Next weekend you can be at ... Ambika Kalna

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By (METRO ON SUNDAY THANKS READER SOMEN SENGUPTA FOR THIS CONTRIBUTION. PICTURES BY AUTHOR AND SANJIB SARKAR)
  • Published 14.08.05
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Every edifice in Ambika Kalna, or Kalna as it is popularly known, oozes history. The peerless architecture of the temples of this town and their history leave few untouched. The grandeur of the terracotta structures is comparable to those of Bishnupur.

The two places are, in fact, inextricably linked. In 1806, the Bishnupur royal estate was purchased by the king of Burdwan, who then settled in Kalna. Ever since, the magic of terracotta has enriched both places.

The first reference to Ambika Kalna is found in a 6th century text named Kubjika Tantra. Some historians are of the opinion that during the Gupta era, the place was part of the famous Tamralipta port.

In 1702, Aurangazeb appointed Raja Jagatram as the administrator of Kalna, which reached an advanced stage of development under his son Kirtichandra, who took over in 1729.

Though their roots were in Punjab, the royal family of Burdwan contributed immensely to the glory of ancient Bengal. The royals were keen patrons of the arts and several temples of burnt clay were constructed during their reign.

In 1757, Tilokchand, then raja of Burdwan, refused to help Lord Clive against Siraj-ud-Daullah. Tilokchand was later vanquished by the British in 1760 and he turned to religion for solace. His change of heart coincided with the golden period of temple architecture in Kalna. Between 1752 and 1766, seven large and 12 small temples were built in Burdwan.

The most eye-catching of the Kalna landmarks is a set of 108 Shiva temples within a single complex. Maharaja Tejachandra sponsored the temples, completed in 1809. The project celebrated the transfer of ownership of the Bishnupur royal estate.

The temples are divided into two rows. The first row has 64 temples, out of which 32 have white and 32 black Shiva lingas. The other row consists of the rest of the temples, of which two are empty. All the constructions are in the typical aatchala style.

Across the complex is the main attraction of Kalna, the Pratapaditya temple. Prince Pratapaditya died in 1821. The temple was constructed in his memory in 1849 by his first wife Priya Kumari.

The architectural style deviates from the Bengal school and is akin to Rekhadeul, characteristic of the Orissa school.

Designed by Ramhori Mistry, the temple is one of the best terracotta structures in Bengal. The figures on its walls depict the life of Krishna, Ravana?s Durga puja, Vaishnavites and even the Europeans.

Near Pratapaditya temple is another wonder ? the majestic 60-ft-tall Krishnachandra temple. Built by Raja Tilokchand in 1752, the 25 towers of the structure are quite unique.

This temple, too, has been constructed in the aatchala style with fabulous terracotta sculptures on the walls. Episodes of Ramayana and Mahabharata, hunting scenes, childbirth and erotica are carved to perfection. The dilapidated royal palace and the rashmancha are in the same complex.

A two-minute walk away is the Lalaji temple, also with 25 towers. Rajmata Brajokishori built this in 1739, after her return from Vrindavan. Garuda, the mount of Vishnu, is worshiped here.

Another landmark that will capture your attention is the Ananta Basudeva temple. Raja Tilokchand?s pet project was built in 1754 in the double aatchala style. Unfortunately, only a few of its terracotta sculptures remain. The temple was renovated by the Birlas in 1964.

Then there is the Sidhesheswari temple, the oldest in Kalna. The ekchala construction has 14 steps leading up to it, the first five signifying the tantrik cult, the next nine indicating the Nabagraha. Besides, there are two small Shiva temples.

The terracotta works on the panels of Gopalbari mandir are also worth a visit.

In 1754, Indrakumari, the queen of Burdwan, had established two Shiva temples in Jagannathbari. Both are 15-ft tall with a 5-ft-high foundation. If you are interested in terracotta sculpture, don?t give these temples a miss.

Episodes from Hindu mythology and the epics are etched in fine detail on both. Intricate alponas are also carved in terracotta on the temple premises.

Noi-Gambuz masjid with its nine towers is yet another spot that deserves tourist attention.

A tour of Ambika Kalna can be concluded in a day if one starts early in the morning.

Going:

Local trains are available from Howrah station. The journey takes around two-and-a-half hours

Staying:

The PWD guest house can be booked from Calcutta. Good food is available there. Cycle-rickshaws are available to most of the tourist spots. Photography is allowed. There is a dearth of good restaurants. So carry your food and water.