Bandel ~ Church and Imambara
Church & Imambara
Almost a century after Vasco da Gama reached the West Coast of India the Portuguese started making their inroads into Bengal. Soon settlement started growing up along the rivers and the area around present day Hooghly became the Portuguese stronghold. By 1599 a church was constructed on the banks of the Hooghly, making it the oldest Christian Church of West Bengal.
But the good old days of the Portuguese were short lived. In 1632 The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan attacked the Portuguese settlement which also had a small fort. The Portuguese were severely defeated and their Fort & Church were reduced to ruins. Several Portuguese and local Christians were killed. Father Joan De Cruz was taken prisoner to Agra, where he was thrown in front of a ferocious elephant. But the rogue elephant instead of trampling the priest to dead lifted him by his trunk and placed him in his back.
The miracle impressed the Emperor to such an extent that he not only set the priest and his followers free but also provided tax free land for the construction of the new church. But the miracles continued. It was during the siege a local Christian by the name of Taigo, in a desperate bid to save to statue of Mary dived into Hooghly, and was never seen again. Strangely on the day of the inauguration of the church the statue appeared in the banks of the Hooghly. The statue was re – established and came to be known as “Our Lady of the Happy Voyage.”
When the celebrations of the inauguration was in progress a Portuguese ship, with tattered sails appeared on the river bank. It came to known that the ship only a few days ago had encountered a terrific storm and the crew was lucky to be alive. During the storm the captain of the ship had promised to offer the main mast of the ship to the first church he sighted.
The captain kept his words and the mast can still be seen in the compound of the Church. The Portuguese word for mast was bandel and the church came to known as the Bandel Church, which can well be your next weekend gateway.
Today Bandel is accessible from both Howrah and Sealdah Station. Rickshaws are available from the station and a short bumpy ride takes you to the church. The church, with its towering clock tower, has been modified largely over the years and nothing much remains of its past structure.
The entrance is through an arched gateway on the banks of the Hooghly and is crowned with a statue of Mary, with baby Jesus, on a boat. After entering the church take the stairs to the top balcony where devotees light candles in front of the “Our Lady of the Happy Voyage.” The balcony also provides spectacular views of the Jubilee Bridge spanning across the Hooghly. The Jubilee Bridge built in 1887 on the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s reign is one of the oldest operating rail bridges in the world.
Get down from the balcony and head for the main alter housing the statue of Our Lady of Holy Rosary. The other two alters on the side contains a statue of Jesus and St. John Bosco. The entire complex contains several statues dedicated to different Christian Saints. The complex also contains a graveyard and the mast.
Bidding farewell to the Bandel Church, head for the Hooghly Imambara. Imambara literally means the residence of the Imam, but In the Indian subcontinent, the word stands for a house or an assembly hall built by the Shiites for observing Muharram. Build in the memory of the great philanthropist Hazi Muhammad Mohsin, the imposing structure was took 20 years to build and was completed in 1861.
Designed by architect Keramtulla Khan, the two storied building is cnetred round a rectangular courtyard, decorated with fountains and pools. But the prime attraction of the Imambara are it two 85 feet high towers. The two towers are respectively reserved for men and women and each contains a set of 152 stairs and offers spectacular views of the Hooghy including the Jubilee Bridge.
The three storied structure connecting the tower contains a clock at the top story, while the lower stories contain the bells and the clock machinery. However these are out of bounds of the public. The room at the far end of the courtyard is contains beautiful chandeliers and is decorated with religious artifacts. The courtyard at the back contains a sun dial.
But sadly the Imambara is in a rundown state, the fountain has long stopped working and the crystal clear water has turned green. But the Imamabara still stands and its clock still strikes every quarter of an hour marking the passage of time and reminding one of the glorious days of Bandel & Hooghly.
Getting There: Bandel is well connected from both Howrah (39km, Rs19) & Sealdah (46km, Rs21).
Getting Around: Cycle Rickshaws are the only option. Rickshaws charge Rs100 for the trip. Do bargain hard.
Places to eat: There are basic eateries near the Church & Station.
Note: Rates are as on July 2011.