Friday, December 25, 2009

Nostalgic Murshidabad

25th December 2009 .

Barun and I left for Baharampore by bus from Esplanade at 6 a.m. The ticket costs around Rs 90 and the journey takes 5 hours.This city is well connected by national highway 34. 

It is 186 km away from Kolkata . Berhampore located just in the central position of West Bengal and was the first Head Quarter of the East India Company .

In earlier days it was known as Brahmapur because many of the brahmin families settled there in earlier days - from which the city got its name.We have decided to stay at Behrampore since there are not enough rooms left in Murshidabad, we were told, since this is a pick season. 

But if you get a chance please book the hotel Manjusha (room 202) just behind Hazar Duari (beside Bhagirathi river), mentioned in Lonely Planet. Since all the hotels were booked ,we ended up staying at a over priced , dingy hotel in the tourist area of Behrampore (just beside Lake ). I would recommend you not to stay anywhere near the bus depot.

After taking our breakfast ,we headed for Karna-subarna in Murshidabad district. 

Shashanka, the controversial Bengali monarch who ruled over the kingdom of Gaur from 600 to 638 AD and checked the eastward march of the imperial armies of Gupta king Harshavardhana, had his capital here. Karna-subarna is now home to the ruins of the ancient Buddhist university of Rakta-mrittika. The famous Chinese traveller, Xuanzang (Hsuen Tsang), who toured India in the 7th Century, mentioned this university in his travelogues as an important centre of learning of the Vajrayani Buddhists.

We took an overcrowded Trekker from the stand and headed for Khagra Ghat . Part of our journey was by hanging from the trekker and part of the journey was sitting above the roof of trekker! Behrampore to Karna-subarna by Trekker costs Rs 9.

Raj-bari-danga, also known as Raja Karna’s Palace, was first excavated by archaeologists of Calcutta University in 1962. Their findings consisted of the ruins of a large Buddhist Vihar. Terracotta seals and other artefacts helped identify the ruins as those of Rakta-mrittika Mahavihar. 

Ruins of Shashanka’s citadel were also excavated.

The ruins were declared a site of national importance. Two other sites had been excavated close to Raj-baridanga. They are Rakshashi (female demon) Dhipi and Nil Kuthi (indigo bungalow) Dhipi. Not much structural evidence has been unearthed at these sites, but both have thrown up interesting artefacts from bygone times. Located within a couple of kilometres of Raj-baridanga, the two sites are considered monuments of national importance.

Although declared a site of national importance, the ruins lie in utter neglect. However they do give you a feel of historical nostalgia.

It would not be an exaggeration, if I say, I was utterly disappointed by the place - as hardly anything was left to be seen. We did not have the energy to go to Nil Kuthi (indigo bungalow). However the area itself has its own charm. We saw only Rakshashi (female demon) Dhipi and sat for time under the cool banyan tree.

On the return journey, we took a bus to go back to Behrampore.There is no place to stay at Karna-subarna. There are no eateries at Karna-subarna.

After coming back we had our lunch and decided to go to New and old Old Cossimbazar Palace.

We hired a rickshaw. The entry fee of New Rajbari was Rs 20/- . It is really nice and worth going .

We were not allowed to enter the old Rajbari,though I tried to enter - since people still stay there.

We also saw the Dutch graveyard on the way.

Today being the day of Christmas, we went to visit Armenian church at Saidabad- it was already dark and was very crowded! It is the Oldest Armenian Church of the Eastern India , built in 1757 AD.

When we returned it was already evening. After returning back we decided to find some good hotel for us. Then I called Samrat Hotel, mentioned in Lonely Planet. It is 8-10 minutes (by rickshaw) from the main tourist area (near bus depot) of Behrampore. When we called them they said rooms are available at a princely price of Rs 200/- ! It was too good to be true. So we went there to see it in our own eyes! After going there we were quite surprised , it is definitely much much better than the one where we are staying and much cheaper. It is a real value for money proposition. 

There are good AC rooms too.I strongly recommend this hotel to everybody going to Berhampore. They have a very good restaurant too! In fact it is near Railway station too.

So we returned hotel on that day and told the owner we will be leaving tomorrow morning . We had dinner at a chinese restaurant.

26th December 2009 .

We left our hotel early in the morning and shifted to our new hotel - Samrat . After keeping our luggage in our hotel, we went to the bus stand from where we took a trekker to go to Murshidabad city. The fair was Rs 12, I think. It took half an hour to reach Murshidabad. 

The Hazarduari Palace, or the palace with a 1000 doors is the chief tourist attraction of Murshidabad. This 3-storey palace was built in 1837 by Duncan McLeod for the Nawab Najim Humaun Jah, descendent of Mir Zafar. It has 1000 doors (among which only 900 are real) and 114 rooms and 8 galleries, built in European(Italian) architectural style. It is now a museum and has an exquisite collection of armoury, splendid paintings, exhaustive portraits of the Nawabs, various works of art including beautiful works of ivory and many other valuables.

Swords used by Shiraj-ud-Daulla and his grandfather, Nawab Alivardi Khan, can be seen here. The other attractions in this floor are Vintage Cars and Fittan Cars used by the Nawabs and their families.

The building is rectangular on plan ( 424 feet Long and 200 feet broad and 80 feet high). The Palace was used for holding the "Durbar" or meetings and other official work of the Nawabs and also as the residence of the high ranking British Officials.

Murshidabad is a city in Murshidabad district of West Bengal state in India. The city of Murshidabad is located on the southern bank of the Bhagirathi, a tributary of the Ganges River. It was the capital of undivided Bengal during the Mughal rule. Nawabs of Bengal used to rule Bengal from this city. It is still inhabited, but has none of the glory it used to have- except for the royal buildings. At that time it was even compared with London.

The city of Murshidabad was the latest capital of Bengal before British era.In 1704 the nawab Murshid Quli Khan changed the seat of government from Dhaka to Maksudabad, which he called after his own name.

The family of Jagat Seth maintained their position as state bankers at Murshidabad from generation to generation. Even after the conquest of Bengal by the British, Murshidabad remained for some time the seat of administration. Warren Hastings removed the supreme civil and criminal courts to Calcutta in 1772, but in 1775 the latter court was brought back to Murshidabad again. In 1790, under Lord Cornwallis, the entire revenue and judicial staffs were fixed at Calcutta.

The town is still the residence of the nawab, who ranks as the first nobleman of the province with the style of Nawab Bahadur of Murshidabad, instead of Nawab Nazim of Bengal. The city still bears memories of Nawabs with other palaces, mosques, tombs, and gardens, and retains such industries as carving in ivory, gold and silver embroidery, and silk-weaving. An educational institution is named after Nawab family.

The District Of Murshidabad is divided into 2 nearly equal portions by the Bhagirathi, the ancient channel of the Ganges. The tract to the west, known as the Rarh, consists of hard clay and nodular limestone. The general level is high, but interspersed with marshes and seamed by hill torrents. The Bagri or eastern half belongs to alluvial plains of eastern Bengal.

The major industry is that of silk, formerly of much importance, and now revived with government assistance.

Our trekker dropped us near Hazar Duari Palace.

The entry fare is Rs 5 only. It is truly majestic in nature. There is Imambara inside the Hazarduari Palace complex - built in 1847 AD. by Nawab Nazim Mansoor Ali Khan Feradun Jahat at a cost of more than 6 lacs.

