Located in the Milk Colony area of Belgachia in North Calcutta, the magnificent Belgachia Villa, popularly known as Paikpara Rajbari, is now in a sad and pathetic condition, a ghost of its glorious past.
Considered as one of the most elegant mansions of the mid 19th century, Belgachia Villa was a large garden house with a huge rectangular lake in the complex, which originally belonged to Auckland, an Italian gentleman. Around 1823, Prince Dwarkanath Tagore purchased the entire property from him, with the specific intention to use the place to entertain his European friends. He hired an English architect and spent about two hundred thousand rupees to redesign and redecorate it in perfect European style. In fact, Dwarkanath badly needed a separate house for throwing parties for maintaining his social status and smooth running of his various businesses.
He needed to entertain his honoured guests belonging to the elite society with expensive food and drinks. But, he was not in a position to arrange such parties in his Jorasanko Palace, as his wife, Digambari Debi was a very religious and orthodox lady and Dwarkanath did not want to hurt her feelings.
Dwarkanath used Belgachia Villa as his garden house, which in the midst of all the pomp and splendour of the contemporary Calcutta stood unrivaled in its size, elegance and dignity. One can still find a marble bust of Alexander the Great on a stone pedestal, at the entrance, which once added glamour to the magnificent villa. Built around two centuries ago, the staircase of the building has a unique charm of its own, which is a perfect example of high class of engineering skill. The entire flight of steps is constructed without any support from underneath and is decorated with beautiful cast-iron statues.
The majestic mansion consisting of 54 rooms had a beautiful garden in its front during its glamorous days, which was carefully maintained and was rich with different types of roses and season flowers. The huge garden was bifurcated by 'Moti Jheel', a lovely rectangular lake with a bridge joining the two parts of the garden. The sitting room past the garden was aptly decorated with expensive period furniture, imported from England and Italy. Moreover, it was aesthetically adorned with magnificent works of the famous painters and sculptors. The backyard of the building was equally attractive with a graceful fountain surrounded by Venetian statues. Later, the first floor was added to the building in 1835.
Dwarkanath cordially invited the then Viceroy of Bengal and his companions to this villa in November 1836. For the occasion the best European groups of singers and musicians were hired to entertain the honoured guests. Even the actors and actresses of the French Opera were also invited. The best food and branded drinks were served to the guests by the properly costumed bearers. Later, when Lord Auckland came to Calcutta as the Viceroy, he was also entertained there by Prince Dwarakanath in the same way. In honour of Miss Emily Eden, the lovely and lively sister of Lord Auckland, Dwarakanath arranged a dance and an evening dinner party at this villa on 25 February, 1841. In fact, the place and the ambience impressed them so much, that they visited the villa more than once.
After the sudden demise of Dwarakanath in England in 1846, Devendranath found it necessary to sell the property by auction, to meet his father’s debts. Consequently, after 1 July 1857, the beloved garden house of Prince Dwarkanath became the property of Raja Pratap Chandra Sinha Bahadur of Kandi, who bought it for Rs, 54,000/- only. Since then the mansion has come to be known as ‘Belgachhia Rajbari’ or Paikpara Rajbari.
Despite the change of ownership and the change of identity from Villa to Rajbari, the tradition of throwing parties remained unchanged. Distinguished guest like Prince of Wales, who later ascended the throne as Edward VII, was entertained here in 1875, while it was visited by the Marquis of Ripon in 1882.Gradually, the villa became a Bengali socio-cultural centre, where Europeans were also invited to take part. Raja Pratap Chandra Sinha and Ishwar Chandra Sinha were sincerely devoted and ardent patrons of theatre. At their initiative and drive 'Belgachia Natyasala' was founded and Pandit Ram Narayan's Sanskrit drama, 'Ratnavali' was acted in the Belgachhia Garden House. However, the English version of the drama was also staged for the benefit of the European guests, under the guidance of Michael Madhusudan Dutt. The success of the English version surpassed the utmost expectation. After the incident, Michael Madhusudan Dutt started to write a drama in Bengali and in the next year his new drama 'Sharmistha' was staged at the same venue. Thus, the villa played a key role in the history of Bengali theatre in Calcutta. It is interesting to note that, Belgachia Vila served as the location of two great films of Satyajit Ray, namely 'Jalsaghar' and 'Ghare Baire'.
Today, the beautiful Belgachia Villa has lost its old grace and glamour. The portico seems to cut through the building like an awesome tunnel. The unpainted upper part of the building is in a dilapidated condition with strong branches of trees growing out from the walls and their aerial roots weaving a veil over it. The pink ground floor walls are peeling like scabs. The entire ground floor has lost its frontage, which totally demolished by the compound of a factory. The Moti Jhil can hardly be called a lake, it has become a small pool of smelly stagnant water, where the local women wash their utensils.