The historically important village of Karnagarh in Medinipur district which was once the seat of the Midnapore royal family is most famous for its Chuar Bidroha, a rebellion led by Rani Shiromani, who is called as the Rani Laxmibai of Medinipur against the highly exploitative land revenue policy of the British in 1798. The British were forced to send in large forces to squash the revolt and succeeded in imprisoning Rani Shiromani. This grand lady who stood up for the rights of the farmers was then cold-bloodedly murdered by the British while under house arrest as they were both in fear and awe of her courage, resolve and popularity among the masses.
Karnagarh, according to locals was built by Daanveer Karna and also at some time had sheltered the Pancha Pandavas. There is mention of Karnagarh as Karnadurga in an old Sanskrit text called Bhabishya Brahma Khanda which is no longer in circulation. Based on archaeological and architectural findings, the earliest temples seen here are said to have been built by Raja Karnadeva of Keshari or Somavamshi dynasty of Odisha and the fort which is at least 500 years old is said to have been built by Raja Mahabir Singh.
The majestic stone fort would have stretched 3 km long and was divided into two sections namely sadar mahal (outer portion) and andar mahal (inner portion) with the Parang river flowing close by. Though now in ruins, portions of the walls, temples, water tanks and barracks are found in the fort compound.
The twin temples of Anadilinga Dandeshwar and Devi Bhagavati Mahamaya built in the 17th century in the typical rekha deul style of Odisha architecture are found in the southern part of the complex. The Dandeshwara Temple is about 60 feet high and about 20 feet long with a stone natmandap. This temple interestingly has an 8 feet deep pit called yonipeeth and to the left a Shiva Linga with a curved stone worshipped as Khargeshwar Mahadev.
Devi Mahamaya Temple stands to the left of Mahadev Dandeshwara Temple and is about 33 feet high. The jagmohana is about 20 feet high designed as a saptharatha peeda shikhara. The main deity sits on a beautiful shatadala kamala (hundred-petalled lotus) adorned in a muslin saree. There are also shrines for Lord Hanuman and Yogamaya as well as another temple called Chapaleshwar said to have been built in the 10th century by Raja Karnadeva in the compound.
Fragments of a temple built in the pancharatna (five towers) style bereft of a deity is found here. There is another temple on the western side which is about 75 feet high and leads to a yogi mandap. Two temples in this complex were built to commemorate Yashobant Singh or Jaswant Singh, the grandson of Raja Mahabir. A cenotaph was built on his funeral pyre.
A saintly person by the name of Raghubaba who served in the temples for over three decades is revered by the locals. Karnagarh is listed as one of the most important places of worship in Bengal.
Though the temple complex is protected by the Government, the fort is in a state of disrepair. It is indeed unfortunate that Karnagarh which witnessed one of the first uprisings against the draconian laws of the British has been relegated to obscurity.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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