The tea stalls at the station were just about to start their morning business. The air was filled with fume, rising from the sooty ovens, mixed with the thin layer of fog stooping over the railway tracks. It was a typical early winter morning when we took the train to Kalna.
You can board a Katwa Local from Howrah Station and get down at Ambika Kalna Station. As Howrah-Katwa trains are few in numbers, you can take a Bandel Local to Bandel Station and from there take a Katwa Local to Kalna.
There’s an auto stand right outside Kalna Station. An auto for a day will work fine. The drivers are helpful enough. They are well aware and will cater to you all the interesting spots that you are going to enjoy. And a day-long reserved auto trip will certainly be budget friendly.
Before we could hunt for an auto, the smell of fresh milk- tea from a nearby stall compelled us to go ahead and have a cuppa break. All sorted, we booked ourselves an auto and were ready to have a gala time.
Ambika Kalna, or solely, Kalna is a municipal town located under Purba Bardhaman district right beside the river Bhagirathi. The Rajbari ground in the middle of the town is teeming with gorgeous terracotta temples built by the royals of Bardhaman Dynasty.
We started off from the two temple complexes facing each other, first one occupied by 108 Shiva temples together called Nava Kailasha Temple, while the second one replete with numerous other temples of disparate and stunning architecture.
The 108 “Aatchala” styled Shiva temples are designed like two concentric circles with 74 temples for the outer layer and 34 for the inner layer. They were built around 1809 at the time of Maharaja Tejchandra. The Shiva Lingas of the outer circle are made of blackstone and white marble in an alternating manner. However, in stark contrast, the Shiva Lingas of the inner circle are all made of white marble. The whole structure features the definite shape of a lotus in full bloom if observed from up above. It is also said that the design was planned like a Rudraksh Rosary.
Here’s something for the sake of a trivia. There is actually a 109th temple just outside the main perimeter — the Jaleswar Temple with a “Pancharatna” styled structure. It was primarily designed like the locket of the Rosary.
Just at the opposite side of the Nava Kailasha Temple complex, there is the Rajbari temple complex with a number of distinctly crafted temples. The first one that asks for your attention right away is the Pratapeswar Temple built in 1849. It is a memorial temple designed like a “Rekha Deul” dedicated to Maharaja Pratapchand by his wife Rani Pyarikumari Devi. Some of its exquisite terracotta panels offer mythological tales from Ramayana, Raasleela, and other artistic portrayals of violin players, soldiers, and even mermaids.
Adjacent to the Pratapeswar Temple, there is a magnificent roofless brick- built Raasmancha. During the Kalna Tourism Festival, the structure is illuminated with attractive and colourful lighting arrangements after dark.
Turning towards the eastern side of the complex, we found Krishna Chandraji Temple built in 1751, almost a century before the Pratapeswar Temple. It was built by Rajmata Lakshmikumari Devi, mother of Maharaja Trilokchandra. Standing on top of a foundation stone, this majestic temple is three storied and has 25 cusps in total. There is a Radha Krishna idol inside the”Garbhagriha” accompanied by a group of Gopinis. The terracotta frescos are beautiful especially the “Kalpalata” which is a detailed sculpture of a creeper with designs of leaves, wild animals and human figurines intertwined with each other. But they were in a somewhat poor shape due to lack of maintenance.
A few structures scattered around the Krishna Chandraji Temple included five “Aatchala” styled temples together identified as “Pancha Ratna” ( not to be confused with “Pancharatna” temple style ) , smooth surfaced Vijay Vaidyanath Temple, and a flat terraced Rupeswar Temple.
Cut to the inner sanctum of the complex… And we were mesmerized by the carvings at the archway leading us to another set of temples. Lalji Temple is the oldest amongst all the temples around here. Complete with a “Natmandir”, this “Panchabimshatiratna” styled temple is said to have been built in 1739 during Rajmata Brajakishari Devi’s journey to Vrindavan. It houses an ornate Radha Gobinda idol inside. Right in front of this temple there is the gigantic Giri Govardhana Temple.
The temple ground is surrounded by well maintained gardens, occasionally hedged with vibrant flowerbeds. Our trip around the place was fulfilling.
After that we turned towards a site that had a very important part to play in the mise en scène of the naming of Ambika Kalna. It is the Siddheswari Temple which houses Devi Ambika, the deity from whom the place got its name. The year in which it was built could not be determined. However, in 1739, Maharaja Chitrasen Rai restored the temple for the first time.
Devi Ambika is an embodiment of Devi Kali. The terracotta sculptures nowadays cannot be seen properly because of the bright colours used on the walls during recent renovation works. There are five Shiva temples surrounding the main temple built around 18th century.
Near the Siddheswari Temple there are two beautiful temples crafted with skillful artistry. One is the Ananta Vasudeva Temple built in 1754 by Maharaja Trilokchandra. The idol of Vishnu here is made of black basalt stone and is amazing to look at. This temple is renovated. Painting made the terracotta frescos unrecognizable. The other one is the Gopaljiu Temple at Gopalbari, another 25 cusped terracotta temple of Kalna. It houses an ancient wooden Rath that is used during Rathayatra festival.
There is also another temple of Devi Bhabani built by famous sage Vaba Pagla in Kalna. Near that temple we found a place called Gouranga Bari or Gour Nitai Mandir where we fortunately found some traveller’s delights including a bunch of manuscripts written by Shri Chaitanya himself and an oar that he used in a boat to reach Kalna.
Another impressive spot was the house where Vaishnava Acharya Shri Vagaban Das resided and continued with his Sadhana — the Nambramha house. Rumour has it that he was unable to walk down to the river for “Ganga Snan” due to his old age and deteriorating health. At that time, Ganga herself manifested through a narrow tunnel inside his house. People call it “Patal Ganga” in compliance with the story till today.
After that, we spent some time at the Pathuria Mahal Ghat, a bathing ghat previously used as a Ferry Ghat. Before our departure towards the Kalna bus stop, we ventured to Jagannath Bari. We spent a couple of minutes there contemplating over the terracotta temples built by Chandkumari Devi and Indukumari Devi, the two wives of Maharaja Chitrasen Rai. It was unfortunate to see them in such a dilapidated condition.
Perhaps the best part was waiting for us in the last segment of our trip. We were already done with the auto ride and sightseeing. We left the auto at the Kalna bus stop. Immediately after that, we embarked on a search operation for a nice hotel to have lunch.
Just a few paces from the place, we found the Priyadarshini Hotel and Restaurant. “Nice name to begin with in the first place..!”, we thought. It was decorated from tip to toe. We happily entered. At the reception we came to know that we were invading someone’s marriage ceremony because they had booked the whole hotel for the day.
But as we all know, where there’s a will there’s a way. And so after a few attempts to convince the hotel authority if they could arrange a lunch somehow, the father of the bride intervened our conversation. We were ready to pay double the usual amount. But we were readily invited by the family to have what they had arranged for themselves. We paid for the lunch no doubt but the sweet experience that we garnered that day was something priceless.
The beautiful images of kaleidoscopic Kalna were resonating through our minds all the way to the station. Thus contented and exhausted we came back home with memories worth a lifetime.