Home > Bengal History, Bengal Terracotta Architecture, General > Ula Birnagar, Forgotten Mansons and Temples

Ula Birnagar, Forgotten Mansons and Temples

Ula Birnagar

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

Jora Bangla Temple, Ula Birnagar, Nadia

Jora Bangla Temple, Ula Birnagar, Nadia

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.

Twin Temples, Ula Birnagar

Twin Temples, Ula Birnagar

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.

Abandoned Temple, Ula Birnagar

Abandoned Temple, Ula Birnagar

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.

Towering Temple, Birnagar

Towering Temple, Birnagar

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.

12 Shiva Temples, Birnagar

12 Shiva Temples, Birnagar

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.

Swans on Terracotta, Ula Birnagar

Swans on Terracotta, Ula Birnagar

Necessary Information:

  • 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.
  1. October 23, 2013 at 11:20 AM

    Finally ….Mitra Mustafi Trilogy is complete. Good job.

  2. Indrani Chatterjee
    October 30, 2013 at 11:52 PM

    Fabulous detailed work. Well done.

  3. November 8, 2013 at 1:55 PM

    You have some wrong information. I am a descendant of Birnagar Mitra Mustafi family, and not all the Mansion has long crumbled to dust. you can see some of them still standing strong, actually i live in on of them. The house of Rajsekhar Basu was very recently demolished by his own descendants. but i have got some pictures of it.
    The wooden structure of the durga dalan was crumbling, so it was renovated many years ago, but you can still see the wooden art works of durga dalan, if you want to, contact me.

  4. November 14, 2013 at 3:58 PM

    Thanks Dipyan for pointing out my mistake. Also it is nice to meet some one from the Mitr mustafi family.

    During my visit the Mansion of Rajsekhar Basu was being demolished.

    I have written about the details of the wooden durga dalan.

  5. Indrani Chatterjee
    January 7, 2014 at 2:23 AM

    Dear Dipayan Babu and Rangan Babu, Could either of you put up fresh photographs of the Rajsekhar Basu house before its demolition? And please could you post your piece on the wooden durga dalan? I am a historian very keen to learn about these structures.

  6. March 21, 2015 at 6:45 PM

    I have been very much astonished to observe the details of Ula Birnagar. I’ll surely visit the place soon. You also may go to Garibpur Kalibari, near Majhergram Railway Station in Ranaghat- Bongaon line, the goddess worshipped by Brahmananda Saraswati, the son of Dr. Jadunath Sarkar, the house physician of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyaya.

  7. nb d
    March 2, 2017 at 1:50 PM

    Birnagar (dwadash mandir) was also home of Kedarnath Bhaktivinod a descendent of Mustaphi. His son founded the Gaudiya Matha (not the sampradaya)

    • Nandan Dutta Chaudhury
      October 3, 2018 at 8:58 PM

      I beg your pardon Sir, Kedarnath is not a descendant of Mitra Mustaphi family instead he hails from the famous Hatkhola Dutta family (a branch of Andul’s Dutta Chaudhury family). The Mustaphis were the maternal uncle of Kedarnath Dutta. Sri Kedarnath Dutta even had written a book named Dutta Bangsha mala where he mentions his ancestors from both the Dutta Chaudhury family and Hatkhola’s Dutta family.

  8. Ed Yazijian
    March 18, 2017 at 8:34 PM

    Thanks for your article and photos. That area is a truly magical place. I lived in the “towering temple” close by the Dwadas Shiva mandir for a time back in the early 1980s. I believe it was a Kali temple where many animal sacrifices were conducted. My teacher, Lalita Prasad Dutta Thakur, lived next door on the ground floor of Durga mandir until he died at age 103. It was his brother, Vimalaprasad (Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati) who founded the Gaudiya Math. Their father was Kedarnath Bhaktivinod (former high court judge and Vaishnava scholar), and grandmother was a member of the Mitra Mustafi family. The Dvadas Mandir and its environs belonged to his maternal grandfather.

    I’d like to know more about Ula Chandi’s history. Do you know of any sources that tell her story? Thank you. Feel free to contact me.

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