Bid to retrace history of road to Puri

A 516km road stretched from (top) Puri in Odisha to (above) Jagannath Ghat in Calcutta in the late 1700s 

Calcutta: Efforts are on to restore heritage structures along an ancient 516km roadway from Jagannath Ghat in Calcutta to Puri in Odisha, popularly known as Jagannath Sadak and later the Orissa Trunk Road.

A book, Documentation of the Monuments of the Old Jagannath Sadak in West Bengal, published by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) in November last year, retraces the history of the road, which existed in the 1700s.

Intach has requested the Union ministry of culture and the Archaeological Survey of India to restore the heritage structures on the road.

Before the Railways, it was Jagannath Sadak that devotees took to reach Puri. The road wound its way from Jagannath Ghat on the Hooghly in Calcutta, through Howrah, East Midnapore and West Midnapore before entering Odisha.

Much of the road, once traversed by Sri Chaitanya and Guru Nanak, disappeared after the Railways came into being in 1892 but some of it is now Part of National Highway 5. While Sr Chaitanya had taken the road through Tamluk, Guru Nanak travelled through Chandrakona and Midnapore.

"Trains cut short the travel time from three weeks to 18 hours. As fewer people took the road, much of it on the coastal side vanished," said G.M. Kapur, the convener of Intach.

In 2015, the Odisha government launched a project to list and document monuments on the Jagannath Sadak in Bengal. The book was published as an offshoot of the project.

"We are urging the ASI to take steps to restore heritage structures on Jagannath Sadak. The book identifies 100 such structures, including temples, maths and bathing ghats, which are in a shambles," Kapur said. Intach had earlier listed monuments on the Odisha stretch of the road.

Jagannath Sadak came into being in the late 1700s and soon became the lifeline of all pilgrims to Puri. From 1825, it came to be known as Orissa Trunk Road but for the devotees it has always been Jagannath Sadak, travelling through Chandrakona, Tamluk, Belda, Dantan, Balasore, Bhadrak, Jajpur, Cuttack, Bhubaneswar and Pipili.

Anil Dhir, the chief coordinator of the Jagannath Sadak Project, undertook a bullock cart ride on what was left of Jagannath Sadak in 2011 in an attempt to retrace it. "We started one morning from Jagannath Ghat in Calcutta and for the next two weeks walked the entire distance," Dhir writes in Documentation of the Monuments of the Old Jagannath Sadak in West Bengal.

The oral history of the Jagannath Sadak is rich and varied. There are many tales, fables and episodes. Of the 516 km of the old road, 200km was in Bengal with a string of maths and ashrams of Vaishnavites and Gaudiyas on the road. The listed monuments include Jagannath Temple in Mahesh, Serampore, Jagannath Ghat, Old Mint and Andul Rajbari.


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