Sunday, 16 February 2014

BARONAGAR (AZIMGANJ)


In the mid-17th century, a small trading centre called Azimganj, come up to the banks of the Ganga in Murshidabad. The royal family of Natore, now in Bangladesh, build a riverside palace in a village near Azimganj , and called it Baronagar, meaning a big town.


Natore Zamindari was one of the largest zamindaries of Bengal. The originators of this Zamindari were Ramjivan and Raghunandan both sons of Kamdev.  Ramjivan’s daughter-in-law was Rani Bhawani, a legendary name in Bengal politics in the 18th century and an endearing personality in every home of the country due to her boundless generosity and public spirit. Rani Bhabani, born in 1716 and widowed at 32, become a legend  for her administrative ability. She was a zamindar of Natore famous for her sagacity, generosity and extensive social works. Born in a respectable Brahmin family of Bogra, her father’s name was Atmaram Chowdhury. On the death of her husband raja ramakanta in 1748 she become the dejure zamindar of Natore.

She managed the vast Natore Zamindari most efficiently and effectively for over four decades maintaining cordial relationships with the Nawabs of Bengal. Her veteran and faithful diwan Dayaram greatly assisted her in running the zamindari. Holwell, while describing the Notore raj in his days, eulogizes Rani Bhavani and asserts that the stipulated annual rent of the estate to the crown was 70 lakh of sikka rupees, the real revenues being about one core and a half.


Rani Bhabani ran the vast zamindari with tact and tenacity during the most critical and transition period of the East India Company’s administration. She lived a very austere and religious life but her generosity new no bounds. She gave large portion of her zamindari to the Brahmins as Lakhiraj( rent free lands) for their maintenance and other charitable activities. Writing in the Rajshahi Gazette, O’Malley mentioned that the Rani established about 380 shrines, guesthouses etc, build many temples in different parts of the country and endowed money and lands. She constructed a big road that runs from Natore to Bhawanipur in Bogra and is still called Rani Bhabanir Jangal. She was a great patron of Hindu learning and bestowed large endowment for the spread of Education.


Driven by religion, she planned to build a Varanashi in Bengal. From 1755, a huge a complex with over a dozen temples was built in Baronagar.  After these temples were built, Rani started staying at this place and that is why she needed an administrative set up to run her estate. In fact it is here, just behind charbangla complex there is a kachari Bari (mostly ruined condition) is still visible. Many have since been reduced to dust, but a few still stands strong, a testament of past glory of Bengal. 


One  of the magnificent structures is the Panchanan Shiva temple on the Ganga embankment. Small and Red, it has a unique Shivalingam , five heads of Shiva carved on black stone. The temple houses a beautiful garden with a breathtaking riverside view.


The main attraction of Baronagar is the Charbangla mandir complex. Built  in 1760 by Rani Bhabani, this is a small square arena fenced by four massive temples Each one is build on a 1.5ft high foundation and is dochala hut-shaped , a fine example of Bengal architecture

Each temple has three doors with three Shivalingams inside. The magic of these temples is on their walls, embellished with beautiful terracotta work. The Ramayana is wonderfully sculpted. This is , no doubt, unique among terracotta temples in Bengal. Hindu motifs are also visible. The temples had a narrow escape in December  1992, when a mob stormed the complex after the Babri Masjid demolition. 


Another temple with a unique shape is in the north-west part of the Charbangla complex. The Bhabaneshwari temple of Baronagar is a masterpiece in distinctive Murshidabadi style. Build in 1755, it is 18-m high with a massive dome on top and decorated with fresco works, both inside and outside.

Nearby, another temple build by Tarasundari , Daughter of Rani Bhabani, is in a sorry state. Legends said it that Siraj-ud-Daullah tried to abduct Tarasundari. She was suffering from chicken pox at that time and Siraj got scared and fled. Tarasundari cured overnight. Considering this to be divine intervention, she built the Gopal temple.


Perhaps the finest temple of them all is Ghaaneshwar, also known as Jorbangla temple. Small but marvelous, it is in terrotta. Dragons, dancing girls, fighting elephants and floral designs decorated the walls. A Shivalingam, known as Kasturishar Shiva, is inside, established by Kasturi Devi, mother of Rani Bhabani. 
 

 The Palace of royal family should be another attraction . Rani Bhabani died here in 1795 at the  ripe age of 79. The family history is displayed through oil paintings. Special permission is needed to get inside. Debris of temples, damaged due to natural calamities and by human hands, is scattered around Baronagar. Images of these temples are placed in a dilapidated room near the palace.


