Kurumbera Fort, Gaganeshwar Village, Paschim Medinipur District, West Bengal

An interesting fort complex built during the glory days of Bengal relegated to obscurity is the Kurumbera Fort which is at a little distance from Kharagpur. Kurumbera Fort which derives its name from kurum which means stone and bera which means fence and collectively means an area fenced by stone in the local language is located in the historically important village of Gaganeshwar in Keshiary Block. The twin villages of Gaganeshwar and Keshiary in Paschim Medinipur district was once a major centre of tassar silk. The immense wealth of trade and commerce led to a city being built around it that prospered till the British era.


Kurumbera Fort has always managed to intrigue both historians and architects for its unique style and layout. Legend has it that this fort was built overnight for Lord Rama and Sita Mata during their exile. An inscription found within the complex credits its construction to the mighty Raja Kapilendra Deva of the Suryavamsha dynasty who established the Gajapati kingdom. According to archaeologists and historians, this complex was originally conceived as a temple and expanded to accommodate devotees.


The main entrance leads to an open courtyard with arched corridors on all the four sides. The complex has a 15 feet high enclosure made of rough stone and lime plaster. The enclosure is about 312 feet long and 253 feet wide on the outside. The arched corridors are about 8 feet wide made of massive laterite blocks. The interior of the verandah appears to be divided into cloisters with each cloister having an arch that is approximately 10 feet high and a detailed lotus pattern on its keystone. The arches appear to be of the corbelled type indicating the inclination towards the Odia style of architecture. Historians say that there were originally 69 pillars but only 62 have survived.


The enclosure originally had a laterite temple dedicated to Lord Kapileshwar Shiva built as a saptha ratha in the typical Odia rekha deul style. The main temple faced west and would have been about 60 feet in height. Excavations have revealed a pathasala (probably a Veda pathasala), a secret tunnel and a deep well. There is a raised platform in the centre of the courtyard which might have been a sacrificial altar. The main structure and jagmohan have been desecrated either by Alauddin Hussain Shah or Aurangzeb with the plinth of the jagmohan serving as the base for the mosque built by Aurangzeb. The mosque is about 23 feet by 14 feet with three domes built in rubble masonry sitting on the original corbelled arches.


Historians are of the opinion that the Yogeshwar kund that is seen in the front and the altar in the middle of the compound might have actually been the base of the Shiva temple as there is a water channel on the northern side where water would have run off when poured on the Shiva Linga. Locals however say that the temple was much bigger and located where the mosque was built later on and that the altar was a well which has been filled up with mud and stone. There is more evidence to support this theory as the western part of the corridor behind the mosque has collapsed revealing the various floral designs, lotus and other Hindu iconography on the roof.


One of the reasons why this complex was referred to as a garh or fort is probably because of the unusual enclosure wall though there is only a narrow entrance in the north. This structure does not have a moat or bastions or watchtowers or even layered ramparts. There is no evidence of any armoury or storehouses or barracks or even multiple sources of water. It was used as a cantonment during the British era.


Unfortunately, this temple turned fort remains shrouded in mystery and historical records have been unable to reveal anything. It would therefore appear to a layman that this structure was designed as a temple with a huge solid wall all-round but as it has been completely destroyed by invaders, one can only theorize what might have been.


Though this complex is a protected monument of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), historians, locals and architecture enthusiasts are saddened by the lack of publicity and tourist footfall seen in this place. This once magnificent structure is now a relic of the grandeur of Old Bengal.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)

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