Ravi is a traveler and foodie who loves to visit off-the-beaten-track places and understand the culture, history and customs behind them.
The national library of India, also known as Calcutta Public Library was built in 1883. With over 2,270,000 books, 86,000 maps, and 3,200 manuscripts, it has a mammoth 45 kilometers of shelf space. And at one time more than 550 people can stay under its roof. It is undoubtedly one of the largest libraries anywhere in the world.
But here is the thing; like all ancient buildings, the Belvedere House has also a haunted history associated with it. The building was the residence of Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of the East India Company. And if legends are to be believed, his apparition still roams about the corridors of the library to find a black bureau rumored to be located within the library.
The bureau supposedly contained papers proving his innocence during his impeachment trial between 1788 and 1795 in the parliament of Great Britain. Even though all charges against him were dropped later, his apparition still comes back in the hope of locating those papers.
The presence of his ghost was not only experienced by the readers but also by the librarians, who reported bizarre happenings like chairs being drawn away, someone breathing down their neck while reading, sounds of ruffing of pages and falling of books and so on……
While skeptics and rationalists have dismissed these fantastical claims for long, the library again got a fresh dose of mystery when a secret room of 1000 square foot with no door or trapdoor was discovered by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 2010, during the restoration process of the building.
What did Hastings use the room for? Nobody seems to know the answer yet.
The secret room in Belvedere House
Located on Belvedere Road, the majestic house was built across 30 acres by Mir Jafar, the nawab of Bengal, in the 1760s. He later presented the house to Warren Hastings, the first governor-general of India.
Hastings stayed there until the 1780s after which he finally sold Belvedere House to a Major Tolly for the sum of Rs. 60,000. Major Tolly died in 1784 and his family sold the property in 1802. Years later, Lord Curzon merged it with the Calcutta Public Library, founded in 1836. After India’s independence, it was named the National Library and placed under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
In 2010, The Archaeological Survey of India undertook the task of restoration of the building to give a facelift to the heritage wing of the building. It was during this restoration activity that the secret chamber was found.
As an ASI engineer involved in the restoration work tells us.
“This chamber has no entrances, no trap doors, nothing. We searched every inch of the walls and the first floor area directly above this chamber but didn’t find any entrance. There is, however, an arch on one side of the enclosure that appears to have been walled up. We are even questioning the retired employees about it but have drawn a blank so far. But it is strange that such a big chamber could have gone unnoticed all these years.”
With the secret room adding to the haunted aura surrounding the building, speculations started flying thick and fast. What was the purpose of a large but completely closed off room located in the middle of a former governor’s residence? Could it be a torture room replete with torture devices and skeletons? Could it be the room where Hastings black bureau was kept? Or maybe it was filled with his rumored ill-gotten treasure?
The ASI posted guards around the buildings to prevent break-ins from zealous treasure hunters. The ASI also sought approval to explore the chamber. However, since it was a heritage structure, permission was only given only to drill holes in the wall to see what is inside the chamber.
Is the mystery finally solved?
What the ASI found was something very boring or disappointing; an anti-climax to all those fantastic dreams of the treasure hunters.
They found mud and lots of it. It was just an empty cavity filled with mud believed to be built to strengthen the building’s foundations. It is just an architectural feature and nothing else said the ASI who closed its investigation.
However, it did not answer all the questions. Many ask why there was a bricked arch if it was never meant to be entered. What if there is something underneath the mud? And interestingly the ASI stopped publishing all information about the chamber from 2012 onwards.
Maybe there is still something out there waiting to be discovered.