When Jainism spread all over India in ancient times, the Jains possess a long and continues history of their own. It is, therefore worthwhile to see the status or high position enjoined by Jainism in relation to other religions. It is also important to understand Jain political personalities like rulers, ministers, generals, etc, in different parts of India during the ancient and medieval times.
Jainism had its influence in Bengal. Hiuen Tsang states that in Pundravardhana and Samanta, in western and eastern Bengal the naked ascetics called nirgranthas are most numerous. Even now Jains relics, inscriptions, Idols are found in different parts of Bengal. Even the name “Vardhamana” is given to one district in Bengal. In this connection it has been pointed out that the indigenous people of western Bengal known as “SARAKA” are the hindu remnants of early Jain people. Again in some parts of Bengal Jain Idols are worshipped as the idols of hindu deity Bhairava. In short, the influence of Jain religion on customs and manners of Bengal is very much visible even at present.
Everywhere, the history of Jainism was of the history of long struggle. It made its way into the religious life of India having overcome the tremendous pressure of its rival creed, Buddhism. The Brahmanas showed bitter hostility to Jains and went to the extent of destroying idols and cult objects and converting their temples into Brahmanic ones. Needless to say that because of the lack of centralized leadership, the original character of Jainism could not be maintained and eventually It mingled with the local cults and was transformed beyond recognition.
Binoy Ghosh wrote his famous book “Paschim-banger-Samskriti”; he had travelled to the remotest villages to find what the persons concerned had to say about their own religious belief and practices. He had also drawn heavily from the district or sub divisional histories written by local enthusiasts. In his book, we find the real extent of Jain influence on the religious life of Bengal, its actual functional role and not the dry list of images found here and there.
In southern Bankura Jain Cult of Ambika has been completely embressed in hinduism. The goddess holds an important position in the socio cultural life of this region. A number of shrines dedicated to her seem to have sprung up in different places. What is most important is that some places are known by her name, among these the most important is AMBIKANAGAR.
Ambikanagar is located just near the confluence of the rivers Kumari and Kansavati, about 4 kilometeres from Mukutmonipur and 16 km from Khatra, and has been least affected by the construction of the Kansavati Dam. It lies about 4 km south east of the water- reservoir. The village has given its name to a pargana extending over 151 sq. miles and was formally the headquarters of old family of Zamindars. Regarding this Zamindary there are many legends which are well known to the people in and around the village. But these are all related to mediavel history.
In earlier days western- south portion of Bankura was called Ladha or Radha. It is believed that lord Mahavir – 24th Tirthankar moved through the region ; thereafter many Jains routed through Radha lands. Their pathways have been mentioned by Fai-hen, Hung-Sen as well as J.D.Beglar during 19th century. However, we restrict to Ambikanagar in Khatra referring to the influence of Jainism. Jainism as a religion had existed in erstwhile kingdom of Bengal for many centuries.
A number of ancient Jain and Buddhist texts attest to the dominance of Jainism in the ancient Gouda Kingdom. However, afterwards it lost much of its position in the triangular struggle involving the Brahminical Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism for dominance in various parts of the early medieval post –Pala period.In the 12th century. Jainism received royal patronage from King Anantavarman Choda-Ganga-Deva, fifth ruler of eastern Ganga Dynasty, erstwhile Kalinga Kingdom at AMBIKANAGAR, Bankura.
Anantavarman Choda-Ganga Dev, the powerful king of Orissa, extended his kingdom in entire south west of Bengal upto the boundary of Bhagirathi. Ambikanagar is a small village in Khatra sub division of Bankura district. Anantavarman was an ardent follower of Jainism. Under royal patronage Jainism spread in western part of Bengal. Moreover the wealthy Jain communities used to navigate the region easily through navigable river routes. Jains have had left imprints of their presence in the banks of Damodar, Kasai (Kansaboti). In course of time, the Dev-decendents became followers of Brahmanical sects. Ambikanagar began to deviate from Jainism.
Then came the reign of Chintamoni Dhoba, the Raja of Dhalbhum, headqurtered at Ambikanagar. In course of time his kingdom was wrested by Jagannath Dev of Dhalpur, Rajasthan. The local story goes that with his ascending the throne of Dhalbhum. Jaganath Dev went to Puri for pilgrimage and on his way back he met the King of Orissa. Looking at the handsome look of Dev the King addressed him “Sahajada”. Sahajada connotes to Nawab or prince. In a quick reply to the king Jagannath said “Please confirm the title”. The king was so pleased that he handed over a troop of solders and ordered “Go and curve out your principality anywhere with your battalion.” Thereafter Jagannath marched with his commandos and reached Supur, Ambikanagar and overpowered Chintamoni. In memory of his conquest he named his kingdom Dhabalbhum.
Dev dynasty ruled the Supur-Ambikanagar Parganas of Khatra, and extended the jurisdiction to the western part of Midnapore and parts of eastern and south eastern part of Singbhum. After 32 generations of Supur –Ambikanagar raj, there are internal conflicts among the family members and accordingly the kingdom was divided into two sub-parts. Teckchand became the authority of Supur parganas and based his regime at Supur, while Khargeswar made his kingdom at Ambikanagar.
Besides, Ambikanagar village has a good number of archeological remains ranging from prehistory to history. Exploration undertaken by archeologists recorded specimens consisting of early historic potsherds, architectural and sculptural remains etc. Mrs. Debala Mitra carried out an extensive survey that resulted in the discovery of Jain images and temples which are still lying in different parts of Ambikanagar. Besides the temple ruins at Sasthitala or the place in and around the modern temple of Ambika a few stone sculptures belonging to 11th –12th century A.D. have also been recorded. This can be taken to show that in the hey-day of its glory it was a reasonably important religious centre. Mrs. Debala Mitra observed that the village was a thriving Jain centre which is proved by the existence of a good number of remains relating to the Jain Pantheon.
Due to the construction of Kansaboti dam, the area and the settlement of Ambikanagar have been reduced in size. Paresnath, a hillock exists just below the reservoir .The dry bed of the Kumari river lies south of it. There are a few small hills around the locality. The small hill close to the village is named after the locality of Paresnath. The hill now is a part of the bank of the water-reservoir. At the top of the Pareshnath hill there is a hut-like tin-shed, constructed by Mr. Asutosh Ganguly, a retired employee of the Kansavati project. In the central part of the shed there is a Siva Linga. Beside the Linga a good number of sculptural remains are lying in and around the shed. All the specimens are said to have been collected from the neighboring places including submerged temple site of Sarengath. That is another story.
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Research : Santanu Roy
Picture Courtesy : Santanu Roy.