Hanseswari Temple and Ananta Basudev Temple, Bansberia, Hooghly
Hanseswari Temple and Ananta Basudev Temple
The history of Bansberia dates back to the days of Shah Jahan. In 1656, the Mughal emperor appointed Raghab Dattaroy of Patuli as the zamindar of an area that includes the present-day Bansberia. Legend has it that Raghab’s son Rameshwar cleared a bamboo grove to build a fort, inspiring the name Bansberia.
Bansberia was also one of the important villages of the Saptagram (a unit of seven villages), an important port town in medieval Bengal. Its importance in pre-Muslim Bengal was religious, owing to its location at the Tribeni or confluence of three rivers.
After Muslim occupation in the late 13th century (by a Ghazi or warrior-saint named Zafar Khan) it continued to be an important city under the Tughlaks, as a military base, mint-town and port.
After the Mughal conquest of Bengal in the mid-16th century, the city started to decline due to the loss of royal patronage, but some areas such as Bansberia continued to prosper up to the 19th century, sponsored by semi-independent zamindars who built several temples in the area.
Among these is the Hanseswari Temple built in 1814. It was constructed by the wife of Nrisinghadeb, the grandson of Rameshwar.
Nrisinghadeb was a follower of a Tantric cult and had spent his last seven years (1792-99) in Varanasi practicing its rites. The temple was constructed after his death by his wife Sankari, as a tribute to him.
Even the deity has been designed and installed following the concept of Yoga and Pranayam. The word “Hong” is pronounced at the time of breathing out whereas the word “S-a-a” is uttered at the time of breathing in. “Hong” manifests “Shiva” and “S-a-a” represents “Mother Shakti.”
The temple has both the Deities of Shiva and Shakti and hence the name is “Hansheswari”. On the top of thousand petals blue lotus, lies the eight petals bloodred lotus.
Image of white “Shiva” is found to be lying on six triangular marbles. From the navel of “Mahadeva”, a lotus stem has come out carrying twelve petals blood-red lotus.
On this, four-handed “Mother Shakti” is standing on her right legresting the left leg on her right thigh. The upper left hand is carrying a sword to represent her power to curb the demons, the lower left one is carrying a severed head of a demon; the upper right palm is posed in a “Fearless-Mudra (Abhaya Mudra)” so as to depict her as the “Protector” of the world from the evils whereas the lower right hand is posed in a way as if to offer her blessings to all (“Bar-Mudra”). The Deity is blue in colour and made of wood derived from “Neem” tree. The room beneath the Central Minar has a white marbled “Shiv linga”
The inner chamber is connected to all the 13 domes through narrow passageways, said to represent the nerves of a human body.
It forms a complex maze and entry to the passageways is restricted for tourists and pilgrims.
With its unique shape, Hanseswari stands out among Bengal temples. The 21-metre high, five-storeyed Hanseshwari temple has 13 domes shaped like lotus buds.
The structure has similarities with St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, which is also known as the onion dome church.
Next to the Hanseswari Temple is the Ananta Basudev Temple (also called Ananta Basudeva Temple). It was constructed by Rameshwar Datta in 1679.
The Ananta Basudev Temple follows the typical eek – ratna style of Bengal Temple Architecture, where the temple is crowned with a single pinnacle. The pinnacle of the Ananta Basudev Temple is octagonal.
The Rameswar Temple in nearby Guptipara also follows the also follows the eek – ratna plan with an octagonal pinnacle.
Three sides of the temple along with the pinnacle is covered with finest terracotta. Terracotta so intricate that it inspired the great poet Rabindranath Tagore.
Moved by the art, the poet had asked Nandalal Bose to document the panels on the temple walls.
The terracotta panels of Anata Basudev Temple contains an interesting mix, covering religious figures like Kali, Durga and Krishna along with panels of boats & ships, dancing girls, scenes from war and last but not least scenes from daily life.
The Datta Roy mansion stands next to the temple complex. The mansion is more or less intact but its a private propert and tourist and pilgrims are not allowed inside the complex.
Bansberia is located 48km from Howrah, is an hour’s journey along the Howrah – Bandel – Katwa rail line. Take a morning train for a comfortable journey. A short bumpy rickshaw ride from the station will take you to the temple complex, which houses two unique pieces of Bengal architecture.
- Hooghly Jela r Purakirti by Narendranath Bhattacharya
- Story of Hanseswari Temple, Bansberia by Sikha Banerjee, Chitrolekha
- Hanseswari Temple, Anil Vohra’s Blog
- My article Next Weekend you can be at… Bansberia, The Telegraph