My earliest recollection for the name Kalna was from a poem by Rabindra Nath Tagore elucidating the wacky lifestyle of an old lady and her grand mother-in-law’s sisters. These ladies used to store their pots and pans in the clothes hangar and kept their clothes in the clay oven:) While I used to double up in laughter, each time I read the lines; I would also imagine meeting them some day in Kalna. I discovered the book recently, under a pile of others and childhood memories came flashing by. Soon, I was searching for Kalna and realised that it is hardly 80 kms away from Kolkata and promised a few hidden architectural gems as well.
I took a suburban train to Ambika Kalna from Sealdah Station. Negotiated a ride in a cycle drawn rickshaw to take us around town. The rickshaw rolled through the narrow streets of a sleepy town and soon we were in front of the 108 Shiva Temple Complex also known as Naba Kailash. 2 concentric circles of “Aat Chala” Brick Temples Temples were neatly seated in an impressive lawn. This 200 year old Temple Complex was laid out in 2 circles, the outer circle had 74 temples and the inner circle had 34 totaling to 108 which is a divine number. If you are wondering why 108 is a divine number then read my attempt at understanding the same.
The temples were all of same size, plain outer walls, 8 sloping roofs supported by 8 columns each housing a Shiva Linga. The inner circle had all white Shiva Linga’s made out of marble whereas the outer circle had shiva linga’s which alternated between white marble and dark black stone. These temples maintained by ASI are non functional and all you can do is may be offer a few flowers. It appeared like the beads in a rosary and I went around the temple peeping in and out just to see if I could find anything that looked different. Nope, the makers maintained utmost uniformity. I wish I was able to shoot better panoramas or elevate myself to take an aerial view of this complex.
This temple complex was constructed by Maharaja Teja Chandra Bahadur along with his mother Bishankumari in 1809. He belonged the Sangam Rai dynasty who were originally Punjabi Khatri Kapoor’s and had settled down in the area engaging in trade and business. Over time they acquired the title of Raja (King) owing to their proximity with the Mughal rulers in Delhi and subsequently the British.
- Day trip to Kalna, Gutipara and Shantipur to explore the lost temples and the Bengal Tant Weave. It gets quite hot in this part so better done in the Ist half of the day.
- Drive to Kalna from Kolkata – 80 kms in about 2-2.5 hours. Alternatively take the suburban train from Sealdah or Howrah Station @ 8am and reach Ambika Kalna by 9.30am
- The round Trip Rickshaw Ride around town will be around Rs 125-Rs150/- based on your negotiation skills. Complete the temples of Kalna (108 Shiva Temple; Rajbari Complex, Kali Temple) in about 3 hours and lunch at Hotel Priyadarshini near the bus stand. Their mutton curry still lingers on my tongue.
- Head to Guptipara – this is slightly tricky if you dont have your own transport. Avail auto’s which will drive through bamboo groves and remote villages and take you there in about 20mins. Negotiate with the guy to drop you back at the ferry ghat or station.
- From the station; you can return to Howrah or Sealdah as convenient. The return train is at 4.20pm.
- From the Ferry Ghat you can cross over to Shantipur to see the Tantis or the weavers in action. This is a chance you will need to take; since there is no organized tour. I so wish they had one; to eat in a local home; to see the local art !!