Archaeology means the study of structures or articles like an edifice, a mound, ancient manuscripts, currencies, art works, sculptures, rock inscriptions, copper inscriptions, earthen ware, clay model, memorabilia etc. which are either visible on the surface of the earth or have been excavated from below, and that have been built or produced by the ancient people. It can be more clearly defined as “the study of the past human culture through materialistic remains”. The South 24 Parganas is one of the districts in West Bengal which boasts of several archaeological remains that have been lying scattered in different places. One such marvelous example is the Jatar Deul temple.
This particular temple once located in a place infested with ferocious animals, reptiles and insects has always been a place of interest for people studying ancient civilization. It has braved the natural calamities like flood and rain, storms, earth quakes, depression etc. and survived the wrecks caused by estuarine weather. Some temples of similar nature (locally called Rekh-Deul) were on Delbari- Island under Kultali police station and Banshyam Nagar Village in Pathar Pratima; they are now almost extinct. However, sincere efforts on the part of the famed researcher Kalidas Dutta and extensive support of the A.S.I have helped in renovating the Jatar Deul soon after the deforestation of its adjacent areas. Though these efforts have helped in conservation of the temple, its artistic structures and constructional patterns have been largely affected. It however should be remembered that during the first decades of the previous century not much could be done for conservation of archaeological relics in a hostile land like the Sundarbans.
It is to be noted that Kankan Dighi and Jata at Raydighi police station in South 24 Parganas had been rich in archaeological remains. In the village of West Jata, Lot No. – 116 (JL. No. – 128) in (220 N latitude and 880 29’ E longitude) there exists the ancient and lofty Jatar Deul temple. Not much is known about this temple situated on the bank of Mani River, because this area is near the Sundarban and the Bay of Bengal. This area had been naturally affected by heavy rainfall, floods, depression of the earth etc. Various oppressions led by the pirates of Mag, Araakani and Portugese origin after the time of the Moghul Empire and during the reign of Pratapaditya in 1606 also led to the desolation of this region. In course of time the entire area was encroached upon by the forest and was turned into the habitat of wild animals. It gradually became impenetrable and the temple was being forgotten. Only at the beginning of the 19th century it was re-discovered during the acquisition of forests.
At the end of the 18th century and beginning of the19th, the English surveyor Renel (1764 – 77) and the resident lease-holders and land-owners located the Jatar Deul temple. Surveyor Renel thought that it was a Buddhist pagoda. W. W. Hunter reiterated this particular view (Statistical Accounts, Vol. – I, Pg. – 381). An article in the Asiatic Society in 1868, December mentioned that a picture of the Temple was first published by Swainho – an Englishman, who also remarked the structure to be of Buddhist origin.
By taking the lease of the land of Lot No.116 another Englishman named Smith first tried to deforest and acquire the area. Anticipating existence of secret valuables he demolished the top portion of the temple in 1274 Bengali era. (Kalidas Dutta – Sundarban Basumati Patrika, Kartick 1334 Bengali era). At present the height of the temple is about 100 feet and it is beautifully shaped as an octagon. The actual height of the temple was never and can never in future be ascertained. The width is around 32 feet on every side. The entrance is around 16 feet high and nine and a half foot wide. A brick staircase leads down to the main worship area. Noted archaeologist Rakhaldas Bandopadhyay remarked on the time of the construction of the temple ‘Very few temples belonging to the Pala period have survived in Bengal and the only known examples are the temple Bahulara in the Bankura district and that of Ichai Ghosh in the Burdwan district. The deserted temple in Sundarban called the Jatar Deul, must also belong to the Pala period.’
Kalidas Dutta wrote that Jater Deul was constructed in the similar manner as that of the urbane model temples of the Pala period which was established in different parts of the eastern India. Many archaeologists believed that it bore the signs of the Pala temple architecture because the design and structure of its bricks were of the same size and shape of the temples belonging to the Pala period. Besides, Durgaprasad Raychoudhury, the Jaminder of this area unearthed in 1875 a copper plate near the temple. It was deciphered from the copper plate that once the king of Jata, some Jayanta Chandra built the Jater Deul in 975A.D. The Bengal Govt. published the book entitled ‘The List of Ancient Monuments in Bengal’ in1896 in which it was mentioned about Jater Deul that ‘The Deputy Collector of Diamond Harbor reported in 1875 that a copper plate ,discovered in a place a little to the north of Jater Deul fixes the date of erection of the temple by Raja Jayanta Chandra in the year 897 of the Bengali Saka era corresponding to A.D.975.The copper plate was discovered at the clearing of the jungle by the grantee Durgaprasad Choudhury. The inscription is in Sanskrit and the date as usual was given is an enigma with the name of the founder.’
