The centuries-old Char Bangla Mandiralaya at Baranagar is one of the most picturesque and interesting temple complexes built in Bengal. Located on the bank of the Bhagirathi River, this temple is a short boat ride upstream from Azimganj Sadarghat on the opposite bank.
This temple is one of many built by the affluent philanthropist, Rani Bhabani of Natore. Popularly known as Queen of Natore or Natorer Rani, Rani Bhabani was one of the wealthiest zamindars of Bengal. She oversaw a flourishing estate which had a staggering annual income in the tune of 1.5 crores of which a large part was used to build temples, water tanks, dharmashalas and educational institutions.
Rani Bhabani had a vision to make her capital city of Baranagar like the ancient city of Varanasi. She built many temples with bathing ghats between 1753 to 1760 of which very few have survived. According to the locals, she wished to build 108 temples dedicated to Lord Shiva in Baranagar. Some say, she managed to build only 107 while others say she built 108 but many structures are sitting in the bottom of the Bhagirathi River as its course has changed considerably over the decades.
Some of the most famous temples that have survived the ravages of time are the Jor Bangla temple also known as Gangeswar Temple, Ek Bangla Panchanan Shiva Temple, Bhabaniswar Temple, Raj Rajeswari Temple and of course, Char Bangla Temple.
The Char Bangla Temple was built in 1755 (1760 according to some locals) and each temple in this cluster of four is built in the traditional Bengali village hut style with two sloping roofs called do chala or ek bangla. Each temple has a triple arched entrance with three Shiva Lingas seated inside. Three temples with the exception of the northern temple share a platform which is about 1.5 feet high. The northern temple stands on a separate platform behind the kachari bari (administrative wing).
The northern and western temple facades have richly decorated terracotta work. The eastern temple has beautiful lime and mortar relief work with the large scene of the Kurukshetra taking centre stage above one of the arches. The fourth temple has simple terracotta motifs on its walls.
The northern temple has panels depicting scenes from the Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Krishna Leela, different forms of Ma Shakti, social and rural life, damsels, musicians, dancers and others.
One of the most remarkable panels is the one of Lord Shiva sitting with Nandi with Bhringi serving him. The central arch in the western temple shows Lord Rama sitting on the shoulders of Lord Hanuman battling the ten-headed Ravana. The expressions and detailing that has gone into each part of this panel titled ‘Last Prayer of Ravana’ is spectacular. Lord Krishna and Radha Devi, scenes from the Srimad Bhagavata Purana narrating the life of Lord Krishna and Durga Devi slaying demons are lifelike.
Locals say that when this temple was built 250 years ago, the Bhagirathi River was a kilometre away but as the years have gone by, the current and course of this holy river has changed many times and is now barely 10 feet away from the temple. The boundary wall has already been damaged by the water current and it appears that the Bhagirathi River is inching closer to the temple every year.
Though this temple is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), a great deal will need to be done quickly to prevent the Bhagirathi River from submerging this rare temple complex in its unfathomable waters.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)