The debate continues till date. Which is the ultimate temple town of Bengal – Bishnupur or Ambika Kalna? Bishnupur is indeed more popular among tourists as it has connecting trains providing the luxury of travelling in AC Chair car and many standard accommodation facilities. Sadly till date, for travelling to Ambika Kalna by train you have mostly unreserved local trains. There is one Intercity express with AC Chair car facility but in reaches it the afternoon and is not ideal for day tour. Lodging facilities are just two or three at the most. Till date, the best way to reach Ambika Kalna is by road. The journey takes about 2.5 to 3 hours and you can cover the city easily in a day trip.
Bishnupur is way ahead that any temple town when it comes to variety in terracotta art. However, if you consider the variety of temple structures, Ambika Kalna is way ahead. You name a style in Bengal temple structure and this town in the Burdwan district has it to showcase. Also if you are strictly talking about temples with terracotta panels, Bishnupur has only four such temples. Rests of the temples at Bishnupur are made of laterite stones. Whereas in Ambika Kalna the number of “terracotta temples” are more than double than that of Bishnupur.
Eminent sports journalist Moti Nandy was also an eminent Bengali novelist who was popular among readers of all ages. His most famous fictional character was the swimmer “Kony” on which even a national award winning film was made.
Yet Moti Nandy did not write any sequel to Kony. Instead, he made of series of novels on another female character named Kalabati. She hailed from a family of ex-zamindars of a settlement named Atghara. Nearby was Bakdighi where another family of ex-zamindar resided. The stories of Kalabati were based on the characters of these two villages. In the first story, Kalabati participates in disguise in an all boys cricket match between the two settlements and wins the match for her team. This was long before the film “Dil Bole Hadippa” featuring Rani Mukherjee starred was released and one wonders if the film was inspired by the story.
In films and serials of Byomkesh, many remarkable historical and heritage locations have been shown. Many people have asked me about these places. It has been always my interest to identify these locations and write about them. This blog post “Byomkesh was Here” is mainly about those places and their history. It covers Five of such locations
There has been a sudden interest in the Indian film industry for Byomkesh Bakshi, the fictional sleuth created by Saradindu Bandopadhyay. Byomkesh Bakshi hated to be referred as Detective. Instead, he preferred to be known as “Satyanweshi” (The seeker of the truth). Byomkesh is a very humble man, leads a simple life with his wife Satyabati and his friend / sidekick – writer Ajit Bandopadhyay.
It was not that earlier directors and producers have not shown interest in making films about Byomkesh Bakshi. From 1967 to 2010, four Bengali films, three Bengali serials, and one Hindi serial have been made on Byomkesh. Out of them, Uttam Kumar as the first Byomkesh and Rajit Kapoor as the first “National” Byomkesh had their presence felt.
I looked at the ruined mosque. Then I turned to my guide Abbas Bhai, a middle-aged Muslim gentleman clad in a sherwani.
“I have seen old brick mosques having their domes broken. Then why only this particular mosque is known as Fouti Masjid or Phuti Masjid. ?” I asked Abbas Bhai.
Despite the fact my hotel was close to Hazarduari Museum, I decided to start my tour with this dilapidated structure. Structure wise the Mosque is unique than many mosques of Bengal.
The Mosque is located near a railway crossing, almost 1 km from Hazarduari. Surrounded by Trees, thatched huts and a pond the 135 feet long structure looked like a sick giant counting its last days. Getting into the mosque is itself a problem for the aged as there is no stairs or even a raised platform. Curious local children were looking at us.
Abbas Bhai did not reply immediately. He was chewing paan. He spat some of it, looked back at me and said “Because Janab, in those mosques the domes were completed. They broke down at a later stage. In the case of Fouti Masjid, only two domes out of the five were constructed. The rest three was never made at all. It was incomplete. Nobody had read Namaz here. It was an unfinished work, a failed mission of Sarfaraz Khan – the grandson of Murshid Quli Khan. ”
The town of Nanoor alias Nanur is also known as Chandidas-Nanoor as it was the hometown of the famous 14th century poet Boru Chandidas. Although the name of three other Chandidas comes up from the history, the one associated with Nanoor is the most famous.
