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    Thursday, May 29, 2008

    Puthia Palace, Rajshahi [May 2008]

    The City of Temples

    14 May 2008

    This was by no means my first visit to Rajshahi. But I could manage little time for sightseeing during my earlier visits. This tour was different, at least, from time availability point of view. Even though this was a visit in work purpose, I had some time to spend during the morning as my work needed me during the afternoon. As always, whenever I go on tour I try to have a look around with whatever time I have in my hand. Sometimes, even an hour’s break between work was enough for me. At Rajshahi I had the whole morning with me. So, I devised some plans that would enable me to utilise the whole morning hours.

    I knew from my previous searches that Puthia Palace is one of the bigger things in Bangladesh that I have missed so far. The place needed some time for the visit, so, with several hours in my hand, that seemed like a perfect target. Yet, I couldn’t finalise the details of my plan. Once I reached Rajshahi on the night of the 14th, I developed the plan from scratch. I looked around for the most reliable information and found that Puthia was no more than 30-45 minutes’ journey from Rajshahi City.

    On the 15th, I started early; keeping as much time in hand as possible. I had the privilege of boarding a Dhaka-bound bus from the terminal, which would be able to drop me at Puthia quicker than local buses. The bus left Rajshahi exactly at 9:00. But they had to stop at different places to pick up people. This way, they were just a wee bit slower, but I reached Puthia by 9:35AM. The exact place of arrival can confuse people who have no idea where to start. And as a matter of fact, I was totally dependent on the bus people. The place was beyond the small town of Puthia. You have to go some distance after you see the first signboards of Puthia before you can reach your destination. They dropped me at the right place. It’s some kind of bazaar-like place; quite vibrant. I took a rickshaw from there.

    Puthia Palace........142
    The visitor is greeted by the imposing sight of the Shiv Temple.......

    The short journey ended at the imposing sight of the Big Shiv Temple. The temple, in front of a water-tank, welcomes a newcomer in a grandiose manner. In one word, its big! But I knew from the searches that this place has more in it than just this building. So, I proceeded. Crossed the great Dol Temple and crossed the big field in front of it to arrive at the main building of Puthia Palace. The Palace is now being used by a college, and I’ve seen some debates about the battle for its acquisition in newspapers. The Department of Archaeology is trying hard to get this building, which is perhaps the only way these treasures can be protected in the long run. Whatever, I looked around the Palace and started taking photos. The college was closed for the day, so I had enough freedom; it was quiet.

    Puthia Palace........105
    The Dol Temple in front of the big field.........

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    The main building of Puthia Palace........

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    The great Govinda Temple.........

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    Mr. Biswanath Das has been looking after the treasures since 1977......

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    Mr. Biswanath explaining the construction and their time.........

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    Intricate terracotta details on the Govinda Temple........

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    There are ruins of more temples around the Govinda Temple......

    Once I entered through the first gate, I found that the building was in full use by the college authorities and I wouldn’t be able to get a normal look-around there because of that. Once I approached the second gate, I felt more comfortable. Inside this gate was the big Radha-Govinda Temple or Govinda Temple. I had visited Kantaji’s Temple at Dinajpur in 2006; and here, this is something that looked like a big brother of that one! The temple was beautifully decorated with terracotta. Here, I found the caretaker of the place, Biswanath Das. He’s been here since 1977! For more than 31 years he’s been looking after this place. He was more than just willing to guide me around the place. There were some others visiting the place too, but he seemed more interested to guide me rather than them. He voluntarily took me to each of the archaeological estates and explained their dates and significance in some detail. The Govinda Temple was surrounded by some ruins, which were once temples. At least two smaller temples right beside the big Govinda Temple are in complete ruin. Mr. Biswanath explained that some of these structures date back to the Mughal Empire (17th century). The main palace itself was probably built twice, once in the 17th century and then again, during the nineteenth century. The main palace building bears the date 1895, but the temples around them seem much older, which provides the suspicion that lots of things were rebuilt here. Mr. Biswanath pointed that the main building’s basement had one kind of brick and the top structure had different kind of brick. The ones at the basement having thinner bricks (perhaps Mughal period) and the ones in the main building being bigger (perhaps British period). The ruins, well, difficult to guess for a layman, but may be experts can tell their age.

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    The magnificent Anhik Temple.....

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    The terracotta on the Anhik Temple are small indeed.......

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    Guarding the treasure........

    From there, Mr. Biswanath took me to another part of the Palace that was being used as a government office. We went through the office and behind this building to see the Anhik Temple. This one seemed like the prize of the whole complex. The temple is small and its no longer used. But the terracotta on it is absolutely brilliant! This terracotta is the smallest ones I’ve even seen. They are extremely small and straightaway brings the question, “how on earth did they make it so small?” This temple is beautiful to say the least. The temple was used for everyday prayers, which formed the name of the temple.

