Thursday, December 7, 2023

 Visit to boat making (cottage Industry) workshop of Sripur (Balagarh Railway Station) , Terracotta temples and sets of Mrinal Sen's Akaler Sandhane at Sukhuria (Somrabazar Railway Station)

Source : The italics part are taken from this blog


Understand Balagarh and Sukharia

Almost a hundred years after Vasco da Gama landed on the West Coast of India, the Portuguese & other European powers started making inroads into Bengal. Using the intricate network of rivers , the Europeans settled in various parts of Bengal. Their huge barges and ships sailed up & down the Hooghly carrying merchandise from far off lands. Soon the country was in need of boats, barges and even ships. Europeans, who had made Bengal their trade and administrative hub in their colonial pursuits, realised that they would need an indigenous ship-building industry.

In the early 18th century Rameshwar Mitra of Ula or Ula Birnagar, worked as the Auditor General in the court of Murshid Kuli Khan in Murshidabad. In 1704 Rameswar Mitra received official Mustaufi title from Emperor Aurangzeb in Delhi. Rameswar Mitra made a huge fortune and constructed several mansions and temples in Ula Birnagar.

In 1708 Rameshwar Mitra’s eldest son Raghu-nandan also left Ula Birnagar and settled in Sripur. Taking advantage of the increasing river trade by the European traders, a man called Raghu-nandan established a full-fledged boat-making industry in Sripur in the early 18th century. Taking advantage of the river trade he soon made a fortune and established a fort complex complete with several temples and other religious structures decorated with elaborate and intricate wood curving. The fort has long crumbled into dust but a few of the temples have survived the test of time and can still be seen to this day.

Rameswar Mitra’s another son Anantaram Mitra left Ula Birnagar and settled in Sukharia in 1712. Anatram also built a huge mansion in Sukharia along with several temples. The mansion is in ruins and many of the temples have been converted into modern structures and in the process loosing their beauty and grace. This will be discussed later.

The century old temples adorned with boat-making workshops, which are just as old, make Sripur + Sukharia , a wonderful destination for a day trip. 


How to reach

Nearest railway station to go to Sripur is Balagarh in the Hooghly district. It is a two-hour journey (65 km) from Sealdah station. We took Sealdah-Katwa local at 8.06 am from Sealdah. From Howrah the options are more. 

Refer to the local train map, to know more :

Rickshaws are available from the station to the Sripur temple complex, but it is better to walk, since you will see numerous boat making workshop on the way. It is a pleasant 25 minutes walk. It is quaint village - not a crowded place at all. It is not yet inundated with Rickshaws, Autos ! We had a nice luchi and ghugni, on the way to the temple complex for a princely sum of Rs 5 each !

On the way to the temple (from the station) we saw numerous boat-making workshops. It seems like a cottage industry here ! Only small boats (upto, say, 100 people can seat) are now made in the workshops. But the thrill of watching a vessel take shape before your eyes remains undiminished.The elderly boat makers have interesting anecdotes to narrate about shipbuilding in Bengal. The Boats are mostly made of Babla wood (since it can withstand water, better) and the upper part of the boat (not submerged in water , but is more prone to wear and tear, due to human intervention) is made of sal wood - since it is sturdier. Most of the boats are going to Jharkhand . The cost varies between Rs 12,000/- to Rs 250,000/-

The basic frame is bent with heat treatment. After that it is tied with ropes, lest it will be straightened when cold.

Mitra also built a fort complete with several temples and other religious structures decorated with elaborate and intricate wood carvings. The fort has long crumbled but a few of the temples, along with the intricate wood work, can still be seen.

1.Our temple tour of Sripur started at the Dolmancha. It comprises a single-storeyed temple housing a Shivling alongside a two-storeyed structure where Holi or Dol Purnima used is celebrated. With its pillars and arches, the complex provides a glimpse of the glorious days of Sripur.

2.Next take right to go to the Jora Shibmandir next. Terracotta works once adorned the walls of the twin temples but have sadly been plastered over in the recent past.

