Pathra: Outstanding Hindu and Jain temples are also located in the village of Pathra a few kilometers from the town (Midnapore). Although a site of hundreds of small temples dating back into antiquity, many of the temples are in a state of disrepair due in part to lack of any sort of preservation, succumbing to the waters of the Kasai River, and theft of bricks by locals. An
NGO Pathra Archaeological Preservation Committee , founded by Yeasin Pathan, has successfully persuaded the Archaeological Survey of India to restore the temples. 2,000,000 Indian rupees were sanctioned for this cause in 1998 and many of the temples have been restored. Remarkably secluded in location, this archaeological site is relatively unvisited due to lack of hype and its inaccessibility.
Next weekend you can be at Pathra
Sunday , March 2 , 2008
Pathra, on the bank of the river Kangsabati, is a village of temples. There are 34 temples in the village, all over 200 years old. Barely 10 km from Midnapore town, this nondescript hamlet is a treasure trove for those who like to travel back in time.
The history of Pathra goes back to the Gupta age, when the place was the hinterland of Tamralipta port, a gateway to southeast Asia. From 8th Century to 12th Century, it was an important hub for Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. A majestic Vishnu Lokeshwar statue dug out in the village in October 1961 revealed both Hindu and Buddhist influences, indicating that practitioners of both religions frequented Pathra.
The turning point in the history of the village came in 1732, when Nawab Alivardi Khan appointed Bidyananda Ghoshal as the revenue collector of Ratnachawk pargana . Bidyananda established temple after temple in the village, making it a major draw for Hindu pilgrims. The nawab, however, was not too pleased with Bidyananda's work. He was thrown into prison and then sentenced to death. Legend has it that the elephant that was to crush Bidyananda's head refused to do so. The village reportedly gets its name from the incident.
The Ghoshal family changed its surname to Majumdar and continued building temples till the end of the 18th Century. Another branch of the family, with surname Bandopadhyay, also started constructing temples. With indigo cultivation and silk trade boosting the family's fortunes, funds were not difficult to come by.
The decline started as the rich families shifted base from the village and ignorant local residents started vandalising the temples. Many of the structures were reduced to rubble. There was neither any initiative from the government nor from the academic circle to preserve the structures.
The efforts of a local resident named Yeasin Pathan and a handful of scholars from the mid-1960s finally bore fruit in the form of government grant and technical assistance from IIT Kharagpur in saving the temples. A slice of Bengal's glorious past was salvaged in the nick of time.
Today, 28 out of 34 temples in Pathra are under the supervision of the Archaeological Survey of India. It has repaired 18 temples.
A non-government organisation named Pathra Archaeological Preservation Committee also looks after the structures.
The navaratna temple on the western bank of the river is the grandest. The 250-year-old, 40-ft high structure has nine towers and many terracotta panels on its walls. A small aatchala temple established in 1816 stands in the same compound.
Just opposite to it is a cluster of three aatchala temples and a small navaratna temple called Shivalaya. Terracotta artworks adorn these temples, too. Behind them is a Durga dalan , a temple-like structure made of stone.
Some distance away is another group of pancharatna temples, built in the typical Bengal style and enriched with terracotta sculptures.
Most of the temples offer glimpses of Islamic architectural styles. Stucco lime and seashell are the main materials used.
The terracotta panels that still exist bear images of Ram, Balaram, Radha and Krishna, Dashavatar, Hanuman, Durga and hunting. The majority of the temples are dedicated to Krishna, Vishnu and Shiva.
The second biggest temple of Pathra is a Sitala temple popularly known as Burimar than . It, too, is 40 ft high. The other important temples are Sarba Mangal, Kalachand, Das Mahavidya and Hansa.
There's also a simple yet attractive rasmancha , built in 1832. It has nine small towers.
City planning students at IIT Kharagpur have done extensive research on Pathra. They have proposed to develop the village as a heritage tourism destination.
