Situated at 65/2 Baghbazar Street, “Basubati”, the palatial mansion of Nandalal Basu and Pashupatinath Basu is an iconic landmark of Calcutta which still stands as the witness of its glorious past.
The Basu family had huge landed property (Zamindari) in Gaya district of Bihar. Mahendra Basu, the eldest son of the family inherited a large property from his uncle at Bagbazar. However, Mahendra could not enjoy his inheritance, as he died early. After his death his brothers, Nandalal Basu and Pashupatinath Basu, constructed the building with their inheritance on a 22-bigha plot, after laying the foundation stone on 19th October, 1876. The responsibility of the design and construction of the building was entrusted to the first qualified Bengali engineer Nilmoni Mitra, who in the meantime had already constructed a number of important buildings in the vicinity.
However, Basu Bati was undoubtedly Mitra’s crowning glory. While designing the building , he tried to avoid the prevalent European style of architecture, as far as possible, and opted for a fusion of the traditional Bengali style and the typical Islamic pattern The arches of the building had distinctive Islamic flavor, while prevalence of the Hindu symbol of lotus motifs could be seen in different forms. The south-facing house has a column and beam structure. It has sixteen Doric columns, evidencing European influence, along with iron beams supporting the roof. The crown of the columns resembles lotus petals and below the petals, heads of lions can be seen. Beyond the large entrance door, lies the “Thakur Dalan”, ornamented with wall paintings, and relief works in plaster, where some reflections of Bengali motif are prevalent. The walls of the house were ornamented with motifs and the roofs were painted in golden color. “The Natchghar” (Dance room) and balconies for women were on the first floor. On the level of the first floor, a platform, like a balcony, with ornate wrought iron railings filled the void between the giant pillars and the main wall of the house. The towering porch equally divides the titanic building into two majestic wings.
Joanne Taylor and Jon Lang in their book, “The Great Houses of Calcutta : Their Antecedents, Precedents, Splendour and Portents”, gave us a vivid description of the interior of the house, and discussed about its architectural design. This book is, however, based on Taylor’s widely acclaimed and award-winning book “The Forgotten Palaces of Calcutta” and her thesis “The Great Houses of Kolkata, 1750-2006”. As per their account, once the house had a rich golden ceiling. The grand hall with twenty four feet high ceiling was decorated with large chandeliers. The dancing room on the second floor was complete with a permanent stage along with the rows of chairs for the honourable guests to observe the performances. The upper level balconies were also equipped with proper sitting arrangements to enable the ladies and the children to watch the show from above. Joanne Taylor also remarked that, though the floor of the room has lost its expensive carpets long back, it looked quite dignified and graceful with embellished armchairs, marble side tables and statues and potted palms. The walls of the room were meticulously decorated with the big oil paintings of the ancestors, fixed in gilt frames. Some of the portraits were painted by the renowned artist Bamapada Mukherjee.
At the earnest request of the religious Nandalal Basu, Sri Ramkrishna Paramahansa and other spiritual and religious persons visited this house on various dates and occasions. It is said that, on his return from Chicago, Swami Vivekananda was given the first civil reception in the courtyard of the premises. Rabindranath Tagore and Rashtraguru Surendranath Banerjee often visited the place to hold public or private meetings in the central courtyard. While Surendranath used to deliver his lectures to the assembled political activists against the partition of Bengal, Rabindranath celebrated a mass “Raksha Bandhan” ceremony here, with Hindus and Muslims, to protest the partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon in 1905. A plaque at the old palatial house proudly indicates the same.
Today the condition of the building may enthrall makers of horror films. Recently, a large chunk of the cornice in the courtyard collapsed. The dilapidated building deserves immediate attention. But, though the property has been declared as a heritage property, no action has been taken so far to restore or renovate the building. A major part of it is occupied by a library, administered by the West Bengal Education Department. Another portion was bought by a realty tycoon Harsh Neotia from the present generation of Basu family. Mr. Neotia has plans to convert the mansion into a heritage hotel. But the matter stands still. The library is yet to be relocated and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation is yet to issue the green signal to the Realtor.