3.A few minutes’ walk will lead you to the main cluster of temples in the town. It houses temples of Radha Gobinda and other deities, a rasmancha and a natmandir. 

The main attraction is the Chandimandap. The Chandimandap, constructed in 1707 by the Mitra Mustafi family, has recently been declared a protected monument. Unfortunately, its hay-thatched roof has been replaced with corrugated tin sheets thus robbing the structure of its beauty and grace. The inside walls of the Chandimandap are decorated with intricately carved wooden panels. The pillars and roof beams also have floral and geometric designs carved on wood.

The temple complex houses an octagonal Rasmancha with nine pinnacles (one each at the eight corners and a larger central one) and a natmandir. 

During Ras Mela, the deity is taken from Radha Gobinda temple and is kept there. When we went there, Ras Mela just got over.

From there we went to the Balagrah Sahebdanga Ferry ghat. On the way saw more boat making workshops. At Balagrah Sahebdanga Ferry ghat, we had our lunch. We did not take any boat ride though. The boat ride will take you to Nadia on the other side of the Hooghly river.

Staying - There is no hotel or lodge in Sripur. There is a nice eatery near Balagarh Sahebdanga ferry ghat - called Jibhe Jol. We had our lunch there

From Balagarh Sahebdanga ferry ghat we (5 people) reserved an auto for Rs 250 to go to Sukharia to see other group of temples and Mrinal Sen's Shooting site. The Auto fare is Rs 20 per head to go to Sukharia from Balagarh Sahebdanga ferry ghat. If you have time , you can walk also. 


Nearest railway station to go to Sukharia is Somra Bazar (Sukharia, a quaint village between Balagarh and Somra Bazar railway stations ) in the Hooghly district. It is a 2 hour journey (68 km) from Sealdah station. From Balagarh to Somra Bazar it is only 3 Km (one station away).

We took an auto to reach Sukharia. If you are coming from the Train station, you will see the temples in reverse order.  The temples are located close to each other and have to be covered on foot.  

Understand Sukharia

Sukharia, a quaint village, has the distinction of being the site of some of the finest temple architecture of Bengal. Sadly most haven’t withstood the vagaries of time. A few have been rebuilt but the modern structures lack the grace or beauty of their historic counterparts. Even then, a trip to Sukharia gives one a rare insight into the diversity and richness of Bengal’s temple architecture.

On the way to Radha Kunj (Sukharia) falls Sukharia Sabuj Dweep Ferry ghat Jetty , from where one go to Sabuj Dweep and halt for the night at Sabuj Dweep , owned by West Bengal Tourism Company. 

First we reached the Ananda Bhairavi temple, the star attraction of Sukharia. Soon you will be greeted by the reflection of the towering temple on the adjacent lake, along with those of a number of smaller temples in the complex. Built in 1813 by Bireshwar Mustafi, the 3-storeyed Ananda Bhairavi temple is crowned with 25 pinnacles. 

The 4 corners of the first level are crowned with 3 pinnacles each (3 x 4 = 12), the 4 corners of the second level are crowned with 2 pinnacles each (2 x 4 = 8), the third level comes with a pinnacle at each corner and also a central pinnacle (4 + 1 = 5). 

This is an extremely rare form of temple architecture and according to some, there are only 5 such temples in West Bengal.

1a. The approach to the Ananda Bhairavi temple, housing the idol of Anandamoyee Kali, is flanked by 2 parallel rows containing 6 temples each. 5 of the temples on each row are aatchalas (eight-sloped roof). One temple on each flank has a pancharatna (five-pinnacle) roof. One of the pancharatna temples is dedicated to Ganesha, while the other nine house shivalingas. The temple has undergone repeated renovation and reconstruction and in the process, lost much of its old-world charm.

