Sisir brings alive the magic and mystery of Guptipara. Here God played hide and seek with his devotee, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He unfolds the story of a village situated in the confluence of history, mystery and myths. Here’s an in-depth report.
Villages and towns flowing in time, along the river banks, have countless stories woven in their rich tapestry of life. There is a place called Guptipara, on the opposite shore of Shantipur, by the River Hoogly. Cozily nestled between Hoogly, Bardwan and Nadia districts, this little hamlet is a confluence of history, mystery and myths.
The name Guptipara has numerous stories about its origin. The word gupto means hidden or secretive, and para means hamlet or village in Bengali. Folklores have been attributed to these two words or the name of the village. According to an educationist and writer, Dr. Prafulla Kumar Paan, in his Bengali book Guptiparae Sree Sree Bindrabon Chandra Jeur Abhirbhab o Rath Jatra (The Manifestation of Sree Sree Brindabon and Rath Yatra in Guptipara), the place got its name because of its natural landscape. As the village was well hidden (gupto) amongst thick foliage it was called Guptipara. Another source says that the place got its name from Guptopalli, a village mentioned in a historical treaty in 760 AD.
There is a little mythical folklore, a part of the rich oral tradition of this place. Prankster Lord Krishna played hide and seek with his devotee. He appeared secretively (gupto) to Sri Chaitanya Dev when the great seer was ridiculed by the villagers. A more dramatic version talks about a secret (gupto) chamber in the temple. In this secret place the idol of Sree Sree Brindabon Chandra (ruling deity, another name of Lord Krishna) was hidden during a Mogul raid, and hence the name Guptipara.
Historically, Guptipara was an education centre. The locality was the hub of Sanskrit education during the medieval ages. Eighty tols (primary schools) were recorded to be here during the British period.
This place has a huge temple complex, which boasts of terracotta architecture and excellent frescos. According to Dr. Paan there is a story behind the building of the first temple of Brindabon Chandra. A Brahmin lived on the opposite bank, Shantipur. He found the idol of Brindabon Chandra (Krishna) emitting a blue glow in the river Hoogly, while he was bathing. He brought it home and prayed and performed his regular puja. In spite of his devotion he saw Brindabon Chandra in his dreams, time and again. The Lord instructed him in an oracle to send the idol to a Brahmin, by the name of Satyadev Saraswati, in Guptipara. Disheartened the Brahmin left home and hearth. His devout wife performed all rituals and worships for the idol after her husband’s departure. In few years, Satyadev Saraswati saw similar dreams of Bindabon Chandra. He received an oracle from the God to go to Shantipur and bring the idol from Shantipur. He retrieved the idol and brought it to Guptipara and established it with great devotion.
It is said that during the rule of Alibardi Khan, the Nawab noticed a discrepancy in the tax payments of a huge plot of land under the name of Brindabon Chandra. He ordered the defaulter to appear in court. Worried about taking the Hindu idol to a Muslim ruler’s court, the people made a duplicate of the idol and presented it in court. The king realised his mistake and abolished the tax on that tract of land.
One of Satyadev Saraswati’s disciples, Bishwar Rai, an affluent Ayurvedic doctor, donated his entire property for the construction of the temple of Brindabon Chandra. The temple area was named Krisna Bati. Another account states that the sixty feet high temple was constructed, in 1807, by Zamidar Gyannaryan Sarkar. The temple did not have a Sree Radha idol then. It is a later addition and may be seen now. Devotees donated immense wealth to the temple that is Jagrat (vibrantly alive). To this day people believe that all wishes and prayers are granted here.
The temple has a mystical power, almost magical, to convert disbelievers into believers. This athchala (eight sloped roof) temple, with three definite pinnacles on the top dominates the center of the temple complex in Guptipara. The austere façade of the temple is compensated by its reach fresco painting in the inner sanctum and the portico. The local folklore is that behind the fresco paintings of Brahma and Saraswati in the temple, the idol of Brindaban Chandra was hidden, during the raid. In the same temple complex, just behind the idol of Brindaban Chandra are the three idols of Lord Jaganath, Subhadra and Balabhadra. These idols are taken out during the Rath Yatra. The eight pinnacled rath (chariot) is kept behind the temple.
