Day trip to Rautara, Jhikhira, Amragari – The temple villages of Howrah

A few months ago, I heard about the memorial stones along the road of certain villages in Howrah. Digging down about them, I came to know, those memorial stones were set up after the death of Hindu zamindars. This information surprised me. I had seen such stones only in Buddhism where they are called “Chorten”. Further consulting the books of David McCutchen and Tarapada Santra, I got more details about them. Mostly the memorial stones are found in the villages Rautara, Jhikhira and Amragari. Not only that, magnificent ancient temples of these villages are worth to see.

Shyamsundar Temple and memorial stones at Jhikhira

I called my friend Dasgupta and planned for a road trip with him. However, Jhikhira, Rautara can also be reached by bus and train from Howrah. But the train service is not frequent and the condition of the bus route can cause pain in waist joint Even there is no place in the villages to have lunch before coming back to Avani Mall. So, we decided to visit by car.

Memorial Stones

One fine morning of early Autumn, we started for Rautara, Jhikhira and Amragari. It was a cloudy morning. Within a couple of hours, we reached Rautara village. We parked the car near a petrol pump and entered into Rautara village.

Rautara:

First, we visited to Sarkarpara. We reached in front of a Zamindar (Landlord) House and opposite to it, there was a lovely terracotta temple. It was Damodar Jiu temple of the Roy family. According to the inscription, the south facing temple was founded in 1684 Shakabda (1762 AD). The intricate terracotta panels of this ‘Barochala’ (12 roofed) temple made us speechless. We found the scene of the battle of Lanka engraved at the top of the three arches. There were two rows of niche-sculptures on both sides of the wall, depicting gods and goddesses.

Damodar Jiu Temple complex

In the same complex of the Damodar Jiu Temple, there were a small ‘Atchala’ (8 roofed) Dolmancha, octagonal Rasmancha and a wooden chariot. The Dolmancha consists of rich in terracotta work. Specially I liked the panel depicting ‘Goshthaleela’ of Lord Krishna.

But the condition of the chariot was not good. However, the magnificent woodwork on the chariot makes anybody respectful about the artist. Various stories of Krishna’s Rasalila are depicted there. The chariot was built in 1853 by Zamindar Ram Chowdhury Roy. The chariot was later restored in 1928 and 1953.

The temple complex had a ‘Nahabatkhana’ where stucco works are present. Once upon a time, the melody of Shehnai was played on its porch on different auspicious days.

Just opposite to the temple complex, the Roy Mansion (the house of the landlords) standing with all of its glory. Though the feudal days of holding the land had gone long time ago but the cultural and financial richness of the family was reflecting in the house. The house looked well maintained and its colour, blue was reflecting the royal blood of the family. I would try to enter the house but considering the Covid protocols, I dropped the plan.

Roy’s mansion

Rather, I went to the next house, standing next to the newly painted zamindar house. It was also owned by the landlord’s family. But the house seemed go to be vacant. The stucco work above the door-arch was really beautiful.

Diagonally opposite to Damodar Jiu Temple we found two Shiva temples within an enclosed courtyard. Goddess Radha and Lord Krishna are worshipped there.

Leaving the landlord’s house on the right, we proceeded along the village road. A few memorial rocks were on the left. Such rocks are spread all over the village. The name along with the date of birth and death of the deceased is inscribed on a marble plaque on the rock. This is a fancy initiative to keep the forefathers in the village.

After the memorial stone, there are three Shiva temples. All three are on elevated platforms. The first is Atchala (eight roofed), the other two are Rekh Deuls.

Three Shiva Temples

We came out from Sarkarpara and crossed Amta-Jhikhira Road and reached Ghoshpara. First, we reached to spectacular terracotta temple of Sitaramjiu of the Ghosh family. Above the entrance of the temple the scene of Rama-Ravana’s battle of Lanka is depicted. The other panel on either side are horse-riding, camel-riding. In the upper row, various scenes of Krishnalila, musicians. Goddess Durga with her family on the left.

Sitaramjiu Temple
Terracotta panels of Sitaramjiu Temple

Not far from it, we saw a big house. ‘Keranee Batee’ (Clerk’s Mansion) written in the nameplate. We entered the house, the temple of Atchala was on the left.

Atchala (Eight roofed) temple inside Keranee Batee complex

The two-storied house opposite it is also a sight to behold.

Keranee Batee

‘Keranee Batee’ was the last spot in Rautara. We had a cup of tea in a road side tea-stall and then headed towards Jhikhira.

