A tale of two cities: Hetampur & Rajnagar

Photograph published on 2011 in Outlook Traveller Magazine

Photograph published on 2011 in Outlook Traveller Magazine

AN INTERESTING STORY FROM AN ENGLISHMAN

Sometimes you travel your country thoroughly but overlook what is in your backyard. I had never heard of the place named Hetampur until I met this English gentleman named Ashley on a train journey to Bishnupur in 2010.  Ashley was fond of heritage structures of West Bengal. A few days back he had visited Shantiniketan. From his tour, Ashley had developed a fair idea of the place and its surrounding.  Apart from the usual tourist spots in the University town he visited Surul Rajbari and its surrounding terracotta temples.

“You see, I had a well-informed driver accompanying me.” said Ashley   “This guy named Sanat observed my interest in terracotta panels and guided me to similar temples in Supur and Illambazar.  Then he mentioned about this place named Hetampur, where he said one can see terracotta plaque showcasing Queen Victoria and the court of arms of British East India Company on the walls of a temple.”

Back in 2010, I was not aware of any such temple. So I urged Ashley to continue with his narrative.  Ashley said   “Hetampur is around 41 km from Bolpur on the way to Suri. I was not sure whether my chap was actually talking sense. I took a chance and asked him to drive on. Close to Hetampur is the settlement of Dubrajpur which has a small hillock which is uncalled for in that landscape.  For a tourist like me, the place was a relatively lesser know rural town of Birbhum district. The scenario was just like what I expected to see in rural India. Taking a detour from the main road we reached the temple in no time.  Indeed my guy was not bluffing. Apart from a European female figurine which he claimed as that of Queen Victoria, there were several European figures and somewhat amateurship attempt  to create the  court of arms.”

“… And then the most entrancing thing happened” added Ashley with a chuckle after a small interval.  Then he continued with his story.  “Sanat drove on towards Dubrajpur. Just after a few minutes of driving, I noticed a tall brick structure on the left side of the road. On first glance, it looked like a mansion with fusion architecture. However, on reaching in front of it I realized it was a European styled gate made of red bricks studded with pillars.  I could even see some figurines on the top. Finding such a structure inside a non-descriptive village was quite enthralling. Sanat took me inside the complex and all of a sudden I found myself in front of a huge palace, crudely painted in yellow. The mansion was in crumbling shape with a bad paint job coupled with numerous modification of extreme horrific taste.  It was past its glory days but you could not ignore its colossal structure. You see I had done bit homework before coming to India, and to my knowledge, the only similar style historical building which existed in West Bengal was the famous Hazarduari Museum at Murshidabad. I had not read about this Palace in any guidebook. So I rolled my eyes in amazement and I asked myself whether I was daydreaming.”

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Ambika Kalna – Glorious Temple Town

A section of Rajbari grounds at Ambika Kalna

A section of Rajbari grounds at Ambika Kalna

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.

Ambika Kalna showcases all major temple structure of Bengal  of Temple

Ambika Kalna showcases all major temple structure of Bengal School of Temples

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.

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Terracotta Temples around Shantiniketan, Part III ( Nanoor and Uchkaran)

Cluster of Temples over Mound of Baru Chandidas, Nanoor

Cluster of Temples over Mound of Boru Chandidas, Nanoor

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.

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Terracotta Temples around Shantiniketan, Part – II ( Ilambazar and Ghurisha)

Terracotta studded Facade of a temple at ilambazar

Terracotta studded Facade of a temple at ilambazar

Temples of Ilambazar

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.

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Terracotta Temples around Shantiniketan, Part – I ( Surul, Supur and Itonda)

Terracotta decorated walls of a Deul temple at Itonda located only 10 km from Shantiniketan

Terracotta decorated walls of a Deul temple at Itonda located only 10 km from Shantiniketan

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.

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The most unique brick temple of Bengal

Unique Jora Bangla Durga Temple, Bali Dewanganj, Hooghly

Unique Jora Bangla Durga Temple, Bali Dewanganj, Hooghly

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.

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Brick Temple Towns of Bankura – Part V: Kotulpur

Fortfied Residence of Niranjan Bhadra's Family, Kotulpur

Fortfied Residence of Niranjan Bhadra’s Family, Kotulpur

After our memorable trip to Joypur & Gokulnagar, we went to visit our third destination of the day – Kotulpur.

The metal road lined with trees in front of the Gokulchand Temple took us to another part of the highway bypassing Salda village. You need to turn right and drive straight to Kotulpur. It takes around half an hour to reach the place.  Kotulpur is quite a big locality.

Bell Metal Chariot outside Sudhakrishna Bhadra Residence

Bell Metal Chariot outside Sudhakrishna Bhadra Residence

On the main road there is a small statue of Khudiram Bose – one of the youngest revolutionaries in the Indian independence movement. We took the lane just besides it. It was a very narrow lane with random houses of odd shapes and sizes around. Soon we came to a pond on our right. On its opposite side we could see four Deul structured temple inside an enclosure. It was well past two and the Sun was falling on our face.Crossing the pond, we hit another lane, this one much wider than the other. We turned right and stopped in front of the gate. There were two compounds here, both belonging to the Bhadra family of Kotulpur. Outside the first compound stood a Bell Metaled Ratha ( Chariot) with plenty of used mineral bottles dumped under it. It was a sorry sight.

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