
The compound comprises of a total 7.8 acres of land, of which the old building covers some 1693 square feet. It is a two storied building, the front facade comprising of a 55 feet long rectangular form.
The ground floor's plinth level is 2'-6” high from the land and the ceiling height is 14'-6”. The ceiling of the first floor is raised considerably high at 16'-10”. This gives the floor a feel of spacious, European Gothic-style mansions.
Made from red bricks, each measuring 2.5'x5”x10” resembling the architecture of Sonargoan's famous Panam City. Gothic influence is observed in the building's structure. In the ground floor, five columns with pointed arch and patterned drop wall bear the structural load. The six decorative round pillars with carved toppers attached to the ceiling creates visual drama.
The arcade veranda is south facing, 27 feet long with 8'-10” wide double shutter 'khorkhori' windows. There is a 'koribargha' wooden ceiling over the veranda and rooms. These function as ventilating pathways for the main house and also forms a protection zone from the heat wave and the rainwater. The story goes that Rabindranath came here twice and used to sit in the veranda and enjoy the wild beauty of the Rupsha river.
There was a staircase with wrought iron railings. They used 'zafri' wall for sunlight and kept a punch in the 'chilakota' to allow for sufficient light.
Two single-storied rooms flank the building. The arch windows, and doors are really interesting, with circle punches over the arches creating symmetrical balance.
The roof style and structure is also very important as it describes the architectural variation of the period. The house at Dakkhin Dihi has a flat roof, which was once lined by a decorative railing.
We still managed to take glimpses of the railing and the central concrete carving shaped like a crown.
A close look at the old house shows mixed architectural views that combine the Neo-Classical and Renaissance styles. The whole house is symmetrically balanced with brick works, columns, pillars, doors and windows. So, once it was a wonderful open airy house; a cool and calm area surrounded by greenery.
The stooping date tree and ancient red brick mansion reminds one of the old Tagore song:
“Purano shei diner kotha
bhulbi kire hay,
O shei chokher dekha
praner kotha shei ki bhola jay?”
In the evening, the calm light of the afternoon sun peeps through the arched window. Mouldy bricks and wild orchids set the visitors on a melancholic mood; yes, the decaying house reminds one of the grace and elegance of Mrinalini Devi, who spent her life in great devotion to her husband Rabindranath Tagore.
Nazneen Haque Mimi
Photo credit: Aziza Ohida Shireen Runu
Special thanks: Architect Salma Begum