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Chandannagar ~ A slice of France

March 14, 2012 28 comments

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.

Left: Dupleix Palace (now museum), Right: French Fort (now court)

Left: Dupleix Palace (now museum), Right: French Fort (now court)

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.

Sacred Heart Church, Chandannagar

Sacred Heart Church, Chandannagar

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.

Stained Glass, Sacred Heart Church, Chandannagar

Stained Glass, Sacred Heart Church, Chandannagar

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.

Left: Durgacharan Rakshit Ghat, Chandannagar Right: Details of stucco work

Left: Durgacharan Rakshit Ghat, Chandannagar Right: Details of stucco work

Chandannagar Gate

Chandannagar Gate

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.

Nandadulal Temple, Chandannagar

Nandadulal Temple, Chandannagar

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.”

Buroshivtala Terracotta Temple

Buroshivtala Terracotta Temple

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.

Reference:

  • Hooghly Jelar Purakirti by Narendranath Bhattacharya

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List of my Blog entry on West Bengal

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Ballal Dhipi ~ Mound of Ballal Sen

March 7, 2012 1 comment

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).

Scattered Ruins of Ballal Dhipi

Scattered Ruins of Ballal Dhipi

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:

Stupendious walls of Ballal Dhipi

Stupendious walls 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.
Portion of Boundary Wall, Ballal Dhipi

Portion of Boundary Wall, Ballal Dhipi

  • 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
    Passageway inside Ballal Dhipi

    Passageway inside Ballal Dhipi

    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.

Crocodile Head, probably used as water outlet, Ballal Dhipi

Crocodile Head, probably used as water outlet, Ballal Dhipi

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.

Diagonal arrangement of Terracotta Bricks, Ballal Dhipi

Diagonal arrangement of Terracotta Bricks, Ballal Dhipi

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.

Reference:

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