Monday, February 13, 2012

Dynamic Day Trips : Sukharia Temples

The district of Hooghly consists of a number of old temples symbolizing the Bengal school of architecture and representing the form of Terracotta art that the region was once famous for. Sukharia, is one such place we contemplated to visit on a leisurely Sunday morning.

The most convenient way to reach Sukharia is to take the Howrah-Katwal local train in the morning and get down at the Somra Bazaar station. We took the 7:53 AM train and the journey to Somra Bazaar took less than two hours (and the train was running late). The station is a small one and there are very few means of communication. I noticed a single auto rickshaw, a couple of cycle rickshaws and a few van rickshaws throughout my stay at the place and they may not be available outright. After inquiring at a local stationary shop we had an idea about the place and started afoot towards the temples. There is an asphalt road circling the place and there are some proper houses (including many two-storied ones) and a high school alongside it but once we sidestep it and enter the deeper tracts, the mud roads are predominant with a few brick paths in between running around small huts providing a rural flavour to the place.

It took us about 15 mins on foot to reach the Anandamayee Kali Temple complex. The temple complex from the other side of the nearby pond makes a great view for the shutterbugs.

The temple, dedicated to Goddess Kali, was built by a local zamindar, Bireswar Mustafi, in the year 1813. The main shrine features 25 pinnacles which is not very common and we marvelled at the terracotta decorations. The images that adorn the walls are primarily of gods and goddesses and mythological in nature and some floral designs but if one looks intensely one will find references to daily life as well such as people sailing on a boat, babus taking their food and being fanned by women and even soldiers marching with arms.

The Kali temple is flanked by two parallel sets of smaller temples, featuring six temples in each row. Two out them are pancha-ratna (5 pinnacles) and the rest are aat-chala (8 roofed). One of the pancha-ratna temples is dedicated to Lord Ganesha while all the others are dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple has been renovated during 1994-97 and may be it was painted afresh at that time but the terracotta is still preserved. Most probably regular worships are still carried on as we observed a priest silently chanting his hymns and performing some puja.

One has to walk along the banks of the pond to reach the temple and on the way pass by the ruins of a zamindar-bari named Radhakunja. The house is in shambles now but the lofty columns and the courtyard and thakur-dalan inside speak of the architectural masterpiece it once must have been. I believe this is where the acclaimed director Mrinal Sen shot for Aakaaler Sandhane in 1980s and most probably the house belongs to the Mitra-Mustafi family. We entered the dilapidated house to take some snaps thinking it as abandoned but to our surprise we found that some people still reside in the first floor of the house. An old lady who is one of the residents chatted with us for a while from the verandah of the first floor and asked us where we came from.

Another temple of significance is the Harasundari Temple complex. This nava-ratna (9 pinnacles) is similar to that of the Anandamayee Kali Tample although it might not have any intricate terracotta decorations. However, here, two parallel sets of seven smaller temples (two pancha-ratna and five aat-chala) each are on either side of the main shrine. This temple was constructed by Ramnidhi Mitra Mustafi in the year 1814. The complex is now closed for the general public and is in the process of renovation. Unfortunately, as part of renovation, the temples are being cemented freshly and they are losing all the charm and art work of the bygone era.

Close to the Harasundari Temple, stands the colourful Nistarini Temple, another nava-ratna temple. It was probably constructed in 1847 by the Mustafi family. This temple is also in shambles and cannot be approached.

Another temple in the vicinity is the Siddheswari Kali Temple which is located beside an old banyan tree. Probably this temple has been renovated in recent years and is now a popular one but in its current form it looks like any other temple of the time with no special features to talk about. It is believed that the river Ganges once flowed beside the temple but with time it has moved away and all around we could see only green farm lands.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Dynamic Day Trips : Andul Rajbari

It was an impulsive decision to visit the heritage building of Andul Rajbari. Santanu, Anirban and I boarded a local train from Santragachhi and got down after a couple of stations at Andul. From Howrah, it is a half an hour ride by train.

The Rajbari, spread over 10 bigha and comprising more than 100 rooms, can be reached in about 10 mins from the Andul station in a cycle rickshaw. The building is in dilapidated state now but the massive structure and lofty pillars speak of the affluence the royal family must have enjoyed in the past. It is heartbreaking to witness the neglect and ill-maintenance which is driving the grand heritage building into ruins. The large open ground in front of the Rajbari has now been converted into a football playing ground for the locals.

Interestingly, the building is still being used as residence by a handful of people although sections of it looked dangerously in need of immediate attention. A part of the building however has been renovated recently and newly painted adding a contrast to the remaining majority.

After taking some snaps from the outside we were a bit jittery about whether to enter the building or not. At the end, setting aside our apprehension of whether we were committing trespassing, we did take a small tour inside, and had we not entered we would have definitely repented afterwards. There is a small courtyard (may be the erstwhile naach mahal) inside which has withstood the test of times and still depicts the elegance and grandeur of the bygone era. The intricate decorations of the pillars have remained relatively unimpaired and transports oneself to an altogether different time and the presence of the pigeons flying around flapping their wings and making intense sound somewhat renders a haunted feeling to the mansion.

There is precious little history that can be found on the history of the palace. A signboard in front of the building acknowledges that the palace was built in 1834 by Raja Rajnarayan Roybahadur. However from a website (which is the sole reference that I came across on the internet) I could gather that the Andul Raj Family was founded by Ram Charan Roy even before the Battle of Plassey (1757) and the construction of the palace building was started by Kashinath Roy. However, I could not crosscheck the authenticity of the information. Interestingly, in a recent article in Times of India on heritage buildings, someone with a surname of Mitra was quoted as one of the descendants of the Andul Raj Family. Not sure if he belongs to the extended family or whether the palace changed hands (which seems less probable).

Just beside the palace building, there is an old Annapurna Temple surrounded by Shiva shrines. The temple complex also houses an old cannon (supposedly gifted by Lord Clive as per the same source mentioned earlier).