It occurred to me during this particular trip that our group was inclined to experiencing spiritual hotspots more than anything else. Maybe that is because of the majority of elderly people in it. Nevertheless, we were always amazed at the structures and histories of those places apart from their spiritual sublimity. This time our journey took us to four places; Banshberia Hangseshwari Temple, Bandel Church, Hooghly Imambara, and Debanandapur.
We hired a car and embarked on a day-long trip. You can board a Katwa Local from Howrah Station and get down at Banshberia Station. From there you can get a rickshaw or a toto to the temple complex.
As Howrah-Katwa trains are very few in numbers, you can also opt for alternative routes. Take a Bandel Local to Bandel Station and from there take the Katwa Local. Banshberia is next to Bandel, at a 4 km distance. Otherwise, take a Bandel or Bardhaman Local (main) to Chinsurah Station and there you can get direct buses that will take you straight to Banshberia.
Bangshabati was one of the settlements amongst “Adi Saptagram”. The name eventually became Banshberia. Heading towards the temple complex, we passed under an ancient brick structure. Presumably an entrance, it was designed like an overhead bridge with a “Nahabat Khana” on top.
One of the main attractions of Banshberia temple complex is the beautiful terracotta temple of “Ananta Vasudeva”. This temple is a pure delight to the beholder. When we stepped inside, barefooted, the gentle coolness coming from the age-old stone steps induced a peaceful heavenly vibe. This temple was founded by Rameshwar Dutta Roy in 1679.
“Ananta Vasudeva” temple is basically a Vishnu temple. Located upon a high foundation stone, this temple is of “Ekratna” style. It has “Trikhilan” structures on the Northern, Southern, and Eastern sides. The cusp of the temple is octagonal. The walls are adorned with intricate terracotta frescos. The subject matters range from dancers and musicians to “Yajna” ceremonies, and from naval warfare to “Dashavatar” sculptures. This temple is now under the maintenance of The Archaeological Survey of India.
Rameshwar Dutta Roy was the patriarch of Banshberia Royal Family. In the bloodline, the fourth generation heir was Raja Nrisinghadeb. All though Raja Nrisinghadeb was a landlord, he experienced a drastic change of mind after his visit to Kashi in 1791 where he learned about Tantra and Yog Shastra from the sages. After his return, he had lost all his fascination with wealth and earthly delights. And that is when he started the process of building Hangseshwari Temple in 1802. The temple is named after his deceased mother, Rajmata Hangseshwari Debi. During the construction of the temple, Raja Nrisinghadeb breathed his last. His wife Rani Shankari Debi shouldered the responsibility henceforth and completed the temple in 1814.
The temple has thirteen cusps in total in the shape of halfway opened lotus flowers and reaches 70 feet in height. Raja Nrisinghadeb went to Chunar to bring back bricks and stones by boats in order to build this temple. Meanwhile, masons from Jaipur were appointed. This five storied temple is inspired by the structure of an astral body of a human as described in Tantric scriptures. The five stories signify the five “Nadi(s)” namely “Ida”, “Pingala”, “Vajraksha”, “Shushumna”, and “Chitrinee”. Devi Hangseshwari herself is the embodiment of the “Kulakundalini”.
The idol is carved out of Neem wood, has four hands and is blue in colour; similar to Goddess Kali. Devi Hangseshwari is seated upon a lotus emerged from the navel of Lord Shiva. This whole effigy structure is on top of a “Panchamundi Asana”. There are all together fourteen idols of Lord Shiva inside the temple. It takes some time for a new visitor to assimilate the uniqueness and appreciate the sheer beauty of it.
The temple remains open from 6 in the morning to 12:30 in the afternoon and from 4 p.m to 6:30 in the evening. For “Prasad”, you have to purchase coupons before 10 a.m. They start the distribution from 12:45 in the afternoon.
There are some nice and cosy tea-stalls, roadside fast food stalls and an ample amount of sweet shops around. We had food and water with us as usual. But couldn’t resist the craving for a hot cuppa anyway.
While we were taking the way out to reach our car parked at a distance, we chanced upon the original “Rajbari” on one side. It has now been reduced to a mere caricature of what it was in the glorious past. We rode along towards our next destination, silently treasuring the tales of a “Yogi Raja” who resided there…a long time ago.