In the all above Palaces/buildings/Temple mortar was used : lime and ground bricks “Surki” & lime : Collected from burnt water Shells. No Cement was used, cement was not invented that time but the strength and durability of the mortar is unquestionable since it is sill strong through the ages. Particularly plaster made of lime and sand is unquestionably marvelous with the surface layer called “Ponch” ( Ponch : A Miraculous solution made of shell-lime mixed with ample quatity of Egg yolk and some other costly ingredients) is still refulgent and durable through the Century without any retouch or refurbishment.

Sources . a) Murshidabad Kahini- by Nikhil Nath Roy.
                b) District Gazatteer-Rajsahi –by L.S.S.O’Mally
                c)  Ancient Bengal temple architecture-Manju Halder.
   
 Research  -Santanu Roy.
 Picture courtesy - Sritam Mukherjee.
       


Saturday, 8 February 2014

GARH PANCHACOTE



According to Mirza Nathan’s Baharistan-i-ghaybi, Islam Khan, the Mughal emperor Jehangir’s Subahdar in Bengal sent out Seikh Kamal in A.D. 1608 to conquer Birbhum, Punchet and Hijli. Seikh kamal first marched against Bir Hambir who submitted to the imperial forces without a fight. He not only recognized the suzerainty of the Mughal Subahdar, but also supported the Mughal army in its march against the “Zemindar” of Birbhum, Shams Khan, and against the then incumbent to Hijli’s Salim Khan.


The Baharistan-i-ghaybi, (Vol. I translated by M.L.Borah, Gauhati, 1939) is a little confusing here. It gives the names of three “Kingdoms” and three ‘zeminders’ but explicitly associates only Salim Khan with Hijli, and leaves the association of other two ‘zeminders’ with two other ‘kingdoms’ entirely to our Historian’s guess. But Bir Hambir, was the king of Vishnupur (in present Bankura district), which place fails to find a mention in Mirza Nathan’s account, making the confusion worse confounded. There is, however, a clue in the account about Shams Khan’s seat of authority. But it is difficult to locate the ‘Darni Hill’ where Shams Khan’s seat was supposed to have been located. Jadu Nath Sarkar (History of Bengal, Vol.II, 1948) associates Bir Hambir with the ‘zemindery’ of Birbhum; an association not supported by any historical record. Moreover, Birbhum, until Warren Hasting’s time, was ruled by a Afgan house. Sarkar also associates Shams Khan with Punchet which, was never under the rule of any Muslim family. So one should like to associate Shams Khan with Birbhum. There is some circumstancial evidences for believing that Bir Hambir of Vishnupur was concurrently the ruler of Punchet or Panchakot at the time of Siekh Kamal’s expedition.


Writing about the fort of Panchakot or Garh Panchakot, supposed to have been the seat of authority of panchakot kingdom. H. Coupland started: “The date of the fort is more or less definitely fixed by two of its gates, ...on which there are duplicate inscriptions in Bengali characters referring to a Shri Vir Hamira, and giving the date Samvat 1657 or 1659, i.e, about 1600 A.D. Vira Hamira is apparently the Bir Hambir of Birbhum Raj...It is a mater of question whether the fort was built by him or subsequently captured by the Punchet Raja, or (built) by the Punchet Raja for his own protection against Vira Hamira and perhaps also against the Muhammadans. The reason of its abandonment is not known” (Bengal District Gazetteers: Manbhum, Calcutta, 1911). Indeed, legends connected with the Malla family of Vishnupur credit Bir Hamber with extensive conquests and subjugation of the kings of the neighboring territories. But the king of Panchet probably regained his fort and territories from Vishnupur Raj before A.D. 1932. In a Royal fireman dated either A.D. 1632 of 1633, we got a specific reference to Punchet zamidary; in a inter-alia stated “Bir Narayan, zamidar of Panchet, a country attached to Subah Bihar, was a commander of 300 horses and died in the sixth year.”


 Garh Panchakot is a village in Neturia P.S. at the southern foot of the Panchet hill. Where the ruins of the fort of the powerful rajas of Panchet mentioned in the 17th century Baharistan-i-ghaybi, of Mirza Nathan, can now be seen. G. D. Beglar records two inscriptions on two of the gates, referring to one Sri Hamira, who was possibly the same as the King Bir Hambir of Vishnupur. All except possibly one of the temples in the fort appear to date from the 17th or more probably, the 18th century and has no definite affinity with the Vishnupur temples, save the tower of the westerly Pancha-ratna temple, which is like those at the single-towered temples. Beglar mentions a number of massively build temples on the side of the hill overlooking the fort (having doms and arches in the Islamic fashion.) but they are not easily accessible now. The largest with a domes mahamandapa, was said to have been built by king Raghunath, son of Bir Hambir of Vishnupur.



