Since charming Chinsurah is just a stroll away from where we live, it has been a frequent destination for us. It was another winter morning. With an extra bit of sunshine on our sleeves we started off for Shondeswar Shiva Temple located at Shondeswartala, Chinsurah.
From Howrah Station board a Bandel Local or a Bardhaman Local (main) and get down at Chinsurah Station. Buses, autos, totos, and rickshaws are abundant at the station. There are loads of spots to explore around Chinsurah. After so many visits we still haven’t seen half of them.
Meanwhile, we were pacing through narrow lanes and peaceful neighbourhoods on a toto. Some of the houses seemed quite ancient with creepers reaching up to the terraces and the moldy walls showing traces of neatly arranged tiny bricks of olden times. After a couple of minutes we found a beautiful pink arched entry gate to the temple complex at an opening between two houses.
For a proper idea, one can call it a temple complex because there is a concourse of little temples alongside the main temple. But this area is not very wide like usual temple complexes we are familiar with.
Shondeswar means the deity of bulls. It is another name for Lord Shiva. The name originated from the story of Nandi who is represented as a white bull in Hindu mythology and who is the primary attendant of Lord Shiva.
Apart from the Shondeswar Shiva Temple, there is a Bhairav Nath Temple right beside it. Just at the opposite side of Shondeswar Temple there is a Siddheswari Temple. Two other temples include Krishna Rai Temple and Yogaddya Temple. They are adjacent to each other and form a circle around a quaint courtyard.
There are all kinds of legends about Shondeswar Shiva here. The most famous one is that around 16th century this entire place was part of a dense jungle. There was a fishermen’s village near the area. One day while they were busy fishing, they found a Shiva Linga from the banks of river Hooghly. Digambar Halder was a Brahmin landlord who had a dream about the incident. Immediately, he came here to search for the Shiva Linga. After receiving it from the fishermen he built this marmoreal temple after a long and tiring attempt to clear the jungle with the help of his two sons.
A copper plate was also retrieved from the river that throws light on the antiquity of the Shiva Linga. It says the Shiva was the “Kuldevta” of Pippali dynasty of ancient Magadh. The copper plate is now kept at Bharat Kala Bhaban of Benares Hindu University.
Every year during “Gajan” on “Chaitra Samkranti” the mood of celebration here reaches its peak. There is another tale surrounding this place. In 1803, the Dutch governor of Chinsurah was J. N. Birch. He passed an order forbidding the use of “Dhaak” in Gajan celebrations. He claimed if any of the sadhus could jump on a spear and come out unscathed, he would discard his order. Otherwise, he would throw away the Shiva Linga in the river. Miraculously, when the sadhu jumped on the spear; it broke into pieces but the sadhu was unhurt. This led to Birch’s removal of the previous order. He gave away a bronze “Panchamukhi” Shiva Linga and a “Dhaak” made of brass as offerings to the temple. The last Dutch governor Daniel Overbeek contributed another brass “Dhaak” to the list. Playing music on those brass “Dhaaks” is an essential gesture that is performed during the “Gajan” festival here. It is the only time that they are publicly displayed.
The ghat behind the temple is named after the deity. The Shondeswartala ghat is complete with a wide and extended boulevard decorated with occasional lampposts. There were a few temples scattered around here. The atmosphere around the riverside was soothing. Despite the all-pervading midday scorch, we sat down there for a while just to enjoy the scenery.
Shondeswar is one of the many interesting and popular folk deities we can find in every nook and cranny of Bengal. To experience the spiritual sublimity of Shondeswar Shiva and to indulge into the quaintness of a tranquil neighbourhood you must include this place in your itinerary when you come to Chinsurah.