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, which was inaugurated by the Prime Minister 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
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
Recently the West Bengal Government is taken of the initiative of turning Kulpi into a port, but the history of Kulpi and the Hooghly River trade dates back several centuries. Abandoned light houses and forgotten graves reminds one of the glourious days of the Hooghly river trade.
Kulpi is located about 10 km south of the popular tourist spot of Diamond Harbour. Diamond Harbour is well connected from Calcutta (Kolkata) by rail & road. Kulpi can also be reached directly by bus heading for Namkhana or Kakdip.
Get down at Shyam Bose Chlak at Kulpi, cross the road and take a brick paved road heading towards the river Hooghly. The road meanders through agricultural fields and village huts towards the river Hooghly. Locally called the Milatary Road, probably named, because it lead to a small fort by the river. The Fort has long been swallowed by the river Hooghly but the name “Milatery Road” has some how survived the test of time.
Soon two tower like structures appear in the horizon. There elegant structure and shape distinguishes them from the numerous brick kiln chimneys that dot the Hooghly River bank.
One on the right of the road (pic right) dates back to the days of East India Company. Towering to a height of 25 feet it is probably less than half its original height. Measuring 10 feet in circumference, it probably acted as a lighthouse guiding ships along the Hooghly.
A little away on the left hand side of the road lies another tower like structure. Probably built just before independence this structure does not have much historical value. Much slender than its older counterpart but measuring lesser in circumference, the tower still contains few metal hooks on its outside, probably used for climbing to the top.
Head south along the Hooghly but sadly the river is out of view as the bank is lined with brick kilns. Cross a narrow canal, with several anchored boats. leading to the Hooghly. Just after the canal the path leads to the village of Durganagar, housing a strange baro – chal (12 sloped roofs) structure. Baro – chala is an extremely rare form of Bengal temple structure, where the standard aat – chala (4 sloped roofs) is toped with anothe smaller char – chal (4 sloped roofs) structure.
Strangely this structure is not a Hindu temple but a grave of a converted Christian lady. Sagar Chattapodhay in his book “Dakhin 24 Pargan r Purakirti” describes it as the “Manna Bibi r Gore,” the grave of Manna Bibi, a grave of local lady who married a Portuguese sailor or soldier.
The structure have no European or Portuguese influence. Although historical records suggest the finding of a terracotta idol (7 inches in length) of a Portuguese soldier from near the structure. Sadly the idol have long been missing. Trees have almost covered the entire upper part of the structure making it difficult to understand the unique details.
Locals are totally unaware of the historical significance of the structure, and believe it to be an abandoned Hindu temple, which later on functioned as a lighthouse for the ships on Hooghly. Although there are historical evidences of the structure serving as a lighthouse but there are no evidences of being a Hindu Temple. A little bit of interaction with the locals will lead to strange stories of hidden treasures buried deep inside the structure!!!!!
Sadly the strange temple like structure housing the remains of an unknown lady, lies in utter neglect. The roots of the trees have made their entry deep in the structure brining it on the verge of collapse, its a miracle that the structure still stands.
- Dakshin Chabis Pargana Jelar Purakirti by Sagar Chattopadhyay
About 100 years after Vasco da Gama landed in the west cost of India the European traders started making inroads into Bengal. Bandel became a stronghold of the Portuguese while the Danes and the Dutch had their supremacy in Srerampur and Chuchura respectively.
Chandannagor was the French colony. Unlike the other European colonies of Bengal the French control of Chandannagar continued even after independence and it was only in 1950 Chandannagar became a part of India.
Once a beautiful town with French masons and boulevards, Chandannagar has lost most of its past glory. Today it represents a crowded unplanned town on the Howrah – Burdwan main line. A few of the French buildings have passed the test of time and can still be seen today reminding one of the French days of Chandannagar, offering a French holiday with a distinctive Bengali twist.
The largest concentration of colonial building is along the Hooghly and is known as The Strand, and is still considered as the most beautiful stretch along the entire Hooghly.
Just off The Strand is the Sacred Heart Church, on of the prime attraction of Chandannagar. A statue of Jesus greats the visitors to the two storied church complete with twin towers. A marble plaque says that the church was inaugurated by Father Goethals on 27 January 1884.
