The quaint village of Sukharia located on the busy Somrabazar railway line in Hooghly district has some of the finest terracotta temples and old mansions that you will find in Bengal. Somrabazar has historically been the home of some of the oldest Zamindar families whose wealth, grandeur and affluence has had a significant influence on the culture and lifestyle of the people of Somrabazar. Their grand ancestral homes with large verandahs, huge columns, relief work and Durga manchas give you a sense of the rich heritage of this town during the glory days of Bengal.
Sukharia is known for its long-standing relationship with the Mitra Mustafis. According to the locals, the earliest known member of this illustrious family of Kayasthas is Kalidas Mitra who migrated from Kannauj. The most famous member of this family is Rameswar Mitra of the 19th generation from Ula – Birnagar who rose from his position in the Accounts Department in the province of Bengal to the Accounts Department in the Mughal court on the recommendation of the Nawab of Bengal. Here, he had the rare honour and distinction of meeting Aurangzeb who was so impressed with his dedication as an accountant that he gave him the title of Mustafi or Mustauphi and presented him with a golden panja (palm) that is equivalent to the royal seal. The golden panja became the insignia for the Mitra Mustafis. The Mitra Mustafis are generally known as a family of Diwans as most of the family members served in different positions in the revenue departments during the Mughal period and the British rule.
Rameswar Mitra and his successors are credited with building some of the most beautiful temples and mansions across the three villages of Ula – Birnagar, Sripur – Balagarh and Sukharia – Somra.
One of the finest examples of the rare panchabingshati (twenty-five pinnacles or peaks) style is the Ananda Bhairavi Temple built by Bireshwar Mitra Mustafi in 1813 by a lake. The layout of this temple is very interesting as there are six temples on either side of the main temple. Five of these six temples are at chala (eight roofs) and one is designed as a pancharatna (five pinnacles).
The main temple is a three-storeyed ingenious structure that has three pinnacles at each corner on the first level (3 x 4 = 12), two pinnacles at each corner in the second level (2 x 4 = 8), one pinnacle at each corner in the third level (1 x 4 = 4) and an impressive central pinnacle (12 + 8 + 4 + 1 = 25). Anandamoyee Kali Mata is seated in the sanctum sanctorum of the main temple while Shiva Lingas are seen in nine of the smaller temples and Lord Ganesha in one. This temple has undergone renovation over the years and perhaps that is why only fragments of the exquisite terracotta work is seen today.
Close to the Ananda Bhairavi Temple is Radha Kunja, the crumbling mansion of the Mustafi family that barely holds on to its former glory and charm. Another notable temple built by the Mitra Mustafis is the Hara Sundari Temple in 1814 in the navaratna style (nine pinnacles) that was severely damaged in an earthquake in 1897. This temple is flanked by seven smaller temples and at one time had a grand two-storeyed entrance gate. Locals say that people used to be greeted to the sound of trumpets and kettledrums while entering the temple in the earlier days.
The Nistarani Kali Temple built by Kashigati Mitra Mustafi in 1847 is a fine example of the navaratna style. This temple had a natmandir which has collapsed and only a few pillars remain in front of the temple.
A descendant from this family has now taken the initiative to safeguard these temples and preserve the history of Sukharia. Unfortunately, it is too little, too late as many mansions, temples, thakur dalans (where the deity was kept for daily worship) and religious buildings built by this family have not stood the test of time owing to decades of neglect.
Sukharia can be developed easily into a heritage village if steps are taken to encourage ecotourism and a peep into the lives of the prosperous Zamindars who took Bengal to its zenith.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)