Written by Dr. Asis Kumar Chatterjee
Transcreated in English by Gautam Guha
At every corner of the beautiful state of West Bengal, many marvels of architecture in temples and mosques can be seen. Except the architecture aficionados, few are aware of the existence of these neglected treasures. Lack of information is probably the main reason for such wanton apathy.
Most of the villages in Bengal are now easily accessible with the improvement in road connectivity in recent years. The battery-operated e-rickshaws have revolutionized the way we now travel locally. These are ubiquitous in the rural areas, environment friendly and reasonably cheap. Hiring local transport in the villages – e-rickshaws or any other mode of transport- has a hidden benefit to a traveller from outside. The friendly driver also acts as a local guide without any additional fees. Their usefulness in the remote villages is invaluable.
This is the story of my visit to the cluster of wonderful temples in a village called Uchkaran in the district of Birbhum.
Where is Uchkaran?
Uchkaran is a remote village in Tehsil Nanur in the district of Birbhum. In 2011 census, the location code of the village is 317702. Postal code is 731301. It is on the state highway from Burdwan to Siuri via Baliguni, roughly 7 kilometres from Nanur. The road up to Baliguni is glistening with asphalt. From there to the village and inside the village, the road is of laterite soil.
The wayfarer goes to Uchkaran
The modern wayfarer’s bundle contains his mobile phone, a few packets of biscuits, print-outs from internet about Uchkaran and most importantly, power bank for the mobile phone. A mobile phone is a useful camera but power soon drains out. A power bank is essential.
The bus station at Durgapur in the morning is choc-o-bloc with people. It is 25th December, the Christmas day. At Bolpur, the Paus Mela is in full swing. It is as if the whole town has assembled here. Bus tickets are scarce. My better sense almost nudges me to go back to the comforts of my hearth.
But nomads such as me also have a guardian angel who helps them in such dire situations. Almost miraculously, I could get a ticket up to Bolpur in a bus going further to Baharampur. From Bolpur, buses are plenty to Nanur and a connection to that place should not be difficult. The kind angel would again smile on me. To that, later.
The bus starts. There is hardly a vacant seat. Many more passengers board from Durgapur Railway Station and more from Panagarh. The late comers can barely manage standing space in the bus. All are in festive mood and in their best fineries. All are bound for Bolpur. After all, it is Paus Mela and they are eager to show off to the gentries from Kolkata.
The bus speeds on Panagarh-Morgram road. The harvests are done and the land looks bare and forlorn. We cross the Konur river, bone dry in the winter without a drop of water and then Ajay river, again almost dry. The bus then turns towards Bolpur through Ilambazar. It is then that I learn the bus would also go to Nanur. The guardian angel was smiling all along. I shall not have to change the bus after all.
My foolishness! In the chaos and the cacophony at the Durgapur bus station, it never strikes me that to go to Baharampur from Bolpur, the bus has to pass through Nanur. A direct ticket to Nanur would have saved me a few rupees but now at least, I am spared the hassles of changing bus at Bolpur. I buy a supplementary ticket from Bolpur to Nanur and relax. Extra few rupees but worth the mental peace.
The bus empties at Bolpur but gets filled again with new passengers. Nanur is about 22 kilometres from here. On both sides of the road, yellow mustard flowers dot the land to the horizon.
Finally, I am at Nanur.
Before I fully realise, I am surrounded by the e-rickshaw drivers. I barely mutter the name of Uchkaran when an aged man measuring me from head to toe asks “How many passengers are you?” “I am alone” I say. “You will return I hope.” I realise that I don’t look like a native of Uchkaran. “Yes but after visiting the temples. It’s going to take a while.”.
“You will then have to reserve my rickshaw for the whole time. The fare will be steep”
“How much?” I ask with trepidation
A sigh of relief. It’s a deal. He’s hired.
We cross the office of the Block Development Officer and take a turn to a nice broad road. The road comes from Siuri and goes to Burdwan. If one is coming from Burdwan, one can take a bus on this road and get down at Baliguni avoiding Nanur altogether.
On both sides of the road are open fields. The paddy had been harvested and there are only patches of mustards. There are hardly any vehicles on the road except the e rickshaws, a few tractors and a great many cycles.
We travel for about four kilometres when we approach a crossing. More signs of life here with a few shops and office of a political party. On the left is a rice mill and the black smoke coming out of its chimney creates ominous silhouettes against the azure sky.
