Ambika Kalna ~ Obscure Temple Town of Bengal

Nabami, the ninth day of Durgapuja has many times been special for me, when city of Kolkata goes crazy and festive with penultimate hours of annual extravaganza, I often find myself on the road not far from the maddening crowd of the city but far enough to get immersed in the rustic, quaint villages of Bengal where may not be much of the glamour, theme, awards and carnival but the real charm of autumn along the lonely highway when the retreating monsoon clouds/rain play hide and seek with the clear blue sky, verdant fields with Kash Flowers swaying with the gentle breeze.

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Few years ago, i managed to visit Bishnupur, the famed Terracotta Capital of Bengal on another Nabami. This time(2016) I managed to sneak a peek to another glorious but obscure temple town of Bengal, Kalna or Ambika Kalna. Kalna is a little, sleepy town on the eastern part of the Bardhhaman district the pious “West Bank” of the Ganga as per famous saying in Bengali “Gangar Paschim Kul, Baranasi Samatul”(West Bank of the Ganga is equivalent to Varanasi’s stature). Royals of the Bardhhaman built several temples in this ancient river port town during their reign during approximately 110 year span starting from 1739 to 1849.

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I went with my vehicle driving from Santipur just on the opposite bank of the Ganga.Due to the vehicle I had to take a detour through Nabadwip on the north, cross the Ganga by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Setu and again drive towards South stretching it about 2 hours due to occassional congestion and condition of the road.Reaching about 4PM with cloudy sky and travel plans onward to Kolkata 100 Km odd away on a Nabami evening with a thunderstorm alert did not gave me ample breather to cherish all the temples and the details but a whirlwind tour was quite blissful due to the laid back calm atmosphere and the silent music of the brilliant architecture and terracotta sculptures.

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After negotiating serpentine alleys and lanes managed to reach the Rajbari Grounds which hosts most of the temples. It is on a tri junction rathtala(a place where a chariot is kept for annual Rathyatra Festival). On the right side is the 108 Shiva Temple or Naba Kailash Temple complex and on left is the Palatial Ground where numerous temples are located. The “108 Shib Mandir” are not terracotta temples but  unique for the architectural beauty. 108 temples are placed in two concentric circles of 74 and 34 temples and a well at the center. It was built by Maharaja Tej Chandra Bahadur in 1809 in traditional Bengali Architecture in “Atchala” style. The Lingas are either black or white.

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The Rajbari Ground consists numerous temples of different styles of architecture built in different period but in one single complex. It looks quite impressive as one enters the premises with so many beautiful structures before one’s eyes.The first one on the left is the Pratapeswar Temple. It was built in “Rekh Deul” style with curvilinear sikhara and single arched entrance in 19th century. It adorns mind boggling terracotta sculptures all along its walls which depict events from Ramayana, Puranas etc.Beside this there is a peculiar roofless “Ras Mancha” or stage.

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On the right after small Pancharatna Temples there lies the magnificent Krishna Chandraji Temple built in 1755.It is brick built and 25 Ratna with elongated chala type balcony with arched entrances and terracotta plaques on its facade.Other mentionable temples are Bijay Baidyanath Temple and Lalji Temple.Lalji Temple houses a Gobardhan Temple at a corner of its courtyard which is unique and colorful in appearance.

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Unlike Bishnupur, temples of Kalna are little known beyond the travel/history enthusiasts’ circle. Neither Beautiful Bengal nor Incredible India acknowledges or promotes it. Only on last three odd of years, things have started moving broadly due to social media outreach and initiatives by self sustained bloggers and local civic bodies.As on today, there is no tourist infrastructure apart from a toilet and a gate way. One needs to really explore the temples and without passion it might get unsuitable for mainstream tourists who expect parking spaces, accommodation, merchandise, brochures, guided tours, restaurants, gift shops etc.Be prepared for eat like a local, commute like a local and think like a local if you still interested to visit.

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