Ambika Kalna gets its name from an ancient Kali temple. A quaint township on the banks of Bhagarathi River, it is known for its many temples. Sisir uncovers its history. The 108 Shiv temples in two concentric circles of 74 shrines (outer circle) and 34 shrines (inner circle), built around a well in the center is an architectural marvel. It reveals mathematical precision. All the Shiv Lingas are visible if a person stands and turns slowly, standing near the well. Its terracotta temple is captivating.
History has evidence that most civilisations originate and thrive on river banks. Amibka Kalna or Kalna, was such a city founded at the banks of Bhagirathi River, one of the headstreams of the Ganges. It is located in Bhardhawan district of West Bengal. The establishment attained its name due to the worship of Goddess Kali.
The name of this settlement was first found in the ancient scriptures during the 6 th century AD, when it enjoyed a maritime splendor. The maritime did not last long, but Kalna gained fame during the 18 th century, under the Bardhawan rulers. They commissioned the building of several temples with detailed terracotta ornamentation. Kalna, a township, about 82kms, from Kolkata, boasts of intricate terracotta temples, which might be compared to those of Bishnupur.
Ambika Kalna’s main attraction is the Rajbari complex. It has the greatest concentration of temples. The prominent one is the 108 Shiv Temple (Eksho Aath ta Shib Mondir) or also known as the Nabo Kailash Shiv Mondir. This was built under the tutelage of Bardhawan Maharaja Tej Chandra Bahadur, in 1809. This is not one single temple, rather a series of small shrines, dedicated to Lord Shiva, built in two concentric circles. All the small shrines are aath chala mondirs (eight sided roofed temple), which slope outwards and downwards from a pointed center. The outer circle consists of seventy-four black coloured Shiv Linga temples. While the inner circle consists of thirty-four white Shiv Linga Temples. They represent the sins and the boons in life, in other words the colours symbolise the inner and outer conscience of a human being. One must overcome their sins, as the outer layer to reach the blessing of one’s life, as the inner circle. These little shires are arranged like the Japh Mala (rosary beads). Both the circles are spread out by well manicured lawn and garden. At the center of the circles is a huge well, from which water is drawn and then poured on the different Shiv Lingas in all the shrines. If a person stand at the well and turn slowly around, then that person will be able to see all the Shiv Lings of these shines. Its geometric architecture is fabulous and flawless.
Across the road is the outstanding structure of the Pratapeshwar Temple. It was named after King Pratap Chand. It was built in the year 1849, with spire style roof also called the Rekh-deul style of temple architecture. This temple has intricate designs in terracotta, depicting stories and scenes from Hindu mythology, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
The Lalaji Mandir and Krishnachandra Mandir are other two important architectures. The structures have twenty-five pinnacles (Panchavimsatiratna).The Lalaji Mandir was built in 1739 by Braja Kishori Devi, the wife of Maharaja Jagat Ram. This temple houses the deities of Radha and Krishna with Gauruda facing them. The Krishnachandra Mandir was built in 1751-55. The whole complex houses various other structures, which have few variations in their architectural built.
Kalna named after Goddess Kali has an ancient Kali Temple called the Siddheswari Kali Mandir. It was built in the year 1668. It was established by Rishi Amburish. The original temple did not house an idol. Instead, there was a painting of the goddess on an earthen pot (Ghot). Today, that very pot is stuck to a stone winnowing tray (Kulo). Now the temple has a magnificent idol made of wood of an uncut Indian Lilac (Neem) tree bark. During the olden days, human sacrifice used to be a part of the rituals. But in the present, it is toned down to slicing of vegetables such as gourds or pumpkins and animals such as he-goat or ram. During the period from mid-October to mid-November is the month of Kartik in the Bengali calendar. Goddess Kali is worshipped with much fanfare during the new moon of this month.
Ambika Kalna, a small township not far from the bustling city of Kolkata, is an important Hindu pilgrimage. It is replete with tales and folklore and is a rich storehouse of history.
©Sisir Kr. Chatterjee
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