Sunday, 16 February 2014

BARONAGAR (AZIMGANJ)


In the mid-17th century, a small trading centre called Azimganj, come up to the banks of the Ganga in Murshidabad. The royal family of Natore, now in Bangladesh, build a riverside palace in a village near Azimganj , and called it Baronagar, meaning a big town.


Natore Zamindari was one of the largest zamindaries of Bengal. The originators of this Zamindari were Ramjivan and Raghunandan both sons of Kamdev.  Ramjivan’s daughter-in-law was Rani Bhawani, a legendary name in Bengal politics in the 18th century and an endearing personality in every home of the country due to her boundless generosity and public spirit. Rani Bhabani, born in 1716 and widowed at 32, become a legend  for her administrative ability. She was a zamindar of Natore famous for her sagacity, generosity and extensive social works. Born in a respectable Brahmin family of Bogra, her father’s name was Atmaram Chowdhury. On the death of her husband raja ramakanta in 1748 she become the dejure zamindar of Natore.

She managed the vast Natore Zamindari most efficiently and effectively for over four decades maintaining cordial relationships with the Nawabs of Bengal. Her veteran and faithful diwan Dayaram greatly assisted her in running the zamindari. Holwell, while describing the Notore raj in his days, eulogizes Rani Bhavani and asserts that the stipulated annual rent of the estate to the crown was 70 lakh of sikka rupees, the real revenues being about one core and a half.


Rani Bhabani ran the vast zamindari with tact and tenacity during the most critical and transition period of the East India Company’s administration. She lived a very austere and religious life but her generosity new no bounds. She gave large portion of her zamindari to the Brahmins as Lakhiraj( rent free lands) for their maintenance and other charitable activities. Writing in the Rajshahi Gazette, O’Malley mentioned that the Rani established about 380 shrines, guesthouses etc, build many temples in different parts of the country and endowed money and lands. She constructed a big road that runs from Natore to Bhawanipur in Bogra and is still called Rani Bhabanir Jangal. She was a great patron of Hindu learning and bestowed large endowment for the spread of Education.


Driven by religion, she planned to build a Varanashi in Bengal. From 1755, a huge a complex with over a dozen temples was built in Baronagar.  After these temples were built, Rani started staying at this place and that is why she needed an administrative set up to run her estate. In fact it is here, just behind charbangla complex there is a kachari Bari (mostly ruined condition) is still visible. Many have since been reduced to dust, but a few still stands strong, a testament of past glory of Bengal. 


One  of the magnificent structures is the Panchanan Shiva temple on the Ganga embankment. Small and Red, it has a unique Shivalingam , five heads of Shiva carved on black stone. The temple houses a beautiful garden with a breathtaking riverside view.


The main attraction of Baronagar is the Charbangla mandir complex. Built  in 1760 by Rani Bhabani, this is a small square arena fenced by four massive temples Each one is build on a 1.5ft high foundation and is dochala hut-shaped , a fine example of Bengal architecture

Each temple has three doors with three Shivalingams inside. The magic of these temples is on their walls, embellished with beautiful terracotta work. The Ramayana is wonderfully sculpted. This is , no doubt, unique among terracotta temples in Bengal. Hindu motifs are also visible. The temples had a narrow escape in December  1992, when a mob stormed the complex after the Babri Masjid demolition. 


Another temple with a unique shape is in the north-west part of the Charbangla complex. The Bhabaneshwari temple of Baronagar is a masterpiece in distinctive Murshidabadi style. Build in 1755, it is 18-m high with a massive dome on top and decorated with fresco works, both inside and outside.

Nearby, another temple build by Tarasundari , Daughter of Rani Bhabani, is in a sorry state. Legends said it that Siraj-ud-Daullah tried to abduct Tarasundari. She was suffering from chicken pox at that time and Siraj got scared and fled. Tarasundari cured overnight. Considering this to be divine intervention, she built the Gopal temple.


Perhaps the finest temple of them all is Ghaaneshwar, also known as Jorbangla temple. Small but marvelous, it is in terrotta. Dragons, dancing girls, fighting elephants and floral designs decorated the walls. A Shivalingam, known as Kasturishar Shiva, is inside, established by Kasturi Devi, mother of Rani Bhabani. 
 

 The Palace of royal family should be another attraction . Rani Bhabani died here in 1795 at the  ripe age of 79. The family history is displayed through oil paintings. Special permission is needed to get inside. Debris of temples, damaged due to natural calamities and by human hands, is scattered around Baronagar. Images of these temples are placed in a dilapidated room near the palace.


In the all above Palaces/buildings/Temple mortar was used : lime and ground bricks “Surki” & lime : Collected from burnt water Shells. No Cement was used, cement was not invented that time but the strength and durability of the mortar is unquestionable since it is sill strong through the ages. Particularly plaster made of lime and sand is unquestionably marvelous with the surface layer called “Ponch” ( Ponch : A Miraculous solution made of shell-lime mixed with ample quatity of Egg yolk and some other costly ingredients) is still refulgent and durable through the Century without any retouch or refurbishment.

Sources . a) Murshidabad Kahini- by Nikhil Nath Roy.
                b) District Gazatteer-Rajsahi –by L.S.S.O’Mally
                c)  Ancient Bengal temple architecture-Manju Halder.
   
 Research  -Santanu Roy.
 Picture courtesy - Sritam Mukherjee.
       


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