We finally leave the road and enter the villages. The road is asphalted for a while after which it is just laterite soil. We cross over Baliguni village to reach Uchkaran. There is hardly anything to tell the difference between the two villages, particularly for an outsider like me.
We leave a crematorium on the left and enter the village. It is a typical village of Bengal. There are a few adobe huts coexisting with concrete buildings as well. It is time for threshing the paddy. The paddy straws are strewn around all over the places, even on the road so that threshing can be done by the wheels of the vehicles. We negotiate the serpentine the lanes and by lanes of the village and finally stop in front of an iron-fenced gate. Inside the walls, I can see four temples standing side by side, each one having four-sided roof. (Cover Pic)
The four Siva temples of Uchkaran
In 1768, the local rich man Harendranath Sarkhel constructed these four temples. From outside and from a distance, they don’t seem impressive at all. But as I enter the complex and see the temples close, I am wonderstruck. The front façades are humble in comparison but the fine decorative terracotta ornamentation is stunning. What strikes me as heart-warming is that the beautiful architectural works have been saved from the damage and decay that time normally wrecks for centuries. Credit perhaps should go to the State Archaeology Department which takes care of these buildings.
I stand in awe in front of the intricate terracotta ornamentations of these temples. Each temple needs to be discussed separately. The two temples in the middle are more ornate with finer details. I discuss by marking the temple on the left side as No 1, though in reality, there is no such marking or sequence.
Temple No 1
On the frontal arch of this temple, we see the war scenes from Ramayan. War scenes from Ramayan are very common in many temples, but what makes these terracotta engravings unique and unusual here is that the panel depicts the battle between Lakshman and Indrajit, which as a theme, is rarely depicted. Below is a slab where Ram is seated with his bow and arrows, flanked by Hanuman and Jambuban. The intricate detailing on the arch is incomparable. Just above this we can see a foundational slab, which is not there in any other temple. Next to this, is the depiction of Radha Krishna.
Temple No 2
The arch on the centre of this temple is again unusual. I am not aware of any other temple where such a panel can be seen. The whole panel is the ornate depiction of the mother-forms of Shakti. On the left is Samsan Kali. Next to it is fully clothed Siddheswari Kali. Next two images are of Durga, the demon killer. One image shows Durga killing the demon riding on an elephant, next one riding on a horse. Durga is riding on her lion.(Cover Pic)
Above the central panel is shown the scenes from Krishna’s life.( Pic 2)
A few depictions from the side panels are also interesting. One can see Khagendra Narayan (Vishnu) seated on Garuda (Pic 3), the four-faced Brahma with all the four faces visible which is rare (Pic 4), Narada seated on the see saw (Pic 5), six-armed Gouranga ( Pic 6), Harihar ( Pic 7) and Ardhanariswar HaraGouri ( Pic 8)
Temple No 3
On the central arch of this temple, the most intriguing image is that of Ravan in the battle between Ram and Ravan. Beneath the chariot of the warrior Ravan are lying two severed heads. Many believe that both these heads belong to Ravan. One can count nine heads of Ravan (Pic 9). This seems to be in accordance with the Ramayan of Krittivasa, which states that the as soon as a head of Ravan is severed in the battle, it joins to his torso again.
Another interesting feature is the depiction of a huge man darting his arrow to Ravan. It is believed that he is Bhivishan, the brother of Ravan who sided with Ram in the battle. His size is superhuman as he belongs to the clan of the demons.
Just above is a slab showing Sita blessing Hanuman. In an angular slab next to it, Goddess Ganga is shown riding on the mythical makar. (Pic 16)
On one of the side panels, Lakshman is shown as cutting the nose of Surpanakha. (Pic 17) On another panel, a newly married couple with the bridegroom wearing the marriage coronet playing dice. (Pic 18). It looks like depiction of a common marriage ritual on terracotta.
Temple No 4
Temple of Chand Rai
The temple of Chand Rai or Dharmaraja was constructed by Harendranath Sarkhel in 1768. Even a few years back, the temple made of bricks and brick-dust with surrounding corridor could be seen. It has now been demolished and a new tall concrete temple is coming up. The rationale of the demolition is suspect but I wish the old temple could be renovated rather than demolished.
Now is the time to return after a fulfilling day. How nice it would be if these civilizational treasures are patronised not only by the few devotees but also public at large.
Have removed some of the pics without writers consent for technical reason. We'll add those after we resolve the technical issues.