The Imambara, which is the largest in Bengal, is perhaps the largest in India. It is open only during Muharram. We were lucky to enter the Imambara since it was Muharram time.

One resident of Behrampore told me he has gone to the Imambara for the first time in his life, since it is closed normally.

Then we started walking along the right hand side of the palace. All the places are along this route except Katra Masjid, which is diagonally opposite a lane off Hazarduari.

One thing is certain the place will most certainly give you - an old world charm ; pony ride is more common than any other mode of transport.

Along the way you will see Jagat Seth's palace , we saw Nasipur Palace - The Nasipur Palace was built by Kirti Chand, a descendent of Debi Singh. Debi Singh, who settled here from Punjab, was a tax collector in the early days of the East India Company .

Jafar Deori- Some descendants of Mirjafar still live there

Jafarganj cemetery - The Cemetery contains the tombs of the Nawab’s Nazim, from Mir Jafar to Humayun Jah. It is still maintained by the descendants of Mir Jafar. They charge Rs 3 for entering the cemetery.

Home of Jagat-seth - He is said to be the wealthiest person of the world in those days - having his own personal mint. There was a entry fee(Rs 3) to see the palace.

Kathgola palace - A lane beside Jagat Seth's palace leads you to Kathgola palace . It is huge complex, there I met Ujjwal Mukherjee , my office colleague - he is leading a big group coming from mostly Champahati.

While coming back we took a rickshaw and went on see Katra mosque. It was already becoming dark - we reached just in time to see the magnificent mosque.

Katra Masjid - built by Nawab Murshid Quli Khan in 1723-24 and it remains one of the most important tourist attractions. The gorgeous building with its huge domes and high minarets has a simple cemetery of the Nawab below the front staircase.

Footi mosque - While coming back from Katra mosque, we saw Footi mosque - so named because there is hole in the roof . It was to be made in a day - as per the legend - which never happened and remained unfinished to date.

We took a share car to return back to Berhampore. We had our dinner at Samrat hotel. The food is really good.Chicken sweet corn soup (Rs 50) and Garlic Chicken(Rs 65) is really good.

27th December 2009 

Today we took a boat ride to go to the other side of the river - which is basically part of Rarh. We took a conducted tour by boat to see the other side of Murshidabad -
Namak Haram Deori - known as the Traitor's gate, Siraj ud Daulah was killed in this spot.

Khoshbagh - The grave of Nawab Alivardi Khan, Alivardi’s Mother, Siraj-ud-Doula and his wife Lutfannesha and other members of the Nawab family lie here.

Moti Jhil - This beautiful horseshoe shaped lake was excavated by Nawazesh Mohammad, the husband of the famous Ghasseti Begum. In the palace adjoining it (now in ruins) Lord Clive celebrated the acquisition of the Dewani of Sube Bangla (Bengal, Bihar & Orissa) in 1765. Moti Jheel was the home of Warren Hastings when he became the Political President at the Durbar of the Nawab Nazim (1771 - 73 AD).

Today we once again went to see the beuatiful Katra mosque. After spending some time there we went to see the canon locally referred to as Topkhana which is quite uninspiring.

Then we returned to Behrampore and took a train to go back to Calcutta.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Indian marriage

Today I went to Burdwan to attend the marriage ceremony of Saurav Dey , my office colleague. We went there by our office car (with Ms I Bannerjee). The menu was good

Monday, November 23, 2009


Since I always lived in Kolkata, it is difficult for me to remember the local train routes. I have compiled it for ease of remembrance.

Bird's eye view of 6 main routes/lines :

   1 Hwh to Asanasol                                 
 2. HwH to  Katwa (and then to Malda)
3. Sealdah to Krishna Nagar               
  4. Sealdah to Gede                               
   5. Sealdah to Namkhana                             
In these 5 main routes, there are some inter-changes at following stations, from where you can get down to take some sub-routes :                                                                                                                              
Shaktigarh, Barasat, Naihati, Barasat, Sonarpur, Baruipur                                                             

## Apart from these, there is 1 more important route (6th route) (SE Railway) which goes to Panskura, from where one branch goes to Haldia (in this route towards Haldia, however, one route branches off towards Digha, from Tamluk) AND another branch goes to Kharagpur ( and some of them goes further towards Bishnupur-Bankura-Purulia)               


Monday, November 9, 2009

Real Maoists - Arundhati Roy in Outlook -must read article

Mr Chidambaram’s War - Arundhati Roy
(Booker Prize winner and an activists - Must read article to know 'real' India)

Arundhati Roy writes about the Maoists/the internal situation in India/the abuse of tribals in Orissa.

A math question: How many soldiers will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of people?

The low, flat-topped hills of south Orissa have been home to the Dongria Kondh long before there was a country called India or a state called Orissa. The hills watched over the Kondh. The Kondh watched over the hills and worshipped them as living deities. Now these hills have been sold for the bauxite they contain. For the Kondh it’s as though god has been sold. They ask how much god would go for if the god were Ram or Allah or Jesus Christ?

Red terror?: A tribal woman with her children in Dantewada
Perhaps the Kondh are supposed to be grateful that their Niyamgiri hill, home to their Niyam Raja, God of Universal Law, has been sold to a company with a name like Vedanta (the branch of Hindu philosophy that teaches the Ultimate Nature of Knowledge). It’s one of the biggest mining corporations in the world and is owned by Anil Aggarwal, the Indian billionaire who lives in London in a mansion that once belonged to the Shah of Iran. Vedanta is only one of the many multinational corporations closing in on Orissa.

If the flat-topped hills are destroyed, the forests that clothe them will be destroyed too. So will the rivers and streams that flow out of them and irrigate the plains below. So will the Dongria Kondh. So will the hundreds of thousands of tribal people who live in the forested heart of India, and whose homeland is similarly under attack.

In our smoky, crowded cities, some people say, “So what? Someone has to pay the price of progress.” Some even say, “Let’s face it, these are people whose time has come. Look at any developed country, Europe, the US, Australia—they all have a ‘past’.” Indeed they do. So why shouldn’t “we”?

The Niyamgiri hills have been sold for their bauxite. For the Kondhs, their god’s been sold. How much, they ask, would god go for if he was Ram, Allah or Christ?

In keeping with this line of thought, the government has announced Operation Green Hunt, a war purportedly against the “Maoist” rebels headquartered in the jungles of central India. Of course, the Maoists are by no means the only ones rebelling. There is a whole spectrum of struggles all over the country that people are engaged in—the landless, the Dalits, the homeless, workers, peasants, weavers. They’re pitted against a juggernaut of injustices, including policies that allow a wholesale corporate takeover of people’s land and resources. However, it is the Maoists who the government has singled out as being the biggest threat. Two years ago, when things were nowhere near as bad as they are now, the prime minister described the Maoists as the “single-largest internal security threat” to the country. This will probably go down as the most popular and often-repeated thing he ever said. For some reason, the comment he made on January 6, 2009, at a meeting of state chief ministers, when he described the Maoists as having only “modest capabilities” doesn’t seem to have had the same raw appeal. He revealed his government’s real concern on June 18, 2009, when he told Parliament: “If left-wing extremism continues to flourish in parts which have natural resources of minerals, the climate for investment would certainly be affected.”

