Thursday, 2 March 2017


Before Illambazar became a place of money making of European traders and landed aristocrats by 18th. Century, it was a place of cultural exigency. By 17th Century Vaishnavism became very popular in Illambazar and surrounding. On the other hand some natural resources escalated the commercial situation in Illambazar. The duo played a role in cultural life of Illambazar. On the backdrop many temples were built in this region though we often find similar stories of myths, tales and Hindu deities but structures are divergent. Especially we never had any experience of hexagonal structure which we can find in Illambazar.

The figures we find on that particular temple are Mahishashurmardini Durga. The Clash between Rama and Ravan,  men and women playing different instruments like veena and two stringed instruments.

The most interesting part of this temple is a vertical structure of human and animal. Here we can find different layers of elephant’s tigers, horses and human figures facing downward. Such concept is definitely unique. With respect to the other temples of  Birbhum there is no such figurine. Scholars have worked on it but it is hard to conclude anything. This structure is majorly known as “Mrityulata”, but the explanation behind this is also complex and controversial.

Fortunately we find another example of it on a temple from Gurap, Hughly. This temple is known as Nandalal temple and the figure which is known as Mrityulata shows as a horse devours a hapless animal.  The over sized rider arched over his mount. On the other hand there is another temple from Chandannagar where we can find another example of Mrityulata which is almost damaged but the portion that still remains consists  of  ascending human and animal. Thus it is tusk of historians to rewrite the history in a comparative way so that we could know what lies beneath in past.

The origin of Mrityulata is controversial so its usage. Apart from Illambazar we have another example of Mrityulata in Birbhum. In kenduli, the birthplace of Joydev, there is a spectacular evidence of terracotta art where we have prolonged form of Mrityulata. So there is no doubt that Mrityulata is not unknown to the artisans of this region. We have said earlier that Hooghly is another place where we get to see some glimpses of this style. Thus it would not be wrong to suggest that the notion of Mrityulata had been here for certain time which shaped the minds of artisans and their superiors. But from where did the notion come is still not known.

Apart from Mrityulata we have figures with various musical instruments. Now-a-days we are accustomed with such instruments but it would not be wrong to suggest knowing about the cultural practice of those people. There is another plaque which shows a group of women, standing on a row and playing flutes and drums. One can find some dancing figures also that make sense and indicate to festival and other ceremonies. Wheels, floral designs are very usual features of terracotta temples of Bengal and Illambazar temple is not an exception to it.

This is beyond any doubt that European architecture inspired artisans to portray Indian figures in a different way . Here in Illambazar we have a figure, playing veena : today this veena shows like a gun with a bayonet. We do not know whether this is an architectural mistake, erosion through time or a deliberate portrayal of gun like veena, but it would not be wrong to suggest colonial expansion triggered the minds of artisans. 

There is another temple in the middle township which testifies our explanation of colonial expansion. Through this temple is dedicated to a Hindu God or goddess but there are some figures which indicate the extent of colonial influence. There we have a group of sepoy who are carrying rifles. It is true that along with European merchant’s army troops come here when administration was taken by company in 1786.

Change of administration affected economic life. Illambazar become a commercially viable place . Finally it was culture that moved parallel with money. Lacquer was one of the materials that helped many of the European merchants to make fortune. David Erskine was one of them. Gradually the scenario changed. A riverside settlement become a busy commercial place from an ensemble of small market place and today we have variations of terracotta art (mostly based on out trip to Birbhum, August, 2016).

References :  

 1. Paschimbanger Sanskriti. Binoy Ghosh. Part-1. 8th. edition, Kolkata.
 2. Social mobility in Bengal. Hitesh Ranjan Sanyal. 
 3. Mukul Dey Archives. Chitralekha.

Friday, 16 December 2016


Any tourist visiting Patna has been directed by Guide Book or his / her local contact to visit Golghar at Fraser Road. Fraser Road is a busy connection in between Patna Central Railway Station and the lungs of Patna, Gandhi Maidan. The name suggests it is a round storage house of food grains (abbreviation of Gola Ghar).  

For centuries, its feature has mesmerized visitor for its huge scale & unique shape.

On a cloudy July morning when we were in front of this structure, we found the restoration work of this century old structure is under implementation, the access staircases of the structures are prohibited for any visitor.

It is a huge Brick Made dome having internal width of 125 m at bottom, and a total height of 29 m. The thickness of wall at base is 3.6 m. This masonry structure does not have any concrete beam column frame.  It has a small door at the bottom & one circular opening at the top of the dome. This top opening can be approached by two spiral staircases (145 steps each) erected on the outside surface of the main structure.


At first instance, it seems to be a futuristic structure right from a Hollywood script of a science-fiction movie. The oldness of the structure is quite evident by naked eye.

Bishop Heber (visit to Patna in 1824) mentioned the structure in Biblical term “the old prints of Tower of Babel”.In 1844 Fanny Park while describing Patna touched about this very structure. Bholanath Chunder elaborated this Golghar in his“Travel of a Hindu”(Published- 1869).

