Maluti, Rebirth of a Temple Town
Rebirth of a Temple Town
Located in the Dumka District of Jharkhand the non descriptive village of Maluti houses several temple with intricate art work.
Legend, Myth and a bit of History
It was during the reign of Alauddin Hussan Shah of Gour (1495 – 1525) and the sultan has camped in the nearby area about 500 years back. It was during the camp the Begum lost his favorite pet hawk (baj). A young local orphan farmer by the name of Basanta captured the bird and returned it to the queen. The sultan was so impressed that as a token of gratitude he gifted several acres of tax free land to Basnata, marking the beginning of Nankar (tax free) kingdom and Basanta came to be known as Baj Basanta.
Baj Basant’s great grand son Rajchandra was defeated by the King of Rajnagar in a battle and was brutally murdered. His four sons shifted the capital to Maluti in about 1680 and started living separately.
The house of Rakharchandra, the eldest son, came to be known as Rajbari (house of the king). The second son Prithvichandra’s house was called the Madhyam Bari (house of the second). Ramchandra, who like his brother got one – fourth share, and was called Sikir Bari (house of one – fourth share). The fourth and last son Madhavchandra had six sons, so his house came to be known as Chhai Taraf (house of six). The four sons build several temples converting the non descriptive village into a temple town.
Gopaldas Mukherjee (Batu da)
The Lone Crusader
“Whoever comes to Maluti, Batuda takes him around, tells him some fabulous stories about each temple. He knows the temples brick by brick”
Satish Tyagi, former deputy director archaeology, Jharkhand
The 72 out of the 108 temples of Maluti stands to this day. They have survived due to the efforts of a single man Gopaldas Mukherjee (locally known as Batu da). The 82 years old Batu da have been a custodian of the Maulti temples for over half a century. It is only due to the efforts of this gentleman the temples of Maluti have survived and are presently being conserved by the Government of Jharkhand.
Gopaldas Mukherjee the retired school teacher and ex air-force soldier have not only saved the temples from destruction but also documented the history of the village. He has written several books on Maluti in Bengali, Hindi and English.
His Bengali books include “Devbhumi Maluti,” “Bajer Badale Raj” and “Nankar Maluti.” His English book “Temples of Maluti” is all set to be published. His Hindi works include a booklet titled “Guptakasi Maluti.”
My Personal Travelogue
Although Maluti is located in Dumka District of Jharkhand but it is best approachable from Rampurhat in Birbhum district of West Bengal. Although no regular autos are available from the Rampurhat station one has to book a auto to visit the temples of Maluti.
The highlight of the auto ride is an amazing shortcut along a abandoned second world War (WWII) airstrip. The towering sentinel like temples welcomed us into the village of Maluti. Batu da himself welcomed us into the village and volunteered to give us a temple tour.
The temples of Maluti are distributed in four clusters, belonging to the four great great grandsons of Baj Basanta. The first cluster belongs to the Madhyam Bari. The second and third clusters are clubbed together and belong to the Rajbari and Sikir Bari. The fourth and last cluster belong to Chhai Taraf.
Apart from these there are several other scattered temples along with a few new temples, including the newly constructed abode of Goddess Mauliksha, after whom Maluti gets its named.
Most of the temples of Maluti follow the char – challa (four sloped roofs) form of architecture, however there are a few flat roof temples and a single pinnacle temple. But the star attraction of Maluti temple is its intricate terracotta. Some scholars have opined that the intricate designs are not terracotta but curved out of a sandstone called phool pathar, but several others, including Gopaldas Mukherjee, consider it as terracotta (burnt clay).
As the experts argue over finer issue we decide to explore the temple town of Maluti. We started with the first cluster consisting of several temples, known as Madhyam Bari, with intricate carvings. The temples are approached by a single arched entrance with is crowned by a war scene between Ram and Ravan. This scene is found in several temples all over Maluti, but they are not replicas. Each differ from the other for example Ravana is seen to mount a chariot or sporting decorative foot wears while Hunuman carries Ram on his shoulder. Another common panel is that Durga in Mahisasuramardini poster flaked with her children in traditional style. This panel is normally found above the arch panel in almost all the temples of Maluti.
Our next stop was the second combined cluster of Rajbari and Sikir Bari, approachable by a complex maze of lanes. This is the largest of the clusters and contains several temples of different shapes and sizes, including a roofless hexagonal Rasmancha. In one of the temples the Ram – Ravan scene in the arch panel is replaced with a beautiful Mahisasuramarini panel.
Finally we made our way again through a complex networks of lanes and bylanes to the last of the cluster, known as Chhai Taraf. Consisting of a few scattered temples on either side of the road. All the temples follow the char chala structure and are decorated with beautiful terracotta carvings.
Finally it was time for home and we returned with a signed copy of Gopaldas Mukherjee’s book “Nankar Maluti” and with memories to last a life time and dreams to return again.
Getting There: Rampurhat is the nearest railhead. Gandevata Express is the best option. There are no regular transport from Rampurhat. Auto needs to be reserved from Rampurhat for the Maluti trip. The journey (one way) takes an hour via a shortcut through an abandoned Second World War highway. Aprox. Cost is Rs400, subject to bargain, for the whole trip.
Places to stay: Maluti can be covered in a single day from Kolkata. There are no places to stay in Maluti. Hotels are available in Rampurhat. The trip can be clubbed with the popular pilgrimage of Tarapith.
Places to eat: Maluti has no eateries. Basic food is available in Rampurhat.