Who are the Maoists? They are members of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist)—CPI (Maoist)—one of the several descendants of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), which led the 1969 Naxalite uprising and was subsequently liquidated by the Indian government. The Maoists believe that the innate, structural inequality of Indian society can only be redressed by the violent overthrow of the Indian State. In its earlier avatars as the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in Jharkhand and Bihar, and the People’s War Group (PWG) in Andhra Pradesh, the Maoists had tremendous popular support. (When the ban on them was briefly lifted in 2004, one-and-a-half million people attended their rally in Warangal.) But eventually their intercession in Andhra Pradesh ended badly. They left a violent legacy that turned some of their staunchest supporters into harsh critics. After a paroxysm of killing and counter-killing by the Andhra police as well as the Maoists, the PWG was decimated. Those who managed to survive fled Andhra Pradesh into neighbouring Chhattisgarh. There, deep in the heart of the forest, they joined colleagues who had already been working there for decades.

A concerted campaign has been orchestrated to shoehorn myriad resistances into a simple George Bush binary: if you’re not with us, you’re with the Maoists.

Not many ‘outsiders’ have any first-hand experience of the real nature of the Maoist movement in the forest. A recent interview with one of its top leaders, Comrade Ganapathy, in Open magazine didn’t do much to change the minds of those who view the Maoists as a party with an unforgiving, totalitarian vision, which countenances no dissent whatsoever. Comrade Ganapathy said nothing that would persuade people that, were the Maoists ever to come to power, they would be equipped to properly address the almost insane diversity of India’s caste-ridden society. His casual approval of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka was enough to send a shiver down even the most sympathetic of spines, not just because of the brutal ways in which the LTTE chose to wage its war, but also because of the cataclysmic tragedy that has befallen the Tamil people of Sri Lanka, who it claimed to represent, and for whom it surely must take some responsibility.

Right now in central India, the Maoists’ guerrilla army is made up almost entirely of desperately poor tribal people living in conditions of such chronic hunger that it verges on famine of the kind we only associate with sub-Saharan Africa. They are people who, even after 60 years of India’s so-called Independence, have not had access to education, healthcare or legal redress. They are people who have been mercilessly exploited for decades, consistently cheated by small businessmen and moneylenders, the women raped as a matter of right by police and forest department personnel. Their journey back to a semblance of dignity is due in large part to the Maoist cadre who have lived and worked and fought by their side for decades.

Elections ’09: Ask not where the two billion dollars came from

If the tribals have taken up arms, they have done so because a government which has given them nothing but violence and neglect now wants to snatch away the last thing they have—their land. Clearly, they do not believe the government when it says it only wants to “develop” their region. Clearly, they do not believe that the roads as wide and flat as aircraft runways that are being built through their forests in Dantewada by the National Mineral Development Corporation are being built for them to walk their children to school on. They believe that if they do not fight for their land, they will be annihilated. That is why they have taken up arms.

Even if the ideologues of the Maoist movement are fighting to eventually overthrow the Indian State, right now even they know that their ragged, malnutritioned army, the bulk of whose soldiers have never seen a train or a bus or even a small town, are fighting only for survival.

Schedule V of the Constitution, which provides adivasis protection & disallows alienation of their land, now seems just window-dressing, a bit of make-up.

In 2008, an expert group appointed by the Planning Commission submitted a report called ‘Development Challenges in Extremist-Affected Areas’. It said, “the Naxalite (Maoist) movement has to be recognised as a political movement with a strong base among the landless and poor peasantry and adivasis. Its emergence and growth need to be contextualised in the social conditions and experience of people who form a part of it. The huge gap between state policy and performance is a feature of these conditions. Though its professed long-term ideology is capturing state power by force, in its day-to-day manifestation, it is to be looked upon as basically a fight for social justice, equality, protection, security and local development.” A very far cry from the “single-largest internal security threat”. Since the Maoist rebellion is the flavour of the week, everybody, from the sleekest fat cat to the most cynical editor of the most sold-out newspaper in this country, seems to be suddenly ready to concede that it is decades of accumulated injustice that lies at the root of the problem. But instead of addressing that problem, which would mean putting the brakes on this 21st century gold rush, they are trying to head the debate off in a completely different direction, with a noisy outburst of pious outrage about Maoist “terrorism”. But they’re only speaking to themselves.

The people who have taken to arms are not spending all their time watching (or performing for) TV, or reading the papers, or conducting SMS polls for the Moral Science question of the day: Is Violence Good or Bad? SMS your reply to.... They’re out there. They’re fighting. They believe they have the right to defend their homes and their land. They believe that they deserve justice.

VT, 26/11: Odd that the Centre was ready to talk to Pakistan even after this, but is playing hard when it comes to the poor

In order to keep its better-off citizens absolutely safe from these dangerous people, the government has declared war on them. A war, which it tells us, may take between three and five years to win. Odd, isn’t it, that even after the Mumbai attacks of 26/11, the government was prepared to talk with Pakistan? It’s prepared to talk to China. But when it comes to waging war against the poor, it’s playing hard. It’s not enough that Special Police—with totemic names like Greyhounds, Cobras and Scorpions—are scouring the forests with a licence to kill. It’s not enough that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF) and the notorious Naga Battalion have already wreaked havoc and committed unconscionable atrocities in remote forest villages. It’s not enough that the government supports and arms the Salwa Judum, the “people’s militia” that has killed and raped and burned its way through the forests of Dantewada leaving three hundred thousand people homeless, or on the run. Now the government is going to deploy the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and tens of thousands of paramilitary troops. It plans to set up a brigade headquarters in Bilaspur (which will displace nine villages) and an air base in Rajnandgaon (which will displace seven). Obviously, these decisions were taken a while ago. Surveys have been done, sites chosen. Interesting. War has been in the offing for a while. And now the helicopters of the Indian air force have been given the right to fire in “self-defence”, the very right that the government denies its poorest citizens.

Fire at whom? How in god’s name will the security forces be able to distinguish a Maoist from an ordinary person who is running terrified through the jungle? Will adivasis carrying the bows and arrows they have carried for centuries now count as Maoists too? Are non-combatant Maoist sympathisers valid targets? When I was in Dantewada, the Superintendent of Police showed me pictures of 19 “Maoists” who “his boys” had killed. I asked him how I was supposed to tell they were Maoists. He said, “See Ma’am, they have malaria medicines, Dettol bottles, all these things from outside.”

Licence to kill: Greyhounds, Scorpions, Cobras.... Now the IAF can fire in self-defence, a right the poor are denied.

What kind of war is Operation Green Hunt going to be? Will we ever know? Not much news comes out of the forests. Lalgarh in West Bengal has been cordoned off. Those who try to go in are being beaten and arrested. And called Maoists of course. In Dantewada, the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram, a Gandhian ashram run by Himanshu Kumar, was bulldozed in a few hours. It was the last neutral outpost before the war zone begins, a place where journalists, activists, researchers and fact-finding teams could stay while they worked in the area.

