British bell tolls again in land of Bengal’s Nawabs

Kolkata : A 182-year-old bell at Lalbagh in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district is ringing again after a gap of 30 years, reviving a bygone era in Indian history, thanks to the descendant of a Nawab of Bengal and a local tour guide.

Dated 1832, the bell of English make was instated by the then Nawab Mubarak Ali Khan, popularly known as Humayun Jah, in 1836 at Kella Nizamat (site of the old fort) near the South Gate of Lalbagh town, the residence of the erstwhile Nawabs of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha.

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Jah is credited with building the famed Hazarduari Palace (palace of 1,000 doors) at the same location where the old palace used to stand.

The bell’s toll used to resonate up to a radius of 15 km and this helped residents to keep track of time. The routine was discontinued in 1984 after the staff who used to ring the bell were absorbed in various state government departments.

But Sayyid Reza Ali Mirza, a 15th generation descendant of Mir Jafar, the first Nawab of Bengal under the British East India Company rule in India, requested tour guide Basir Khan to start the tradition again.

And so, from Thursday, the bell can be heard again at the crack of dawn and till midnight.

“The bell used to indicate the time since people did not have watches in those days. It used to be rung every hour by three staff members of the royal family. It was last rung in 1984-85. Since I stay in the area beneath the bell’s tower, Mirza saheb requested me to start the process again to bring history alive,” Khan told IANS over telephone.

“It is a part of Murshidabad’s heritage and the locals wanted it as well,” Khan added.

Mir Jafar is notorious in history for betraying Siraj-ud-daulah, the last independent ruler of Bengal, in the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and paving the way for British rule in India.

Jah, who initiated the practice of ringing the bell, is also a part of Mir Jafar’s family tree.

“When I go to work, my family members take turns to ring it. We do it for free, simply to be a part of tradition,” Khan said, adding that the bell sourced from London’s G and C Company weighs nearly 100 kg.

Khan said the bell tower was different from the more famous Ghanta Ghar or clock tower, also known as the Big Ben of Murshidabad.