Gupitpara is one of the important Vaishnav centers. The Rath Yatra is celebrated with much gaiety and festivity. During the Rath Yatra day, the chariot is decorated with colorful flags and wooden statues. Ropes are tied in front to pull it and one rope, tied behind is used as brake. Legend says that Lord Jaganath falls ill and has fever and to recuperate he goes to his Masi’s (maternal aunt’s) home. This travel is celebrated as the Rath Yatra. Colourful and festive fair are lined up, along the path Lord Jaganath takes.
After the seventh day, Lord Jaganath refuses to return home. A very interesting ritual follows. It is called the Bhandar Loot (loot of food). Delicious food is placed in front of the Lord and the temple doors are kept open. People are encouraged to steal the food. This leaves no food for Lord Jaganath. He is upset and he returns home. The journey back home is called the Ulta Rath (Retreating Chariot). The distance traveled from the temple to Mashi’s house is said to be very long, second only to that of Puri.
All the temples in this complex are built on an elevated platform and have terracotta works, some more, some less. On the left of the main temple is the Krishnachandra Temple, built in 1755, with the charchala (four sided roof) style on a seven feet high platform. This one of the most elaborated form of structures among the all the temples in that area. The original idol of ashta dhatu (alloy of eight metals) was stolen. Now, a new idol is in its place.
The temple across the complex is the Ramchandra Temple. It is built with a single pinnacle and houses yellow colored idols of Sri Ram and Laxman. The temple is rich with terracotta workmanship. Scenes from the Ramayana and daily lives are depicted in the artwork. It is a single storied structure with eight torrents built during the 19th century by Harish Chandra Roy of Seoraphulli.
Nestled between the Brindabon Chandro Temple and the Krishnachandra Temple is the Chaitanya Temple. It is the smallest of all temples. It has a two thatched roof structure. It is considered to be one among the oldest Bengal style structures. Time has taken its toll on this temple. Built by Raja Bisheswar Roy, this temple is dedicated to Sri Chaitanya and Sri Nityananda Mahaprabhu.
Halfway, on the path taken by the Rath, during the Rath Yatra, is the Desh Kali Mandir. Its main attraction is the huge network formed by an ancient banyan tree. The main temple has been built fairly recently. It is a concrete structure and has none of its original rusticity. Few small idols punctuate the area within. This temple is believed to be more than five hundred years old. Its uniqueness is that it does not have any idol in it. A wooden frame is draped in a saree and adorned with ornaments. It is worshipped every day. It is said to have been built by dacoits, who buried five skulls below the temple. This temple has many devotees travelling from afar to have their prayers answered. Devotees tie a little rocks or pieces of bricks with rope to the metal rails, symbolising their wishes to be granted by Goddess Kali. During the Kali puja night, it is said that an unbaked idol is built that very night and worshipped. It is immersed in the Hoogly River, early in the morning.
Guptipara is also famous for coining a new word in the Bengali language. Either in 1761 or 1790, according to different sources, some men were barred from taking part in a private puja. Twelve of them decided to start their own puja. Hence they started the Barowari Puja (baro means twelve and yari means friends or bari means house). The first Barowari Jagadhatri Puja took place in Guptipara and is celebrated with great festivity. To commemorate the incident, Satish Chandra Sen built a concrete structure, where each year Jagadhatri Puja is celebrated as a community program. Unfortunately there is no definite record that would state the date when the word Barowari was incorporated in the Bengali dictionary. The location of this Puja place is situated along a pathway into the village, off the Desh Kali Mandir.
Today, Guptipara boasts of engineering colleges and various other modern learning centers. Electric trains have replaced steam engines and trains of yonder years, chugging leisurely. A walk through history entwined with marvelous stories and modern amenities is the present Guptipara. The ancient, medieval and the modern survive in perfect harmony, in perfect continuum.
Pix by author (As told to Anumita Chatterjee Roy)
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