Meanwhile, the Indian establishment has unleashed its most potent weapon. Almost overnight, our embedded media has substituted its steady supply of planted, unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about ‘Islamist Terrorism’ with planted, unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about ‘Red Terrorism’. In the midst of this racket, at Ground Zero, the cordon of silence is being inexorably tightened. The ‘Sri Lanka Solution’ could very well be on the cards. It’s not for nothing that the Indian government blocked a European move in the UN asking for an international probe into war crimes committed by the government of Sri Lanka in its recent offensive against the Tamil Tigers.

The next time you see a news anchor haranguing a guest, ‘Why don’t Maoists stand for elections?’, do SMS this reply, ‘Because they can’t afford your rates.’

The first move in that direction is the concerted campaign that has been orchestrated to shoehorn the myriad forms of resistance taking place in this country into a simple George Bush binary: If you are not with us, you are with the Maoists. The deliberate exaggeration of the Maoist ‘threat’ helps the State to justify militarisation. (And surely does no harm to the Maoists. Which political party would be unhappy to be singled out for such attention?) While all the oxygen is being used up by this new doppelganger of the War on Terror, the State will use the opportunity to mop up the hundreds of other resistance movements in the sweep of its military operation, calling them all Maoist sympathisers. I use the future tense, but this process is well under way. The West Bengal government tried to do this in Nandigram and Singur but failed. Right now in Lalgarh, the Pulishi Santrash Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee or the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities—which is a people’s movement that is separate from, though sympathetic to, the Maoists—is routinely referred to as an overground wing of the CPI (Maoist). Its leader, Chhatradhar Mahato, now arrested and being held without bail, is always called a “Maoist leader”. We all know the story of Dr Binayak Sen, a medical doctor and a civil liberties activist, who spent two years in jail on the absolutely facile charge of being a courier for the Maoists. While the light shines brightly on Operation Green Hunt, in other parts of India, away from the theatre of war, the assault on the rights of the poor, of workers, of the landless, of those whose lands the government wishes to acquire for “public purpose”, will pick up pace. Their suffering will deepen and it will be that much harder for them to get a hearing. Once the war begins, like all wars, it will develop a momentum, a logic and an economics of its own. It will become a way of life, almost impossible to reverse. The police will be expected to behave like an army, a ruthless killing machine. The paramilitary will be expected to become like the police, a corrupt, bloated administrative force. We’ve seen it happen in Nagaland, Manipur and Kashmir. The only difference in the ‘heartland’ will be that it’ll become obvious very quickly to the security forces that they’re only a little less wretched than the people they’re fighting. In time, the divide between the people and the law enforcers will become porous. Guns and ammunition will be bought and sold. In fact, it’s already happening. Whether it’s the security forces or the Maoists or non-combatant civilians, the poorest people will die in this Rich People’s War. However, if anybody believes that this war will leave them unaffected, they should think again. The resources it’ll consume will cripple the economy of this country.

Last week, civil liberties groups from all over the country organised a series of meetings in Delhi to discuss what could be done to turn the tide and stop the war. The absence of Dr Balagopal, one of the best-known civil rights activists of Andhra Pradesh, who died two weeks ago, closed around us like a physical pain. He was one of the bravest, wisest political thinkers of our time and left us just when we needed him most. Still, I’m sure he would have been reassured to hear speaker after speaker displaying the vision, the depth, the experience, the wisdom, the political acuity and, above all, the real humanity of the community of activists, academics, lawyers, judges and a range of other people who make up the civil liberties community in India. Their presence in the capital signalled that outside the arclights of our TV studios and beyond the drumbeat of media hysteria, even among India’s middle classes, a humane heart still beats. Small wonder then that these are the people who the Union home minister recently accused of creating an “intellectual climate” that was conducive to “terrorism”. If that charge was meant to frighten people, to cow them down, it had the opposite effect.

There’s an MoU on every mountain, river, forest glade. What the media calls the Maoist Corridor—the Dandakaranya—could well be called the MoUist Corridor.

The speakers represented a range of opinion from the liberal to the radical Left. Though none of those who spoke would describe themselves as Maoist, few were opposed in principle to the idea that people have a right to defend themselves against State violence. Many were uncomfortable about Maoist violence, about the ‘people’s courts’ that delivered summary justice, about the authoritarianism that was bound to permeate an armed struggle and marginalise those who did not have arms. But even as they expressed their discomfort, they knew that people’s courts only existed because India’s courts are out of the reach of ordinary people and that the armed struggle that has broken out in the heartland is not the first, but the very last option of a desperate people pushed to the very brink of existence. The speakers were aware of the dangers of trying to extract a simple morality out of individual incidents of heinous violence, in a situation that had already begun to look very much like war. Everybody had graduated long ago from equating the structural violence of the State with the violence of the armed resistance. In fact, retired Justice P.B. Sawant went so far as to thank the Maoists for forcing the establishment of this country to pay attention to the egregious injustice of the system. Hargopal from Andhra Pradesh spoke of his experience as a civil rights activist through the years of the Maoist interlude in his state. He mentioned in passing the fact that in a few days in Gujarat in 2002, Hindu mobs led by the Bajrang Dal and the VHP had killed more people than the Maoists ever had even in their bloodiest days in Andhra Pradesh.

People who had come from the war zones, from Lalgarh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, described the police repression, the arrests, the torture, the killing, the corruption, and the fact that in places like Orissa, they seemed to take orders directly from the officials who worked for the mining companies. People described the dubious, malign role being played by certain NGOs funded by aid agencies wholly devoted to furthering corporate prospects. Again and again they spoke of how in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh activists as well as ordinary people—anyone who was seen to be a dissenter—were being branded Maoists and imprisoned. They said that this, more than anything else, was pushing people to take up arms and join the Maoists. They asked how a government that professed its inability to resettle even a fraction of the fifty million people who had been displaced by “development” projects was suddenly able to identify 1,40,000 hectares of prime land to give to industrialists for more than 300 Special Economic Zones, India’s onshore tax havens for the rich. They asked what brand of justice the Supreme Court was practising when it refused to review the meaning of ‘public purpose’ in the Land Acquisition Act even when it knew that the government was forcibly acquiring land in the name of ‘public purpose’ to give to private corporations. They asked why when the government says that “the Writ of the State must run”, it seems to only mean that police stations must be put in place. Not schools or clinics or housing, or clean water, or a fair price for forest produce, or even being left alone and free from the fear of the police—anything that would make people’s lives a little easier. They asked why the ‘Writ of the State’ could never be taken to mean justice.

There was a time, perhaps 10 years ago, when in meetings like these, people were still debating the model of “development” that was being thrust on them by the New Economic Policy. Now the rejection of that model is complete. It is absolute. Everyone from the Gandhians to the Maoists agree on that. The only question now is, what is the most effective way to dismantle it?

An old college friend of a friend, a big noise in the corporate world, had come along for one of the meetings out of morbid curiosity about a world he knew very little about. Even though he had disguised himself in a Fabindia kurta, he couldn’t help looking (and smelling) expensive. At one point, he leaned across to me and said, “Someone should tell them not to bother. They won’t win this one. They have no idea what they’re up against. With the kind of money that’s involved here, these companies can buy ministers and media barons and policy wonks, they can run their own NGOs, their own militias, they can buy whole governments. They’ll even buy the Maoists. These good people here should save their breath and find something better to do.”