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    The betel nut orchard marks the place of the "Shingha Dwar" or Lion Gate.....

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    The small Shiv Temple behind the non-existing Lion Gate.......

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    Stolen terracotta from the small Shiv Temple........

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    The small Shiv Temple and the small Anhik Temple side by side......

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    The small Anhik Temple is hardly standing........

    After marvelling at the Anhik Temple, Mr. Biswanath took me to the back of the main palace and we arrived in front of the Small Shiv Temple. This is a smaller version of the giant one at the front of the complex. It had a Shivalinga, which was transferred from here because of lack of security. The small temple also lost most of its terracotta plaques. Their protection is certainly in doubt. Mr. Biswanath told me that three people look after the whole complex. And I’m not sure whether they have the capability to do that properly without the help of the local population. The Small Shiv Temple had a brother beside it. It was a Small Govinda Temple. It was in almost complete ruins. The front face stands as a single wall! Its surely counting days. These two small temples are beside a betel-nut orchard. A big main gate was here before the Pakistani military destroyed it during the Liberation War of 1971. This gate was called “Shingha Dwar” or Lion Gate.

    Puthia Palace........083
    The One-quarter Estate across the Shyam Sagar.......

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    Tall trees guard the entrance to One-quarter Estate temples.......

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    The Anhik Temple of "Char Aana Estate" or One-quarter Estate......

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    Terracotta on the Anhik Temple........

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    The Govinda Temple of One-quarter Estate.......

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    The two temples of One-quarter Estate.......

    From this place, we proceeded towards the “Char-Aana Estate” or One-quarter Estate, which is actually a division of the Palace. The palace was divided among the sons and one of the divisions happened to be this one, one the western bank of the big water-tank called Shayam Sagar. We entered the temples of One-quarter Estate first. There were two old temples within this small protected area. One is yet another Govinda Temple and the other, yet another Anhik Temple. These temples are beautiful and look very similar in design to the others I’ve seen here. By this time, I started to wonder why this place didn’t come at the top list of the important archaeological sites in Bangladesh, and why on earth I came here so late! These two temples also lost some of their terracotta to theft. But overall, the temples look to be in good shape.

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    The main building of One-quarter Estate.......

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    Sad ruins of One-quarter Estate......

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    We came out of the temples and entered the eerie-looking One-quarter Estate. This place is almost on the brink of total destruction. There was an inscription above the main entrance, which mentioned the Bangla year of 1293, which was probably 1886.A.D. There used to be a smallish Shingha Dwar (Lion Gate) here too; but its lost now. Once I entered the complex, it gave me a sad feeling. I had a similar feeling when I went to Muktagachha Palace at Mymensingh early in 2007. This place is now facing a similar fate. One part of the complex was in possession of a Madrasah, which the present government forcefully took control of. The other parts are in no shape to last ten, may be even five years! Its almost as if the building was part of bomb shelter during a major war. There were big holes in the roof; the doors were all falling apart; the whole structure was about to give in in some places. There was undergrowth everywhere. I came out of the building in a melancholy mood.

    Puthia Palace........084
    The main building of Puthia Palace where I started the tour.......

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    The Dol Temple and the Shiv Temple (in the back), seen from the Palace........

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    The Dol Temple, seen from the roof of the Palace........

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    The Dol Temple, seen from the first floor of the Palace........

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    The Govinda Temple, seen from the Palace.......

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    We left the One-quarter Estate to complete the tour. We arrived at where we started, the main palace. We took permission from the college authorities to climb the Palace roof. From there it was possible to get a panoramic view of the whole area. Behind was the Govinda Temple and in front were the two giants, the Big Shiv Temple and the Dol Temple across the field. The roof of the Palace contained some designs that hardly existed; some of the statues lost their heads even. After coming down from the roof, I realised how much time has elapsed. I still had the Big Shiv Temple to cover. So, we crossed the Dol Temple, taking some photographs on the way, and arrived at the main guardian of the whole complex, the Big Shiv Temple.

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    Inside the Dol Temple........

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    The top of the Shiv Temple, seen from the base of the Dol Temple.....

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    The imposing Shiv Temple.......

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    The top of the Shiv Temple.......

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    Pillars of the Shiv Temple are full of designs.......

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    The massive Shivalinga of the Shiv Temple......

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    The inside of the Shiv Temple dome......

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    The water-tank at the back of the Shiv Temple........

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    The stairway connecting the Shiv Temple to the water-tank ........

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    The Shiv Temple, seen from the Rath Temple.......

