April 12, 2016

Sarvamangala Temple, Bardhaman, Bengal

“Om Sarvamangala mangalye, Shive sarvatha sadhike
Sharanye Triambake Gauri, Narayani Namo-stute”

(“The Goddess who perpetually bestows auspiciousness and prosperity on all, I bow to thee
The Goddess who is the consort of Lord Shiva, the possessor of three eyes, I bow to thee”)

For a compulsive traveler, every single city, even the hideously grotesque and the repulsively avaricious ones, camouflage within the folds of their superficial selves iridescent jewels unpretentiously masquerading as the commonplace and therefore remaining implausibly untouched by dreadfully corrosive human presence. Remarkably though, more often than not, it is the smaller forgotten edifices, throbbing with a plethora of folklore pertaining to the city’s mythical origins and their own bewitching origins and construction, which ceaselessly fascinate and entice. Effortlessly do the enthralling outlines of myriads of picturesque landscapes, the tortuously snaking convolvulus of streetscape, and the fantastical silhouettes of monumental edifices become perpetually seared onto one’s retinas for all eternity, so much so that fragmented slivers of these reminiscences unfailingly continue to be recreated sporadically in one’s imagination even years later, especially in conjunction with snatches of soothing music that one played on a particular journey.

Timeless simplicity! - Shrine of the mother Goddess

Consider then my elation when I was recently able to retrieve some photographs from my old laptop that crashed almost a year ago, in the process relieving fond, half-forgotten memories of the ceaselessly pulsating city of Calcutta and its languidly laid-back environs, coupled with the sorrowful realization that among a long list of the monumental cathedrals, minuscule Chinese shrines, unheralded colonial memorials and immense temple complexes that I never got around to penning articles about was the soothingly serene Sarvamangala temple, jewel-like ensconced in a beatifically humble corner of the illustrious district of Bardhaman (Burdwan), whose semi-ruinous architectural conformations, subdued artistic adornments and gorgeous terracotta ornamentation I had spontaneously fallen in love with.

Enveloped within enormous brownish-pink periphery walls that, with their towering Corinthian pilasters, elaborate stucco outbursts of intricate floral flourishes, and gracefully multi-layered semicircular arches delineated by exquisite vegetative scrolls, would not have been out of place in late-colonial Indian palatial edifices (such as the one in nearby Birbhum, refer Pixelated Memories - Hetampur Hazarduari Rajbari), the gorgeous lemon-yellow shrine is existential within its own hallowed square described by a second line of enclosing walls whose entrance way is heralded by two cream-yellow shrines dedicated to the “Chandreswara” (“Lord of Chandra”, Chandra being the moon God) and “Indreswara” (“Lord of Indra”, Indra being the God of thunder and lightning and the chief of minor deities in Hindu mythology) manifestations of Lord Shiva, the God of death and destruction.

A cocoon like no other - The palatial edifice enveloping the shrines

Matchless in their delicate conception and dexterous execution, especially spellbinding are the mesmerizingly sophisticated and meticulously detailed vermilion-red terracotta panels, outstandingly embellishing the twin Bengali-style Shiva shrines and portraying vivid scenes from several interconnected folklores involving depictions of several formidable deities encompassed within a multitude of mischievous and voracious monkeys, an overflowing abundance of rudimentary shrines, a profusion of very attentive parakeets and long-tailed peacocks, and an extravagant excess of excessively flirtatious explosions of multi-patterned floral blossoms.

Within the congested central enclosure, gracefully preceded on two of its adjacent sides by huge pillared congregation halls (“Natamandir”) rises the vertically pronounced, vibrant yellow central shrine, its nine soaring spires (“Navratana”) towering above every other edifice, religious or functional, within the sanctified complex.

In the immediate vicinity of the gateway exist three more subsidiary shrines, dedicated to different manifestations of Lord Shiva. The central sub-shrine, surmounted by five fluted spires (“Pancharatna”) and intermittently adorned with tiny terracotta tiles depicting mythological deities, mythical entities, celestial dervishes and angry sages amidst fantastical smatterings of convoluted floral flourishes is considerably better preserved vis-à-vis the considerably constricted side-shrines flanking it whose tiered tapering roofs have become atrociously weather-blackened and whose remarkably decorated terracotta-studded exterior surfaces, where not painfully crumbling to imperceptible dust, have ruinously withered to unspeakably horrible brown-black smudges.

Withered to disintegration - One of the interior Shiva temples

Enveloped with thick layers of brightly colored, glittering glimmering embroidered clothes and festooned with expensive gold jewelry, housed in the sanctum of the central shrine is a tiny, shimmering black stone sculpture of the eighteen-armed Goddess Durga, a fierce manifestation of universal feminine energy, astride her powerfully muscled lion and piercing the body of the formidable buffalo-demon Mahishasura with her intimidatingly long trident.

