A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee
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During the Christmas holidays, we planned a road trip to the historic city of Nawabs – royal Murshidabad, around 200 kilometres from Kolkata via NH34, beautifully located along the banks of Bhagirathi River (Ganga is traditionally known by this name here). However, the road conditions were extremely bad at some places taking us more than six hours to reach Lalbag, the heart of Murshidabad town. There are no luxury hotels at Murshidabad yet, but the warm hospitality of the local residents will gratify any tourist visiting the place.
Our stay was booked at Hotel Sagnik – probably the best lodging facility (budget hotel) located centrally in front of Panch Raha Bazar’s Netaji Market – adjacent to all the prominent visiting spots. Boarders will get everything required within two minutes walking distance from the hotel. The best feature of the hotel were its staffs. They were very cordial, though lacked in trained hospitality services and professionalism.
We were extremely exhausted by the time we reached our destination previous night. It was a tough drive indeed, not to be judged by the distance alone. Tonga rides are a very common tradition of Murshidabad and thus we preferred to leave our car at hotel and take a horse ride around the historic town. Every corner of it was speaking about the grandeur of its past. Be it the Hazar Duari Palace, Dakshin Darwaza, Qila Nizamat, Motijheel, Katra Mosque, Imambara, Prince’s Quarters, Jahan Kosha, Wasef Manzil, Nach Mahal, Top Khana, Jaan Ghar, Royal Horse and Elephant Stables, Nimak Haram Deorhi, Jafaraganj Cemetery, Siraj-ud-Daullah’s tomb at Khoshbag, Nawab School and innumerable other royal monuments spread across every nook of the lost capital.
Of all the architectural wonders, the edifice which aroused highest interest in me was a century old incomplete mosque with a hole and a captivating story surrounding its past – the Footi Masjid. Any tourist visiting Murshidabad will tell you hundreds of legends about the major palaces and cemeteries, however, hardly anyone would tell you anything about this mysterious piece of incomplete art.
The brick moulded building was in complete ruins, overgrown by bushy jungles, when we took our first step inside. It is believed to be one of the most haunted corners of Murshidabad located at Kumarpur, about two and half kilometres to the east of Qila Nizamat. The mosque, if completed, would have been the largest one in the city being one hundred thirty-five feet long and thirty-eight feet broad massive structure. It was to be mounted by five domes – four at the corners and one in the middle. Plans were there for specially designed spiral staircases to the top of the cupolas at all four turrets which could be easily found from its entrance at the base. All the walls and stairs were constructed, only the ceiling of three domes remained left to be completed. However due to a series of ghostly incidents, the workmanship was left unfinished at a half-done state by the then Nawab.
It was said, during 1740s, Nawab Sarfaraz Khan had started the construction of this mosque with five thousand workers. They had been working day and night for the timely completion of the structure. Suddenly one-day the young Nawab paid a surprise visit to the site to check the progress of the building. During his stopover, a master roll call was done by the site manager and an astonishing fact came out – from the first day onwards, there was a counting error for one extra labour whose wages were duly released every week, but no one knew him by his name. Upon such an enigmatic revelation, subsequently for over a month’s time it was being closely observed; but he did not turn up ever in reality. Nothing concrete could be inferred as such about the furtive presence of that unknown mason. Folklores started spreading notoriously about the mysterious labour and soon the workers boycotted the place.
To avoid further rumours, Nawab Sarfaraz Khan tried to spread a diluted message in the community saying that he had solemnly pledged to complete the construction overnight to compete with his grandfather Nawab Murshid Quli Khan who had built the famous Katra Masjid. Since he could not win the bet, it was left at its state. Three out of five tomb ceilings were left incomplete which appear like holes at a glance.
Nevertheless, the real story was never unveiled. People initially believed the adage but soon they started experiencing eerie incidents at the construction site. The erection of the mosque was thus permanently withheld since then, with hardly any footfalls in a radius of two kilometres around it for centuries. Due to its partial creation, it earned the uncanny name with time – Footi Masjid (meaning mosque with a hole).
Natives still do not enter the Footi Masjid as they believe that since no Namaz had been ever prayed at the mosque, it is surrounded by ill spirits. Also, it is not advisable for tourists to enter inside the building as due to scanty footfalls for years it has now become a cobra’s den. If you still cannot resist yourself from entering the abandoned mosque, then do take a few more steps up a dilapidated spiral staircase to climb to the top of the tomb turret. The view from rooftop is wonderful. Caution – Dare only if you can fight with the venomous friends.