Minar (Tower) and Masjid (Mosque)
Pundooah, the name normally refers to the twin city of Gour, now in Malda, which was once the capital of Bengal. Much closer to Calcutta, in the district of Hooghly lie another Pundooah. Both these places contain interesting historical relics.
The smaller version, at Hooghly, contains a five-storied minar (tower) and the ruins of an ancient mosque. It is just 61 km from Howrah and can be reached by the Burdwan Local via main line in one and half hour.
It is best to take the morning train. Even before entering the Pundooah station the minar can be spotted on the right hand side. It towers above the trees and buildings, its unique shape and style distinguishing it from the numerous chimneys of the brick-kiln that dot the region.
Rickshaws are available from station to the minar. The roads of Pundooah are congested and are supplemented with chaotic traffic, but the bumpy rickshaw ride is short.
The complex houses the 40 meter tower, built in 1340 (reduced to 38 meter by the earthquake of 1886) and the ruins of the Bais Darwaza Masjid, built in 1300 (twenty-two doors Mosque). Both these are maintained by the Archeological Survey Of India (ASI) and are declared monument of National Importance.
In 1340 the king of Pundooah, Panduraja was defeated by Shah Suffi nephew of Feroze Shah, the Muslim ruler of Delhi. Shah Suffi went on to construct a tower as a symbol of triumph over his Hindu counterpart, which later on served as the Ajan Minar for the Bais Darwaza Masjid also called the Bari Masjid (Big Mosque). But a handful of historian differ over this issue and they believe that the minar was actually the highest part of the Bishnu Mandir of Panduraja, which was demolished by the Muslim invaders leaving only the tower as a symbol of triumph.
Legend says that Panduraja, considered as a direct descendent of Goutam Buddha, was a powerful ruler in a Hindu dominated kingdom, which housed only five Muslim families. One of these Muslims sacrificed a cow on the occasion of his son’s birthday. Panduraja and his Hindu subjects were furious and they in return killed the boy. The Muslim father was left with no option but to carry his son’s body to the court of Feroze Shah in Delhi.
Feroze Shah in order to crush Panduraja, sent a huge army, led by his nephew Shah Suffi towards Bengal. Although Panduraja was a ruler of a small province and maintained a small army he was able to defend the huge army from Delhi at least for the initial stages.
Soon a rumour spread in the Delhi camp that the palace of Panduraja contained a mysterious pond, which water had a strange power of bringing dead men back to life.
Strategies were chalked at the Delhi army camp and they bribed a man of Panduraja’s army to contaminate the water of the pond by throwing a piece of beef into it. The plan was tactfully carried out and the water lost its magical power and it was only a matter of time that Panduraja was crushed. Left with no option Panduraja and his family committed suicide by drowning in the Hooghly at Tribeni.
While the historians debate over finer issue you can well explore the two unique pieces of Bengal architecture. Located next to the GT Raoad the five-storied Pundooah Minar built in 1340 towers to a height of 125 meter. A spiral stair case of 161 steps leads to the top. Although the staircase are intact to this day but entry is an absolutely prohibited.
The towers narrows as it goes higher and is crowned with a small dome at the top. The upper part brought down by the earthquake has been renovated but it neither resembles the grace and the beauty of the original tower. Four engraved stone pillars, removed from Hindu Temple, flank the entry of the minar.
Next to the Pundooah Minar is the Bais Darwaza Masjid complex. Contrary to the name the mosque contains 24 doors (21 in front and 3 on the side) the roof once contained 63 small domes but the entire roof along with the dome have long collapsed. All the remains of this magnificent brick building are its thick sidewalls and the few arches standing on columns removed from Hindu temples.
The Bais Darwaza Masjid, which was probably built in 1477, contains some remarkable terracotta of floral and geometric design. A stone throne approached by a flight of stairs, from where the Imam carried out the Namaz survives to this day.
The Pundooah Minar and the Bais Darwaza Masjid is hardly visited by tourist and can be an ideal picnic spot on a spring Sunday. But during the Bengali month of Magh, the Magh Mela turns the quiet little complex into a buzzing fair ground. For centuries Pandooah has been a seat of communal violence but this 100 years (started in 1904) old fair is a classic example of communal harmony where people of all religion, cast and creed participate in the true spirit of “unity among diversity.”
- Paschim Banga Bhraman O Darshan by Bhupati Ranjan Ghosh
- Hooghly Jelar Purakirti by Narendranath Bhattacharya
- My article on Pundooah published in The Telegraph
Church & Imambara
Almost a century after Vasco da Gama reached the West Coast of India the Portuguese started making their inroads into Bengal. Soon settlement started growing up along the rivers and the area around present day Hooghly became the Portuguese stronghold. By 1599 a church was constructed on the banks of the Hooghly, making it the oldest Christian Church of West Bengal.