Radha Kunja lies next (40 Metres) to 
Ananda Bhairavi temple, the ancestral palace of the Mustafi family or 
Sukharia zamindar palace. Although in ruins, the family Durga Puja is still held there. Residents said Radha Kunja was originally built by the Mitra Mustafi family of Sukharia. Eventually, the estate was inherited by Bhujendranath Biswas, the son of a female member of the family, in the absence of male successors. Bhujendranath Biswas Biswas was an admirer of arts and culture.

The Hooghly district administration on Sunday installed a plaque at the Sukharia zamindar palace in Somra Bazar in memory of filmmaker Mrinal Sen on his birth centenary. Sen is regarded as part of the triumvirate of Indian greats, along with Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak, who ushered in New Wave cinema. From September 1980, Sen visited the impoverished Hooghly village and stayed at the palace, Radha Kunja, for two months to shoot his film Akaler Sandhane (In Search of Famine). 

The district administration, with the support of Balagarh Bijoy Krishna Mahavidyalaya and the Biswas family (successors of the erstwhile zamindar), put up a large plaque with the detailed history of the building and the film to enhance interest in the spot and the younger generations’ awareness. Akaler Sandhane depicted a film crew arriving at a village to make a film on the ghastly manmade Bengal famine of 1943 — caused by the British imperial government’s policies during World War II under Prime Minister Winston Churchill — that resulted in the death of at least 38 lakh people from starvation, diseases aggravated by malnutrition, displacement and lack of healthcare. Some of Indian cinema’s arthouse icons, such as Smita Patil, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Dipankar De, and Rajen Tarafdar were in the film. The film won the National Film Awards in 1981 for best feature film, best direction, best screenplay and best editing. At the 31st Berlinale, it won the Silver Bear (Special Jury Prize). 

The initiative to put up the plaque was taken by the National Service Scheme unit of the college last year .Partha Chattopadhyay, a teacher who is in charge of the NSS unit, said:“Radha Kunja itself has great historical significance. The visit of Mrinal Sen enhanced it.” A book, titled Hooghly Zilla O Mrinal Sen (The Hooghly District and Mrinal Sen) and authored by Chattopadhyay, was released. Unveiling the plaque, Balagarh block development officer Niladri Sarkar said it was a tribute to the great filmmaker. “We have other plans for this spot. We would talk to the owners of the building for the promotion of tourism,” he said. Bhaskar Biswas, a member of the erstwhile zamindar family, said they were honoured to have the plaque unveiled there.

3. Next stands the Nistarini temple. Built in 1847 by the Mustafi family, this nabaratna edifice has dome-shaped pinnacles. The temple was once flanked by a natmandir but it has long collapsed. Four pillars are all that remains of it. It’s the same story for the Mustafi family’s thakur dalan. A few pillars and arches bear testimony to a glorious past.

4. Just beside is Hara Sundari temple. Built in 1813, this nabaratna (nine-pinnacle) structure is similar to the Ananda Bhairavi temple. Only in this case each row consists of 7 temples, comprising 2 pancharatna and 5 aatchala temples. Reconstruction has taken its toll on this temple too.

5. Next is the Siddeshwari Kali temple. A walk for about 20 minutes along the village road will take you to the temple. The flat-roofed Siddeshwari temple, built in 1785, is considered to be the oldest in Sukharia. The temple has been reconstructed and local residents speak enthusiastically about it. But the reconstructed temple with a single-pinnacle concrete roof and cement-plastered walls and pillars have wiped out centuries of history.

Standing under an ancient banyan tree, the temple overlooks the Hooghly, offering a grand view stretching to Sabuj Dwip (the green island), a popular picnic spot approachable from Chinsurah.

Ask for directions to  go to Somra Bazar Train Station.

Staying - Sukharia is ideal for a day trip from the city. However near the station  there is Sabuj Dweep Ferry ghat Jetty , from where one can halt for the night at Sabuj Dweep owned by West Bengal Tourism Company. You can book it online.

We took the train at 1712 hours from Somra Bazar to go back to Sealdah.

Chronological order