Distance from Kolkata: 124 km
Driving Time: 3 hours
Road Trip: 1 day
Scattered with hidden anecdotes of a majestic past, Ballal Dhipi is an explorer’s treasure. An Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) excavation site, Ballal Dhipi is situated a mere 124 km away from Kolkata in Nadia’s Bamun Pukur village and offers an exquisite foray into the classical era of Bengal. Named after Ballal Sen, ruler of the Sena Dynasty of Bengal in the late 12th century, Ballal Dhipi is a protected site. Plan your next weekend getaway to Ballal Dhipi if navigating through centuries-old ruins and a tête-à-tête with time itself appeals to you.
Ballal Dhipi is located close to Mayapur, 7 km ahead of the temple complex in Nadia.
Starting from the Ultadanga traffic roundabout, enter Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue (VIP Road) and proceed towards Kolkata Airport. Meet NH-12 (old NH-34 / Jessore Road) and turn right towards Birati. Continue driving straight through NH-12 and pass through Madhyamgram, Barasat, Amdanga, Barajaguli, Chakdaha, Ranaghat and Beldanga Morh to reach Krishnanagar. Follow NH-12 and continue for 9 km beyond Krishnanagar to find a prominent left turn called Mayapur (or Hansdanga) Morh in Dhubulia. Take the left to enter Bhakti-Siddhanta Saraswati Marg leaving NH-12 and drive for 7 km to reach Bamun Pukur Bazar. A narrow lane on the right inside the congested road leads to Ballal Dhipi. 500 m on the narrow concrete village lane reveals the excavated mound in Khaser Para, bound by a prominent wall on your left.
NH-12 (old NH-34) connecting Kolkata to Dalkhola is being widened by NHAI. However, it is still an old-generation highway – a one-up/one-down carriageway without any concrete divider – upto Baharampur. It has an average road surface condition with moderate traffic. With many commercial vehicles plying through the highway, driving after sundown should be avoided.
Chandragupta II (380 – 415 AD) was one of the most powerful emperors in India. He defeated a confederacy of Banga kings and annexed Banga (southeastern Bengal) as a part of the Gupta Empire which ruled over the north Indian subcontinent. With the disintegration of the Gupta Empire in the 6th century, the Gouda kings rose in Bengal with their capital at Karnasuvarna (near modern Murshidabad).
Shasanka, a vassal of the Gupta Emperor, proclaimed independence on unifying the smaller principalities of Bengal. After Shasanka’s regime, extreme anarchy reigned in Bengal (known as Matsanyay). During this period, the people of Bengal elected Gopala (750-770 AD) as the first king of the Pala empire (750—1120 AD). The Pala Dynasty was the first independent Buddhist dynasty of Bengal. It brought stability and prosperity to the region and is considered as the golden era of Bengal.
The Sena or Sen Dynasty (Hemantasena > Vijayasena > Vallalasena [Ballal Sen] > Lakshmansena) emerged during the declining phase of the Palas and ruled Bengal for a little over a century (1097-1225 AD). The Senas dislodged the Palas in Bengal towards the end of the 11th century AD.
The Senas, originally belonging to the Karnata country in south India, were Brahma-Kshatriyas (Brahmins who later converted to Kshatriyas). It is recorded in the Deopara Inscription of Vijayasena that Virasena was a ruler of the southern region. In that Sena family was born Samantasena, whose descendants ruled in Bengal.
It is surmised that upon arrival from Karnata, the Senas were employed in high offices like generals under the Pala Dynasty. When the Palas weakened, the Senas usurped power in Bengal. Samantasena’s son Hemantasena was probably the first ruling chief of the Sena Dynasty in Bengal. Hemantasena was succeeded by his son Vijayasena, who laid the foundation of an independent rule in Bengal.
Vijayasena, capitalizing on the weakness of the Pala rule in Bengal, defeated the Palas and captured the throne of Gauda. He also extended his hold over Bihar. By the middle of the 12th century, Vijaysena had established his rule over the whole of Bengal and Bihar. He reigned long, about 62 years (1098-1160 AD). He was a Shaiva and liberal towards Brahmins versed in the Vedas and the poor.
Vijayasena was succeeded by his son Vallalasena or Ballal Sen (in Bengali). It is stated in the Adbhutasagara that he engaged in warfare with the King of Gauda identified with Govindapala of the Pala Dynasty. This is corroborated by the Vallalacharita of Anandabhatta composed in 1510 AD. Govindapala, the last Pala ruler of Magadha, lost his kingdom in 1160 AD. Epigraphic records date this fall in the reign of Ballal Sen. Hence the final blow to the Palas in Magadha was in all probability dealt by Ballal Sen.
The Adbhutasagara states that Ballal Sen conquered Mithila (portions of north Bihar) and his dynasty included present-day Bangladesh apart from the whole of West Bengal.
Ballal Sen’s name is connected with the introduction of the practice of Kulinism – a caste system among Brahmins and Kayasthas in Bengal – with a view to reorganizing the social system, whereby ranks known as Kulin were bestowed upon a few in the society in consideration of their nobility.