Was the designer inspired from the shape of beehive? Was it a replica of old Buddhist Stupa? Was it a mammoth scaling of the private golas of Bengal-farmers (inhabitant of sube Bangla of Moghul era, modern-day West Bengal, Bihar, Bangladesh & Orissa)? When was it built?

All of those questions may be answered from the two plaques inserted on the wall of this huge dome, one in Persian (?) & the other one was in English.

The English stone engrave run like this:
No. I
In the part of a General Plan
Ordered by the Governor General and Council
20th of January 1784
For the perpetual prevention of Famine
In these province
Was erected by Captain John Garstin Engineer
Completed on the 20th of July 1786
First filled & publicly closed by--------

The nascent British Administration of India assigned Captain John Garstin to erect itas the very first Government Granary in 1784. Garstin designed & implemented this unique granary as a preventative measure to in famous famines of Gangetic-delta within British Territory in 1786.

This young captain of Bengal Engineers of British Military subsequently became Major General & Chief Engineer of British India.Major General Garstin’s signature master-piece till standing in Calcutta is the Town Hall of the city (opened in 1813). John Garstin never went back to Europe. Kolkata’s South Park Street Cemetery remained his last resting place.

JOHN GARSTIN (1756-1820)
Courtesy British Library

Since 1760, a big grain market was developed at Marufgunge, at eastern outskirts of the walled Patna City (Azimabad) with active participation of British East India Company personnel and local merchants.  Similarly another market Bakergunge was developed in the western outskirt of the city’s wall with European co-operation. Almost 6 miles from this western boundary, at Bankipur the European town was developed by the British administration at the beautiful river bank. Among the features of this British Patna,Golghar was located in such a way that from the river transport the first glimpse to the European quarter of Patna used to be frozen on it. On the other-hand, from the top of this tallest structure of the-then city, a bird’s eye view of the old Azimabad & New Patna with eternal Ganga unfolded in front of viewer’s eyes. This was a structure with difference, contrasting to the entire skyline of a mart-city comprising of a small broken fort, one abandoned European factory, some mosque minarets, one modest catholic church,age old Punjabi shrine, old Islamic mansions with wooden roofs& numerous mud huts.

Courtesy Bihar & Orissa District Gazetteers by L S SO’malley

The structure was an advertisement of power, authority & assurance. It might be treated as a racial supremacy of the ruler to a city which had seen lot of bloodbath for almost half a century prior to the construction of Golghar (Maratha invasion, rebellion of Afgan army, Mughal attack, Anglo Mohammedan conflict, British search for French fugitives& uprising of neighboring states).

The earlier referred travelogue writers always asked about the utility of this structure. Heber &Chunder tried to explain their respective views, whereas Fanny Park coolly referred it as a guard house. Emily Eden in 1837 without candidness expressed “it is useless”.

This suggested, though the Granary was built; this was never utilized up to its designed level. We found two common explanations. First, the mammoth volume of the granary was too small in comparison with the one day consumption of famine stricken population of nearby locality. Second, the opening of the only door of the granary was inward hence if the granary was packed up to extreme capacity the grain would be in ever-locked position.

Courtesy Stone of Empire: the Buildings of the Raj – Jan Morris & Simon Winchester

Both these causes appeared to be without substance. The basic design capacity of 1784 could not cater the single day consumption of nearby locals – a remote possibility, even if accepted, why it was even not used up to its actual capacity as a mean of exigency, as the first British Cantonment was several miles away (Dinapur cantonment was established prior to Barrackpore cantonment!). Secondly, the changing of the opening direction of the door was not so difficult proposition for an engineer of Garstin’s class.


But it was evident by the Garstin’s plaque that the date of filling & first public closure had never happened.There had to be concrete cause for this unfinished business of this Granary.

While searching through internet we got an important document of eminent historian Ms. Kumkum Chatterjee (Merchants, Politics and Society in Early Modern India: Bihar 1733-1820). Her painstaking research on eighteenth century Bihar took us to the period of construction of this Golghar. It was an era when earliest British administration was focusing more towards governance of its Indian territory. The basic mercantile persuasion of British East India Company (as a monopolistic trading conglomerate, oppressive revenue collector & private business ventures of its employees) was becoming a past.


A Department of Grain was conceived. Intention was - to collect grain at lowest market rate when it was plentiful, stocked it in huge Government granaries across British India, distribution in control rate during the time of famine to Indian subjects. A structured disaster management proposal & its implementation- “Grand Plan” as mentioned in the Garstin’s engrave. Implementation of “No.I” related to this Grand Plan went smoothly. The crisis aroused on its operation.

When on completion of Patna Golghar, the British District Collectors were desperately trying to procure grain in lowest market rate, curtail of local suppliers prevented that scheme. The nexus of merchant & mediators was too strong for the nascent Government system. The rate asked against grain supply increased in exponential series at marts after marts. Stream of letters flowed from residencies to Calcutta;subject was- failure to find a suitable vendor for supplying grain to Government granary with a proper rate.