The Police station is named as Nanoor too. Chandidas Nanoor is also the head quarter of the Community Development Block of Nanoor which comprises of 24 villages. Apart from the temples at Chandidas Nanoor, some of these villages have age old brick temples of which many have exquisite terracotta work on their walls. Uchkaran is one such village. The villagers of Nanur Block are not well off. Recently many NGOs have been working in this area to promote handicraft made by the villagers.
Ilambazar was a prominent trading hub during the 19th century. British had sugarcane manufacturing factory and indigo plantations and the people had enough reason to be prosperous. As mentioned in my earlier blogpost a busy port named Saheb Ghat existed at Birbhum’s Ilambazar, with numerous British and French ships in its vicinity. One John Erskine was the leading sugarcane manufacturer. He also had indigo plantations. Today’s Ilambazar looks like any suburbs of Kolkata. A scenic drive through the Chaupahari Jungle towards South of Bolpur takes you to Illambazar. There are many tribal villages in this jungle. The people of these villages are extremely poor.
The Bengalis are a travel loving community. Some never tires to go to the same tourist spot repeatedly over the years , while some tries to find out offbeat spots in remote areas or near their favourite familiar places.
Apart from the famous Di-Pu-Da Circuit (Digha, Puri and Darjeeling), one of the favourite holiday spots of Bengalis is Santiniketan. Not only limited to Bengalis, this University town founded by Nobel Lauarete Rabindranath Tagore is popular to tourists all over the country and from many parts of the world.
However, this blogpost is not about how to spend an usual weekend at Shantiniketan. This is about the Brick temples around them, which is unknown to most of the tourists.
Temple experts, archaeologist and heritage enthusiastic can argue as to which brick temple of Bengal has the most unique terracotta decoration on its wall. However, when it comes to temple structure, the Jora-Bangla Temple of Bali Dewanganj of Hooghly district beats all other regarding uniqueness.
Balidewanganj is a small village near Arambagh of Hooghly district. From Arambagh one has to cross the bridge over river Dwarakeshwar and turn left into Balidewanganj Road. A drive of half an hour takes you to the village.
Jora- Bangla Temple explained
The Chala or Bangla type roof of a temple is derived from covers of thatched hut in rural Bengal. Such temples have two sloping roofs. A Simple Do-Chala Temple roof sometimes looks like an inverted boat. A Char Chala Temple structure has four sloping roofs.
The roof of a Jora-Bangla temple is actually two Do-Chala Temple roof constructed side by side. Sometimes it looks like two inverted boat side by side. In some instances, a tower is raised between these two roofs as a crowning element.
While driving through Taki Road from Barasat towards Basirhat, many curious visitors might have noticed an European Medieval style gate with two towers. On close observations it is perceived that on the top of the gate there is a statue of two Europeans fighting with a lion.
The gate is the entrance to a high walled enclosure. A signboard in Bengali states it to be State run orphanage. A smaller signboard says “No Entry without Permission”. It does not say anything about photography being prohibited. If it is early morning, one can jolly well take a chance to venture in the interior.
I have visited several Thakurdalans in West Bengal but none was as huge as this. A Thakurdalan is a common thing in old affluent homes of Bengal. It is actually an altar studded with pillars for worship, especially meant for Goddess Durga.
In this instance, six massive fluted doric columns introduced to the structure. The top of each pillar is decorated with stucco lotus flowers along with circle of stucco petals. On the frontal area there is a flight of stairs. I could see from the courtyard five archways beyond the pillars which were leading to the inner sanctum. Beyond that nothing was visible – only darkness.
It was ten in the morning. I was accompanied by three other fellow enthusiasts inside this nearing 150 years colossal mansion. Yet that darkness inside the massive structure gave me an eerie feeling. As if it was a never ending abyss or cavern. As I stood facing the Thakurdalan, I could see on my both sides long corridors with several pillars and window shades on both floors of the mansion. Plasters had worn off and in many places age old red bricks were visible. On the ground floor, one row of corridors were distastefully renovated in recent times with walls erected in between and around the pillars.