When people are being brutalised, what ‘better’ thing is there for them to do than to fight back? It’s not as though anyone’s offering them a choice, unless it’s to commit suicide, like the 1,80,000 farmers caught in a spiral of debt have done. (Am I the only one who gets the distinct feeling that the Indian establishment and its representatives in the media are far more comfortable with the idea of poor people killing themselves in despair than with the idea of them fighting back?)

For several years, people in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal—some of them Maoists, many not—have managed to hold off the big corporations. The question now is—how will Operation Green Hunt change the nature of their struggle? What exactly are the fighting people up against?

SEZ who: Is it development?
It’s true that, historically, mining companies have almost always won their battles against local people. Of all corporations, leaving aside the ones that make weapons, they
probably have the most merciless past. They are cynical, battle-hardened campaigners and when people say ‘Jaan denge par jameen nahin denge (We’ll give away our lives, but never our land)’, it probably bounces off them like a light drizzle on a bomb shelter. They’ve heard it before, in a thousand different languages, in a hundred different countries.

Right now in India, many of them are still in the First Class Arrivals lounge, ordering cocktails, blinking slowly like lazy predators, waiting for the Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) they have signed—some as far back as 2005—to materialise into real money. But four years in a First Class lounge is enough to test the patience of even the truly tolerant. There’s only that much space they’re willing to make for the elaborate, if increasingly empty, rituals of democratic practice: the (rigged) public hearings, the (fake) Environmental Impact Assessments, the (purchased) clearances from various ministries, the long-drawn-out court cases. Even phony democracy is time-consuming. And time, for industrialists, is money.

So what kind of money are we talking about? In their seminal, soon-to-be-published work, Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminum Cartel, Samarendra Das and Felix Padel say that the financial value of the bauxite deposits of Orissa alone is 2.27 trillion dollars. (More than twice India’s Gross Domestic Product). That was at 2004 prices. At today’s prices it would be about 4 trillion dollars. A trillion has 12 zeroes.

Of this, officially the government gets a royalty of less than 7 per cent. Quite often, if the mining company is a known and recognised one, the chances are that, even though the ore is still in the mountain, it will have already been traded on the futures market. So, while for the adivasis the mountain is still a living deity, the fountainhead of life and faith, the keystone of the ecological health of the region, for the corporation, it’s just a cheap storage facility. Goods in storage have to be accessible. From the corporation’s point of view, the bauxite will have to come out of the mountain. If it can’t be done peacefully, then it will have to be done violently. Such are the pressures and the exigencies of the free market.

For the adivasis, the mountain is still a living deity, but for the corporation, it’s just a cheap storage facility. The bauxite will have to come out of the mountain.

That’s just the story of the bauxite in Orissa. Expand the four trillion dollars to include the value of the millions of tonnes of high-quality iron ore in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and the 28 other precious mineral resources, including uranium, limestone, dolomite, coal, tin, granite, marble, copper, diamond, gold, quartzite, corundum, beryl, alexandrite, silica, fluorite and garnet. Add to that the power plants, the dams, the highways, the steel and cement factories, the aluminium smelters, and all the other infrastructure projects that are part of the hundreds of MoUs (more than 90 in Jharkhand alone) that have been signed. That gives us a rough outline of the scale of the operation and the desperation of the stakeholders. The forest once known as the Dandakaranya, which stretches from West Bengal through Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, parts of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, is home to millions of India’s tribal people. The media has taken to calling it the Red corridor or the Maoist corridor. It could just as accurately be called the MoUist corridor. It doesn’t seem to matter at all that the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution provides protection to adivasi people and disallows the alienation of their land. It looks as though the clause is there only to make the Constitution look good—a bit of window-dressing, a slash of make-up. Scores of corporations, from relatively unknown ones to the biggest mining companies and steel manufacturers in the world, are in the fray to appropriate adivasi homelands—the Mittals, Jindals, Tata, Essar, Posco, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and, of course, Vedanta.

There’s an MoU on every mountain, river and forest glade. We’re talking about social and environmental engineering on an unimaginable scale. And most of this is secret. It’s not in the public domain. Somehow I don’t think that the plans that are afoot to destroy one of the world’s most pristine forests and ecosystems, as well as the people who live in it, will be discussed at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Our 24-hour news channels that are so busy hunting for macabre stories of Maoist violence—and making them up when they run out of the real thing—seem to have no interest at all in this side of the story. I wonder why?

Perhaps it’s because the development lobby to which they are so much in thrall says the mining industry will ratchet up the rate of GDP growth dramatically and provide employment to the people it displaces. This does not take into account the catastrophic costs of environmental damage. But even on its own narrow terms, it is simply untrue. Most of the money goes into the bank accounts of the mining corporations. Less than 10 per cent comes to the public exchequer. A very tiny percentage of the displaced people get jobs, and those who do, earn slave-wages to do humiliating, backbreaking work. By caving in to this paroxysm of greed, we are bolstering other countries’ economies with our ecology.

To get the bauxite out of the mountain, the iron ore from the forest, India needs to militarise. To militarise, it needs an enemy. The Maoists are that enemy.

When the scale of money involved is what it is, the stakeholders are not always easy to identify. Between the CEOs in their private jets and the wretched tribal Special Police Officers in the “people’s” militias—who for a couple of thousand rupees a month fight their own people, rape, kill and burn down whole villages in an effort to clear the ground for mining to begin—there is an entire universe of primary, secondary and tertiary stakeholders. These people don’t have to declare their interests, but they’re allowed to use their positions and good offices to further them. How will we ever know which political party, which ministers, which MPs, which politicians, which judges, which NGOs, which expert consultants, which police officers, have a direct or indirect stake in the booty? How will we know which newspapers reporting the latest Maoist “atrocity”, which TV channels “reporting directly from Ground Zero”—or, more accurately, making it a point not to report from Ground Zero, or even more accurately, lying blatantly from Ground Zero—are stakeholders?

What is the provenance of the billions of dollars (several times more than India’s GDP) secretly stashed away by Indian citizens in Swiss bank accounts? Where did the two billion dollars spent on the last general elections come from? Where do the hundreds of millions of rupees that political parties and politicians pay the media for the ‘high-end’, ‘low-end’ and ‘live’ pre-election ‘coverage packages’ that P. Sainath recently wrote about come from? (The next time you see a TV anchor haranguing a numb studio guest, shouting, “Why don’t the Maoists stand for elections? Why don’t they come in to the mainstream?”, do SMS the channel saying, “Because they can’t afford your rates.”)

Not Quite PC: CEO, Op Green Hunt
What are we to make of the fact that the Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, the CEO of Operation Green Hunt, has, in his career as a corporate lawyer, represented several mining corporations? What are we to make of the fact that he was a non-executive director of Vedanta—a position from which he resigned the day he became finance minister in 2004? What are we to make of the fact that, when he became finance minister, one of the first clearances he gave for FDI was to Twinstar Holdings, a Mauritius-based company, to buy shares in Sterlite, a part of the Vedanta group?

