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.
List of my Blog entry on West Bengal