Interior has beautiful stained glasses and walls contain coloured reliefs of Jesus carrying the cross. Long corridors and confession boxes add a dignity to the church interior. Sadly the church is not well maintained with plasters peeling off at several places.
The Chandnnagar Strand is dominated by the Durgacharan Rakshit Ghat. Built in 1920s in honor of Durgacharan Rakshit, the recipient of the French award of Legion d’honneur. The elegant looking pavilion consists of slender columns with decorative stucco works consisting of elephant’s head and floral design.
Also along the river lies the Duplex’s Mansion, now the Chandannagar Museum & Institute, housing a rare collection of French artifacts, including personal collection of Duplex, the French Governor of Chandannagar.
Just in front of the museum is an elegant mansion called the Patal Bari (Underground House) as a portion of the house is submerged by the Hooghly River. The Patal Bari, with is beautiful wooden sunshades and decorative water outlets, has a long list of distinguished visitors including Rabindranath Tagore & Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar.
The northern and southern entry point to Chandannagar is marked is marked with two entry gates. The northern gate no longer exists but the southern gate, although encroached by banners and festoons can still be seen today. The gate consists of two square pillars topped with urns. Inaguarated on 14 July 1937, in memory of the fall of Bastille, which tiggered off the famous French Revolution. The gate contains the slogan of French Revolution “Liberte, Egalite & Fratarnite” which translated into English is “Liberty, Equality & Fraternity.”
Although a French Colony for 275 years (1678 – 1950). The heritage of Chandannagar is not restricted to French architecture only. The town also houses several temples, including Nandadulal Temple. Standing on a rectangular base of 52 feet by 21 feet it is the largest do – chala (double sloped roof) temple of Bengal. Sadly apart from a few lotus motifs it totally lacks terracotta work, which is the trade mark of Hooghly Temples.
Hooghly is famous for its terracotta temples, and Chandannagar is no exception so terracotta enthusiasts shouldn’t be disheartened as the Boro Shvtala area of Chandannagar houses a spectacular nine pinnacled terracotta temple.
The temple has triple arch entrance of two sides along with intricate terracotta panels. The two side entrances of the triple arched entrance on both side are false and only the central arch entrance operates. The temple also houses a giant Shiva – Linga.
- Hooghly Jelar Purakirti by Narendranath Bhattacharya
Links from my website:
- Chandannagar Travelogue
- More photos of Chandannagar
List of my Blog entry on West Bengal
For centuries, a 30-ft mound spread over 1,300 sq ft, has stood at Bamunpukur, a village near Mayapur. The locals call it Ballal Dhipi, named after Ballal Sen, of the Sen dynasty, who ruled Bengal in the late 12th Century AD. It was only in the late 1970s that the mound attracted the attention of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
ASI started digging the area in the early 1980s. The work was carried out in two phases — in 1982-83 and 1988-99. The excavation revealed a gigantic brick structure in an extensive yard surrounded by walls. Stucco heads, terracotta human and animal figurines, copper utensils and other objects were found at the site.
It is evident that the structure on top was built over an earlier one. Archaeologists have found traces of renovation and superimposition over the remains of a temple complex. But archaeologist and historians are yet to come to any concrete conclusion about the ruins.
Conclusion about the ruins of Ballal Dhipi:
- From the structure it is evident that the upper structure was built over earlier existing structure. Historians also agree and according to them the upper remains dating back to the 12th century AD was built over an earlier structure dating back to the 8th and 9th century AD. Archaeologists have found traces of renovation and superimposition of structures revealing the remains of a Temple complex datable to the 12th century AD.
- Historians even opine the ruins to be the remains of the lost city of Vijapur, the capital of the Sen dynasty. Vijapur founded by Vijay Sen, father of Ballal Sen, was an advanced urban centre and a metropolis of Sen family. A plaque by Vijay Sen, found in Debpara, text from Pavandoot written by Dhoyi, court poet of Laxman Sen (son of Ballal Sen) and text from Adbhutsagar written by Ballal Sen and Laxman Sen, bolster this claim.