But the good old days of the Portuguese were short lived. In 1632 The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan attacked the Portuguese settlement which also had a small fort. The Portuguese were severely defeated and their Fort & Church were reduced to ruins. Several Portuguese and local Christians were killed. Father Joan De Cruz was taken prisoner to Agra, where he was thrown in front of a ferocious elephant. But the rogue elephant instead of trampling the priest to dead lifted him by his trunk and placed him in his back.
The miracle impressed the Emperor to such an extent that he not only set the priest and his followers free but also provided tax free land for the construction of the new church. But the miracles continued. It was during the siege a local Christian by the name of Taigo, in a desperate bid to save to statue of Mary dived into Hooghly, and was never seen again. Strangely on the day of the inauguration of the church the statue appeared in the banks of the Hooghly. The statue was re – established and came to be known as “Our Lady of the Happy Voyage.”
When the celebrations of the inauguration was in progress a Portuguese ship, with tattered sails appeared on the river bank. It came to known that the ship only a few days ago had encountered a terrific storm and the crew was lucky to be alive. During the storm the captain of the ship had promised to offer the main mast of the ship to the first church he sighted.
The captain kept his words and the mast can still be seen in the compound of the Church. The Portuguese word for mast was bandel and the church came to known as the Bandel Church, which can well be your next weekend gateway.
Today Bandel is accessible from both Howrah and Sealdah Station. Rickshaws are available from the station and a short bumpy ride takes you to the church. The church, with its towering clock tower, has been modified largely over the years and nothing much remains of its past structure.
The entrance is through an arched gateway on the banks of the Hooghly and is crowned with a statue of Mary, with baby Jesus, on a boat. After entering the church take the stairs to the top balcony where devotees light candles in front of the “Our Lady of the Happy Voyage.” The balcony also provides spectacular views of the Jubilee Bridge spanning across the Hooghly. The Jubilee Bridge built in 1887 on the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s reign is one of the oldest operating rail bridges in the world.
Get down from the balcony and head for the main alter housing the statue of Our Lady of Holy Rosary. The other two alters on the side contains a statue of Jesus and St. John Bosco. The entire complex contains several statues dedicated to different Christian Saints. The complex also contains a graveyard and the mast.
Bidding farewell to the Bandel Church, head for the Hooghly Imambara. Imambara literally means the residence of the Imam, but In the Indian subcontinent, the word stands for a house or an assembly hall built by the Shiites for observing Muharram. Build in the memory of the great philanthropist Hazi Muhammad Mohsin, the imposing structure was took 20 years to build and was completed in 1861.
Designed by architect Keramtulla Khan, the two storied building is cnetred round a rectangular courtyard, decorated with fountains and pools. But the prime attraction of the Imambara are it two 85 feet high towers. The two towers are respectively reserved for men and women and each contains a set of 152 stairs and offers spectacular views of the Hooghy including the Jubilee Bridge.
The three storied structure connecting the tower contains a clock at the top story, while the lower stories contain the bells and the clock machinery. However these are out of bounds of the public. The room at the far end of the courtyard is contains beautiful chandeliers and is decorated with religious artifacts. The courtyard at the back contains a sun dial.
But sadly the Imambara is in a rundown state, the fountain has long stopped working and the crystal clear water has turned green. But the Imamabara still stands and its clock still strikes every quarter of an hour marking the passage of time and reminding one of the glorious days of Bandel & Hooghly.
Getting There: Bandel is well connected from both Howrah (39km, Rs19) & Sealdah (46km, Rs21).
Getting Around: Cycle Rickshaws are the only option. Rickshaws charge Rs100 for the trip. Do bargain hard.
Places to eat: There are basic eateries near the Church & Station.
Note: Rates are as on July 2011.
Rebirth of a Temple Town
Located in the Dumka District of Jharkhand the non descriptive village of Maluti houses several temple with intricate art work.
Legend, Myth and a bit of History
It was during the reign of Alauddin Hussan Shah of Gour (1495 – 1525) and the sultan has camped in the nearby area about 500 years back. It was during the camp the Begum lost his favorite pet hawk (baj). A young local orphan farmer by the name of Basanta captured the bird and returned it to the queen. The sultan was so impressed that as a token of gratitude he gifted several acres of tax free land to Basnata, marking the beginning of Nankar (tax free) kingdom and Basanta came to be known as Baj Basanta.
Baj Basant’s great grand son Rajchandra was defeated by the King of Rajnagar in a battle and was brutally murdered. His four sons shifted the capital to Maluti in about 1680 and started living separately.