The temples inside the fort are now dilapidated. Of the two monds, one consists of toppled-down sand stone blocks. The only other stone temple of laterite was the one referred to by block as an exact duplicate of the temple of Ragunath on the hill. The best preserved, but still very badly ruined, amoung the temples are both of Pancha-ratna design, with pillared porches on all four sids, and decorated in curved bricks (terracotta). These terracottas, consisting of small panels carves before they were backed, are totally unlike the curved brickwork of the pre-Muslim deuls. The temple on the west is the more extensively decorated-both on the interior and exterior facades. In 1965, the outerwalls were seem to have collapsed on the east and west, and many of the terracotta panels had already been taken away by souvenir hunters, but enough remained to show the richness and variety typical of this art, rows of figures, floral bands and geometrical motifs.


These temples are now empty, the images having been removed to the thakurbari of the Rajas of Kashipur, who took the images with them when the family moved from Panchet to Kashipur. Like the Visnupur temples these temples were also related to the cult of Krishna under various names like Shyamchand, Radharaman, Radha-Shyam, Madangopal, Damodar, Gopal and three hundred Salagrams . Besides this, The family worships Kali, under the name of Rajeswarimata, a traditional stone image of Durga, Ram-Sita-Lakshmana, Laksmi and other images. The temples which house them are modern flat roofed structures of Brick and cement.
 

Sources : 1. Bengal District Gazetteer, Manbhum ,1911
                  2. Bengal District Gazetteer, Purulia  Edited by O’Mally
                  3. Bengal District Gazetteer, Purulia  Edited by N.N. Sen.
                  4. A Tour Through Bengal Provinces in 1872-73 - J. D. Beglar ( A report
                      From Archaeological survey of india, Calcutta, Vol-III , 1878)
                  5. PASCHIMBANGER SANSKRITI  by Binoy Ghosh  ( Part-1)
                  6. Chitralekha.com.

Research : Santanu Roy.

TELKUPI



The earliest reference to the geologic-geographic region, of which the present district of puruliya forms a small part, is found in one of the earliest of the Jain sacred books, Acharanga Suttra”. The sutra tradition, according to Herman Jacobi, dates from the 5th century B.C., that is, approximately from the time of Varddhamana Mahavira. But it was probably not codified and written down before the Christian era. According to this text, Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara, travelled in Subha(=Suhma)-bhumi and Vijja(=Vijra)-Bhumi in the country of the Ladhas(=Radhas). The country was pathless and rugged, the terrain was heavily forested, villages were few and far between and the people were in hospitable. They would not give alms to the monks and would instead fierce dogs on them.


There are a number of places in the valleys of Kangsabati and the Damodar, where literally sores of temples at various stages of dilapidation exist even today as apparently the mute evidence of six hundred years of history from the ninth to the fourteenth century A.D. Among this sites special mention may be made of Deulghat under Arsha police station where more than 15 temples have been sighted. On the basis of the epigraphy of an inscription found on a slab, J.D. Beglar had in 1873 (A Tour Through Bengal Provinces in 1872-73, in “A report of the Archaeological Survey of India, Vol-VII, Calcutta 1878), dated the earliest temple as constructed in the 9th or 10th century.


If we shift our attention from the valley of the Kangsabati to the valley on the east bank of Suvernarekha, we find that here, too, there had been important settlements. Dulmi was one such settlement , Deoli and Suissa are also two other important sites in the Suvernarekha valley : from these place too, architectural and sculptural remains have been found, which on stylistic considerations can be ascribed to the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries.



On going back once again to the kangsabati valley there are two interesting sites at Pakibirra and Buddhapur; two more significant sites around Pakhibirra are Dhadki Tanr and Tuisama-there are ruins which can, on stylistic considerations, be dated variously between the 12th and the early 17th century. From Chharra, not very far from Purulia town, a Jaina Tirthankar image has been found, which bears an inscription on its pedestal. In kashipur in the Darakeswas valley, Devid Mccutchion had located and old temple, which to him appeared, on stylistic grounds, to be of the 12th century. In Para, are two temples, one of which appears, on stylistic grounds, to belong to the 15th century, while the other is definitely not older than the second half of the 16th century.

From the sculptural finds, it seems that Deulghata was a Sivaite settlement; amoung the icons found are a Siddhesvara Siva Linga, an image of Pravati flanked by Ganesa and Kartikeya, a lonesome Parvati the image of an eight arm Durga slying Mahishasura and an image of Uma-Maheswara. Stylistically, all of them are reminiscent to the Pala-sena period. From Kashipur, too an Uma-Maheswara image dwarapalas holding Sivaite symbols and Ganga Jamuna figures carved in the 12th century idiom have been found. But the finest of all finds is an image of the ten armed Siva dancing on the back of Nandi- the bull. Suissa probably was a Vaishnava site. The icons found here include a four armed Vishnu accompanied by Saraswati.
Para in its early days was either a Sakta or a Vaisanava site, from this site a ten-armed Durga image as well as Gaja Lakshmi image, both stylistically akin, have been found. All other settlements seem to have been cultural medley of not only Sivas, Vaishnavas and Saktas, but also of Sauryas or Sun worshippers.

