Bali Dewanganj ~ Terracotta at its best
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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