Chandrakona like nearby Bishnupur and Ambika Kalna is often referred to as the ‘city of temples’. This city grew in eminence during the reign of the Hindu Malla kings of Bishnupur whose architectural ingenuity in using the locally available terracotta to build their stupendous temples was adopted by successive rulers. It would appear that at one time, there was a temple in every locality and every lane of Chandrakona. Affluent families consecrated their family deity and every festival was celebrated with great pomp and show.
However, now all these temples are either abandoned or are in ruins or been desecrated and one has to have their wits about them while visiting these temples where wild animals have made their homes.
Historical records say that Chandrakona which was a thick forested area was established by Chandraketu of the Ketu dynasty though there is not much information available about this dynasty. This city then became the seat of the Chouhan or Bhan dynasty who built many laterite stone temples. Sadly, one has to search the lanes of Chandrakona with a fine-tooth comb to find fragments of only four temples that are still surviving from this period. The last king of this dynasty was Raja Mitrasen in whose reign Chandrakona became a prosperous trading centre. The city came under the rule of the Mallabum kings upon his death who then lost it to Maharaja Kirti Chand Rai of Bardhaman Raj probably around the 1720s.
One of the oldest temples of Chandrakona probably built by Chandraketu I is the Malleswara Shiva Temple at Malleswarpur in Chandrakona. This laterite stone temple might have been built in the 14th century and was renovated by Maharaja Bahadur Tej Chand Rai of the Bardhaman Raj in 1831 as per the plate found in the temple. This temple is built in the pancharatna (five pinnacles) style. There is a triple arched porch that is still standing though the natmandir appears to have collapsed. There is a circumambulatory passage around the sanctum sanctorum that has a Shiva Linga which is worshipped by the locals. The relief work on the walls is stunning to say the least but like most of the other temples in Chandrakona needs to be preserved.
The Jor Bangla Temple that is about 500 metres from Malleswara Shiva Temple in the Dakshinbazaar area is a magnificent example of the jor bangla style of architecture (two structures that resemble the traditional village huts with one as the porch and the other being the shrine with chala roof either as ek bangla or do chala). This laterite stone temple appears to have been built by the Bhan dynasty perhaps in the late 17th century. The external façade has beautiful embellishments.
The Shantinath Temple at Mitrasenpur is built in the navaratna style and has a triple arched entrance. The terracotta work of musicians, dancers, scenes from the Mahabharat and Ramayana, Krishna Leela and social life on the façade is some of the best one will see in Bengal.
The Parvathinatha Temple is built in the rare saptadasaratna (17 pinnacles) style. This temple has been renovated using modern colours over the terracotta relief work. The original details on the façade has panels of Gods and Goddesses, Dasha avatara, musicians, dancers and scenes from the Puranas. This temple is likely to have been built in the 19th century.
The Anantadev Temple at Mitrasenpur built in 1899 is quite different from the others built here. It has a flat roof, triple arched porch and two lions on either side of Lord Vishnu at the top.
The navaratna Rasik Raya Temple that was damaged during the earthquake lies in a state of total disrepair. This temple was one of the largest temples built in Chandrakona. The relief work on the facades is in dire need of restoration.
Last but not the least is Raghunathbari, a temple complex built by Maharaja Bahadur Tej Chand Rai of the Bardhaman Raj in the same lines of Rajbari in Ambika Kalna. This temple complex would have been one of the finest temple complexes of its time but now is in such an appalling state that one wonders why no one has stepped forward to preserve buildings built during the glory days of Bengal.
This complex houses the Rameshwar Shiva Temple, a dilapidated Rasmancha and the famed Raghunatha Temple. The tower of the Raghunatha Temple has since collapsed and the natmandir and a char chala structure adjacent to it are also in poor condition. The bhogmandapa would have accommodated a number of people when the mahaprasad was distributed. The renowned Laljiu temple which housed the family deity of the Bhan dynasty and mentioned several times in historical books for its exquisite relief work is now reduced to loose bricks and stones!
Chandrakona, a city which was a thriving business centre during the zenith of Bengal and steeped in culture, architecture, art and history is on the verge of becoming completely obliterated and with it a significant chapter of Bengal’s history will be lost forever.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)