Kalna or Ambika Kalna – as it is more popularly called – is a historic town in the Bardhaman district of West Bengal. Although its rich bounty of terracotta structures are comparable to those of Bishnupur in sheer grandeur, this wonderful temple town, lying only 93 km away from our city, is surprisingly not yet a popular destination among Kolkatans. Team WHEELS in its latest drive out visited this amazing world of terracotta
DISTANCE: 93.7 km from Kolkata
DRIVING TIME: 2 hours 30 minutes
LOCATION: Although Kalna is in Bardhaman district it is nowhere the Bardhaman town on NH-2. It is actually situated on the western bank of River Bhagirathi Hooghly, precisely towards the north of Kolkata and adjacent to Shantipur in Nadia on NH-34. If you could start in the morning, say latest by 9 am, you can easily visit Kalna and return on the same day.
While driving to Kalna, head for Kona Expressway from Vidyasagar Setu. Thereafter turn into NH-2 connector at the end of the Kona Expressway and proceed towards Durgapur Expressway or NH-2. At Dankuni crossing (just before the toll plaza of Durgapur Expressway) take a right turn into the Old NH-2/Delhi Road. Continue straight through the Delhi Road and cross the intersections of Rishra, Sreerampur, Baidyabati, Bhadreswar, Mankundu, Chandannagar, Chinsurah, Bandel till you reach the T-junction at Mogra. From this T-junction, turn right into the Assam Link Road (formally known as State Highway 6 or the STKK Road) to reach Kalna.
The road condition of the Delhi Road is moderate and some patches at present are under repair. However, you would be compensated on the beautiful Assam Link Road (SH-6/STKK Road) which is usually not frequented by motorists from Kolkata.
Bardhaman’s Kalna and Bankura’s Bishnupur are historically linked. In 1806, the Bishnupur royal estate was purchased by the king of Burdwan who then settled in Kalna. Ever since, the art of terracotta has enriched both places. The first reference to Ambika Kalna is found in a 6th century text named Kubjika Tantra. In 1702, Aurangazeb appointed Raja Jagatram as the Administrator of Kalna, and the town further developed under his worthy son, Kirtichandra, who took over in 1729. Though their roots were in Punjab, the royal family of Burdwan contributed immensely to the glory of Bengal. The royals were keen patrons of arts and several temples of terracotta (burnt clay) were constructed during their reign.
In 1757, Tilokchand, the then Raja of Burdwan, refused to help Lord Clive against Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah. Tilokchand was later vanquished by the British in 1760 and he turned to religion for solace. His change coincided with the golden period of temple architecture in Kalna. Between 1752 and 1766, 7 large and 12 small temples were built in the district Burdwan.
Under Bardhaman Raj, Kalna became an important centre of trade and commerce, particularly in the early 19th century. Art and architecture flourished too. Under the patronage of Maharaja Tej Chandra Bahadur, numerous temples were built in Kalna which are famous for their architectural magnificence and terracotta ornamentation. Except Bishnupur, no other place in Bengal can boast of so many beautiful temples embellished with terracotta plaques – elegantly moulded and preserved till date.
In Kalna, most of the exquisite temples are located inside a walled compound, popularly called the Rajbari complex. The specialty of this group of temples is in their diversity because in this unique group most of the variants of Bengal temple architecture can be found. You will find varied architectural styles – typical Bengali chala, the multi ratna, ridged deul of Bardhaman-Birbhum style, flat roofed style, a replica of the Govardhana Hill, a Rasmancha etc. Most of these temples have terracotta ornamentation.
At the entrance to this Rajbari’s walled temple complex stands the Pratapeswar temple on the left. It is famous for its elaborate terracotta ornamentation and is in a very good condition. Following the death of Prince Pratapaditya in 1821, the temple was constructed in his memory in 1849 by his first wife, Priya Kumari. Constructed on a high plinth it has a single arched opening. The roof follows ridged Rekha deul style, otherwise known as Birbhum-Bardhman type. Designed by Ramhori Mistry, the temple is one of the best examples of terracotta structures in Bengal. The terracotta plaques are astonishingly distinct and undamaged thanks to the preservation efforts by ASI. The figures on its walls depict the life of Krishna, Ravana, festivals like Durga Puja as well figurines of Vaishnavites and even Europeans.
Next to this is the roofless brick structure of Rashmancha. During the Doljatra festival a few religious rituals are held in this premise.
Built in 1739 AD, Lalji temple is the oldest in this group. Situated inside the same walled enclosure within a separate enclosed compound, this brick built 25 ratna (tower) temple is raised on a high platform with a mandap in front. The walls of the temple have beautiful terracotta plaques which are quite unusual, mostly depicting the royal hunting scenes.