Golghar at Bankipur, near Patna, 1814-15
Courtesy British Library

The “No.1” of the Grand Plant never got operative to its full capacity, hence, the No.2 structure of the Grand Plan never saw the day’s light. Almost 230 years ago a move of first hand Government trading & passing the benefit to the consumer directly like todays e-commerce portal failed.

But the structure remained. The huge hollow space of inside produced echo against the faintest sound, it became a prized spot for visiting tourist. Subsequently the robust structure embalmed as the face of modern Patna.

Even today, when we found the official document in internet for “Proposed River Front Development in Patna” its proposal commenced with the above sketch of Golghar.

Ironically with the search “Captain John Garstin” we can land up in internet to Golghar, Patna. Whereas “Garstin Place” in Kolkata invariably took the searcher to the stories of haunted house at No.1, Garstin Place, the original office of All India Radio, Kolkata.

Though Garstin was never been able to engrave the date after “First filled & publicly closed” on Golghar wall, the structure remained faithful to its designer & executioner till date.


When we were leaving Golghar, one advertisement caught in to our eyes.It was about evening Laser Show at Golghar Premises.

John Garstin’s one of the most serious endeavor on Indian soil is  no more be treated as a venue for morning-walkers only, it also becomes an entertainment zone for the Patna City in week-ends of twenty first century India.

The Granary which never been publicly closed, is well taken care for public viewing by the independent Indian Government. 

Monday, 21 November 2016


There is lot of controversies on the significance of name ‘Birbhum’, but the most popular of them is the land (bhum) of Brave people (Bir). Certainly after hearing that one will be curious to find evidences from history in support of that explanation. We do not know whether Birbhum got his name from the gallantry of the kings but their opulence made them significant in the history of Birbhum. Hetampur Raj was one of them and the terracotta temples are built under their kingship left interesting spots.
Hetampur gets its name from a local zamindar Hetam Khan and the Hetampur raj arose from an unskilled worker of Bankura District to the most powerful family of Birbhum. Radhanath Chakraborty was the first prominent name of Hetampur Royal family who subdued the former Gomastas and Iajardars. By the end of 18th century more lands of Birbhum were taken by them. Even they declared themselves as independent kings and refused to pay tax to Nawab of Murshidabad anymore. Such influence was carried out by this family even after Radhanath Chakraborty.
Both Hetampur royal palace and nearby terracotta temples are the reflections of their opulence. The royal palace has a big red gateway. This gateway has interesting female figures on the top of it. Such figures are very rare with respect to other structures of Birbhum as it this is prone to Roman classical style. It would not be wrong to say that such Roman classical style was transmitted to this region through Victorian architecture. This indicates their relation with British culture and the implication of that style in various parts of royal palace and terracotta temples signify their association with British administration.

When we visited Birbhum before we went to see Royal palace we were stuck by the art and architecture of A Shiva temple which was there on our way to the royal palace. We were surprised not because the art was amazing but it was peculiar. Depiction of English man and women, insignia of company royal house, representation of Victorian erotic sense are very unusual in case of Bengal terracotta temple.

Unlike the other terracotta temples this temple bore mostly European figures. Though there are figures like Mahisashurmardini Durga, but such figure is rare particularly in this temple. The image of court of arms of British East India Company, male figure with hat, coat and trouser, a lady dressed in gowns are demonstrating the British influence upon the royal family. This is beyond doubt that such representation of British culture and power did not have any influence on rural society.

Though it is hard to tell whether presence of English women were irregular in this area at the time when this temple was constructed but it would not be wrong to say that those memsahibs were not very irregular in the rural landscape of Colonial India. Many of them came here to live with their male counterparts in the bungalows and residences. Representation of the late Victorian women is clear on the temple walls. 

On the other hand we have female figure as a companion of English male figure. Story which evolves around this illustration is rather a story of a sexual relation. This sexual relation evolves around a native women and an English man. It would not be wrong to say that this native woman is a prostitute who was a matter of concern from British army barracks to the board of control of Company. By addressing that history terracotta art did a first-class job. So it can be said that art on this temple is rather a portrayal of colonial life in India rather than rural cults and myths.  
Unlike other places of Birbhum Hetampur does not have much treasure in its box. Those, which are alive, are not in a better position except some of them. One of them is Dewanji temple which is situated close to the previous one. This is a traditional Deul structure and it has figures of musicians playing the instruments like khol and blowing horn. God and Goddess are the most common figures of this temple. Apart from that we have various other figures like musicians, maids, dancers. Both Vishnu and Krishna are depicted in this temple. Vishnu is seen with Lakshmi and Krishna is accompanied by gopis and Radha. Probably this temple was dedicated to Vishnu or Krishna.
1.     Temple Terracottas of Birbhum, Mukul Dey.
2.     Mukul Dey archives. Chitralekha
3.     The Economic life of Bengal district 1770-1857, Dr. Ranjan Kumar Gupta, 1984.
4.     West Bengal District Gazetteers : Birbhum by L.S.S. O’Malley & Durgadas Majumder (1973).
5.     “Birbhum Bibaran” by Mahima Ranjan Chakraborty .