Ula Birnagar, Forgotten Mansons and Temples
Forgotten Mansions and Temples
See also: My blog post Mitra Mustafi Trilogy
Stone has always been in short supply in the vast flood plains of Bengal. Hence the architects had to restore to other substitute. As clay was easily available the burnt clay bricks soon became a good substitute of stone. This gave rise to a new form of temple architecture
This also lead to the development of a distinctive temple architecture, where God’s didn’t dwell in towering structure but in structures similar to the homes of common man. Thatched roof soon became an indispensible part of Bengal Temple Architecture.
Some of the early brick temples of Bengal was built in the form of thatched hut and came to be known as the Bangla Temple. The architects soon started making more elaborate temples by joining two Bangla temples side by side, which came to be known as the Jora – Bangla style.
Sadly only a few Bangla and Jora – Bangla temple have survived the test of time and can be still seen to this day. The Mitra – Mustafi family temple, at Ula Birnagar, can be considered as one of the finest example of Jora – Bangla Temple of West Bengal.
The history of Birnagar, previously known as Ula, dates back to the late eighteenth. During this time the local zamindar Rameswar Mitra rose to eminence, as a revenue collector and accountant, in the court of Nawab of Bengal Shaista Khan and Murshid Kuli Khan. This finally led to Rameswar Mitra receiving the Mustaphi, which later anglicized into Mustafi, title from the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.
The Mitra Mustafis soon started building mansions and temples turning Ula into a prosperous town. With the river Hooghly moving away Ula son lost its prosperity. The downfall continued as a section of Mitra Mustafi family migrated to Sukharia and Sripur in Hooghly. The golden days of Ula came to a sudden end with the outbreak of an epidemic in 1857.
The stories of the glorious days of Ula are not complete without the gallant deeds of Mahdev Mukherjee, who in the 18th century vanquished the notorious dacoits of Baidyanath and Bishwanath. The gallant deed earned Ula the name of Birnagar (town of brave).
The Mitra Mustafi and the Mukherjee Mansions of Ula have long crumbled to dust but a few temples, including the spectacular Jora Bangla temple, stands to this day reminding one of the glorious days of Ula and can well be your next Sunday gateway.
Today Birnagar, a town on the Sealdha – Krishnagar line, represents any crowded small town of Bengal. Birnagar is best explored in a cycle rickshaw. The first stop in the Mitra Mustafi Bari, approached through an arched gateway. On the right lies the wooden Chandimandap, where Durga Puja is still held. Sadly the Chandimandap is in a sorry state and his thatched hay roof have long been replaced by corrugated tin sheets. Strangely if of the beautiful woodwork have survived the test of time and can still be seen.
A little ahead is the Jora Bangla Temple, built in 1694 the temple, is approached by a triple arched entrance, and has elaborate terracotta decoration of the front side. Panels includes, scenes from Krishna Lila, Ramayan, Gods & Goddesses and scenes from social life. The Mitra Mustafi Mansion has long crumbled to dust but a branch of the family still survives in the complex in a newly built small house. The famed Mukherjee mansion have followed the same fate.
Birnagar also contain a complex of 12 Shiva Temples known as the Dwadash Shiv Temple and several other ruined temples scattered all over the town.
Birnagar is also the birth place of famous Bengali writer Rajsekhar Basu (Parasuram) again no trace of his house can be found in Birnagar.
- Getting There: Birnagar is a station on the Sealdah – Krishnanagar line. (82 km, 2 hours, Rs16)
- Places to Eat: There are a few basic eateries near the station.
- Getting Around: Rickshaw is the only alternative.