The house of Rakharchandra, the eldest son, came to be known as Rajbari (house of the king). The second son Prithvichandra’s house was called the Madhyam Bari (house of the second). Ramchandra, who like his brother got one – fourth share, and was called Sikir Bari (house of one – fourth share). The fourth and last son Madhavchandra had six sons, so his house came to be known as Chhai Taraf (house of six). The four sons build several temples converting the non descriptive village into a temple town.
Gopaldas Mukherjee (Batu da)
The Lone Crusader
“Whoever comes to Maluti, Batuda takes him around, tells him some fabulous stories about each temple. He knows the temples brick by brick”
Satish Tyagi, former deputy director archaeology, Jharkhand
The 72 out of the 108 temples of Maluti stands to this day. They have survived due to the efforts of a single man Gopaldas Mukherjee (locally known as Batu da). The 82 years old Batu da have been a custodian of the Maulti temples for over half a century. It is only due to the efforts of this gentleman the temples of Maluti have survived and are presently being conserved by the Government of Jharkhand.
Gopaldas Mukherjee the retired school teacher and ex air-force soldier have not only saved the temples from destruction but also documented the history of the village. He has written several books on Maluti in Bengali, Hindi and English.
His Bengali books include “Devbhumi Maluti,” “Bajer Badale Raj” and “Nankar Maluti.” His English book “Temples of Maluti” is all set to be published. His Hindi works include a booklet titled “Guptakasi Maluti.”
My Personal Travelogue
Although Maluti is located in Dumka District of Jharkhand but it is best approachable from Rampurhat in Birbhum district of West Bengal. Although no regular autos are available from the Rampurhat station one has to book a auto to visit the temples of Maluti.
The highlight of the auto ride is an amazing shortcut along a abandoned second world War (WWII) airstrip. The towering sentinel like temples welcomed us into the village of Maluti. Batu da himself welcomed us into the village and volunteered to give us a temple tour.
The temples of Maluti are distributed in four clusters, belonging to the four great great grandsons of Baj Basanta. The first cluster belongs to the Madhyam Bari. The second and third clusters are clubbed together and belong to the Rajbari and Sikir Bari. The fourth and last cluster belong to Chhai Taraf.
Apart from these there are several other scattered temples along with a few new temples, including the newly constructed abode of Goddess Mauliksha, after whom Maluti gets its named.
Most of the temples of Maluti follow the char – challa (four sloped roofs) form of architecture, however there are a few flat roof temples and a single pinnacle temple. But the star attraction of Maluti temple is its intricate terracotta. Some scholars have opined that the intricate designs are not terracotta but curved out of a sandstone called phool pathar, but several others, including Gopaldas Mukherjee, consider it as terracotta (burnt clay).
As the experts argue over finer issue we decide to explore the temple town of Maluti. We started with the first cluster consisting of several temples, known as Madhyam Bari, with intricate carvings. The temples are approached by a single arched entrance with is crowned by a war scene between Ram and Ravan. This scene is found in several temples all over Maluti, but they are not replicas. Each differ from the other for example Ravana is seen to mount a chariot or sporting decorative foot wears while Hunuman carries Ram on his shoulder. Another common panel is that Durga in Mahisasuramardini poster flaked with her children in traditional style. This panel is normally found above the arch panel in almost all the temples of Maluti.
Our next stop was the second combined cluster of Rajbari and Sikir Bari, approachable by a complex maze of lanes. This is the largest of the clusters and contains several temples of different shapes and sizes, including a roofless hexagonal Rasmancha. In one of the temples the Ram – Ravan scene in the arch panel is replaced with a beautiful Mahisasuramarini panel.
Finally we made our way again through a complex networks of lanes and bylanes to the last of the cluster, known as Chhai Taraf. Consisting of a few scattered temples on either side of the road. All the temples follow the char chala structure and are decorated with beautiful terracotta carvings.
Finally it was time for home and we returned with a signed copy of Gopaldas Mukherjee’s book “Nankar Maluti” and with memories to last a life time and dreams to return again.
Getting There: Rampurhat is the nearest railhead. Gandevata Express is the best option. There are no regular transport from Rampurhat. Auto needs to be reserved from Rampurhat for the Maluti trip. The journey (one way) takes an hour via a shortcut through an abandoned Second World War highway. Aprox. Cost is Rs400, subject to bargain, for the whole trip.
Places to stay: Maluti can be covered in a single day from Kolkata. There are no places to stay in Maluti. Hotels are available in Rampurhat. The trip can be clubbed with the popular pilgrimage of Tarapith.
Places to eat: Maluti has no eateries. Basic food is available in Rampurhat.
