Just as the car took the final turn on the dusty trail, a brown stone wall suddenly emerged on the horizon, indicating our journey has come to an end. Each of us felt the sheer joy of discovering a treasure hitherto unknown, tucked away in oblivion by the passage of time. It won’t be an exaggeration to say it was a discovery since the 600-year old Kurumbera Fort is certainly not on the state’s tourist map though it does get occasional visitors from nearby places. The fort is located about 163 km away from Kolkata and 52 km from Kharagpur. Team WHEELS can claim the credit for spreading the word and tracing out the route to this historical structure which though under the Archaeological Survey of India, is hardly known to the wanderlust Bengalis.
As Team WHEELS took the last turn on right after Gaganeswar Bazaar it was the ramparts of the Kurumbera Fort which came into view. Despite facing the vagaries of time and nature, the fort shrouded in legends and myths, still manages to excite and captivate visitors.
Unlike many states, West Bengal is devoid of majestic structures built by the rulers of bygone era. Most of the structures have been either destroyed by invaders or ravaged by time. Besides Gour in Malda, the fort at Kurumbera in Paschim Medinipur has somehow survived the onslaught of time.
Initially the name ‘Kurumbera’ could hardly cut any ice with our team members but were convinced to visit a ‘fort’.
Kurumbera Fort is located in Gaganeswar village near Kesiari in West Midnapore– close to Belda beside NH-60 and Kharagpur town. It is well connected to Kolkata via Kharagpur by the fabulous new generation highways of NH-6 followed by NH 60. The total drive would take roughly 4 hours from Kolkata.
From Vidyasagar Setu enter Kona Expressway. At the end of Kona Expressway turn left to enter NH-6. Thereafter, continue straight on NH-6 and cross the toll tax plaza at Dhulagori, Uluberia and Kolaghat. Thereafter continue straight towards Kharagpur and cross Deulia, Mechogram, Debra toll tax, Basantpur, till you reach the bifurcation on NH-6 just before Kharagpur town. Here the traffic informatory board reads: ‘Kharagpur and Mumbai – on left’ (while going onto a flyover). Do not take this left towards Kharagpur/ Mumbai but proceed forward to take a soft left which passes under a flyover and enters into NH-60 (also known Baleswar highway) to proceeds towards Orissa.
Once you are on NH-60, continue on the concretised surface with the few diversions since the carriageway is under repair at some places.
On NH-60, pay toll tax at Rampura and enter ‘Baleswar-Kharagpur Expressway’ (continuation of NH-60) and proceed till you reach Belda junction, about 38 km from NH-6. Belda would be the first prominent intersection after Makrampur with a road entering on right from NH-60. Enter into this road from Muhammadpur at Belda, leaving behind NH-60 and continue driving forward towards Belda Police Station. Continue a little further to take the first right from the intersection which leads to Kukai and Keshiari. Follow this road SH-5, popularly known as Hospital Road for another 10.4 km to reach Kukai before Keshiari. From Kukai Morh take an insignificant left into a narrow red lateritic road – wide enough for two vehicles to proceed towards Gaganeswar village. Drive on this picturesque pathway which cuts through the green paddy fields on both sides. After about a km on this quaint road take the right fork and continue on the same stretch for another 2.1 km to reach the small village bazaar at Gaganeswar. At the other end of the bazaar turn right which would lead you to an open area and you will finally set your eyes upon the astonishing Kurumbera Fort.
The USP of the drive was indeed the route which kept changing as we cruised on the new generation 6-lane NH-6, then eased into the 4-lane NH-60, followed by the SH-5 and finally entered into the village pathway of red laterite soil. Nevertheless, the drive was engrossing and smooth without testing our driving skills severely.
Despite being a protected monument under ASI, there is no data available about this fort which is quite surprising. However, according to few local intellectuals, it might be because of a Hindu-Muslim dispute over the demolition of the Shiva temple which prompted the decision to keep its history under wraps.
According to folklore, this fort was built overnight to welcome Lord Rama and his consort, Sita when they visited the place during their exile.
Fort Kurumbera is maintained by Archeological Survey of India (ASI) which had taken over the site in 1920 and has been preserving it quite impressively. According to ASI- the enclosure was originally a laterite temple of Shiva built according to the shikhara style of architecture.
The only survivor to narrate the history is an inscription on a white stone block, to be found on the extreme western wall of the corridor behind the domed structure. According to the inscription the structure was originally a temple or Shivalaya dedicated to Mahadeva built by Gajapati king of Orissa named Kapilendradeva who ruled probably between 1438 and 1469 AD. Later on, it was expanded to provide shelter to the pilgrims.
