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Mechpara Zamindari- Lakhipur town and it's houses

Today most of these houses are more than 100 years old and are in a ramshackled condition. They need immediate restoration for they are synonymous with our heritage.

Mechpara Zamindari- Lakhipur town and its houses

Sentinel Digital Desk

On the facade of the main palace a relief of peacock (the mascot) was engraved which added to the beauty of the Raj Haveli. To construct these houses, Chinese artisans of experience were hired and they executed intricate designs in timber work. The architectural and sculptural specimens of superior craftsmanship spoke of the glorious days of the Mechpara Raj family's feudal age.

It was sometime around 1957-58. I accompanied my father in his Willys Jeep through a dusty gravel road passing through dense Sal forests to a place called Lakhipur where we were visiting his friend, Phalguni Naryan Choudhury from the erstwhile Mechpara Zamindari Family. I can only recollect faintly that we were in a two storied timber house and from its verandah saw a large monitor lizard in the bank of the Gara River below.

Now after a gap of sixty years I am getting back to the place, though not physically this time. The Mechpara Dynasty is believed to have started sometime between 1447-1504 by its Founder, Thana Kamal or Kamal Lochan. The Estate covered an area of 399 square miles in between the Brahmaputra River and Garo Hills. Not much is in record of the earlier generations of Rulers.

The Sixth Generation Chief- Ronaa Ram Choudhury (1730-1790) was of unusual enterprise and courage. He defeated the Garo chiefs and made them trade their cotton on his terms. He also had the independent spirit in him, the spirit to keep his territory free from the Imperialist trap to the extent of attacking the British establishment in Goalpara town with his 500 Barkandezes. He was not successful in his attack on collector Baillie and had to retire in the Garo Hills and breathed his last some time in February 1790. In fact Ronaa Ram was the first amongst those who stood for freedom in the North East. Unfortunately for reasons best known to the authors of political history, he goes unnoticed without a mention in history books.

It was during the rule of Ronaa Ram's grandson, Prithiram Choudhury (1822 - 1874) that the foundation of a new township for the capital of Mechpara estate, known as Lakhipur was laid. Prithiram was also called Lakhi Narayan for which the new town came to be known as Lakhipur. Prithiram Choudhury was the ablest zamindar of Mechpara family, who received the title of Rai Bahadur on the 19th of July 1857 from the British Government for his outstanding service. The Sanad was granted by Governor General Canning.

After the death of Prithiram Choudhury in 1874 the estate went through dissension among his sons and this brought the estate to the condition of dismemberment. Disputes arose among his seven sons regarding succession to the estate leading to its partition (among his sons). Four of the sons-viz, Khagendra Narayan, Udhab Narayan, Kamal Narayan and Bhadreswar Narayan took among themselves 11 anna interest of the estate and the share was known as the BaroTarof, while the other three i.e. Bholanath, Tilaknath and Lokanath agreed to take the remaining 5 anna interest and was known as the Chota Taraof.

In the subsequent years 5 anna was further divided into 2anna and 3 anna shares among their successors. Likewise, the 11 anna interest was also further divided into 6 anna and 5 interest. The perpetual family quarrel had utterly ruined the management which pushed the tenants in all kinds of difficulties. The situation became so menacing that the British administration had no alternative but to place the estate under the Court of Wards.

The then Deputy Commissioner of Goalpara District assumed the charge of the estate on behalf of the Court of Wards. Even after Indian Independence and the departure of the British, the state of affairs of Mechpara Estate did not improve and it continued till 1956 when zamindary system was abolished by the Government of Assam.

Even after division in the Estate affairs, the families continued to live within the Rajbari compound building individual palatial houses and the family members of both the lines of successors initiated various benevolent works and contributed tremendously to the socio-cultural development of Goalpara as well as Assam along with undertaking a lot of public welfare activities.

Nagendra Narayan Choudhury, son of Khagendra Narayan (despite being born and raised in a typical Bengali atmosphere within Rajbari and outside) was curious to learn Assamese and gradually he got inclined towards the Assamese language and culture. Of course, his close association with Assamese friends, like Tarun Ram Phukan, Kaliram Medhi, Bisnu Prasad Rabha and some others, influenced his life and thinking to a great extent.

After the Dhubri Session of Assam Sahitya Sabha in 1926; the anti Assamese attitude of the Bengali people of Dhubri led by the Zamindars Association inspired some Assamese intellectuals to initiate a pro-Assamese movement in Goalpara to re-establish Assamese as an official language and medium of instruction. Dr. Dinonath Sarma, the Dewan of Sidli Estate took the responsibility of publishing a magazine in Assamese to popularize Assamese language and culture in Goalpara. It was because of Nagendra Narayan Choudhury that Dinonath Sarma could publish the first issue of "Awahan" in 1929 in Calcutta, an Assamese monthly. Nagendra Narayan Chaudhry bore all the expenditure of it's publication. The Awahan is said to have been a milestone in the history of Assamese literature and culture.

Undoubtedly, his matrimonial relation with Ahom Raj Kumari, Prafullabala (the daughter of Prince Keshab Chandra Singha who was the grandson of the last Ahom King, Chandra Kanta Singha) had exerted great influence on Nagendra Narayan Choudhury to be an Assamese in spirit and action. Since then, he devoted himself for the development of Assamese language, literature and culture.

The royal palaces built by Prithiram Choudhury were out of brick in lime surki mortar, which was eventually destroyed by the earthquake of 1897. However, the remains are still conspicuous and speak the glory of the past.

Later his son Khagendra Narayan and others rebuilt the structures in timber (which was available in abundance close by). All the houses had timber flooring on the upper level, CGI roofing and ekora wall panels. One of the main palatial houses had brick posts along the verandah at the ground floor; the flooring of the ground floor was in neat cement finish and was probably done later. The houses were well ventilated and had deep verandahs for movement and keeping the houses cool.

On the facade of the main palace a relief of peacock (the mascot) was engraved which added to the beauty of the Raj Haveli. To construct these houses, Chinese artisans of experience were hired and they executed intricate designs in timber work. The architectural and sculptural specimens of superior craftsmanship spoke of the glorious days of the Mechpara Raj family's feudal age.

One of the grandsons of Prithiram, Rabindra Narayan had built a house of great grandeur in Dhubri town. Other than the residential houses there was the Dewri house and the main Kutchery of the estate and the hospital. By the side of the hospital, there was Rangamanch, (stage room) for drama and entertainment of all family members.

Today most of these houses are more than 100 years old and been through a lot of weathering. They need immediate restoration for they are also synonymous with our heritage.


Source: A brief history by Santo Barman, family members & other writings.

(This article was also posted in the Facebook group "Ancestral Houses of Assam")

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