An ancillary temple called the Giri Govardhan deserves mention. Rajmata Brajokishori built this in 1739, after her return from Vrindavan. Garuda, the mount of Vishnu is worshiped here.
Another landmark that will capture attention is the Ananta Basudeva temple. Raja Tilokchand’s pet project was built in 1754 in the double aatchala style. Unfortunately, only a few of its terracotta sculptures remain. The temple was renovated by the Birlas in 1964.
Krishnachandraji temple, 60 feet-tall, is another magnificent example in this temple complex. Built by Raja Tilokchand during 1751-55 AD this 25 ratna- (tower)-styled temple has a porch with triple arched opening and is quite unique. This temple too has been constructed in the aatchala style with fabulous terracotta sculptures on the walls. Episodes from Ramayana and Mahabharata, hunting scenes, childbirth and erotica are carved to perfection.
Vijay Vaidyanath temple is another splendid example of traditional Bengali aatchala type. It also has a porch in the front with triple arched entrances. Its façade is decorated with an array of terracotta plaques.
Besides these, there are five aatchala temples in a row built on a low plinth popularly known as the Pancharatna temple. They were probably built in the 19th century.
The Mahis Mardini Institution beside the Rajbari was built by the Maharaja of Burdwan and was meant for the private use of the Queen. It is presently being used as a school building.
On the other side of the Rajbari’s walled temple complex is the famous 108 Shiva temples. Maharaja Tej Chandra sponsored the temples construction which was completed in 1809. The project celebrated the transfer of ownership of the Bishnupur to the royal estate. The architectural scheme is unique as the orientation of the temples is in the shape of two concentric circles- one inside the other. The external circle consists of 74 temples with Shiva lingas made of alternate black stone and white stone. The inside row, however, has all white marbled Shiva lingas. All these temples are in the typical aatchala style.
In 1754, Indrakumari, the Queen of Burdwan, established two Shiva temples in Jagannathbari. Both are 15-ft tall with a 5-ft-high foundation. If you are interested in terracotta sculpture, don’t give these temples a miss. Episodes from Hindu mythology and the epics are etched in fine details on both. Intricate alponas are also carved in terracotta on the temple premises. It is located in Chhotodeuri Para also known as Jagannathtala. For want of renovation and proper care, it is under ruins.
Then there is the Siddhesheswari temple, the oldest temple in Kalna. The name, Ambika Kalna was derived from Goddess Ambika Siddheswari. It was established in 688 A.D by Rishi-Amburish. The image is made of a single Neem log and represents the Bamakali idol. Earlier human scarifies on the altar of the temple were quite common at this site. The ekchala construction has 14 steps leading up to it, the first five signifying the tantrik cult, the next nine indicating the Nabagraha. Besides, there are two small Shiva temples.
The terracotta works on the panels of Gopalbari temple are also worth a visit. A hall, adjacent to the temple, is used for devotional dancing and musical performances can be seen here. It is located in Kalna’s Bhaduri Para.
Mahaprabhu Bari: This is the residence of Gauridas Pandit in which Lord Sree Chaitanya resided thrice during his visit to Kalna. It is denoted by the ‘Sakkhat Bigraha’ considered as world’s first idol of Lord Chaitanya. The tree under which Mahaprabhu took rest, still exists. At present it is identified as ‘Tentultala’ at Mahaprabhu Para. The foot impression of Mahaprabhu can be seen here.
Bhabapagla was a popular singer in the 19th century and was a great devotee of Kali. He founded the temple of Goddess Bhabani near Kalna Old Hospital. His songs were so famous that it is still sung by many people of Bengal. His house can be visited here in Kalna.
Datankathi Tala Masjid is an age old mosque containing eight domes. Around four years ago it was renovated and reconstructed.
If you still have time you may visit the Rameswara temple at Chowk Bazar, Ratneswar temple in Adhikapara, Jaleswar temple at Phatakdwar which all are noteworthy.
Kalna is famous for silk and handloom sarees. On the outskirts of Kalna- mainly on the SH-6 (Assam Link Road)- these handlooms can be seen by the roadside. There are almost 350 to 400 handlooms establishing a flourishing local industry with skilled workers and contribute to an impressive economic growth of Kalna. Sarees from Kalna are primarily sold at the Shantipur Haat in Nadia which are then sent to Kolkata and other parts of India to be sold at a much higher price.
Since the roads within the Kalna town are narrow and congested, it is advised that you park your car beside the Rajbari complex and go around in cycle-rickshaws to visit the other tourist spots.
Photography: Still photography is allowed in most of the places but videography is prohibited.
Food: The best place to have your food in Kalna is Hotel Priyadarshini near the new bus stand. Team WHEELS had a delicious lunch of mutton and rice. Trust us!