The Durga Temple in the quaint village of Bali Deewanganj (widely believed to be two villages – Bali and Deewanganj) is one of a kind temple harmoniously incorporating two distinctive styles of Bengali temple architecture namely the chala (hut type roof) and the ratna (pinnacle). This temple has captured the interest of architects, historians and heritage enthusiasts for two reasons – the unusual design and the magnificent terracotta panel of Mahishasura Mardini flanked by Gods and Goddesses that is the largest found in Bengal.
The roof of a Jor Bangla Temple is essentially derived from the chala style and is generally do chala (two hut type roofs) constructed side by side. As such, the Jor Bangla style is fairly common and there are many excellent examples seen across Bengal. However, in this particular temple, one will see an impressive navaratna (nine pinnacles) rising between the do chala (two hut type roofs) of the Jor Bangla. The navaratna has two storeys with four pinnacles on each level and a central pinnacle (4 + 4 + 1 = 9). There is a triple arched entrance on all the sides. The ninth pinnacle lends an air of elegance and individuality to this temple structure. Two male stucco figurines can be seen on either side of the triple arched entrance in the upper storey of the navaratna.
The Jor Bangla part of the temple also has a triple arched entrance with horsemen carved on the top of its pillars. There are two horses that have been carved just above the entrance into the sanctum sanctorum. The other entrances have similar decorative elements which appear to be social scenes, perhaps figures of the British wearing hats and holding rifles, female acrobats and of course the traditional mrtyulatha (creeper of death).
The Mahishasura Mardini terracotta panel that dominates the entrance of this temple has a beautiful Goddess Durga in the centre flanked by individual panels of Lord Ganesha on the mouse and Goddess Lakshmi on the right and Goddess Saraswati and Lord Karthikeya seated on a peacock on the left. Both Goddess Saraswati and Goddess Lakshmi are standing on a lotus.
Unfortunately, this centuries-old temple has not escaped the ravages of the weather and time. The Durga idol in the panel is severely damaged and both the lion and Mahishasura are barely discernible. Only their hind legs remain. The arms of Durga Devi have also broken off and one has to try to piece together the original deity placed here which bears a striking similarity to the Devi idols seen in Odisha. This theory is further strengthened with the style of her garments as well as those of Goddess Saraswati and Goddess Lakshmi which is more closely associated with Odisha than Bengal.
Even the tribanga posture in which Goddess Saraswati and Goddess Lakshmi have been depicted is more commonly seen in the classical Odissi dance form. Goddess Lakshmi is seen holding what looks like two lotus buds and Goddess Saraswati may have been holding the veena but the musical instrument has since fallen off.
Even Lord Ganesha and Lord Karthikeya do not fare any better with the former’s facial features almost lost and the latter’s figure broken. The niches have two panels depicting the birth of Lord Ganesha, stories from the Puranas and Hindu scriptures like Ganga’s descent and Lord Shiva and Parvati Devi and others.
This 19th century temple is located within a cluster of temples at Rout Para (Raut Para) with the Sarvamangala Temple adjacent to it and the Mangal Chandi Temple behind that are in a pitiable condition. The Sarvamangala Temple would have been an outstanding example of the pancharatna style and the Mangal Chandi Temple whose glorious trayodaśaratna (thirteen pinnacles) have been reduced to one are crumbling as we speak and are unlikely to survive the decade.
Rout Para (Raut Para) has a Shiva Mandir, rasmancha, a flat roofed temple structure, Lakshmi Janardan Temple and Damodar Temple at Ghoshpara that are close to this iconic temple. There are many lovely temples built by affluent Zamindars that are now neglected and in a perilous state.
It is heartbreaking to see such exquisite temples and terracotta work that have been documented in detail by historians falling into ruin. The village is in dire need of preservation and the need of the hour is to invest time and money to restore these temples to their former glory and convert it to a heritage village.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)