Telkupi provides us with the example of a settlement from where Sivaite, Vaishnavite, Sakta and Saurya Icons have been found. But more interesting are the sites which have yielded Jain and Buddhist icons. Pakbirra happens to be a site which have yielded a very little besides Jain images. It seems that Pakbirra had been a flourishing Jain settlement during the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries. Cheliama, under Raghunathpur police station, seems to have been a Jaina place of worship before it become a Brahmical one; that is confirmed by the find of a number of small sculpted Jaina icons from around the late Brahminical temple of Cheliama. Similarly from the discovery of numerous votive chaityas from around the completely ruined temple at Tuisama near Pakbirra, Baglar inferred this to had been either a Jaina or a Buddhist site. But Mccutchion believed that, Since practically nothing connected with Buddhism has been found from the region, Tuisama like Pakbirra was also a Jaina Site.

It is evident from such an array of architectural, sculptural and epigraphic finds that along the courses of Damodar, the Kangsabati, the Dwarakeswar and the Subarnarekha their existed some very populous and possibly very prosperous settlements from the 9th to the 13th century. Whether these were big villages or towns nobody could say. In any case, temple building was, as it is now, an expensive activity. Only kings appropriating a considerable portion of the produce of the land as revenue, or merchants making profits from trade in surplus produce, could afford to invest money in temple building activity.

During the time of Rampala, that is in the beginning of the 12th century, Telkupi of Tailakampi was the seat of a powerful chief. Apart from the kings, the merchants and traders were also in the habit of constructing temples in market places, which incidentally were also the places where they lived and worked. In Telkupi and other places, inscriptions have been found, which testify to the truth of above statements.

It is also almost certain that from the 9th to the 11th century Jainism was flourishing religion continued to be a force till about the 13th century in this, western-most part of West Bengal. Puranic Brahminism overshadowed all other religions. It seems that more merchants and traders had been a demographically in significant community, in so far as wealth, power and prestige were concern, they were significant community. With the decline of trade & Commerce, their wealth and power were also shrunk and in course of time Jainism become a moribund force in the district. The early medieval Jain merchants of Puruliya have left behind a community called the SARAK – meaning Jain laity. The Sarak’s of Puruliya are Jains in their faith and practice and most of them are in trade, commerce and in business.

Compared to the evidence relating to Jainism and puranic Hinduism found in Puruliya very few artefacts can be held up as evidence of the prevalence of Buddhism in this parts between the 9th and the 12th centuries. This by itself can be taken to be an indirect evidence to prove that the Buddhist Pala emperors did not have effective control over the tracts now comprising Puruliya district. Stylistically, the temples and the sculptures provide evidence of the cultural and technological intercourse the local artisans, sculptors and architects had with Bengal heartland comprising northern Radha, Varendra and Vanga, on the  one hand, and with Orissa, on the other. While the majority of sculptures found from Puruliya unmistakably bear number of nagara-sikhara temples remind one of Orissan temples of that age.


We do not, however, know the names of many local and tribal chiefs who flourished in different parts of Puruliya region from the 9th to the 13th centuries. Nor do we have any knowledge of dynasties that divided the present day Puruliya district among themselves. The firm reference to a ruler we come across, is one Rudrasikhara of Tailakampi. Sandhyakaranandi, the court poeit of the Pala king Rampala (1077-1120), has given a list of Chiefs and feudatories-vassals, semi-independent and nominally independent-who had helped Rampala to rain his ancestral kingdom from the rebel Kaibarttas. The list in the Ramacharita(Manas) includes, inter alia, the name of Rudrasikhara of Teilakampi. From the reference it appears that Rudrasikhaa was a powerful ruler who perhaps nominally accepted the pala overlordship.


On the evidence of archaeological remains of Telkupi, the supposition is fairly tenable. Before the place got submerged by waters of the Panchet dam, it had more than twenty temples of various sizes. On stylistic grounds and on the evidence of a few inscriptions found, the temples seem to have been constructed between the 11th and 13th century.


Sources : 1. Bengal District Gazetteer, Manbhum ,1911.
                  2. Bengal District Gazetteer, Purulia  Edited by N.N.Sen.
                  3. Bengal District Gazetteer, Purulia  Edited by Barun Dey.
                  4. A Tour Through Bengal Provinces in 1872-73 - J. D. Beglar ( A report  from
                      Archaeological Survey of India, Calcutta, Vol-III,1878)
                  5. Pashimbanger Sanskriti by Binoy Ghosh.
                  6. Chitralekha.com.


Research : Santanu Roy.