When I heard the fourth edition of Wikipedia Takes Kolkata is in the month of December, I was very happy. Last time the walk lasted nearly 6 hrs and we covered 8 km. and 20 landmarks. While I must admit it was a very successful one, the typical Calcutta heat and humidity exhausted us a lot too. So a much comfortable December was a welcome change.This time the focus was on the temples around the Adi Ganga or Tolly’s nullah (canal). Rangan Datta, the famous travel blogger, led us like the previous editions, but this time Deepanjan Ghosh aka The Concrete Paparazzi helped him a lot. From finding the temples to planning the walk and sharing the history with us. And like the previous walk we covered some out-of-the-list landmarks too, and all thanks to Indrajit Das for that. He scooped out those extra information from heritage site lists on the spot. We started off from Tollygunge Circular Road and Deshpran Shashmal Road crossing around 8 AM. The weather was good and the enthusiastic group soon reached the first temple of the Bawali Mondal family. Bawali, a small place around 30 km. south west of Calcutta, is from where, with Robert Clive’s invitation, two brothers of the Mondal family came to settle in Calcutta, in the eighteenth century. They settled on either sides of the Adi Ganga and today several temples build by them can be found in this area. The biggest and the most well-maintained one is on Mondal Temple Lane. The 90 feet tall nabaratna (9 gems or the 9 spires) temple is dedicated to Radhakanta and the idols found here are of Radha, Radhakanta and Lakshmi Narayan. While the first and the last one is made of ashtadhatu (8 metals – gold, silver, copper, zinc, lead, tin, iron and mercury) the primary idol is of kashtipathar (black stone). A black stone with inscriptions can be found on the left wall of the temple and according to it the construction work began in 1796 and was completed in 1807. The idols were installed in 1809. Our next stop was the Chhoto Rashbari of the Mondal family. Unfortunately the gates were closed and we could only see it from outside. There were several temples within the complex and while the one that can be seen from the main entrance was of Nabaratna style, we noticed several At-Chala style temples also.
The Boro Rashbari of the same Mondal family was our next destination. The walled complex have a well maintained At-Chala style temple, but there are 14 temples outside the wall which needs immediate attention. Encroached completely, most are damaged beyond repair and one replaced by a hut. Two of the temples here are of Pancha Ratna (5 gems) style while the rest are At-Chalas. It was hard to believe that a listed grade I heritage site can be left with such negligence.We were to visit the temple complex of the Chandra family next, but Indrajit Das, who was going through various documents, told us that there is one more temple and a mosque in this area, both of which fall under Grade I of the heritage list. It is always great to find new places nearby while on a walk and we all decided to visit them first. The temple is somewhere between the Chhoto and the Boro Rashbari and after searching for some time we found it to be inside a modern apartment complex. Initially we were denied entry, but when we explained our intention and told that though inside the apartment complex, the temple is a public heritage site, they allowed us. It was heart-breaking to see how the At-Chala style architecture has been converted to a run-of-the-mill modern temple.
Unlike the temples we were visiting, Zohra Begum Mosque, our next destination, is a little away from the canal and was named after a member of the royal family of Mysore. Tipu Sultan’s descendants were sent to Calcutta on exile and they built several mosques, this being one of them. Maulabi Tehseeruddin showed us around the place, which he said was built in 1264 (Hijri Calendar) or 1847-48 C.E. The mosque is well maintained but the structure looked modern at first glimpse. When asked I was told that the covered area around the main mosque was built recently. How we violate heritage conservation rules everywhere! The mosque is presently run by a 6 committee waqf board.
After completing the two off-the-initial-list landmarks, it was time to visit the Dwadosh Shib Mandir (12 Shiva Temples) of the Chandras. Built in 1853, this, according to me, was the best place for the day. The family still owns and maintains the complex. Pachugopal Chandra and his son Subrata, the current owners, have kept the place open for all although it is a family owned property. The Chandras, originally from Kamarpara, Behala, settled here, currently known as Kamarghat, and this temple complex was built by Nilmoni Chandra. The lane in front was named after his son Pran Krishna Chandra.Our last stop was Tarpan Ghat. This used to be a burning ghat and home to sages. Later an ashram was built here. The place now have few temples and the tombs of the sages. The walk though ended here for the day, opened new avenues for more walks (like landmarks related to the exiled descendants of Tipu Sultan) and research. Hope to be back with more stories and places around this area soon.