Journalist, Author, Activist and Urban Thinker
“You’ve got to get out and walk”
Jane Jacobs (May 4, 1916 – April 25, 2006) was an American–Canadian journalist, author, and activist best known for her influence on urban studies. She had no formal training in architecture or urban planning yet her influential book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (published in 1961) introduced ground breaking ideas about how cities function, evolve and fail that now seem like common sense to generations of architects, planners, politicians and activists.
Jacobs saw cities as integrated systems that had their own logic and dynamism which would change over time according to how they were used. With a keen eye for detail, she wrote eloquently about sidewalks, parks, retail design and self-organization.
A firm believer in the importance of local residents having input on how their neighborhoods develop, Jacobs encouraged people to familiarize themselves with the places where they live, work, and play.
Started in 2007, a year after her death, Jane’s Walks are held annually during the first weekend in May, to coincide with her birthday. Jane’s Walk consists of a series of neighbourhood walking tours. The walks are led by local volunteers and offered for free.
Jane’s Walk Calcutta (Kolkata) Edition
3 – 5 May. 2013
“To Calcutta much abused, much loved and always interesting”
The 2013 Calcutta (Kolkata) edition of the Jane’s Walk was organised by The Telegraph Explore Calcutta Walks, in association with Calcutta Walks and was presented by Prabha Khaitan Foundation. Nine walks (including a bicycling ride) was designed by Calcutta Walks to cover the different cultural, social and even environmental aspects of the “City of Joy.”
Jane’s Walk, Calcutta (Kolkata) Edition Schedule
May 4 & 5
East Calcutta Wetlands
Paroma Police Station
Kalighat Police Station
Victoria Memorial Main Gate
Calcutta Theatre Story
Girish Park Metro Exit
Chatubabu Latubabur Bari
Victoria Memorial Main Gate
Chinatown – Tiretta Bazar
Joseph Percy Ling
Poddar Court Remeonds
It was a tough decision choosing the walk, and after a series of decisions and indecisions I decided to head for the East Calcutta Wetlands Walk on 5 May 2013.
East Calcutta Wetlands Walk
With Bonani Kakkar, 5 May 2013
“If the Maidan is the lungs of Calcutta, the East Calcutta Wetlands would be the kidney!”
Bonani Kakkar, Environment Activist
Located on the eastern fringes of the city the East Calcutta Wetlands is an interesting mix of natural and man made water bodies interconnected by a complex network of canals. Covering an area of 125 square kilometers, the East Calcutta Wetland include salt marshes and salt meadows, as well as sewage farms and settling ponds and is the world’s largest wastewater fed aqua culture system.
The East Calcutta Wetlands provide a very cheap, efficient and eco-friendly system of solid waste and sewer treatment system for the city of Calcutta (Kolkata), hence
Sadly for majority of Calcuttans the East Calcutta wetlands is just a quick glance from the passing car window along the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass or a glimpses from the office window of Salt Lake (Sec. V).
The Jane’s Walk of the East Calcutta Wetlands kicked of from the Bantala Dock after a 3 km drive from the Paroma Island. Walk leader Bonani Kakkar, environmentalist and activist who rums the NGO People United for Better Living in Calcutta (PUBLiC), introduced the wetlands standing next to one of the numerous sluice gates that controls the flow of water in & out of the wetlands.
According to Bonani Kakkar Calcutta (Kolkata) slopes West to East and away from the river. The East Calcutta Wetland comes to the rescue saving to the city from flooding. Time and again unplanned planning have led to excessive water logging in some pockets of the city, Bonani cited the example of Lake Town being flooded after the construction of the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.
The walk soon started and we made our way past some ruined structure, which according to Bonani was a sewage water treatment plant set up by the British. But Calcutta had its own natural sewage treatment system and quiet likely the plant never started operation.
As we made our way past one of these structure a slithering snake, which lived in perfect harmony with a family of pigs, welcomed us. Soon our discussion shifted to wildlife of East Calcutta Wetland and Bonani shared her experience of spotting monitor lizards and mongoose. Sadly our wildlife spotting was restricted to few water birds like kingfisher, cormorants, herons and the rare open bill stork.
Soon the discussion changed to ecology, and Bonani explained the role of water hyacinths in providing shade to small fishes and the role of algae in keeping the four feet deep water of the wetlands (locally called bheri) clean.
As we crossed a rickety bamboo bridge and ventured deep into the bheri region Bonani became nostalgic as she narrated about the epic battle against the West Bengal Government to protect the East Calcutta Wetlands. Bonani went on to narrate the story of Justice Umesh Ch. Banerjee being welcomed to the bheri by a yellow coloured giant frog (locally called sona bang) on his official visit to the wetlands. Finally in 1992 it was victory for Bonani and PUBLiC, Justice Umesh Ch. Banerjee of High Court ruled that no development activity could take place without its prior permission. More success followed as in 2002 the East Calcutta Wetlands was declared as Wetland of International Importance by Ramsar Bureau.
