The palace of the Shobhabazar Royal Family, popularly known as Shobhabazar Rajbari was built by Raja Nabakrishna Deb, a son of Ramcharan Deb, who was the 21st man of the Deb family. Ramcharan Deb settled in Gobindapur area to look after his business and at the same time to keep himself in touch with the British people. For a short period, he took the charge of Dewan under the then Nawab of Cuttack. Unfortunately, when he was murdered by the Maratha Bargis in the jungles of Midnapore, his widowed wife was compelled to settle permanently in their house at Gobindapur with her three sons and five daughters. However, when the British Company started to construct a new fort after the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the family was shifted to Arpooly and then to Sutanuti.
In his early life, Nabakrishna, the youngest son of Ramcharan, was a meritorious boy and his mother was very much concerned about his proper education. At first she arranged to make him proficient in Urdu and Persian and then Arabic and English. Nabakrishna started his life modestly, but soon he was appointed as the Persian teacher of Warren Hastings in 1750. With intelligence and diligence, he earned the confidence of the British and gradually got the opportunity to be engaged as a clerk-cum-interpreter, known as a Munshi, of Governor Drake. With time, he proved his worth, earned the trust of the British East India Company, as he faithfully carried out confidential work for them and even started to advise them on foreign relations. Personally, he was a great supporter of the establishment of British power in India.
It is believed that, Nabakrishna Deb earnestly wanted to free Bengal from the prevailing Muslim rule and along with Mir Jafar and Jagat Sheth, he played a key role in an infamous political game and helped the British to defeat Siraj ud-Daulah at the battle of Plassey, otherwise known as Palashi. In the eyes of many, this action on the part of Nabakrishna Deb made him a traitor, who sold his motherland to the British and enabled them to rule India for the next two hundred years. It is also maintained that, after the fall of Siraj ud-Daulah, Deb along with Mir Jafar, Ramchand Roy and Amir Beg, surprisingly acquired a huge sum of money from some unknown secret treasury, which is not less than eight crore or eighty million rupees.
During his lifetime, Raja Nabakrisna Deb constructed two residential buildings in Shobhabazar. At first he constructed a house on the north side of the road, which is today located at 33 Raja Nabakrishna Street and is locally known as Choto Shobhabazar Rajbari. In the 18th century Calcutta, Shobharam Basak, a reputed trader from Saptagram, was one of the richest native inhabitants of the area and it is said that Raja Nabakrishna Deb acquired the palace from Shobharam Basak and extended it to look like what it appears today. Nevertheless, he gifted the building to Gopimohan, whom he adopted from his elder brother Ram Sundar Deb. Subsequently, when his wife gave birth to a son, he constructed a new building and gifted it to his biological son Rajkrishna and his descendants. This new building, now situated at 36 Raja Nabakrishna Street, is popularly known as Baro Shobhabazar Rajbari. The main building of the Baro Shobhabazar Rajbari is possibly predated 1757, while the ‘Naat Mandap’ was probably constructed during 1830's.
Durga Puja was initiated at the Rajbari in 1757, after the Battle of Plassey and it became a regular event. The festival was celebrated with pomp and royal grandeur, when English stalwarts like Lord Clive and Warren Hastings were invited. During its prime time, many renowned dancers like Malkajaan, Gohor Jaan and others had performed in the Naach Ghar of Sobhabazar Rajbari. It was also glorified with the footprints of dignities like Sadhak Ramprasad, Thakur Ramkrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Sister Nivedita, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Debendranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore and many more. After his return from Chicago, Swami Vivekananda was felicitated at the first civic reception arranged by Raja Binoy Krishna Deb Bahadur, in the courtyard of Sobhabazar Rajbari, in the year 1897.
Originally, it was a seven-winged palace, locally called ‘Saat- Mahala Prasad’. Unfortunately, today nothing but the courtyard along with the ‘Thakur Dalan’ of the Rajbari remains intact. Thakur Dalan is the building attached to the inner quadrangle courtyard, used for worshipping the deity. The seven arched or the Saat Khilan Thakur Dalan, otherwise known as the ‘Naat Mandir’, with multi-foliate arches, was supported on pairs of rectangular columns, projecting from a wall. Pairs of columns with plain shafts rose up between the arches for the support of the Entablature or the upper part of the building, comprising the main beam (architrave), frieze, and cornice above.
The double storey wings on either side of the courtyard are connected to the Thakur Dalan with the ‘Naach Ghar’ or the Dance hall to the south. Eight MajesticTuscan columns supported a wide projecting cornice at the roof level. Two rows of foliated arches at the northern end lead to the Nabaratna Temple at the rear. The temple housed the family deity ‘Radha Gobinda’, which has been worshipped by the family for about 250 years. Today, the condition of the Naach Ghar is pathetic. Its roof has caved in and except for the huge courtyard with the Thakur Dalan that still remains intact as the dumb witness of its glorious past, very little of the superstructure remains today.
Though Shobhabazar Rajbari has lost its old grandeur long ago, it is a part of the heritage of the city. Till today, thousands visit the Rajbari to witness and celebrate the Durga Puja, which was started by Raja Nabakrishna Deb some 260 years ago. Till today, the traditional ‘ekchala’ idol, embellished with ‘Daker saj’ is worshipped by the Deb family. It is interesting to note that, Daker saj is primarily made from silver foil, which is locally called ‘rangta’. Since in those early days the material was not locally available, they were imported from Germany by mail or ‘dak’ and hence the decoration came to be known as Daker saj.