Today I plan to visit Ambika Kalna, famous for its terracotta temples built during the 18th century. That’s why I took a brisk bath, had my breakfast and went to Ambika Kalna. Last night was comfortably spent in Itachuna Rajbari; hence I decided to explore the surrounding areas.
It’s a 45min drive to Kalna from the Rajbari. And the weather was humid with no mark of a gentle wind. Speaking of Ambika Kalna, the first reference to Ambika Kalna can be found in a 6th-century text. It is known under the name of Kubjika Tantra. Even though I did not know about this place. But my mother has enlightened me on history and its existence. Ambika Kalna was once a flourishing port town in Bengal as it was a frontier town in the kingdom of Tamralipta during the seventh century AD.
In those days, a naval base was established in the city during the reign of Shashanka. Above all, the city’s history dates back to the Gupta dynasty. It reigned between the 3rd and 5th centuries AD. Kalna reached its peak in the late 18th century. It was under Maharaja Tej Chandra Bahadur’s patronage – Maharajas of Bardhaman, who wanted to build temples there.
But there was an unusual dilemma with no stone available in the area, that would suit building with intricate work. Therefore, the terracotta architectural style came into the picture. The craftsmen found a unique solution. They first made a pattern out of baked bricks that were widely available in the area. Then they made tiles with various images of old Hindu mythological episodes, including the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, erotic and hunting scenes depicted outside the temples. Quite Interesting!
The history is elaborate of this spot. Kalna is located on the western bank of the Bhagirathi River, clinging to its glorious past. The clay carvings of Kalna are part of the Kalna Rajbari. In addition, some of the notable are the temple of Pratapeshwar, the Rasmancha, the temple of Lalji, the temple of Vijay Vidyanath, and the temple of Krishnachandraji.
Other important attractions are Nava Kailash or 108 Shiv Mandirs. We began our visit with it; built-in 1809 in two concentric circles resembling the 108 beads in a rosary – Mala Ke 108 Manke in Hindi. One includes 74 temples, while another has 34. The first circle contains black marble Shiva Lingas. While the second contains Shiva Lingas white marble. The outer ring depicts the world in which we live. And that has both good and evil. In contrast, the inner circle symbolizes the world with pure thoughts. And its meditation and devotion to Lord Shiva.
Thanks to its intelligent planning, all Shiva Lingas can be seen from the temple complex’s centre. Its a beautiful and excellent architectural example of its era. The only question I had was why 108 temples were built? Why no, fewer or more? My mum had a response – 1 is Oneness with the universe; 0 is nothingness, and 8 turned to its infinity or all-encompassing side. And if we add them all together with its number 9 which is the limit for all numbers. Thus, 108 according to astronomy, numerology and mythology are auspicious.
Next, we moved to the Pratapeshwara temple is the smallest and most ornate. It is the first temple that I passed through. I entered the other side of the Rajbari complex. This temple is named after King Pratap Chand. And was built by the widow of Raja Pratap Chand in memory of her husband in 1849 AD.
The style of construction is Rekha Prasad (Rekha Deula). In addition to a single Sikhara and square to the base where the walls curved inwards. And the filigree work on the door is incredible. The rich terracotta ornaments adorn its four faces with scenes of everyday life, and mythological figures made of burned red brick panels – the most remarkable is the Mahishasur Mardini.
Further on was the Ras Manch, one of the main attractions, and it is illuminated every evening. The Manch is a hexagonal structure. Along with eight open doors in arc housed in a larger hexagon without a roof; along with 24 open doors arches as a theatrical stage. The deities or Jiu by Lalji Jiu and Madan Gopal Jiu from Gopalbari were set up during the Ras festival. The interior structure has a domed pinnacle with two sections. However, this structure did have a roof that collapsed.
We then entered the Lalji Mandir that had been built in 1739 by Rani Brojo Kishori. And the architecture is different in style -finely detailed.nd excels in working with limestone stucco. It is a three-storey structure with 25 bell towers. And the eaves on each floor are decorated with exotic floral motifs and bird figures. However, his exterior walls have plates with varied designs. This temple is the most ancient of the whole.
Before entering the Krishnachandra, there is this Pancha Ratna temple. Five Atchala temples rise in rows on an elevated platform. Very little is known of them, but they were built in the 19th century.
There are many temples in the complex. So we proceeded to the temple of Krishnachandra. It is equally impressive in the structure as the temple of Lalji. As Lalji there is also a small Ekchala style Mandap (popularly known as Jagamohan) with a triple entry on its frontal side. It takes in the spire distributed in 12+8+4+1 types. Raja Trilokchand built the temple. In the loving memory of his mother Lakshmikumari Devi from 1751 to 1752 AD. The principal divinity of this shrine is Krishnachandra and Radha.
The incredible work of limestone stucco entirely decorates Krishna Chandraji’s temple. And there are beautifully conserved terracotta panels richly decorated-indeed a visual pleasure. Towards the far end of the temple is a porch with three arches with vast geometric forms and scenes from the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana.
And the last stop was the Vijay Vaidyanath temple. A mid-size Atchala-style temple located behind the Krishna Chandra temple. Above all King Trilokchand built the shrine to fulfil his mother’s wish. As his mother prayed to Shiva to have a son and, after fulfilling her vow, later asked Trilokchand to build this temple. The temple has some terracotta construction on its front side only.
Walking within the complex, I noticed that the Bengal architecture has some European influence too. Since most structures were curved inwardly. But spanned by a shallow vault and ceilinged later flat. Even the porch resting on two or more pilasters was replaced by pilaster grouped with a semi-circular arch. And the facades were designed as Chala and Ratna with terra cotta plaster decoration.
As time went by, these temples lost their traditional, character and became a brick room. Above all the terracotta architecture, temples, which exposes the past glory of Kalna has lost its charm. And it is a pity that Kalna is not even included in the tourist map of Bengal. All that’s left is neglected and untreated. Looking back at the ruins that remained in the complex, I recalled Jalal Uddin Rumi’s lines-“Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.”
How to Reach
The nearest airport is Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose airport. From the airport, you can book a direct cab to Kalna. And can book till Howrah railway station, then take a train.
The station at Ambika Kalna is one of the main stations. And trains from Howrah, Puri, Kolkata, Malda and numerous other Indian towns stop at the train station.
Ambika Kalna is well connected to towns in southern Bengal by road. And South Bengal State Transport Corporation (SBSTC), as well as private buses, are available. And the central bus station lies on the STKK road. Upon reaching Kolkata, you can drive, book cab or avail bus services.