One of the most curious brick temples built in Bengal is the famous Ichhai Ghosher Deul located on the bank of the Ajay river at a little distance from Durgapur. This centuries-old brick temple is built in the rekha deul style of architecture that is more typical of Odisha than Bengal.
There is little or no information about the date of construction or its builder but locals surmise that this temple was built by either Raja Chitra Sen Rai or Rani Bishnukumari, the young widow of Maharajadhiraj Bahadur Tilak Chand Rai of the Bardhaman Raj. Historians however are of the opinion that this temple or monument was built by the followers or family of the Sadgop king, Ishwar Ghosh popularly known as Icchai Ghosh in honour of him. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has stated that Icchai Ghosh built this temple based on their findings that this place was previously called Dhekurgarh.
Historical documentation suggests that the mighty Palas at their zenith exerted control over lands from the Gangetic plain and parts of Pakistan up to Nepal, Bangladesh and Tibet absorbing many small kingdoms in to its empire. After the demise of Mahipala II, they faced rebellion from these kings who wished to rule independently. One of them was Ishwar Ghosh, the ruler of Gopbhum who refused to pay tribute to the king of Gour. A fierce battle ensued between Karna Sen, the ruler of Moynagarh and Ishwar Ghosh in which all his six sons were killed. Ishwar Ghosh captured more land around Bardhaman and became the undisputed leader of Gopbhum till he was beheaded by Lau Sen, son of Karna Sen on the bank of the Ajay river.
This brick temple is a part of the famed Deul Park of Gourangapur. The towering temple stands on a square platform and the inner sanctum strangely is located below the ground. The temple was originally dedicated to Goddess Bhagabati but the original idol has since been replaced with a Shiva Linga that is worshipped by the locals. No one seems to know what happened to the original idol but it is presumed that as Durga Devi was the ishta devatha of Ishwar Ghosh, this temple was dedicated to Divine Mother, a theory that is further strengthened by the brick figures of Devi seen on the four walls.
This temple is most likely of the 11th century after Ishwar Ghosh’s time and may have functioned as a watch tower or a mapping tower commonly called as Great Trigonometrical Survey tower built in many places across India by the East India Company in the 1800s to map and survey the country. It is highly likely that the British simply used an existing towering temple structure for their end purpose with little or no regard for its sanctity.
The upper part of the tower has floral motifs, Narasimha, Nataraja, floral motifs, human figures and others that are difficult to identify. Each part of the tower has different ornamentation like musicians, dancers, series of arches, auspicious Hindu symbols and Gods and Goddesses that are repeated on all the sides of the tower.
This temple has suffered immense damage over the years and most of the embellishments on the facades are barely recognizable. This temple is now a protected monument but the ravages of the weather and decades of neglect threaten to relegate yet another timeless brick temple into obscurity.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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