Pathra : a unique story
Pathra : A unique story
Religion means many things to many persons. To the majority, it is the way to reach God. But at the same time, religion is the greatest divider of mankind. History will testify that till date, maximum number of violence by men to other men occurred in the name of religion. Countless men were killed, tortured, silenced & persecuted in the name of religion, on the completely valueless comparison between the supremacy of one religion over another. Countless places of worship have been destroyed by the followers of some other religion having greater martial strength. This is a general picture seen in every nook & corner of the world. So, when we see something opposite, we are really astonished. Here is a case of such communal amity, seen in a non-descriptive village in the interior Bengal. Let us hear the story of Pathra, a village with a large number of Hindu temples cared & looked after by a Muslim man against all odds.
History of Pathra
Pathra is an ancient village, situated on the bank of the river Kansai or Kangsabati, about 12 km from the town of Medinipur in West Bengal, India. It has a history which starts from the Gupta age, arguably the most culturally advanced era of Indian history. The Gupta age was famous for architecture & sculpture. A stone idol of Vishnu Lokeswar of 9th century CE found in Pathra proves its rich past. Vishnu Lokeswar is a hybrid god, having features of both Vishnu, a Hindu god & Lokeswar, a Buddhist deity. This idol, & many other artifacts found in & around Pathra clearly proves Hindu, Buddhist & Jain influence in the area in the pre-Islamic time.
Coming to the British period, the local landlord families, the Majumdars & Bandyopadhyayas established many Hindu temples in the village in 17th-18th centuries CE. At that time, Pathra was a vibrant locality with temples, markets & festivals.
But gradually, the prosperity faded & the once grand temples became abandoned, neglected & ultimately destroyed totally or partially.
Md. Yasin Pathan & a silent revolution
Md. Yasin Pathan, a resident of a neighboring village Hatihalka, a devout Muslim by faith started a unique job which is no less than a social revolution. Since 1970s, this unassuming man with a strong determination & an incomparable love for the heritage & culture of his country, started to protect & renovate the neglected Hindu temples of Pathra. This unusual act brought him brickbats from both the communities, who looked at his work suspiciously. However, fighting against all odds with only a handful of supporters, this man ultimately succeeded to attract the attention of the proper authorities. Many renowned archeologists came to the village & acknowledged Mr. Pathan’s excellent service & ultimately ASI (Archeological Survey of India) stepped in. Now ASI has renovated about 28 temples & the village is being built up as a heritage village.
The temples of Pathra
Pathra is often called a village of temples. There are about 34 temples at present. The important ones are :
- A Pancharatna1type temple dedicated to Dharmathakur . This solitary temple is situated near the river Kansai (Kangsabati).
- A huge Nabaratna2 type temple dedicated to Lord Shiva about 50 metres from the previous temple. This temple was constructed in the 18th century CE by the Majumdars. A huge temple about 18 metres tall, it has a triple arched entrance. There were excellent terracotta decorations in the past, though only a few can be seen today. A small but exquisite Tulasi Mancha ( a small temple like structure where Tulasi or Basil plants, considered holy by the Hindus, were kept) is located just beside this temple.
- An Aatchala3type smaller temple near the temple no. 2 described above.
- A temple complex with three Aatchala , one Nabaratna & a Dalan4 type temple near the temple 2 . This complex is often called Shivalaya or the abode of Shiva.
- A Shikhar 5 type temple dedicated to the goddess Shital;a .
- A temple complex of three Pancharatna temples dedicated to Lord Shiva & constructed by the Bandopadhyays can be seen inside the village. Each of these temples has two terracotta idols of Dwarpal-s (Gatekeepers) on either sides of the entrance.
- A Dalan type structure is seen (Kachhari Mahal) a little away from the aforesaid three Pancharatna temples. This was probably the residence of the landlord family. A small Dalan type of temple is situated inside this structure.
- A small but beautiful Rasmancha ( a temporary temple for the idols of Lord Krishna & His divine consort Radha on the occasion of Ras festival).
Pathra : Temple decorations
Originally the temples were decorated with terracotta panels depicting standard Hindu deities, stories from mythology, floral & geometric designs, social scenes etc. An important figure of Dwarpals (Gatekeepers) can be seen in some of the temples.
Besides terracotta, there are also stucco works reminiscent of Islamic influence.
How to reach Pathra
Pathra can be easily reached from Kharagpur (an important railway junction on the South Eastern Railways) or from Medinipur, the district town. Both Kharagpur & Medinipur are well connected with Kolkata by excellent road & rail.
From Kharagpur or Medinipur, one can get hired taxis or autos to reach Hatihalka or Pathra.
Pancharatna1 = A Bengal type temple with five pinnacles.
Nabaratna2 = Bengal type temple with 9 pinnacles.
Aatchala3 = Bengal type temple with eight roofs.
Dalan4 = A building, hence Dalan type temples look like normal buildings with flat roofs
Shikhar 5 = A classical North Indian temple with a single pinnacle
Pathra : The message
Pathra is a unique village, a unique phenomenon. In these days of communal tensions & disrespect to the heritage, Pathra provides a glaring example of things that should be the ideal norm, not only for India, but for the world as a whole.