- The site is made of solid terracotta bricks, while the floor is made of lime and sand. The tiles and bricks have remarkable
resembles with those found in Vikramshila Vihar, in Bihar and Shompur Vihar, in Rajshahi, Bangladesh.
- The cause of destruction of such a magnificent citadel is not known. As most of the statues and images found were broken, the historians attribute the downfall to human hands. However, possibility of destruction due to natural calamity is not altogether ruled out. Finally historians attribute the downfall on a combination of both natural calamity and human hands.
Trip to Ballal Dhipi: Ballal Dhipi is located on the Krishnagar _ Mayapur road in the Nadia District of West Bengal. Ballal Dhipi is about 125 km from Calcutta (Kolkata). It is best reached by Krishnagar Local followed by a bus journey towards the the well known pilgrimage of Mayapur.
Get down at Bamunpukur Bazar about 10 km before Mayapur. Cross the road and a road leads to the Mound of Ballal Sen. The blue board of ASI, declaring it as a Monument of National Importance, welcomes one to the historical site. The site is remarkably well preserved. A flight of stairs takes you to the top of the mound. On the left are some minor structures but the gigantic structure lies on the right. The structure on the right contains a stucco stone head of a crocodile. Located at a lower portion of the wall it probably served as a water outlet. Sadly this is the only stucco-work in the entire site. The other stucco stone and terracotta figures along with other artifacts have been removed to the Asutosh Museum of Calcutta University.
On the top of the dhipi (mound) the stairs merges to a brick path leading you straight inside the gigantic structure. It ultimately leads to a narrow roof-less passage flanked by high walls on either side, leading you to the backside of the structure, offering a gigantic view of the structure. Apart from the central structure the extensive yard is surrounded on all side by an enclosure wall. The wall, which exists only in fragments in decorated with beautiful brickwork. The wall, which is several feet thick in some places, is enough to explain the sheer magnitude of the structure.
It is a pity that not many people are aware of the wonder of Ballal Dhipi, on the other hand it is a blessing in disguise as you are likely to have the entire archaeological site all to yourself.
- Nadia Jelar Purakirti by Mohit Roy and edited by Amiya Bandopadhyay and Sudhir Ranjan Das.
- Next weekend you can be at … Ballal Dhipi by Somen Sengupta, The Telegraph 10 April 2005.
- My article on Ballal Dhipi from www.historyofbengal.com
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Almost a hundred years after Vasco da Gama landed on the West Coast of India the Portuguese & other European powers started making inroads into Bengal. Using the intricate network of rivers of the Ganga – Bramhaputra Delta the Europeans settled in various parts of Bengal. Their huge barges and ships sailed up & down the Hooghly carrying merchandise from far off lands.
Soon the country was in need of boats, barges and even ships. A boat building industry was set up in Sripur, near the present day Balagarh station on the Bandel – Katwa line. Sripur soon started producing not only boats of different shapes and sizes but also ocean going ships turning the non descriptive village into a busy industrial town.
In the early 18th century, during the golden days of Sripur, Raghunandan Mitra Mustafi of Ula Birnagar in Nadia, migrated to 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, along with the intricate wood work, have survived the test of time and can still be seen to this day.
Century old temples with extensive wood curving, along with age old boat making industry and last but not least the grand views of the river Hooghly can well turn Sripur into your next Sunday outing destination.
The 70 km journey to Sripur takes about 2 hours from Howrah. Although rickshaws are available from the Balagarh station to the Sripur temple complex, but it is best to take a leisurely walk. After about 25 minutes of walk you reach the Sripur village, where you are welcomed by the sound of boat maker’s hammer. Walk past the numerous boat making workshops to the temple complex.
On the left of the road lie a temple and a Dol Mancha. The temple, housing a Shiva – Linga, have been reconstructed and in the process losing its beauty and grace. But the two storied Dol Mancha, with its elegant pillars & arches and crowned with the decorative railing, still reminds one of the glorious days of Sripur.
From the Dol Mancha take a right turn and walk past the Twin Shiv Mandir towards the main cluster of temples. The walls of the Twin Shiv Temples were once covered with intricate terracotta works but sadly they have been plastered off.
The main temple complex houses the Radha Gobinda Mandir along with several temples, Rash Mancha, Nat Mandir. But the star attraction of Sripur is the intricately curved wooden Chandi Mandap.