We continued our walk along narrow embankments separating one bheri from the other with the Calcutta (Kolkata) skyline in the distant horizon. We walked passed boats and fishing nets left to dry and strange bamboo screens which prevented the fish from moving from one bheri to another.
Occasionally we made way for fishermen on bicycles carrying fresh stock of fish to the market. Bonani’s husband Pradeep, who was accompanying us, explained that the East Calcutta Wetlands not only provides fish to the Calcutta market but also fresh vegetables grown in the adjoining land, which is technically a part of the wetland.
We finished our East Calcutta Wetland walk discussing about the threats to this fragile ecosystem. Although a protected place the land sharks are always lookout for an opportunity. Also the toxic chemical wastes are threatening to contaminate the fish and vegetables.
- The File Photos are not shot during Jane’s East Calcutta Wetland Walk on 5 May 2013.
- Bonani Kakkar for the wonderful introduction of the East Calcutta Wetlands
- The Telegraph for hosting the Jane’s Walk in Calcutta
- Calcutta Walks not only for its efficient management but also for supporting this blog
Bawali ~ Revisited
Bawali Rajbari, Budge Budge, 24 Pargans (South)
Also see Bawali ~ Temples & Mansions
As I entered the courtyard of the Mondal mansion of the Bawali, it was a pleasant surprise for me. In the three years since my last visit the crumbling Mondal Mansion of Bawali have been given a face lift.
Bawali, a non – descriptive in the Budge Budge subdivision of 24 Parganas (South) can be reached from the Budge Budge. Bawali can also be raeched from Amtala on the Diamond Harbour Road (DH rd).
History books tell us that the Mondals of Bawali were originally Roys. Shovaram, the grandson of Basudev Roy (who lived between the end of 16th century and the early 17th century), was awarded the title Mondal. Shovaram’s grandson Rajaram was the senapati of the Raja of Hijli. Moved by his bravery, the raja offered him the ownership of 50 villages, which included Bowali and Budge Budge.
The family set up residence in Bawali. This marked the beginning of their dominance in the area, roughly around 1710. The family flourished under Rajaram’s grandson Haradhan, who enjoyed the patronage of East India Company. He built many temples and his seven sons followed in his footsteps, turning the nondescript village into a temple town.
The good old days of the Mondal family did not last long. The trade soon dwindled and so did the fortune of the Mondal family. The mansions and temple became a white elephant and with merger income their maintenance became impossible. Slowly the temples and the mansion started crumbling to dust.
Recently the magnificent but the crumbling Bawali Mansion have been taken over by Calcutta (Kolkata) based businessman Ajay Rawla, who has taken up the initiative of turning the ruined mansion into a heritage hotel.
Presently four rooms have been renovated and are opening to public. The open area consisting of a dinning hall and two drawing rooms have also been renovated but keeping the old rustic look alive.
The furniture and fixtures maintain the old look and the numerous photos of old Hollywood dot the walls along with beautifully decorated mirrors. Bone China vases with potted plants have added a new dimension to the mansion.
The courtyard, which doubles up as a open air theatre hall, has been decorated with potted plants and cast iron benches. Several dance and music performances have already been held at the courtyard, whcih once served as a tennis court.
The terrace above the courtyard has also been modified and is ideal for an open air breakfast, lunch or even a candle lit dinner.
Lighting arrangements have been made and the Bawali Rajbari along with the nine – pinnacled (naba ratna) Gopinath Temple is lit up during festivals and occasions, turning the once decapitated structure into a grand spectacle.
According to Rawla lot of works still need to be done, more rooms are coming up and a spa is also on the list.
Located at the very backyard of Calcutta (Kolkata) the once decapitated Mondal Mansion of Bawali is all set to turn into a heritage hotel.
- Ajay Rawla, for the warm hospitality at the Bawali Rajbari, Heritage Hotel.
- Manjit Singh Hoonjan and Goutam Shorff for accompanying me.
Related links from my website:
Komagata Maru Memorial
Budge Budge, 24 Parganas (South)
Just next to the docks of Budge Budge, about 30 km south of Calcutta (Kolkata), lies a strange memorial. Popularly known as the “Punjabi Monument” it is modelled as the Sikh kirpan (dagger), the white and green cement structure rises in a magnificent arch to touch the sky.
The memorial is dedicated to victims of the notorious Komagata Maru Incident that happened almost a century ago.
“The visions of men are widened by travel and contacts with citizens of a free country will infuse a spirit of independence and foster yearnings for freedom in the minds of the emasculated subjects of alien rule.”