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    The Rath Temple, seen from the big Shiv Temple.......

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    The Shiv Temple and the Rath Temple........

    Did I say that its imposing? This big structure is imposing enough to prevent most visitors from visiting the other gems lying in the back. The Shiv Temple is on a high platform. You have to cross a bunch of stairs before you arrive at the temple. The pillars are big and decorated. The top of the temple is full of small designs and domes. The inside of the temple is blessed by a massive Shivalinga of black stone. Mr. Bishwanath claimed that this is the largest of this kind in Asia! Well, I can’t confirm this, but I can tell that its big! He also let me photograph the inside of the temple, which he didn’t allow others. Aside the Shiv Temple, there is another smaller temple. This is probably called the Rath Temple. The deity of Govinda was probably transferred from the original temple to this site during Rath Jatra (Festival of Chariots). But I haven’t been able to confirm this yet. The Shiv Temple stands on a big water-tank, which is on its north side. The temple has access to the tank through a well-designed ‘ghat’.

    After some time walking around the Shiv Temple, I thought it was time to call it a day. It was already 12:25PM. I had been here for almost three hours. And Mr. Bishwanath had been with me all this time. It never seemed to me that he was with me for any kind of benefits. He guided me voluntarily. He seemed proud to do what he does. And I couldn’t have gone through a proper visit of the place unless he helped me out. It was a ‘thank you’ note that severed this three-hour relationship with this old man. I promised to do my best for the promotion and proper protection of this place. That’s the least I could do for this magnificent place.

    The return journey to Rajshahi didn’t give me pain, as I could catch a bus almost straightaway from the same place where I arrived in the morning. The local bus journey wasn’t too boring though. They dropped me in the city centre by 1:35PM. It was time to freshen up and get back to work. But I sure felt satisfied that I don’t have to visit any more places before this gem.

    10 comments:

    1. Posthumous and articulate works there Sharif bhai...you never cease to amaze me.

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    2. Amazing colors and a great catch.The buildings induce thoughts of days gone by. Interesting architecture also. very weldone Sharif bhai.

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    3. thanks a lot, Nasser and Shawon Da!!...... highly apprecuate this!

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    4. Awesome. Thanks for sharing these great photos...watching your photos, I can not wait to visit this place.

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    5. Beautiful collection & record of Bengal's heritage. Nice story telling too. Hope to see more

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    6. Dear friend ,

      We know each other since we met on the web pages of flickr.

      I have worked on terracotta temples of Bengal since January,2007, when I retired and decided to work in areas other than Power Plant projects where I worked for 39+ years.

      I have visited temples @ Hooghly and Bankura districts of WB and have intention of visiting BD in the winter of 2009/10 , which is 18/19 months away.This winter, I plan to visit temples in Birbhum and Medinipur districts of WB and therefore, BD visit has been planned during the winter after next.

      I am presently going through the book of Zulekha Haque on terracotta temples and also have come across two excellent books on Kantaji's temple published from BD.

      During this phase of my life , I have come across persons , young and not so young, who are interested various aspects of these old temples of Bengal , e.g., history,architecture etc.

      Presently,I am focusing on Iconography of the terra cotta panels and later would like to delve into 'appreciation of arts' aspect.That will require a lot of reading and much better detailed photographs that I have taken during the last winter.I shall appreciate if, in spite of your busy schedule, keep contact with me.

      I shall invite you and the readers of this 'comment' to go through :
      1.http://shyamalchatterji.googlepages.com/terracottatemplesofbengal
      2.My 'hubs'on terracotta temples in hubpages.com , where my ID is 'shyamchat'.

      I have got about 400 photos in my HDD, 6 .ppt files on Iconography and good amount of notes.

      Anyone who shares similar interest may please contact me through flickrmail,where I am registered as 'cshyamal' or through hubpages.

      Best wishes.

      Shyamal Chatterji
      Calcutta

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    7. Dear Sharifbhai,

      I enjoyed your blog .Niche tourism...in the background of one's own cultural history.... is becoming more important.

      Do you know people who are actively engaged in this area, specially terra cotta temples of Bengal ?

      Best wishes.

      Shyamal Chatterji

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    8. thank you all for the nice comments!!...... extremely encouraging.......

      Shyamal Da, I don't specialise in this area; so, haven't really looked for any person specialised in this area...... but if I do find anyone, I'll certainly let you know.....

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    9. MONWAR SHAHRIAR ,LONDONApril 28, 2010 at 5:21 AM

      EXCELLENT PRESENTATION ABOUT PUTHIA
      MANY THANKS

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    10. Great Photos, Lots of information, Supper presentation & simply awesome!... Want more large/medium size photos.

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