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 temple complex houses a octagonal Rash Mancha, complete with nine pinnacles (one each at the eight corners and a larger central one) and an Nat Mandir with elegant pillars. The main temple housing dedicated to Radha Gobinda has totally been transformed into a modern structure.
Bidding farewell to the temple complex head for one of the numerous boat work – shops. Although the Sripur boat industry is now only restricted to small boats but it is still a great experience seeing the boat taking shape. You are also likely come across some over enthusiastic boat maker narrating you about the glorious days of the boat construction industry of Sripur.
Head past the Sripur Bazar to the banks of the Hooghly, where the fresh air will add an extra dash of oxygen to your tired lungs.
- Hooghly Jelar Purakirti by Narendranath Bhattacharya.
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~ Temples and Mansions ~
Bawali, a non – descriptive village just off the Diamond Harbour Road (DH rd) from Amtala, is home to towering temples and palatial mansions.
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.
Today Bowali is well connected by road from Amtala on Diamond Harbour Road (DH rd.) by a bumpy trekker ride of 45 minutes. The towering Gopinath Temple, built in nabaratna style, dominates the Bowali skyline. In front of the temple is a flat – roofed natmandir, whose roof has long colapsed. All that remains are the slender pillars and arches.
In front of the ruined natmandir is a circular platform, which once housed the octagonal Rashmancha. The Rashmancha collapsed during the 2008 monsoon and the platform is all that remains of the spectacular octagonal structure.
Behind the temple lies the Radha-Kanta and Lakshmi-Janardan temples, both built in traditional aat – chala style. Sadly they are overgrown with vegetation and almost inaccessible. Scattered around the temples are several decapitated structures, including the remains of a Dolmancha. Large portions of the Dolamancha have already collapsed making it inaccessable.
Next to Gopinath temple is the Radhaballav temple. This structure is well maintained. Built around 1857, it houses the idols of all the surrounding abandoned temples. The two-storeyed Mondal Villa is next door. The plaster has peeled off and several portions are on the verge of collapse. There is no trace of the landscaped garden that once surrounded it.
Bawali also has an interesting architectural piece called the jal tungi (water folly). An octagonal structure, built at the centre of a pond, with ornamental railings and windows with Venetian blinds. The folly with slender columns and a long flight of stairs, approachable by boat from a ghat, allowed the Mondals to enjoy the evening breeze.
The ghat is a 15-minute walk from the temple complex. The railings and the windows of the folly did not survive the test of time and the waters of the pond are now covered by water hyacinth. But the jal tungi still stands and so does the ghat, reminding one of the glorious past of Bawali.
If you are planning a day trip to Bawali, hurry, for the forces of nature and human neglect would soon turn the attractions of the village into dust.
- Dakshin Chabis Pargana Jelar Purakirti by Sagar Chattopadhyay
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The Bengal temple architecture is classified under two broad heads namely ~ Chala (sloped roof) and Ratna (Pinnacle) style. Rarely the two styles combine in a single temple forming a mixed form of architecture. The Durga Temple of Bali – Dewanganj is probably the best example of such mixed temple architecture in the whole of West Bengal.
The lower part of Durga Temple follows the Chala style, in the form of Jora – Bangla style, consisting of two adjoining thatched roof structures. In the middle of the two thatched roof structures stand a Naba – Ratna (nine pinnacled) structure, thus combining the two forms of Bengal temple architecture.
Bali – Dewanganj is a non – descriptive village in the Arambagh sub – division of the Hooghly district. It is well connected by road from both Arambagh and Tarakeshwar. For the most comfortable journey it is best to take the morning Tarakeshwar Local followed by a bus to Bali – Dewangunj. Get down at Haldar Para, from where a winding dirt roads leads to Rout Para, housing the Durga Temple along with a host of other temples.
Rout Para houses five temples out of which three are in crumbling stage. Large portions of these temples have already collapsed and all that remains are on the verge of collapsing. Mangal Chandi Temple which lies on the left hand side of the road is said to contain thirteen pinnacles but none of them have survived the test of time. Only one of the stories of this three storied structure stands to this day. Nothing much is known about the structural details of the other two ruined temples, but somehow a pinnacle of each of the two temples stands to this day. The fourth temple in the complex is a small Shiv temple, probably constructed at a much later date and cannot be considered as a historical structure.
