Coined in the 18th Century, the word Sheherwalis mean “City dwellers”
A long time ago, a community of businessman from Rajasthan migrated to the (then) land of opportunities, Murshidabad. These Rajasthani businessmen called themselves “Sheherwalis” and worked tirelessly to create their empires in textile and banking and went on to become Zamindars. The Sheherwalis, over generations, adapted to the then prevalent cultural influences in the region namely, Mughal, British, Bengali and European and as such created their own unique culture, which was a mélange of all these global influences.
The Sheherwalis settled in the twin cities of Azimganj-Jiaganj and made the towns famous for having more wealth than the combined wealth of the (then) British aristocracy.
The most notable Sheherwali was Jagat Seth (literally, ‘universal banker’, title accorded by the Mughal empire) who was considered to be the richest man in the world at that time.
The sheherwalis are known to have their own dialect, cuisine, culture and lifestyle. A typical picture of early 1900s of a Sheherwali will showcase a Rajasthani turban, a Bengal influenced dhoti, a British walking stick and a Mughal kurta-styled upper wear. Like the melange of cultures in their clothing, Sheherwali cuisine is also deeply influenced by Rajasthani, Mughal and Bengali flavours and ingredients. Being staunch Jains, the cuisine only uses non-root vegetables and has strong Gujurati influence in its dishes. The architecture in Sheherwali palaces also reflected this melange - you would find a British room right across a Rajasthani Gaddi Ghar all housed in a building having European pillars.
The Sheherwalis are now a fast dying community. This Project is a stepping stone towards our efforts to preserve the Sheherwali lifestyle, cuisine, culture and architecture.
It is said that the combined wealth of 20-30 Sheherwali families surpassed that of the British aristocracy of that time.
Migrated from one city to the other, all these families became close to each other and adapted to their new local environment in terms of their food, values and practices. Bengali and Nawabi influences are seen in their fashion and style of dressing - the Sheherwali women adorned themselves with Rajasthani bore (head ornament) and heavy meenakari jewellery studded with precious stones. While the Sheherwali men wore rajasthani kurta, hand-frilled and pleated dhoti (Bengali) paired with embroidered shawl thrown over one shoulder and a distinctive pagdi (head dress);
Food : flavors of food rich in ghee and bold spcy tastes that could survive in the tough climate of Rajasthan, met the distinctive local flavors of Bengal and the royal cuisines of the Afghans and later the Mughals;
Lifestyle : an amalgam of the princely traditions of Rajasthan and the culture of Bengal. This led to theie love for the finer things in terms of art, jewelry, clothes, gardens, furniture and libraries. Many anecdotes about their preference for the huge variety of mangoes are legendary.
Despite of generating huge wealth, the Sheherwalis did not forget their society and its people. They established many schools, temples, markets and training centers. Even today, many families are devote their time and effort towards preserving the region and its heritage for the generations to come.