Since long this large temple had been attracting many people. Dr. T. Blake visited the temple in 1908 before the A.S.I took it as a heritage temple, and he granted a sum of Rs. 8966 for the renovation of the site. The Director of A.S.I. Eastern Region, J.R.F. Dockiston visited the site in 1914 and recommended immediate conservation. According to him the temple was not a very ancient one. Finally, the site came under the conservation project of A.S.I. sometimes between third and fourth decades of the 20th century.
When the temple was discovered there were various designs and small replica on the outer surface of the brick wall. There were many reliefs on the surface carved in the forms of lotus petals, small embodiments, symbols, and niches. But at present the actual shape, height and ornamentation of the ancient temple could not be made out. Though the temple is saved from extinction, its improper conservation is a matter of great misfortune for the archaeologists.
Satis Chandra wrote that the Jater Deul on Mani River was originally a monument of victory. He thought that the temple is perhaps 4 to 5 hundreds years old built during the reign of Pratapaditya. It was made of thin bricks. Since those bricks were to a great extent broken, the art forms on its external surface were abolished (Jessore -Khulnar Itihas 2nd part page no-206). Sri Nalinikanta Bhattasali and Kashinath Dikshit remarked that it was constructed in the Mughal period. Later on Kashinath Dikshit changed his opinion and said that its style was similar to that of Bhubaneswary Temple. On the other hand, eminent historians like Kalidas Dutta and Ashim Mukhopadhya said that its architectural design is almost similar to was the Pala Bhubaneswary Temple. It is further known form the List of Ancient monument page no-221 published by West Bengal Govt. in 1886 that the king Jayanta Chandra Sen built the temple in 975. But till today the exact time of its inception is not clear.
There are differences of opinions on the origin of the name of Jater Deul. The local people think that it was built in the Pala period as an abode of Lord Shiva. Jatadhar is another name of Shiva from where the name of the temple came into existence. Ashim Kumar Mukhopadhyay opined that inside the temple once lived a ferocious man-eating tiger having some mane or jata after which it is named. However he had little doubt that the temple was built in the Hindu period. Though W. W. Hunter and Renal said that it was a Buddhist pagoda, it is almost confirmed that the Pala kings revered the Buddhist and Jain religions while being great supporters of Hinduism. But Nihar Ranjan Roy was of the opinion that in the South Samatata Bengal the Chandra Bansha rulers were devoted to Buddhist and Jain religions. Hence the temple built by Jayanta Chandra could be an instance of Jain Temple. The real identity of the temple is shrouded in mystery. At present it is being adored as a Shiva temple.
It is already proved that this region had been a very ancient and prosperous place. A large number of ruined houses discovered in the neighboring lot no-26 of Kankan dighi exhibit the bricks; the dilapidated sun temple, other metal images etc. which confirm the origin of the temple in the Pala period. Similarly, the earthen wears, gold coins, the embodiments of the Jain Tirthankars, the various gold coins and copper coins of the periods of Kaniska and Skanda Gupta tell that here were some ancient janapada. Other archaeological remains of the surrounding areas namely Khari, Chatravog, Krishnachandrapur, Nalua, Maiphit,etc help to know so much about the village Jota.
1. Hunter, W.W.-A Statistical Account of Bengal, Vol-1, 1973, Page;381.
2. Malley, L.S-West Bengal District Gazetteers, 24 Parganas, March 1994.
3. Dutta, B.K- Bengal Temples, 1975.
4. মিত্র, সতীশচন্দ্র- যশোহর খুলনার ইতিহাস, দ্বিতীয় খন্ড, পৃঃ ২০৬।
5. দত্ত,কালিদাস- দক্ষিন ২৪ পরগনার অতিত, প্রথম খন্ড, বরেন্দ্র রিসার্চ সোসাইটির মনোগ্রাম নং ৩।
6. রায়, মনোরঞ্জন- পরায়ত্ত পরগনা কথা, ২৪ পরগনা জেলার ইতিহাস, দ্বিতীয় খন্ড,আগস্ট ১৯৯০, পৃঃ ২৫।
7. ঘোষ, তারাপদ(সম্পা)- পশ্চিমবঙ্গ, তথ্য ও সংস্কৃতি বিভাগ, মার্চ ২০০০, পৃঃ ১৬৭।
Photograph: Mr. Dibakar Naskar