The triple domed mosque, according to the inscription, was built by Muhammad Tahir in 1699 during the reign of Aurangzeb. It was during this period the temple complex was converted into a military cantonment by the Mughals who invaded Bengal. It was then, the place was converted into a fort.
Later on, in 18th century when Marathas (Bargis) stormed Orissa and Bengal under the command of Bhaskar Rao Holker and Raghuji Bhonsle, it was wrested from the Mughals but the temple was never rebuilt.
The fort later came under the control of Dutta family of Hashimpur near Kukai. We visited Prasad Kumar Dutta of the Dutta family to dig out some more details. Sadly, no authentic record of the fort was available with them apart from hearsay.
In local language ‘kurum’ means stone and ‘bera’ means fence. Thus ‘Kurumbera’ means ‘an area fenced by stone’. The Kurumbera Fort has a 12 feet high enclosure, constructed with stone. The enclosure is 172 feet long and 253 feet wide. Red laterite or ‘makra’ was used for construction of the structure.
The enclosure houses three spherical domes – a vacant mosque-like structure on a raised platform of 3 feet height with 3 steps. Lying opposite to the domes is an altar on small stone enclosure filled in with soil.
The entire arena is surrounded by an 8 feet wide arched corridor running on all four sides with 69 pillars out of which 62 still exists.
It has a single point entry – a sikhara-style entrance with a wooden door opening towards the north. Beside the fort, there is a huge pond known as Yogeshwar Kunda.
The stepping stone structure of the gate clearly indicates an Orissa school of architecture known as ‘pida’. Although the massive iron gate is no more, it has left its mark on the stone floor which is still intact.
On entering through the gate, one can either proceed through the arched corridors on both sides or walk into the open courtyard in front.
Inside, we found a vast corridor with pillars running on almost all four sides. The pillars on the outer edge were built at an equal distance of 6 feet 9 inches. The upper roof of the corridor is built of inter-locking stones with designs of lotus, thereby proving once again its affinity with Hinduism.
The pillars supporting the outer edge of the corridor have close similarities with 17th century chala temples of Bengal. The western part of the corridor behind the mosque-like structure has collapsed.
Inside, the laterite stone on the roof has various floral designs and Hindu motifs such as lotus. ASI has constructed many pillars at the middle of the arched corridors to give support to the roof and prevent it from collapsing. Lime mortar and cement has also been inserted inside the gaps of the stone pillars to strengthen and block reptiles from seeking refuge between the cracks.
There are two theories on the actual location of the Shiva temple. According to Prasad Kumar Dutta, the owners of the fort and Yogeshwar Kunda in front, the square altar at the middle of the compound was actually the base of the Shiva temple which was later razed. He explained that it has a channel on the northern side of the base to drain out the water poured on the Shiva linga in the temple.
However, according to another popular belief – the temple was much bigger than the present altar and was located at the same place as the mosque. It was destroyed later to give way to the mosque. The altar was actually a well which was later filled up with soil.
Sadly, without any confirmed official history other than the 5 sentence-long description sent to us by ASI, not much authentic information is available. But it was apparent from well-maintained structure that there are definite reasons behind the veil of ambiguity that cloaks the fort.
Few visitors choose to explore Kurumbera Fort and it remains embarrassingly empty throughout the day. For motorists from the city, a day trip to Kurumbera Fort is a must to experience the historical wonder shrouded in obscurity.
Sarva Mangala Mandir
On our way back from Kurumbera Fort, Team WHEELS visited the Sarva Mangala Mandir 1 km inside from Keshiari bus stand. Devi Sarva Mangala is the most revered goddess in the area and so no idol other than in the form of pot or paintings are worshipped in the nighbourhood. The idol of Sarva Mangala is shining red – housed inside a large temple with a huge prayer hall at the entrance.
Enroute we stopped at Motel Midway Sonar Bangla just before the Dhulagorhi toll plaza on NH-6 for a quick breakfast. The spread was particularly delicious because of the veggies from kitchen garden and dairy products sourced from their own farm.
Although the other two popular food joints are Azad Hind Dhaba at Uluberia and Sher-E-Punjab at Kolaghat, we felt that Motel Midway was the best stopover on NH-6 for food, on way to Kolaghat or Kharagpur
Fast Facts: Kurumbera Fort
Open: All days
Timing: 8 am to 5 pm
Car park: All around
Fast Facts : Sarva Mangala Mandir
Open: All days
Timing: 6.30 am – 1.30 pm /
6.15 pm – 8.30 pm
Photography: Not permitted
Car park: Inside temple complex or vicinity