The ancient city of Ambowa now known as Ambika Kalna located on the west bank of the Bhagirathi river in Purba Bardhaman district has some of the most unique and beautiful temples built in the various styles of architecture typical to Bengal. Chala, rekha, ratna, mancha and plain roofed temples are scattered across Kalna built by the various dynasties who ruled over Burdwan.
It was during the reign of Maharaja Kirti Chand Rai of the Bardhaman Raj that Ambowa came to be called Ambikanagar derived from the name of the presiding deity Ambika who had been worshipped for centuries by the people of the city. The most iconic temples seen today in Ambika Kalna were built by the Bardhaman Raj in the 18th – 19th century. According to the locals, stone was very difficult to procure and so the artisans used the clay from the river bank to make bricks. They then made terracotta panels and tiles to adorn these baked bricks and embellished them with human figures, animals, floral motifs, geometric patterns, hunting scenes, scenes from social life and stories from the Ramayana, Mahabharat, Puranas and Hindu scriptures.
Lalji Mandir, one of the oldest temples built by Maharaja Kirti Chand Rai for his mother Braja Kishori Devi is housed in the Rajbari complex opposite Nava Kailash. This architectural marvel was built in 1739 CE in the rare Panchabingshati (Twenty-five pinnacles or peaks) style. There are only five such temples left in West Bengal of which three are seen in Kalna (Lalji Temple, Krishna Chandraji Temple and Gopalji Temple) and the other two are Sridhar Temple in Sonamukhi in Bankura district and Ananda Bhairavi Temple in Sukharia village in Hooghly district.
Legend has it that Braja Kishori Devi who was very pious and devout lady had a lovely idol of Radha Devi that she used to worship. One time, on the auspicious occasion of Poush Sankranti, she went to bathe in the holy Bhagirathi river. There were many saintly persons and sadhus who had come to take a dip in the river. She heard the mellifluous voice of a small boy while walking back after finishing her ablutions. She looked around to find only the sadhus seated nearby.
Wondering from where this sweet voice manifested, Rajmata entered the tent to find a lone sadhu sitting inside. She asked him where the little boy was whose voice she had heard. The sadhu said that he did not know what Rajmata was saying and that he only had an idol of Lord Krishna with him. Surmising quickly that the Lord had spoken to her, Rajmata asked for the idol of Lord Krishna. The sadhu was horrified on hearing this request and refused to part with his beloved Lord.
Rajamata then told the sadhu that she wished to conduct the marriage of his Lord Krishna with her Radha Devi to which the sadhu agreed. The divine marriage was conducted in the presence of the sadhu who came to be called Lalji. Lalji stayed back at Ambika Kalna to worship Radha Krishna daily and breathed his last here. This temple came to be called Lalji after him.
This temple along with Girigorbardhana Temple is in a separate enclosure in the Rajbari complex. There are three horse statues hanging over the entrance of the enclosure. The horse is considered to be the insignia of the Bardhaman Raj. The temple premises has a 15 feet high enclosure wall. The main part of the temple is seated on a raised platform. The north wall of the temple is about 21 feet high and south wall is about 18 feet high.
The Panchabingshati (Twenty-five pinnacles or peaks) are divided into four storeys or steps. The first step has four corners of the roof forming the first floor of the temple – twelve peaks. There are eight peaks in the octagonal second floor, four peaks at the four corners on the roof of the third floor and finally a single peak at the very top (12 + 8 + 4 + 1). The south side of the temple which forms the entrance has the jagmohan and the natmandir. The natmandir is about 30 feet by 14 feet and has been built at the level of the ground in the typical char chala roof style. There are five entrances on each side and three in the front.
There is a verandah to the east and west of the temple. There is a wooden door on the east side that leads you inside the temple. There is bright yellow Garuda that faces the deities. To the right of the sanctum sanctorum is a staircase that allows you to go to the terrace of the temple.
The visually pleasing terracotta panels seen on all the walls have intricately detailed flowers, Shiva Linga, scenes of Lanka Yudh, Goddess Durga, Dakshinakali, Balagopala, Jagadhatri Devi, Krishna Leela, scenes of British with their cavalry, horsemen and figures of huntsmen placed one on top the other in a repetitive manner to name a few and the curious ‘death plaque’ called Mrityulata or death creeper found on the corners of the temple walls. There are stunning panels of elephants with floral designs on the roof of the temple. Many of the panels depict scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharat and Puranas.
This historically and spiritually significant temple is an architectural masterpiece and was commemorated on stamp by India Post. People come in large numbers on the auspicious occasion of Krishna Janmashtami to offer their prayers.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)