RAJBALHAT ~ TEMPLES & TEXTILES
“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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