Jhikhira:

Like Rautara, people of Jhikhira have its own aesthetics. The houses of the villagers are well decorated with simple colours and different pattern.

Memorial Stones

The first temple of Jhikhira, we visited was the Shyam Sundar temple of the Mallik family. The south-facing temple is located at Madhyapara. according to the foundation plaque temple was built in 1613 sakabda (1691 A.D).

Shyam Sundar Temple

The temple is placed on a higher pedestal with a flight of stairs at the centre. The temple follows the aatchala style with porch on triple entrance. The temple has terracotta panels of floral designs, scenes of swans and boats apart from hunting and processional scenes, the advent of early Europeans and their ships

On the front wall of the temple, we found the panel of the war of Lanka between Rama and Ravana. Apart from that, social scene of the past at the bottom. But the panel of landlords drinking hukkah and surrounded by two men with stout physique.

The next temple we visited was Joychandi Temple. Built in 162 AD, the temple was renovated but lost its original appearance. Although the walls seem to have rows of Durga, Ganesha, Kartik and lotus flowers, the temple was once quite aesthetic.

Joychandi Temple

From Joychandi Temple, we went to Sarkhelpara for our next destination – the temple of Garh Chandi. Like the temple of Jay Chandi, this temple has undergone renovation. It is a south-facing nabaratna temple built in 1717 sakabda (1795 ADx). There is a big natmandir just at the front of the temple.

The next temple was the Damodar Jiu temple of the Roy family. Architecturally, it was a Navaratna temple. The panels of some mythical deities on the temple were quite eye-catching.

Damodar Jiu Temple of Roy Family
Damodar Jiu Temple of Roy Family – A closer view

Next, we visited to Damodar Jiu Temple of Pashchimpara. The temple was founded on 1698 sakabda (1776 A.D). The temple is on a higher pedestal with a flight of stairs at the middle. The triple arched temple is fully decorated facade where the stories from Ramayana and Krishnalila are depicted. Apart from that it also contains the panels of social life.

Damodar Jiu Temple of Paschimpara

I think, once upon a time, Damodar Jiu (Saalgram Sheela) was the mostly worshipped deity in Jikhira. Next, we visited Damodar Jiu Temple of Mondal Family. It was a south-facing Atchala temple. According to the foundation plaque, the temple was built in 1691 sakabda (1769 AD) but had received a fresh coat of paint. The temple was built on with triple arched entrance. Right above the three archways, scenes from The Ramayana were depicted. We found a scene from Krishnalila. Unfortunately, the intricate details of terracotta panels have been blurred by the recent colouring. However, we found some social scenes in some panels. Next to Damodar Jiu Temple was a Tulsimancha.

Damodar Jiu Temple of Mondal Family

After seeing the temples of Jhikhira, we approached the car. We have to go by car to the next destination. The sky is still gloomy. We turned left towards Durgapur Expressway and reached Amaragari village.

Amragari:

The village has only one temple and that is one of the best terracotta temples ever I have seen in my life.

A five-minute drive from the Amta-Jhikhira Road, we landed in front of the Dadhimadhav Temple, a protected heritage monument under State Archaeology of the Government of West Bengal. According to the foundation stone, the temple was built by the Roy family in 1686 Shakabda (1764 according to Gregorian calendar). The south-facing twenty-five feet high temple is placed on a slightly higher pedestal. The temple follows atchala (eight roofed) style with porch on triple entrance. The panels depict the exquisite craftsmanship of the then artisans who built this temple.

Dadhimadhav Temple, Amragari

Like other temples of this region, the panels consist of the stories from The Ramayana – War scene of Rama and Ravana, panels of Sita in Ashok Bon and the fall of Lakshmana in the blow of Shakti Shel and the ‘Vishalyakarani’ carrying Hanuman. The various scenes of Krishna Lila convey the elegant but deep sense of humour of the artist.

The lower base of the temple consists of a number of scenes ranging from European ship and sailor on the one hand and hunter on horseback and elephant back, local landlords being carried on palanquin. These depict pictures from social life and the advent of the Europeans. Presence of erotica There are also lovely idols of Goddess Durga with her entire family and a unique twin figure are indicative of aesthetic excellence.

Legendary temple expert, writer Tarapada Santra mentioned this temple as ‘the best temple of Howrah’.

Our time was coming to an end. Got quite hungry. There are no good hotels in this area. So, we decided to go back to Howrah and eat.

References:

  1. Late Medieval Temples of Bengal by David McCutchen
  2. Howrah Jelar Purakirti by Tarapada Santra
  3. Thanks to Mr. Amitabha Gupta for information and suggestions

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