Pathra -The Temple Village of Bengal
To most people, the subject of History is a set of ‘Dull facts’ but to the discerning and lively mind it is a set of interwoven processes. History is dynamic and unchanging whom one should explore and appreciate. India’s ancient past and her rich Cultural heritage stands as a living example to pen down her glories and achievements. The most remarkable feature of India’s history was her contribution to some of the best specimens of architectural wonders that captivates attention of billions till date. The history of India’s temple building dates back to thousands of years when the ancient Hindu Kingdoms rose into prominence. A long period of peace and prosperity prevailed when the art of temple building reached its zenith. The various powerful ruling dynasties of North and South India undertook massive projects of temple construction and funded with their open hands in an attempt to surpass their rivals. With the penetration of foreign invasions and their brutal attacks, the process of temple building declined and often suffered devastation and demolition.
In this story, I will narrate the historical significance of Pathra a very small village, often called the temple village located in the district of Paschim Medinipur, West Bengal. The temple village of Pathra dates back to the medieval times when Bengal was being ruled by the independent Nawabs. A remote Village located on the bank of river Kangsabati is itself a beauty indisguise. The affluent rustic environment echoes through the scenic sensuality of Bengal’s typical culture. The site is a celebration of art and a real treat to the eyes. With the help of a local guide book we came to know about the place. After having a thorough reading about every minute details we made up our minds. I and two of my friends finalized this short trip on the 17th of February 2021. A four wheeler was booked from Jhargram town(West Bengal) and we set forth sharply at 8:30 A.M. We reached the vicinity of Midnapore town Via Kharagpur(which lies on NH-6). After crossing the Kangsabati Setu, we took a right turn and followed the path leading to Pathra. It took exactly two and a half hours to reach Pathra from Jhargram. On reaching the site, we noticed the ruins of history on both sides of the road. A good and heavy tiffin satiated our hungry bellies. Now it was time for us to set out for exploration and capture the ruins lying for hundreds of years. As there are no facilities of fooding nearby you have to make arrangements from Kharagpur or Midnapore town. Basically a Panchayat area, the village is said to have witnessed the construction of almost 100 temples out of which 34 survives today. A few temples are a pathetic sight due to lack of conservation initiatives by the government, damaged by river Kangasabati and the locals resorting to vandalizing approach.
The temples are simplistic in style but enriched and accentuated with terracotta art. The Archaeological survey of India has taken charge of 28 temples out of 34. Some of the most prominent ones are – Nava Ratna temple, Kachari Mahal, Rasmancha temple,
Kalachand’s Dalan, Durgeshwar and Pancha Shiva temples. The temples were mostly built by Ghosal and Bannerjee families. The Nava Ratna temple is a 250 years old structure measuring almost 40 feet high. There is a Sitala temple popularly known as Burimar Than which is more than 40 feet high alongside Sarvanangala, Das Mahavidya and Hansa temples. The Rasmancha is a nine towered structure built in 1832.
The Dharmaraj temple, the temples built by the Bandopadhyay family, the Sitala and the Nava ratna temples are considered to be the monuments of National importance in West Bengal. Majority of the temples are dedicated to Durga, Shiva, Krishna and Vishnu. Some locals traced back the origin of Pathra to the Gupta era which served as a hinterland to the Bengal’s ancient port of Tamralipta which was a major gateway to the South-east Asia. Pathra was a thriving place of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain cultures. In the october of 1961, the discovery of a Vishnu statue hinted at both Hindu and Buddhist influences.
The main story revolves around one man named – Bidyanand Ghosal who was appointed by Bengal’s Nawab Alivardi Khan as the revenue collector of Ratnachowk Pargana. Bidyanand started constructing temples one after another thereby making the village a major centre of Hinduism and a tourist place for Hindu pilgrims. Bidyanand’s activities didn’t please the Nawab who put him into prison and later sentencing him to death. But the Ghosal family continued the tradition of temple construction till the end of the 18th Century which was later followed by the Bandopadhyay family. It was at that time, the land was used for cultivating Indigo. The decline was brought about by the base shifting of affluent families from this area and indiscriminate practices by some local villagers.
The efforts of a local resident named Yeasin Pathan and extensive research work undertaken by some of the scholars of IIT Kharagpur has led to the formation of Pathra Archaeological preservation committee – a non – government organisation which look after the ruins and structures and help in restoring the 200 years old history. So what are you waiting for? Take a train from Howrah to reach Midnapore or Kharagpur. Book your stay in a good hotel and make a trip to Pathra the next morning.
Subhajit Mitra, Student of Indian History and working as a Teacher. He likes exploring new places especially of History.