~ Gurdit Singh
In 1914, a wealthy Indian fisherman settled in Singapore, Gurdit Singh Sandhu, did quite the unthinkable. He chartered a Japanese steamship of 3,000-odd gross register tonnage to transport a large number of his Punjabi brethren from India to Canada in a bid to outsmart the tough immigration laws the northern American country had imposed to keep Asians out.
The steam liner, SS Komagata Maru, set sail from Hong Kong in April 1914 and after touching Shanghai and Yokohama, reached Canada’s Burrard Inlet, near Vancouver, on May 23. It had 340 Sikhs, 24 Muslims and 12 Hindus on board, all British subjects. But the ship was not allowed to dock in Canada, leading to impassioned protests among Indians living in that country and in the US.
Various shore comities where formed and long discussion with the Canadian Government let to no result. At one such meeting, the protesters resolved that if the passengers were not allowed in, Indo-Canadians would follow them back to India and start a rebellion, Ghadar.
In July, the Canadian government ordered a tugboat to push Komagata Maru out to the sea and mobilised naval forces to make its stand clear. On July 23, after only 24 passengers were allowed to get off, Komagata Maru was forced to turn around and start its voyage back to Asia.
The vessel reached India on September 27 but a fate far worse awaited the passengers here. Komagata Maru was stopped by a British gunboat and those on board were placed under guard. The British government saw the passengers as “dangerous political agitators”. When the ship docked, the British tried to arrest Baba Gurdit Singh and 20 other “leaders” of the “political agitators”. On September 29, shots rang the air as passengers tried to flee the ship. 19 ( a board in fort of the memorial says 50) were killed. Those who escaped were later imprisoned or traced to their villages and kept under house confinement till World War I ended, but Baba Gurdit Singh went into hiding till 1922 but gave himself up after Mahatma Gandhi urged him to and served a five-year jail term.
In 1952 the Indian Government erected a memorial in memory of the martyrs of Komagata Maru. It was designed by architect Habib Rahaman and was inaugurated by the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru.
The Kirpan shaped memorial is today enclosed in a small courtyard, which represents more of a religious shrine than a martyrs memorial and one has to remove his shoes before entering it.
Recent efforts have been made to restore the memorial and the courtyard and glow sign has been put blocking the view of the memorial. The golden coloured plaques at the base of the memorial, showing different incidence of the Komagata Maru incident, have been give a multi coloured face-lift.
The courtyard also marks a spot where a tree was said be planted by Gurdit Singh, but sadly the tree have long vanished. It also contains a list of the martyrs, which far exceeds the official count of 19.
Every year on 29 Sept. Sikhs from all over West Bengal converge the “Punjabi Monument” to pay homage to their forefathers. For the remains 364 days its remain forgotten.
- Ship of Defiance by Samhita Chakraborty Lahiri, The Telegraph dated 26 Sept. 2010.
- Wikipedia entry of Komagata Maru Incident
Rajbalhat Ratha Yatra
~ Rajbalhat Chariot Festival ~
“Char chak, chodda para, tin ghat; ei neye Rajbalhat” (four crossing, fourteen localities and three bathing areas; consists of Rajbalhat) goes an old saying. Today Rajbalhat is a non descriptive town in the Jangipara block of Hooghly district but its history dates back to the 16th century when it was the capital of the Bhursut (Bhurishrestha) Empire.
The 16th century temple housing the idol of Devi Rajballavi, after whom Rajbalhat is named, can still be seen to this day but sadly the temple has been renovated several times and in the process wiping out centuries of history.
Apart from the temple of Rajballavi, Rajbalhat houses several temples and the most prominent among these is the Radhakanta Temple of Ghatakpara.
Built in 1733 the Radhakanta temple stands on a square base of approximately 20 feet length and rises to a height of about 50 feet. The front face consists of elaborate terracotta. The aat chala temple has a triple arched entrance with the arch panels consisting of elaborate battle scenes of Ramayana. The base panels mainly consist of images of ships & boats and of royal chariots & processions.
The Radhakanta Temple of Ghatakpara is famous for its ratha yatra. Although not considered as one of the leading Ratha Yatras of West Bengal Rajbalhat features a unique rath yatra. Rajbalhat has a unique rath yatra. The rath does not carry the idols of Jagannath, Balaram & Subhadra but instead carries the idols of Radha – Krishna. Also the rath is not pulled by ropes but by iron chains.
The nine pinnacled rath once had brass pinnacles but sadly they have been stolen and are replaced by cheaper metal. The towering colourfull rath runs on 12 gigantic metal wheels and the rath is pulled in a wild rampage through the slushy ground in front of the Rajbalhat High School.
