Pathra & Karnagarh
on the bank of the river Kangsabati, is a village of temples. There are 34 temples in the village, all over 200 years old. Barely 10 km from Midnapore town, this nondescript hamlet is a treasure trove for those who like to travel back in time.
The history of Pathra goes back to the Gupta age, when the place was the hinterland of Tamralipta port, a gateway to southeast Asia. From 8th Century to 12th Century, it was an important hub for Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. A majestic Vishnu Lokeshwar statue dug out in the village in October 1961 revealed both Hindu and Buddhist influences, indicating that practitioners of both religions frequented Pathra.
The turning point in the history of the village came in 1732, when Nawab Alivardi Khan appointed Bidyananda Ghoshal as the revenue collector of Ratnachawk pargana . Bidyananda established temple after temple in the village, making it a major draw for Hindu pilgrims. The nawab, however, was not too pleased with Bidyananda's work. He was thrown into prison and then sentenced to death. Legend has it that the elephant that was to crush Bidyananda's head refused to do so. The village reportedly gets its name from the incident.
The Ghoshal family changed its surname to Majumdar and continued building temples till the end of the 18th Century. Another branch of the family, with surname Bandopadhyay, also started constructing temples. With indigo cultivation and silk trade boosting the family's fortunes, funds were not difficult to come by.
The decline started as the rich families shifted base from the village and ignorant local residents started vandalising the temples. Many of the structures were reduced to rubble. There was neither any initiative from the government nor from the academic circle to preserve the structures.
The efforts of a local resident named Yeasin Pathan and a handful of scholars from the mid-1960s finally bore fruit in the form of government grant and technical assistance from IIT Kharagpur in saving the temples. A slice of Bengal's glorious past was salvaged in the nick of time.
Today, 28 out of 34 temples in Pathra are under the supervision of the Archaeological Survey of India. It has repaired 18 temples.
A non-government organisation named Pathra Archaeological Preservation Committee also looks after the structures.
The navaratna temple on the western bank of the river is the grandest. The 250-year-old, 40-ft high structure has nine towers and many terracotta panels on its walls. A small aatchala temple established in 1816 stands in the same compound.
Just opposite to it is a cluster of three aatchala temples and a small navaratna temple called Shivalaya. Terracotta artworks adorn these temples, too. Behind them is a Durga dalan , a temple-like structure made of stone.
Some distance away is another group of pancharatna temples, built in the typical Bengal style and enriched with terracotta sculptures.
Most of the temples offer glimpses of Islamic architectural styles. Stucco lime and seashell are the main materials used.
The terracotta panels that still exist bear images of Ram, Balaram, Radha and Krishna, Dashavatar, Hanuman, Durga and hunting. The majority of the temples are dedicated to Krishna, Vishnu and Shiva.
The second biggest temple of Pathra is a Sitala temple popularly known as Burimar than . It, too, is 40 ft high. The other important temples are Sarba Mangal, Kalachand, Das Mahavidya and Hansa.
There's also a simple yet attractive rasmancha , built in 1832. It has nine small towers.
Karnagarh is a nondescript village just 10 km north of Midnapore town. For those interested in history and architecture, it is the right place to explore. The main attraction is the remnant of a huge stone fort. The core of the structure is gone but parts of the surrounding walls, soldiers’ barracks, temples and water tanks remain.
One of the first uprisings against the colonial rulers happened in Karnagarh in April 1798. The episode has gone down in history as chuar vidroho, chuar meaning uncivilised. The local farmers led by Rani Siromoni, who is sometimes referred to as the Laxmibai of Bengal, rose in revolt against the tax collectors.
The British sent forces to Bengal and crushed the revolt by 1799. The queen was imprisoned and later killed in Midnapore town.
Residents believe that Karna of the Mahabharata once ruled this land, though there is no historical proof. An old Sanskrit book named Bhabishya Bramha Khanda calls the town Karnadurga.
The earliest recorded history goes back about half a millennium. From the archaeological pattern of the temples found here, it is assumed that they were built by Raja Karnakeshri of the Keshari dynasty of Orissa. Raja Mahabir Singh built the fort at Karnagarh. Two of the temples were built in it to commemorate Yashobant Singh, the grandson of Mahabir.
The fort established by Mahabir is now little more than a ruin. Portions of the walls and dilapidated temples stand like sentinels. From the remains of the temple, one can surmise that the fort was nearly 3 km long. A river called the Parang used to flow past it.
Debris of many temples and structures are strewn at Karnagarh. One of the temples is built in pancharatna style, but does not have a deity.
The southern part of Karnagarh houses a complex where a couple of 17th century temples of the same height stand side by side in a fenced compound. Known as Anadilinga Dandeshwar and Devi Bhagavati Mahamaya, the two structures are in relatively good condition and attract a lot of visitors.
There are three stone gates to the complex. The main one is on the western side, 75 ft tall and leads to a yogimandap.
The Dandeshwar temple is 60 ft tall and is nearly 20.6 ft long. It is an example of the Orissa school of architecture. There is a stone natmandap of about 4 ft in height and a deul or biman.
There is no image inside the temple, only a pit of about 8 ft. It is called Jonipith. On the left of the jagmohan, a shivling carved of stone is worshipped as Khargeshwar Mahadev.
The Mahamaya temple stands on the left of the Dandeshwar temple. It is also built in the Orissa style and dedicated to the mother goddess. Its middle part, jagmohan, is made in saptarath pida style while the garva griha is made in the saptarath shikhar style. The temple is 33 ft tall and the jagmohan itself is about 20 ft high.
The image of the goddess or mahamaya in a muslin sari, placed on a lotus, is eye-catching. Tantrik rituals are practised in this temple, which was once a property of the Narojal royal family here.
None of the structures are adorned with terracotta or lime work. Recently, both temples have been painted pink and the magic of black stone is lost. However, the surrounding walls are still in black and the ambience magical.
Midnapore is 128 km from Howrah station and 135 km from Esplanade. It is about a two-and-a-half-hour ride. The road from Calcutta is smooth but the bridge near Kolaghat is in bad shape, so drive carefully. Karnagarh is just 10 km from Midnapore town, on the way to Garbeta. Cars and autorickshaws are available from Midnapore town. If you want to come back by evening, start early.