What are we to make of the fact that, when activists from Orissa filed a case against Vedanta in the Supreme Court, citing its violations of government guidelines and pointing out that the Norwegian Pension Fund had withdrawn its investment from the company alleging gross environmental damage and human rights violations committed by the company, Justice Kapadia suggested that Vedanta be substituted with Sterlite, a sister company of the same group? He then blithely announced in an open court that he too had shares in Sterlite. He gave forest clearance to Sterlite to go ahead with the mining despite the fact that the Supreme Court’s own expert committee had explicitly said that permission should be denied and that mining would ruin the forests, water sources, environment and the lives and livelihoods of the thousands of tribals living there. Justice Kapadia gave this clearance without rebutting the report of the Supreme Court’s own committee.

Salwa Judum: Inaugurated just days after an MoU with Tatas

What are we to make of the fact that the Salwa Judum, the brutal ground-clearing operation disguised as a “spontaneous” people’s militia in Dantewada, was formally inaugurated in 2005, just days after the MoU with the Tatas was signed? And that the Jungle Warfare Training School in Bastar was set up just around then?

What are we to make of the fact that two weeks ago, on October 12, the mandatory public hearing for Tata Steel’s Rs 10,000-crore steel project in Lohandiguda, Dantewada, was held in a small hall inside the collectorate, cordoned off with massive security, with a hired audience of 50 tribal people brought in from two Bastar villages in a convoy of government jeeps? (The public hearing was declared a success and the district collector congratulated the people of Bastar for their cooperation.)

What are we to make of the fact that just around the time the prime minister began to call the Maoists the “single-largest internal security threat” (which was a signal that the government was getting ready to go after them), the share prices of many of the mining companies in the region skyrocketed?

The mining companies desperately need this “war”. It’s an old technique. They hope the impact of the violence will drive out the people who have so far managed to resist the attempts that have been made to evict them. Whether this will indeed be the outcome, or whether it’ll simply swell the ranks of the Maoists remains to be seen.

Reversing this argument, Dr Ashok Mitra, former finance minister of West Bengal, in an article called ‘The Phantom Enemy’, argues that the “grisly serial murders” that the Maoists are committing are a classic tactic, learned from guerrilla warfare textbooks. He suggests that they have built and trained a guerrilla army that is now ready to take on the Indian State, and that the Maoist ‘rampage’ is a deliberate attempt on their part to invite the wrath of a blundering, angry Indian State which the Maoists hope will commit acts of cruelty that will enrage the adivasis. That rage, Dr Mitra says, is what the Maoists hope can be harvested and transformed into an insurrection. This, of course, is the charge of ‘adventurism’ that several currents of the Left have always levelled at the Maoists. It suggests that Maoist ideologues are not above inviting destruction on the very people they claim to represent in order to bring about a revolution that will bring them to power. Ashok Mitra is an old Communist who had a ringside seat during the Naxalite uprising of the ’60s and ’70s in West Bengal. His views cannot be summarily dismissed. But it’s worth keeping in mind that the adivasi people have a long and courageous history of resistance that predates the birth of Maoism. To look upon them as brainless puppets being manipulated by a few middle-class Maoist ideologues is to do them something of a disservice.

Presumably Dr Mitra is talking about the situation in Lalgarh where, up to now, there has been no talk of mineral wealth. (Lest we forget—the current uprising in Lalgarh was sparked off over the chief minister’s visit to inaugurate a Jindal Steel factory. And where there’s a steel factory, can the iron ore be very far away?) The people’s anger has to do with their desperate poverty, and the decades of suffering at the hands of the police and the ‘Harmads’, the armed militia of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that has ruled West Bengal for more than 30 years.

Even if, for argument’s sake, we don’t ask what tens of thousands of police and paramilitary troops are doing in Lalgarh, and we accept the theory of Maoist ‘adventurism’, it would still be only a very small part of the picture.

The real problem is that the flagship of India’s miraculous ‘growth’ story has run aground. It came at a huge social and environmental cost. And now, as the rivers dry up and forests disappear, as the water table recedes and as people realise what is being done to them, the chickens are coming home to roost. All over the country, there’s unrest, there are protests by people refusing to give up their land and their access to resources, refusing to believe false promises any more. Suddenly, it’s beginning to look as though the 10 per cent growth rate and democracy are mutually incompatible. To get the bauxite out of the flat-topped hills, to get iron ore out from under the forest floor, to get 85 per cent of India’s people off their land and into the cities (which is what Mr Chidambaram says he’d like to see), India has to become a police state. The government has to militarise. To justify that militarisation, it needs an enemy. The Maoists are that enemy. They are to corporate fundamentalists what the Muslims are to Hindu fundamentalists. (Is there a fraternity of fundamentalists? Is that why the RSS has expressed open admiration for Mr Chidambaram?)

It would be a grave mistake to imagine that the paramilitary troops, the Rajnandgaon air base, the Bilaspur brigade headquarters, the Unlawful Activities Act, the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and Operation Green Hunt are all being put in place just to flush out a few thousand Maoists from the forests. In all the talk of Operation Green Hunt, whether or not Mr Chidambaram goes ahead and “presses the button”, I detect the kernel of a coming state of Emergency. (Here’s a math question: If it takes 6,00,000 soldiers to hold down the tiny valley of Kashmir, how many will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of people?)

Instead of narco-analysing Kobad Ghandy, the recently arrested Maoist leader, it might be a better idea to talk to him.

In the meanwhile, will someone who’s going to the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen later this year please ask the only question worth asking: Can we please leave the bauxite in the mountain?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Breathtaking Sundarban Tour point to point at 60/- through an unconventional route !!

We (Tutu and I ) started at 4.30 a.m. to catch the train to Namkhana from Ballygunge station (leaving at 5.15 a.m.). (The first train leaves at 4.05 a.m. and then 5.15 a.m., 6.50 a.m.) Luckily my neighbour's (Tapan barman) son (they are from Durganagar, Sundarban, near Namkhana) is going there. So we planned to go with him. The train fare is Rs 20/- for 3.10 hour journey. We reached the station in time . I found it little strange to reach at that time. Because it is the time the maid servants reach Ballygunge station , when we are sleeping in peace. Almost all the passengers belong to that class. Our plan is to go to Sundarban via Namkhana which is quite different from normal beaten down route to go through Canning and Gosaba.

The train left in time. We reached Namkhana at around 8.10 a.m. Then we started walking for 25 minutes through the interior villages to reach the ferry ghat (which Tapan mistakenly said Auddy Ghat)- it is operational only during high tide.

Otherwise one can get it from ferry ghat near Namkhana - I have been told. To take the boat from Namkhana, we should ask people in the station about the location of the place and apparently number of boats from Namkhana are more.

We started our journey at 9.00 a.m. , although the normal time to leave the boat was 8.30 a.m. (the other one and the last one leaves at 12.30 pm).

We reached Bardapur after a boat (locally called Bhut-bhuti probably because of the sound it creates - due to use of motor ) ride of almost 1 hour 40 minutes. The fare is incredibly low - only Rs 5!!

I sat on the roof of the boat. Some of the boats go directly to Bhaga-bat-pur crocodile sanctuary . There is a ferry ghat also at that place. It is possible to get down here also. But our boat goes only upto Bardapur. The boat ride was very very pleasant and it had number of stoppages at various ferry ghats.

From Bardapur we started walking. We met some people from Science forum who are educating people about snake. They were carrying a chart depicting different types of snakes. We were told there is a programme in the evening.
But due to the difficult terrain and lack of transport after 3.3o p.m. we decided to skip this programme. It is organized by the local Panchayat. The husband of local Panchayat was also with the members of science forum and supporting this programme. The Panchayat seat is reserved for woman. But he hinted that he is the real person and wife is kind of his stooge!! He even invited us for a lunch at his place.