Sena epigraphs prove that Ballal Sen was a great scholar and renowned author. He wrote the Danasagara in 1168 AD and started writing the Adbhutasagara in 1169 AD but could not complete it. Like his father, he was also a worshipper of Shiva. He assumed the epithet Ariraja-Nihshanka-Shankara along with other imperial titles and had a successful reign of 18 years (1160-1178 AD).
His marriage to Ramadevi, a Chalukya princess, indicates that the Senas maintained close relations with southern India. In his old age, Ballal Sen left the government to his son Lakshman Sen and retired with his wife Ramadevi to the banks of the Ganges at a locality near Triveni where they spent their last days.
After the demise of Ballal Sen, Lakshman Sen was attacked and defeated by the Muslim ruler Bakhtiar Khilji. Lakshman Sen then fled to eastern Bengal where he continued his rule.
There are two ASI boards at the entrance to the compound that demarcate its national importance and historical significance. The site was excavated by ASI in two phases: 1983-1984 and 1987-1988, under the supervision of N.C. Ghosh, assisted by ten other archaeologists.
As you climb a flight of stairs, the first glance at the huge complex will intrigue you. The vast open land with heaps of ruins dating back centuries is a sight to marvel at. Historians theorize that these are ruins of the palace of Vijayanagar, the capital of the estate in the early 12th century under Vijaya Sena. Other historians believe these are the ruins of the palace built by Ballal Sen himself. However, the ASI reports suggest that these are the remains of a Shiva temple built during the rule of Ballal Sen in the 12th century.
After ascending the stairs, as you make your way towards the middle of the ruins, you will notice that the bricks used in the construction are made of terracotta. Representing a form most similar to that of 12th century establishments in Bihar, the flooring is made of quicklime and sand. The entire structure is enclosed within 9 m high walls and constitutes a total area of 13,000 sq ft.
On the upper level eastern boundary there is a miniature stucco shrine that represents the head of a crocodile. This is a stone gargoyle that was used as a drainage exit channelling water in a circular kunda. This immaculate architectural designing of the drainage area in the 12th century without the aid of modern technology is remarkable. As you move towards the southern end of the ruins, you will witness how intricately the drainage was planned with canals running between the temple wall and the boundary wall.
Also excavated were terracotta human and animal figurines and copper utensils like lotas, ladles, lamps and cylindrical cases. According to locals, a 7-ft tall lamp, huge cart wheels made of basalt weighing nearly 300 kilograms and a humongous stone carved with the temple map were found from the excavation site. Some locals also mentioned that a Shiva idol measuring 1.5×3 ft was found in Bhairav stance along with a few utensils of the Pala Dynasty.
As per ASI reports, two heads in stucco work were found on the upper levels. One of them with a deep depression in the forehead denoting a third eye was possibly the stucco head of a deity. The other was a female stucco head. However, the most remarkable find was that of a male figure in basalt which exhibited characteristic features of a gana. These figurines and utensils are preserved in different museums of the state.
There are five distinct door-like demarcations on the walls that are blocked with new bricks evident from the difference in colour – the exact reason for which is unknown. On each side there is a hollow square or homkunda spot for fires lit during worship. These suggest that the temple had five ends and was built in the pancharatha style of Hindu temple architecture. Most Hindu temples built between the 10th and 13th centuries adopted the pancharatha architectural form, most notable of them being the 12th century Jagannath Temple at Puri and the Lakshmana and Rajrani Temples of Khajuraho, built in the 10th and 11th century respectively. A parikrama pathway is visible in the north-western direction and is apparent that it ran all around the temple periphery.
ASI reports suggest that the central projection of the temple was 9.40 m long and that the massive structure represents a cruciform plan in its exposed part although the superstructure or the arch prevalent over all pancharatha style temples was not found during the excavation of Ballal Dhipi.
From the western and northern sides of Ballal Dhipi, the ruins look like a fortified palace. It can be noted that the excavation is partial and a huge chunk of the structure is still underground. During the 12th century, the River Ganges used to flow beside the site and the soil had a characteristic sandy texture. Clay from the river banks was used to hold down the bricks and can be seen where the bricks have weathered, leaving the dusty binder exposed. Over time, the Ganges altered its route and now flows 3 km away from the site. The tall walls on the western and northern end are a reminder that the sands of time still hold on dearly to the memory of this site.
End of the Road
Ballal Dhipi is an integral cog in the history of Bengal and of eastern India. The architectural resemblances with temples and structures in Bihar and Orissa are an eye-opener and an aid-memoire to how Hindu architectural style flourished in the classical times and must be preserved as an important piece of history in the present century.
The cause of destruction of such a magnificent citadel is not known. As most of the statues and images found were broken, historians attribute the downfall to human hands. However, the possibility of destruction due to natural calamity is not ruled out.
Presently the site is looked after by Gangadhar Das, Junior Conservation Assistant of ASI and Budhu Halsena, multi-tasking staff, both of whom reside there.
Ballal Dhipi gets close to 300 local visitors daily, comprising mostly of local school excursion teams and visitors at Mayapur’s ISCKON temple.
During the return journey to Kolkata, Team WHEELS stopped for a meal at Hotel Haveli in Krishnanagar on NH-12 (NH-34). They have a delicious Bengali thali menu and a la carte options that will rejuvenate you, providing the impetus to hit the road again.
Bamun Pukur, Nadia
Timing: 8 am to 6 pm
Parking: Near the entrance