Arguably, the minuscule sculpture was either surprisingly revealed from within the Damodar riverbed or was accidentally discovered in a lime kiln around the year 1740, and the local feudal lord Rajadhiraj Zamindar Raja Chitrasena Roy (officiated AD 1740-44) immediately commissioned the construction and ornamentation of the unsophisticated temple around it. It is conjectured in popular folklore that the revered Goddess had miraculously appeared in his dream and foretold her manifestation in this black stone which, enshrined and venerated, shall protect the Raja's territories from the ferociously barbaric slaughter and plunder unleashed over AD 1741-51 by the impressively maneuverable cavalry forces (“Bargir”) of Maratha ruler Raghoji Bhonsle I of Nagpur.

Another theory however contends that the beautiful shrine was actually commissioned by the devout Maharaja Kirtichanda Roy (officiated AD 1702-40) in AD 1702. His prodigious successor Raja Chitrasena Roy merely further magnified and embellished it when he assumed power.

History for the fanatics - A Hindu Goddess who protects Hindu subjects of a Muslim sovereign from Hindu plunderers!

It is believed by some that the shrine coincidentally exists at the site of the “Shakti Peetha” (“Seat of Primordial Feminine energy”) where Goddess Sati’s navel fell following the terrible destruction of Daksha’s sacrifice. I copy verbatim from previous blog posts (refer links enumerated at the end of this article) for elucidation of the mythology and historiography encompassing the Shakti Peethas –

The Shakti Peethas’ perplexing origin has its convoluted roots in ancient history's numerous tales where myths and legends conspire alongside hard facts to generate a picture of inexplicable phenomena and locations. Hindu legends recall the ritualistic sacrificial worship (“yagna”) commissioned by the mythological emperor Daksha in which his own angelic daughter Sati (Shakti) and her husband Shiva, the Hindu God of death and destruction, were unwelcome. Sati, though requested not to go by Lord Shiva but persuaded by an unremitting love for her father and maternal family, nonetheless reached her father’s abode only to be faced with an unrelenting onslaught of merciless abuses and insults heaped upon her all-powerful husband, as an anguished consequence of which she committed suicide by jumping into the ceremonial fire; dangerously enraged and unnervingly grief-struck, Lord Shiva picked up Goddess Sati’s lifeless body in one arm and his frightening trident in the other and began the frenzied “Tandava Nritya” (celestial dance of destruction). The entire world was on the brink of irrevocable destruction when all the Gods and deities collectively invoked Lord Vishnu, the Hindu God of life and preservation, who used his “Sudarshana Chakra” (spinning disc weapon) to cleave Sati’s body into 51 parts since an infuriated Shiva had vowed not to stop his terrible dance till Sati’s body existed. Each of the sacred spots where these 51 hallowed parts fell came to be sanctified as an auspicious “Shakti Peetha” where an intent worshiper channeling the said energy would be endowed with immeasurable intellectual and spiritual prowess.

Mythology elucidated in terracotta - Panels adorning one of the exterior Shiva temples

Following the post-independence abolition of the Zamindari system of revenue administration, the then Maharaja Uday Chanda Mahtab (officiated 1941-55) constituted the Sri Sarbamangala Trust Board in the year 1954 for meeting the expenses of the maintenance, conservation and restoration of the shrine as and when required. The long expanse of periphery wall near the Natamandir is entirely tessellated with a grossly unsightly array of small black-and-white marble plaques eternally commemorating charitable pecuniary contributions undertaken by reverential devotees – so much for philanthropy!

In the intervening distance rises a massive tree encircled by tiny clay toys and wreathed with shimmering garlands, deep red religious threads, marigold flowers, and iridescent glass bangles – votive offerings perhaps for the preternatural folk deity Seetla (hideously ugly but kindhearted Goddess of fevers, skin sores, pustules, and several infectious diseases of skin and blood, including chicken-pox) to cajole her to spare the children the terrible epidemics and punitive sufferings. Yes, even in 21st-century too there are such unbelievable primeval incarnations of the mythological mother Goddess in currency!

Contemplation - Looking into the Natmandir

Who would have thought that the glimpse of this ancient tree in this semi-rural locale in distant Bengal would bring to me half-remembered memories of half-understood traditions from over a decade and a half ago when my grief-struck mother affectionately carried me, chicken-pox inflicted and fever-inflamed, to the local temple near our residence to propitiate the primordial Goddess! And who would have thought that I would here regret that my children would probably never know of these hypnotic legends and mysterious folk deities, except perhaps in confused half-forgotten tales such as these my own?!

Twin sentries - Chandreswara and Indreswara, the exterior Shiva temples

Location: Approximately a kilometer and a half from Bardhaman railway station.
Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
How to reach: The shrine is accessible via the street emanating from Curzon Gate (refer Pixelated Memories - Curzon Gate). The route is pretty straightforward and locals can easily guide one to the shrine. Walk/avail an auto/rickshaw from Bardhaman railway station/bus stop.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 30 min
Relevant links -
Other landmarks located in Bardhaman -
Suggested reading -

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