We started walking all the way to Bhagabatpur from Bardapur . It is a typical village you will come across in extreme interiors of India, with no electricity. {Electricity came to Durganagar (Tapan's village) only last year. According to him after that everybody bought TV and VCD.} Radio is the main medium of entertainment. The roads are made of bricks. Some 'machine van' ply in that route. We bought a cold drink and also few bananas and some Tentul (Tamarind) chatni(Pickle) near a school - which we used to eat when we were young! We were going back against time.

On the way,we met a guy, who is working in Gujarat and working in the blasting department of a factory. He earns Rs 6000 per month only ( it was little difficult for me to believe, since he is an unskilled labour !) because he is a learner. After his learning is over, he will earn Rs 8000 p.m. . He has gone there because of the poor salary (maximum Rs 3000 p.m.) people get in West Bengal (which is true) .
We walked more than 1 hour to reach Bhagatpur Crocodile sanctuary. After reaching there when people asked us "how did you come here" - we said we came here walking (4 Km) ; nobody believed us , they said people from a big city cannot walk that much!!!

We entered the sanctuary by paying an entrance fee of Rs 10/- . The sanctuary was more or less well maintained by Indian standard!! We saw crocodile of different age groups kept in separate tanks - starting from age group of less than 1 year. There is a small museum inside - which was closed. But I made them open it!! We were the third visitor for the day!!

After that we had our lunch outside the sanctuary. Since nothing was available (season time is DEcember, January) - I ordered the shop to make a double egg omlette(@Rs 6/-) with bread for us. Later we had another one with a big bottle of Cocoa cola (There was no Maggi. They do not know what is Maggi!!).

While coming back we were little late - so part of the journey was by 'machine van' (For a distance of 2.5 Km) for which we paid Rs 10 (@ Rs 5 each). We were lucky to get the boat/Bhutbhuti in time from Bardapur and reach the ferry ghat near Durganagar in 1.40 hours.

From the boat it was difficult for me to get down to the shore , as the temporary ladder became very very slippery. I had to remove my shoes to get down - and in the process I had a cut in the leg from a protruded nail (for which i had to take a Tetanus in Calcutta). If this was a touristy place then the boatman would have made a false railing with the bamboo - by holding two ends of bamboo by two people, then it would have been easy for me. It never occurred to me then. Later I thought i should have told them to make it! It was difficulty even for the villagers .If I slipped , then, I would have fallen into a thick mud!!

We initially planned to go to Tapan barman's house at Durganagar to have a cup of tea and snacks. But due to the cut in my leg, we planned otherwise and informed them accordingly!

Anyway we got the train easily (5.30 p.m.) and returned home after 9.00 p.m. There is another train at 6.30 p.m., I was told.

For pictures see the following link.

Film festival 2009

Like every year this years film festival was held on November 10 -17, 2009. As usual I got the passes from my Centre for Latin American Studies.I saw number of movies.

But the ones which I really liked were:

The yellow House - Amor Hakkar of Algeria - revolves around a small village of Algeria where there is no electricity. The story/screenplay written by Hakkar is simple: a poor Algerian agrarian family, who survives by growing and selling potatoes and vegetables, deals with grief following the untimely death of the eldest son in an accident.

Sociologically, the film criticizes the lack of electricity in some villages of the oil rich country and yet commends the quick remedial, intervention when lapses are brought to the notice of the Algerian government officials. The film is not about economic injustice or government apathy; even though these real issues are present in the backdrop. In the forefront of this wonderful film are issues that are more universal: strong family bonds between husband and wife, between father and children, dead and alive.

The first half of the film deals with the impact of untimely death of the farmer's eldest son in an accident while serving in the police force and the father’s journey to Batna to identify and collect the mortal remains.

The second half deals with the husband’s dogged plan to bring the shattered life of his wife to normalcy with the help of a video recording made by his son before his death.

A pharmacist is asked by the farmer for some medicine to cure his wife’s depression from the tragedy, and the well-meaning pharmacist who has heard of a cure (painting the walls of his house yellow) that shares that information with the farmer. Ordinary individuals, who could easily have been indifferent to a poor man, go out of the way to lend a helping hand to man coping with grief. Would such good deeds happen in real life, one could well ask.

No where in Africa - Caroline Link of Germany - This is without doubt the best movie I saw in the film festival .

Nowhere in Africa (German: Nirgendwo in Afrika) is an epic 2001 German film based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by Stefanie Zweig. It tells the story of a Jewish family that emigrates to Kenya during World War II to escape the Nazis and run a farm. The film won an 2002 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film

Horn of Plenty - Cuban filmmaker Juan Carlos Tabío uses laughter to explore the socio-economic difficulties facing his homeland in this comedy concerning the chaos that unfolds when word spreads that the Castiñeiras family is set to receive a sizable inheritance.

Cuban filmmaker Juan Carlos Tabío uses laughter to explore the socio-economic difficulties facing his homeland in this comedy concerning the chaos that unfolds when word spreads that the Castiñeiras family is set to receive a sizable inheritance. When Yamaguey resident Bernardito (Jorge Perugorría) first receives word that the Castiñeiras family is about to receive a large inheritance, he's understandably skeptical at first. Upon checking the internet and discovering that news outlets across the globe are reporting the bizarre development, however, his hopes finally begin to rise. It appears that a group of 18th Century Castiñeiras nuns had quietly deposited a large treasure in a British bank, and that the already substantial sum has been acquiring interest ever since. The authorities estimate that each family is set to receive millions, an announcement that has Castiñeiras all across Cuba lining up to prove their eligibility. But considering the fact that there are two separate Castiñeiras bloodlines, which one is entitled to receive the inheritance? In the case of Miguelón, a somewhat slow villager who has had his eye on town beauty Yurima since childhood, the announcement that he is now filthy rich could prove pivotal in helping him get the girl he's always pined after. Later, after the two become engaged and embark on a lavish spending spree, a new development sends the situation spinning in a wholly unanticipated direction.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Amazing Kalna, Burdwan - song in Terracotta

Located just 82 km from Calcutta, Kalna can be an ideal pilgrimage (beautiful terracota temples, river bank) on any weekend and double up as a trip back into the pages of history.The peerless architecture of the temples of this town and their history leave few untouched. The grandeur of the terracotta structures is comparable to those of Bishnupur.The two places are, in fact, inextricably linked. In 1806, the Bishnupur royal estate was purchased by the king of Burdwan, who then settled in Kalna. Ever since, the magic of terracotta has enriched both places. The first reference to Ambika Kalna is found in a 6th century text named Kubjika Tantra. Some historians are of the opinion that during the Gupta era, the place was part of the famous Tamralipta port.

We (Gabriel,Lydie and I) left for Kalna by Katwa Local, which leaves Sealdah station at 7.57 a.m. (ticket Rs 21/-?)You have to wait at the main hall of the station, to to look at the electronic screen to know the platform no. of the train (from which it leaves).Aritra was also supposed to go (though he gave some important inputs for the train) , but he did not turn up ultimately.