Pathra is a two-hour drive from the city. The road inside the village can be difficult to navigate after a spell of rain. Pathra can be reached through Kharagpur as well. Contact Pathra Archaeological Preservation Committee (Phone: 9932785126) for additional information. Pack food and water.
(METRO ON SUNDAY THANKS READER SOMEN SENGUPTA FOR THIS CONTRIBUTION. PICTURES BY AUTHOR)
The Sins Of Somnath, Reversed
A Muslim peon had to pauperise himself to enrich a Hindu heritage in West Midnapore
Arich slice of Bengal's heritage would have been lost forever had it not been for a village high school peon in West Midnapore district, nearly 200 km west of Calcutta. For Mohammed Yeasin Pathan, saving the 34-odd ancient Hindu temples at Pathra, a village 2 km away from his native Hatiholka, has been a lifelong passion. He has not only restored many of these temples to their former glory, but has also forged a concrete bond between the Hindus and Muslims of the poverty-ridden, backward area. "As a child, I used to visit Pathra very often and was mystified by the temples and the remains of the zamindar's mansion.
As I grew up, I realised that the structures were a part of our heritage and needed to be preserved. They were in bad shape. More than a century of neglect had taken its toll. The Kansabati river had swallowed a few temples and the remaining were being plundered for bricks by the locals," recalls the 52-year-old Pathan.
Pathan was 17 when he embarked on his ‘save the temples' mission in 1971. Bei Being a Muslim, he was greeted with sceptics and opponents within his own community as well as the Hindus. "My fellow Muslims said I had no business fighting for structures where idols were worshipped. It was un-Islamic, they said. As for the Hindus of Pathra, they didn't want anyone, least of all a Muslim, to stop them from stealing bricks from the temples to build their own homes. The surviving descendants of the zamindars who had built the temples were themselves destroying the structures," says Pathan. He started speaking to locals, making them aware of the importance of the temples and saving them. He held out the hope that restoration would earn Pathra a place on the state's tourist map, and to pucca roads, power and water supply and other amenities.
Reluctant at first, the locals started supporting him gradually. Pathan got them to clear the wild growth in and around the temples and began preliminary restoration work. "We staged rallies, demonstrations at Midnapore (the district headquarters) urging authorities to sanction funds for restoration. We got eminent people to visit Pathra. Money started flowing in in a trickle. The police also started helping us to stop temple destruction," he says.
In 1990, Pathan formed an NGO, the Pathra Archaeological Preservation Committee, with both Muslims and Hindus of the area. The committee provided a forum for close interaction between people of the two communities and laid the foundation for friendship and understanding. Pathan started going to Delhi and met many officials, including those from the Archaeological Survey of India. There he pleaded for funds and the ASI's involvement. A major achievement was the sanction of Rs 20 lakh in 1998 by the then Planning Commission deputy chairperson, Pranab Mukherjee.
Ultimately, Pathan's untiring efforts paid off, with the ASI taking over the restoration work in September 2003. Of the 34 temples dedicated to Shiva and various incarnations of Parvati, 20 have been fully restored. The ASI is now in the process of taking over 9.3 acres of land around the temples. "This area will be developed as a tourist spot with all amenities," says Pathan. True to his promise, Pathra has also got a pucca road, power, a telephone exchange and other facilities.
Now Pathan hopes that the steady trickle of visitors to Pathra will become a heavy flow in the days to come. His efforts, however, have left Pathan himself a financial wreck. Having spent a major part of his earnings in countless trips to Calcutta and Delhi, in organising rallies, printing leaflets and even a hardbound book (on Pathra), he now says, "I'm debt-ridden. I have to support my own family as well as that of my unemployed brother. I feel helpless."
Down yes, but not yet out.Pathan keeps a hawk's eye on the ASI's restoration. What's more, he has now resolved to push the state government into developing the area as a tourist spot. To contact Pathan, call 9932785126. Or e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
— Jaideep Mazumdar