Tucked away in a corner of Nadia district of West Bengal is Shibnibas, a ubiquitous Indian town, not far from the country’s international border with Bangladesh. The Churni River flows quietly by, its volume of water dependant on the monsoon rains. Agricultural fields dot its banks while fishermen harvest its watery depths. Having lost its former glory as the capital of the Nadia Raj family, Shibnibas had virtually withdrawn itself from public glare.
It was only pilgrims from nearby areas who arrive here to pay their respect to the deities in the old temples, the only reminders of the city and the capital that Maharaja Krishnachandra had built in the mid-18th century. In winter, the riverside is populated by picnickers.
Three temples built by the King still survive, two dedicated to Shiva and one to Ram-Sita. One of the Shiva temples, built in 1754, is known as Raj-Rajeshwar. It enshrines a nine feet high Shivling (local people call it Buro Shib or the Old Shiva). Pilgrims ascend a flight of steps to reach the platform from where they pour water and milk on the idol. The second Shiva temple was built a little later. The Ram-Sita Temple was also built in 1762. The construction of the Shiva temples is quite different from the typical structure of Bengal temples, which have sloped roof or roof with multiple ‘ratna’ or spires. Repaired and repainted, it is difficult to discern the temples’ architectural legacy of over 250 years. A huge fair takes place during Mahashivratri festival.
According to the writings of Bishop of Calcutta (now Kolkata), Reginald Heber, who passed Shibnibas, on his way to Dacca (now Dhaka) in 1824, there were four large Shiva temples here. But what impressed him most was the old palace; he said that the Gothic style gate reminded him of the entrance to the Kremlin Palace in Moscow. Unfortunately, the palace barely survives, the existing walls sticking out from within the jungle that has now claimed it for their own.
Probably Shibnibas would have continued in this semi-anonymous state if it was not for the insistence of one of its residents, Anjan Sukul, who was determined to revive a particular memory of the history of the partition of India that most had forgotten
He had heard the story innumerable times from his grandfather who was a revolutionary fighting for India’s Independence. The story how Nadia celebrated Indian Independence on August 18, 1947, and not August 15 like the rest of the country. But Sukul knew he needed proof to substantiate the story.
Sometime in the early 1990s, he began an intensive search for any official document. Finally, he found a Bengali book called ‘Nadiar Swadhinata’ at the Writers’ Building in Kolkata, which narrated the events related to the incident.
The Boundary Commission (led by Sir Cyril Radcliffe) had been tasked with preparing the map showing the boundaries separating India and Pakistan (what is Bangladesh today was then known as East Pakistan). The Commission had included a large part of the border district, including Krishnagar, the capital of Nadia Raj, under East Pakistan. Only Nabadwip remained in India. Accordingly, the Muslim League raised the flag of Pakistan in the grounds of Krishnagar District Library on August 14, 1947.
But a large number of people in Nadia were not happy with the decision.
The news of discontent reached the ears of the outgoing British government, who found that a mistake had been committed in the drawing of borders between the two countries.
The announcement of the border rectification was made late on August 17, 1947, according to reports. Three subdivisions of Nadia from undivided Bengal – Chuadanga, Kushtia and Meherpur – were awarded to East Pakistan while India was awarded Krishnagar and Ranaghat subdivisions.
Next day, on August 18, jubilant residents marched to the Krishnagar Public Library grounds, brought down the Pakistan flag and raised the Indian Tricolour.
However, the event or the day was never celebrated subsequently. And Sukul wanted to celebrate it.
He also knew that he needed government sanction before he could observe I-Day on August 18 as well as raise the National Flag on that day. How Sukul managed to obtain permission (after meeting former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao) aided by the central government’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, to hold the ceremony, and also raise the Indian Tricolour on August 18 in subsequent years, is another story.
However, now celebrating I-Day on August 18, which is officially referred to as Day of Inclusion into India, is an annual feature in the calendar of Shibnibas, for nearly two decades.
Apart from flag hoisting by a special guest, cultural and sporting events are held throughout the day. Processions, tableaus, theme-based events, musical performances, etc. are organised by the local people. But the most popular is the boat race, especially the girls’ rowing event, usually held towards late afternoon. Cheered by the spectators, the country boats, decorated with the Indian Tricolour, slice through the Churni River. However, the holding of the boat race depends on the weather (this being the monsoon period).
According to Sukul, a few more areas too were admitted to India following the realignment of the border in 1947 and now Ranaghat, Malda, Bongaon and Balurghat have started observing August 18 as the day of inclusion into India.
Getting there: Shibnibas is around 120km by road from Kolkata and around 25km from the district headquarters Krishnagar (Krishnanagar). If you are able to rough it out, take a Gede-bound local train from Sealdah station in Kolkata and get down at Majdia, from where you may take a local rickshaw to Shibnibas (about five km away). Earlier, one had to cross the river by boat or a rickety bamboo bridge but now a concrete bridge has made the journey a tad easier. You may also travel via Krishnagar, connected to Kolkata by road and rail. From Krishnagar, take a bus or hire a private vehicle.
Be prepared for rains. Carrying drinking water and mosquito repellents must. You may also carry some snacks as there are not many places to eat; those available are rather basic. Good restaurants can be found in Krishnagar. If you are returning through Krishnagar, do not forget to sample the local delicacies Shorpuria and Shorbhaja, and buy a few of the traditional hand-made clays dolls as souvenirs.