{ Howrah – Katwa local : Howrah departure 07:53, Kalna arrival 09:48}

The train was crowded. As usual, I went to the last few compartments to get a comfortable seat. It was the day of Rash Purnima (It is a big event in Mayapur, near Kalna), that is why the train was very crowded. The Katwa local took about 2 hours 45 minutes to reach Kalna.

Then we hired a van rickshaw (instead of cycle rickshaw from the station) for Rs 150 (but it is subject to heavy bargain) just outside the station . It was settled that he will show us all the terracota temples and river bank for around 4 hours.
Places to eat: There are several places to eat. Hotel Priyadarshini, near the bus stand offers good food at reasonable prices. However we did not take our lunch there.

Located on the west bank of the Bhagirathi, Ambika Kalna (popularly known as Kalna) once flourished as a prosperous port town. It reached it's pinnacle of glory during the late 18th century under the patronage of the Maharajas of Bardhaman, who built several magnificent temples with intricate terracotta ornamentation. The maritime trade has long stopped and Kalna has lost the status of a flourishing port city, but the temples are still there, reminding one of Kalna’s glorious past.

Apart from the temples Kalna has several religious structures dedicated to Sree Chaitanya one of the greatest social reformers of Bengal.

In 1702, Aurangazeb appointed Raja Jagatram as the administrator of Kalna, which reached an advanced stage of development under his son Kirtichandra, who took over in 1729.

Though their roots were in Punjab, the royal family of Burdwan contributed immensely to the glory of ancient Bengal. The royals were keen patrons of the arts and several temples of burnt clay - terracota were constructed during their reign.

In 1757, Tilokchand, then Raja of Burdwan, refused to help Lord Clive against Siraj-ud-Daullah. Tilokchand was later vanquished by the British in 1760 and he turned to religion for solace. His change of heart coincided with the golden period of temple architecture in Kalna. Between 1752 and 1766, 7 large and 12 small temples were built in Burdwan.


The van rickshaw first took us to the most eye-catching of the Kalna landmarks - a set of 108 Shiva temples within a single complex. Maharaja Teja-chandra sponsored the temples, completed in 1809. The project celebrated the transfer of ownership of the Bishnupur royal estate.

The temples are divided into 2 rows. The first row has 64 temples, out of which 32 have white and 32 black Shiva lingas. The other row consists of the rest of the 44 temples, of which two are empty. All the constructions are in the typical aatchala style.

Pratapeshwar Temple

On the other side of the road lies a walled complex, containing the most diversified form of Bengal’s temple architecture. The star attraction of the complex is the Pratapeshwar Temple - the main attraction of Kalna. Prince Pratapaditya died in 1821. The temple was constructed in his memory in 1849 by his first wife Priya Kumari., with its elegant shape and rich terracotta ornamentation. The architectural style deviates from the Bengal school and is akin to Rekhadeul, characteristic of the Orissa school. It is Designed by Ramhori Mistry, the temple is one of the best terracotta structures in Bengal. Built in Deul (Spire) style the temple contains terracotta plaques depicting themes of Hindu epic, mythical life of Sree Chaitanya, images of Durga & Ravana and various aspects of day to day life.

The other two star attraction of the same complex are Lalaji Mandir & Krishnachandra Mandir. Both are three-storied Pancha-vimsatiratna (25 pinnacled). The temples also have some beautiful terracotta panels.

Krishnachandra Mandir

The majestic 60 ft tall Krishnachandra temple (the 25 towers of the structure are quite unique) built in 1751-55 is very similar in structure to the Lalji Mandir.This temple, too, has been constructed in the aatchala style with fabulous terracotta sculptures on the walls. Episodes of Ramayana and Mahabharata, hunting scenes, childbirth and erotica are carved to perfection. The same complex also houses several minor structures like dilapidated royal palace and the roofless Rash Mancha, several aat-chala structures among which a flat roofed temple of Giri Govardhan needs special mention.

Lalaji Mandir

A nearby Lalaji temple, also with 25 towers,is built in 1739 and is the oldest temple in the complex. . Rajmata Brajokishori built this in 1739, after her return from Vrindavan. Garuda, the mount of Vishnu, is worshiped here. It is fronted by a char-chala (four sloped roof) mandap.
Then we went to Bhaduri-para - it also has a large collection of temples including the Panchavimsatiratna (25 pinnacled) temple of Gopalbari.

Siddheswari Temple

But the holiest attraction of Bhaduri-para is the Siddheswari Temple, dedicated to the Mother Goddess Ambika or Kali. Built in 1740 AD by Chitra Sen, the then King of Bardhaman, this shrine is considered to be the most auspicious one in the town. The char-chala structure reached by a flight of 14 beautifully curved steps (signifying the 9 planets-Nabagraha & the 5 tantric cults) houses the image of auspicious Bamakali Idol, built of a single neem log. The complex also contains three Shiva Temples. This is the place where you will find hari-kath signifying place of sacrifice of goats.

Lydie being sacrificed!

Ananta-Basudev Mandir
The nearby (30 metres away) Ananta-Basudev Mandir is another interesting terracotta temple, but sadly only a few of the panels have survived the test of time. Raja Tilokchand's pet project was built in 1754 in the double aatchala style. The temple was renovated by the Birlas in 1964. (the van wallah initially skipped this temple , but due to my obstianance had to come back and shown the temple).

After this we had our lunch of rice, Dal, Lau (gourd) chingri (prawn), foolkapir(cauliflower) tarkari, fish (Rs 6/7 per piece) and chicken (Rs 7 per piece) for Rs 35/- near Jagannath temple beside River Bhagirathi. The old man who serving the luch was really very nice. I guess it is a residence cum restaurant. I recommend you should have lunch here. Around 15 people can have lunch here. So it is reasonably big.

Then we went to a small temple, where we saw a group of Vaishanvite chanting and singing.We met one of them and he explained us unlike shakti (which is empowerment of woman) , Vaishavites believes in universal friendship and brotherhood. Chaitanya, who is considered as an incarnation of Vishnu and Krishna , is living example of that. some of the people nearby suggested that we should go to Mayapur (on that day itself) to see the Rash festival there.
Jagannath temple
Then we went to see the Jagannath temple beside the river Bhagirathi. We walked along the river.

Thus proving its uniqueness as a confluence of Shakti and Vaishnava forms of worship - a trip to Kalna not only proves to be a unique pilgrimage but also doubles up as a gateway to the glorious days of Bengal’s temple architecture.
By that time it is already 3. 15. p.m. So we decided to go back to station. We heard there is train at 3.30 p.m. . But we missed the train. The next train is at 4.30 p.m. !!
Suddenly I saw a group of people (seemed to be triabls) sitting with a cock. My gut feeling said they might have come from a cock fight (morog larai). And I was bang on target!! We immediately decided that we will go to Hanspukur to see the cock fight. We again hired another van for 40/- (later we had to play 60/- , since it is further away from Hanspukur and the van waited all along for us) to reach the place. We saw the fight , which was quite interesting and learnt the rule of the game. We also learnt every year on 15th day of Kartick month this fight takes place.

After watching the fight , we came back just in time to catch the train at 5.30 p.m. (the train at 4.30 pm has left long back). We got down at Naihati and again took a train to reach Sealdah.
The link to the pictures:

(source : information from The Telegraph, & others)

Chronological order