But the star attraction of the temple complex is the Durga Mandir, which has remained remarkably intact for over 200 years. Maintained by the West Bengal State Archeology Department, the temple is approached by a three arched entrance way and with elaborate terracotta carvings on its front face. Above the arches, in the centre, lies the huge terracotta panel of Durga. This is probably the largest terracotta panel in the whole of West Bengal. It is flanked on the left by slightly smaller panels of Laxshmi & Ganesh and on the right by Sarswati & Kartik. Stucco work, in the form of temple, surrounds each of the five panels giving them a unique look. There are several other smaller terracotta panels all over the front surface of the temple.
Bidding good bye to the temples, retrace your steps back to the main road, where an octagonal Rashmancha greets you. Sadly the century old structure has been totally reconstructed into a modern structure resembling neither the beauty nor the grace of its former counterpart.
If you are still hungry for more you can walk along the main road towards Arambagh. You will soon come across the crumbling remains of a Rashmancha. Further 10 minutes down the road will bring you to the remains of a dilapidated temple on the right hand side of the road. Totally overgrown with trees the temple still contains a few intricately carved terracotta panels. A few minutes further down the road will bring you to a spectacular mansion with arched gateways and slender columns. Known as the Shiv Kuthir, the spectacular building has long been abandoned and roofs have caved in. The inside is overgrown with trees and totally inaccessible.
The crumbling temples and mansions of Bali – Dewanganj will definitely make you sad. But in spite of all odds the Durga Temple with its unique architecture and rich terracotta carvings are spectacular enough to turn Bali – Dewanganj into your next Sunday outing spot.
- Hooghly Jelar Purakirti by Narendranath Bhattacharya
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“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.
The strange idol of Rajballavi, about six feet in height, is white in colour and his left leg rests on the head of seated Birupakha Mhadev and right leg rest on the chest of Mahakal Bhairab. The right hand has a dagger while the left a sindoor case. The temple is still active and devotees from the surrounding region converge to Rajbalhat to pay tribute to the Goddess. Rajbalhat also houses a couple of terracotta temples and offers an interesting mix of pilgrimage and history, ideal for your next Sunday gateway.
Haripal is the nearest rail head and the morning Tarakeshwar local is the best way to get there. From Haripal a bumpy ride on an overcrowded trekker takes you to Rajbalhat. Get down at the Rajbalavi temple complex. Built by Raja Rudranarayan of Bhursut the Rajballavi Temple complex also houses four shiva temples, one of which is octagonal in shape. Sadly the entire complex has undergone several renovations and has lost all trace of its 500 years of history. But the strange idol of Devi Rajballavi, still reminds one of the historic days of the temple. The temple is still active and pujas can be offered.
Bidding farewell to the Rajballavi Temple Complex head for Silpara, housing another temple complex. This temple complex houses several temples but the star attraction is the 1724 built terracotta temple of Sridhar Damodor. The front faced of the temple is covered with intricate terracotta works. Sadly the overenthusiastic locals have given it a multi coloured facelift and in the process partially destroying the century old art. The terracotta panels consist of war scenes from Ramayana, elaborate images of ships and boats and last but not the least scenes from day to day life.
During the British period Rajbalhat was an important centre of silk industry and in 1789 East India Company set up a Commercial Residency in Rajbalhat. The silk survives to this day and the sound of the hand loams can still be heard in Rajbalhat. Bobbins of thread left to dry are a regular sight.
Take a narrow lane past the temple complex and walk past the textile workshop with its battering loams. Walk past women spinning cotton thread on charka (spinning wheels). The lane meanders on reminding one of North Calcutta or even of Beneras. Finally the lane emerges in Rajbalhat Bazar and a short walk takes you to the grand temple of Radhakanta in Ghataktala.
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 and luckily the locals have spared them of their bizarre decorative effort. The panels remain in their authentic brick red colour.
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.
Finally it is time for home but if you are still hungry for more do visit the more famous terracotta temples of Aatpur on your way home.
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