Temples of Bonkati-Ajodhya
Temples of Bonkati-Ajodhya
Bengal is dotted with villages, & almost all villages are blessed with temples dedicated to various gods & goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. Some of these temples are new or of recent origin, and many are old, dating back even to 9th century CE. These are our heritage, our pride & part of our culture. But unfortunately, a large number of these priceless gems are either neglected by the present owners (a vast majority of them has left the villages for cities) or are in a bad shape due to lack of care due to weak economic condition of the present owners.
Bonkati (or Bankati) & Ajodhya are two adjacent villages in the district of Barddhaman in West Bengal, India. These two villages have some beautiful temples of 18th century CE which are examples of the words I spoke in the previous chapter. The temples, once majestic by their decorations if not by the size, are in a bad shape now. The top of some of these are broken, the plaster is peeling off in some places, the exquisite terracotta decorations are decaying in many places or fungus and years of rains & sun have discoloured the temples in some. As a whole, there are signs of decay & neglect. Few temple lovers are doing their best to save the temples, but it is an unequal fight. But still, there are many things to be seen in these temples. Let’s have a discussion on those.
Temples of Bonkati
The most important temples of Bonkati are situated at two locations : Rath Tola & Kali Tola.
“Rath” means Chariot, & “Tola/Tala” means place. So Rath Tola means a place where there is a chariot. At Bonkati Rath Tola, there is a big brass Rath used to carry idols of Lord Jagannath during the festival of Rathyatra. At other times, the Rath is kept in a high temple shape garage. This brass Rath is an excellent example of metal craftsmanship in ancient Bengal. Built like a five-pinnacled temple, this chariot of Lord Jagannath has excellent metal engravings depicting many religious & social scenes, including few erotic ones.
Just by the side of this Rath, there is a brick-built Pancha Ratna (five-pinnacled) temple dedicated to Lord Jagannath & Lord Shiva with excellent terracotta decorations on front façade. There are scenes from the epic Ramayana, Hindu mythologies, images of Dashavatar (ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu), images of Dash Mahavidya (Ten forms of Goddess Kali or Shakti) & many social scenes, which includes some scenes showing activities of Europeans.
Kali Tola temples:
Kali Tola means the place where there is a temple dedicated to the Goddess kali. This is a place where there is an ancient temple dedicated to Goddess Kali, & in the same area there are five other temples, dedicated to Lord Shiva. Two of these are Aatchala (Eight roofed) type & the remaining three are Rekh Deul type. The Aatchala temples are medium sized, with their tops painted in white, probably lime wash. The front façade contains few terracotta panels, showing a beautiful image of Lord Ganesha in one. The Rekh Deul temples are in dire need of repair. Mr. Anil Kumar Ray, an aged person who is a virtual encyclopedia of the history of these temples, is trying hard with the help of others to protect the temples, but he genuinely needs government support.
Temples of Ajodhya
Bonkati & Ajodhya are two adjacent villages. At Ajodhya, there are six medieval temples of which one, in Hat Tala (Hat = Market & Tola = area) area, has beautiful terracotta decorations.
Pancha Ratna Temple at Hat Tola
This temple is Pancha Ratna (five pinnacled) type, & its front façade & right hand side wall have excellent terracotta & stucco decorations. The most important of these is a scene where it is vividly depicted an enraged man going to strike a kneeling hapless woman with a sharp Bonti or Bengal kitchen knife. This is from a very important social scandal in British period ill famous as the scandal & murder of a young house-wife named Elokeshi by her husband in collaboration with the Mohanta (chief priest) of the famous Shiva temple of Tarakeswar, district Hooghly.
Among other important decorative panels there is a huge stucco high relief on right hand side wall depicting a lady at a half closed window. Now partly eroded, undoubtedly this was a magnificent scene at its prime.
The centre of the front façade contains a terracotta panel depicting the scene of coronation of Lord Rama. Below, there are two terracotta panels showing dancing girls with accompanying male musicians, one playing a Dholok (Indian drum) & the other a violin. The looks of the girls is not Bengali, they are probably depictions of the gypsy or Badia girls.
There are two prominent figures of gate keepers – muscular men with clubs in hand, representing the Lathials of erstwhile Bengal.
Besides these, there are many social & religious scenes depicted in terracotta, one important scene is of the image of a Shiuli, the professionals who tap the sweet sap of Date-palm trees, still today.
The Rekh Deul at Hat tola
This is a medium size temple, with few decaying terracotta decorations on the front façade. The images are all decayed, only few human faces at windows can be seen.
Temples at Kamarpara
About a hundred meters from the Hat Tala area, there is a cluster of four Rekh Deul type of temples, in a locality known as Kamarpara (the abode of Kamars, the Blacksmiths).
These tall Rekh Deul temples, with decaying terracotta panels on their front façade, were once majestic in appearance. But now, they are in a very sorry state. Locals lament that they have no financial strength to maintain the temples, yet no one comes to help.
How to reach Bonkati-Ajodhya
The villages can be reached easily from the state highway connecting Panagarh in Barddhaman district (on NH-2) to Ilambazar in Birbhum district. About 18 km from Panagarh there is a road junction known popularly as EGARO MILE (Eleven miles). From this point good motorable road goes 5 km to Bonkati. Ajodhya is just beside Bonkati.