The distance covered has largely been reduced after an accident in 2011, when one of the devote was crushed to death under the wheels of the rath.
Today the Ratha Yatra is organized by the Rajbalhat School committee and a huge fair is held in the school ground. The fair sells any thing from day to day items to home decor artifacts and last but not least the huge variety of mouth watering food.
The Archeological Survey of India (ASI) website describes it as the Palpara Brick Temple, while the locals call it the Moth Mandir, Kali Mandir or even Shiv Mandir. The seventeenth century temple has long been abundant. It is recently been restored by the ASI and declared as a Monument of National Importance.
The brick built south facing char – chala temple (four sloped roofs meeting at a pinnacle) stands on a raised plinth and is believed to be built by Gandharba Roy in seventeenth century, although the foundation plaque containing necessary information like name of founder and year of foundation has long been lost. The temple standing on a square base, and crowned with the four sloping roofs, rises to a height of 21 meters.
The decorated arched entrance is flanked by two brick pillars on either side. The area above the arched entrance once contained intricately curved terracotta panels but only a few of these have passed the test of time. A few scenes from Ramayana, geometric & floral design and lotus motif are all that remains of the intricate terracotta works that once dotted the walls of the temple.
Char – chala temples are one of the earliest forms of Bengal’s Temple Architecture and only a few of these temples can be seen to this day. Later on the char – chala was modified into an aat (eight) – chala, which consists of a char – chala upon a char – chala, and thus making it the most common temple architecture of Bengal.
59 km from Kolkata on the Sealdah – Krishnanagar rail line Palpara can be reached in one – and – half hours by local trains. Although trains are frequently available, but for the most comfortable journey it is best to take the morning train. As you walk out of the station complex ask the locals for directions and you are most likely to be directed to an active temple, with nothing much to do with history.
So it’s best to walk along the Plapara Station road to a tri – junction and then take a left turn towards Lokenath Bhavan and Durganagar Tarakdas Vidyamandir and finally to the Palpara temple. The Lokenath Bhavan & Durganagar Tarakdas Vidyamandir works as important landmarks for finding the ancient temple.
The temple is enclosed by a 5 feet (approximate) high wall and a blue board of ASI proudly describes it as a Monument of National Importance while another blue board gives the brief history and description of the temple. The complex remains locked and the caretaker is not likely to be found. So be prepared to cross over the wall into the temple complex.
Although located at the hearth of thickly inhabited locality the temple complex acts as an oasis of peace. The garden surrounding the temple is not maintained and is over grown with weeds. A narrow foot – path leads to the char – chala temple, which also remains locked and there is no way of getting into the inner sanctum of the temple.
Most of the terracotta panels on the decorated arched entrance have vanished. A panel showing Rama shooting an arrow and another showing Ravana defending it can still be seen on the temple walls. A few more war scenes, geometrical design and floral pattern have strangely passed the test of human neglect.
Although robbed of its former glory and in spite of lying in utter neglect the Palpara Temple will definitely provide you with an insight into Bengal’s early temple architecture and provide you with a Sunday morning break to enjoy rural Bengal’s lush green countryside.
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Ambika Kalna ~ 108 Shiva Temples
Space age view of century old temples
It was a winter Sunday morning almost a decade ago, when I desperately panned my SLR film camera (Vivitar v3800s) to shoot a panorama of the 108 Shiva Temples of Ambika Kalna. The negative and the prints still at my possession but by limited dark room knowledge was not enough to stitch up the panorama.
A decade later in April 2012 I was back again at the same spot where I panned my DSLR (Nikkon D60) to shoot a 8 shot panorama of the 108 Shiva Temples of Ambika Kalna. The shots were stitched up in a matter of minutes in my digital darkroom.
It was not only the panorama that attracted my attention, the aerial view of the 108 Shiva Temples of Ambika Kalna is on always on my “must shoot list,” but sadly it continues to remain a dream.
Ambika Kalna ~ 108 Shiva Temples
Ambika Kalna (or simply Kalna) is located 82 km from Kolkata (Howrah) on the Bandel – Katwa line. Located on the west bank of the Bhagirathi, Ambika Kalna (popularly known as Kalna) once flourished as a prosperous port town. It reached it’s pinnacle of glory during the late 18th century under the patronage of the Maharajas of Bardhaman, who built several magnificent temples with intricate terracotta ornamentation.
The maritime trade has long stopped and Kalna has lost the status of a flourishing port city, but the temples are still there reminding one of Ambika Kalna’s glorious past.
