Marble Palace –the Forgotten Treasure House of Kolkata by Tanusree Ganguly

If you walk along the Muktaram Babu street and ask someone about Rajen Mullick’s house ,most of the people would fail to answer you. So please specifically say ‘Marble Palace’. Once you pass through the gate and step into the compound of the Mullick’s , you may think that you have stepped into a different era. A white marbled colossal structure stands secluded in a dingy lane of North Kolkata ; announcing its stark contrast with the world in its periphery.

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Raja Rajendra Mullick, the contemporary of Prince Dwarakanath Tagore was compared to the later for his affluence and wealth. He had built this palatial mansion in 1835 by a French architect. It  would be later named as Marble palace by Lord Minto. The then grandeur and the fame of this edifice is easily understandable but today- almost after a span of 180  years, the name of the Marble Palace has faded into oblivion . Sadly though  Kolkatians have sidelined Marble palace, yet many foreigner tourists throng at the Marble Palace to fully comprehend Kolkata’s celebrated past . The gigantic engraved facade, the tall Corinthian pillars of the building remind of any highest standard neo-classical architectural structure of Europe.

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Though the entry to the Marble palace is free but one have to collect a permit from the office of West Bengal Tourism Information Bureau at BBD Bag – one day in advance. It is open to visitors all the days (from 10AM to 4 PM ) expect from Monday and Thursday. Photography is an absolutely NO here.  You have to hire ‘tour-guides’ to take you around the building. Tourist entry is not allowed through the grand portico but a small entrance beside. As you enter the subsequent rooms, the sheer number of artifacts, statues, furniture and paintings will make you overwhelmed; considering the fact that all these are part of personal collection. Raja’s taste for art and sculpture is to be given a high rank – this nineteenth century entrepreneur for sure was rich and eccentric but was an art connoisseur too. The statues and other sculptures here are a fine medley of Greek, Roman and Indian mythology, many of which are imported from beyond the seas and some of them probably Raja had received as  gift. There is one room which contains an awe-inspiring larger than life statue of Queen Victoria which was carved out of a single tree trunk. The name Marble palace sounds more apt when you come know that 126 different types of imported Italian marbles were used to build the mansion, its floors and the walls. A winding wooden staircase leads to the upper stories of the building where the descendants of the Raja still continue to live. This quarter is off-limits to the common visitors but the rest of the section of the three storied building has been converted to museum. There is also one private Jagganath Temple inside where  visitors are not allowed . The large halls, corridors are heaving with busts of historical and mythological figures and a lavish collection of Chinese and Japanese porcelain vases is spread out here and there. There are some full wall sized mirrors in some of the rooms and many other original Belgian glass mirrors- baroquely enclosed in gold polished frame. The Marble palace contains a collection of some rare original paintings of the European stalwarts like Rubens, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Titian, Murillo, and John Opie etc. Please make it a point to visit the Nach Ghar or the dance room which once used to be fully carpeted with upholstered sitting arrangements around the center. From the high ornate ceilings hangs beautiful large chandeliers reckoning to its glorious past when the room used to be alight with music and rhythms. From the surrounding verandahs, the wide courtyard in the middle of the house is visible. It comprises of a traditional Bengali Thakur dalan – which is a curious blend of Indian culture and Western style .The sloping roofs are indicative of Chinese influence.

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The outside lawn of the marble palace contains a pond with a beautifully engraved stone fountain in the middle though it does not sprout water anymore. The whole garden area is strewn with  stone statues of lion, fallen angels, Buddha etc. and also marble top tables, benches . The Marble palace also boasts of housing the first zoo in India (private) started  by Raja Rajendra Mullick  but sadly nothing of the zoo now remains. Only the aviary containing few exotic birds brought from all over the world like – Toucan, pelican, Hornbills, peacock, pheasants etc. is still there. There is also a dilapidated rock garden beside the zoo.

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A visit to the Marble palace is bound to amaze you and also to sadden you at its current state of desolation. With a  little renovation and regular maintenance , Marble Palace can shake off its dust  and  be a golden testimony to Kolkata’s ‘marvelous’  past.

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