The Rajbari complex in Kalna has the maximum concentration of temples. Spread on either side of a the road the complex contains a unique mixture of Bengal’s temple architecture. On one side of the road lies the Nabakailas Temples. Built in 1809 by the Bardhaman Maharaja Tej Chandra Bahadur the complex contains 108 aat – chala (eight sloped roofed) temples arranged in two concentric circles separated by a well-maintained lawn with beautiful flowerbeds. The outer circle consists of 74 temples consisting of alternate black & white lingas while the 34 temples of the inner circle have only white lingas.
Also read my travelogue on Ambika Kalna
Mita Mustafi Family Trilogy
Ula Birnagar, Sukharia and Sripur
In the early 18th century Rameshwar Mitra of Ula, worked as the Auditor General in the court of Murshid Kuli Khan in Murshidabad. In 1704 Rameswar Mitra received official Mustaufi title from Emperor Aurangzeb in Delhi.
Rameswar Mitra made a huge fortune and constructed several mansions and temples in ULa, which later came on to be known as Ula Birnagar.
Some of the early brick temples of Bengal was built in the form of thatched hut and came to be known as the Bangla Temple. The architects soon started making more elaborate temples by joining two Bangla temples side by side, which came to be known as the Jora – Bangla style.
Sadly only a few Bangla and Jora – Bangla temple have survived the test of time and can be still seen to this day. The Mitra – Mustafi family temple, at Ula Birnagar, can be considered as one of the finest example of Jora – Bangla Temple of West Bengal.
Built in 1694 the temple, is approached by a triple arched entrance, and has elaborate terracotta decoration of the front side. Panels includes, scenes from Krishna Lila, Ramayan, Gods & Goddesses and scenes from social life.
Sadly the Mitra Mustafi Mansion have long crumbled to dust and the famed Chandi Mandap with elaborate wood carvings lies in utter neglect. A branch of the Mitra Mustafi family still stays in Ula Birnagar in a small newly constructed house. Read more…
Rameswar Mitra’s son Anantaram Mitra left Ula and settled in Sukharia in 1712. Anatram also built a huge mansion in Sukharia along with several temples. The mansion is in ruins and many of the temples have been converted into modern structures and in the process loosing their beauty and grace.
The 25 pinnacled Anandabhirabi Temple is the star attraction of Sukharia. The approach to the Ananda Bhairavi Temple, housing the idol of Anandamoyee Kali, is flanked by two parallel rows containing six temples each. Five of the temples on each row are of aat – chala (8 sloped roofs) type while one each are of pnacha – ratna (5 pinnacled) type. One of the panch – ratna temple is dedicated to Ganesh while the rest nine houses shiva – lingas. The temple has under gone several renovations and reconstruction and in the process lost much of its beauty and grace.
Hara Sundari Temple, built in 1813 is a naba – ratna (9 pinnacled) temple has a approach similar to Ananda Bhairabi Temple only in this case each row consist of a total of seven temples consisting of two pancha – ratna and five aat – chalas temples. This temple has recently been restored by the Mitra Mustafi Family.
Next to the Hara Sundari Temple lies the Nistarini Temple. Built in 1847 by the Mustafi family, this naba – ratna temple comes in with domed shaped pinnacles. The temple was once flanked by a natmandir but it has long collapsed. Four pillars are all that remains of the natmandir. It’s the same story for the Musthafi’s thakur dalan. A few pillars and arches are all that remains of the once glorious structure.
In 1708 Rameshwar Mitra’s eldest son Raghunandan also left Ula and settled in Sripur. Taking advantage of the river trade he soon made a fortune and established a fort complex complete with several temples and other religious structures decorated with elaborate and intricate wood curving. The fort has long crumbled into dust but a few of the temples have survived the test of time and can still be seen to this day.
The fort complex contains a Rash Mancha and several temples, but the star attraction of the complex is the Chandi Mandap, with its intricate wooden carvings.
The Chandi Mandap constructed in 1707 by the Mitra Mustafi family, has recently been declared a protected monument. The hay thatched roof has been replaced with corrugated sheet, thus robbing it of its former beauty and grace. But the real wonder lies inside the Mandap, where the Durga Pujo is held to this day. The three walls of the Chandi Mandap are decorated with the most intricate wood curved panels. The wooden panels are very similar to the terracotta panels that dot the walls of the numerous temples of Bengal. But the wood work is not restricted to the panels alone. The pillars and the roof beams are curved with the finest floral, geometric & figurative designs.
The century old boat industry still survives, but is only restricted to small boats. The banks all along the Hooghly in Sripur is lined with boat making workshops. Read more…
Special Thanks: Mr Shyamal Mitra of Mitra Mustafi family.
- Banglar Mandir Sathpathya O Bashkarjya by Pronab Roy
- Hooghly Jelar Purakirti by Naredrnath Bhattacharya
- Mitra Mustafi Family History
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List of my Blog entry on West Bengal