Distance from Kolkata: 4.6 km
Driving Time: 15 Mins
Road Trip: 1 days
Winter in Kolkata is a beautiful affair. It is an exciting blend of chilly winds, biting cold, occasional rains and balmy sunbathing – all of which when combined add a unique flavour to the season. It was a drizzly, chilly winter morning when Team Wheels set out for their most-awaited drive-out for a truly unique experience – the Rashbari Garden House at Bally.
This time Team WHEELS drove in a Tata Tigor and enjoyed the drive with five teammates.
To reach the Rashbari Garden House near Belur Math, start from the Dunlop crossing on B. T. Road in Kolkata. Proceed towards Nibedita Setu / Dakshineswar by the PWD Road. Enter the service lane on left, beside the upward ramp of Nibedita Setu. Follow the PWD Road towards Dakshineswar Temple to find a traffic roundabout. Take the second exit towards Bally Bridge and proceed towards Belur Math. Take the immediate left after Bally Bridge to get onto G. T. Road and proceed towards Belur Math. Take the left turn to the Daw Temple Road after Mahadeo Jute Mill which will connect you to Rashbari.
Along the silvery serenity of the Ganges, true to its name, the century-old picturesque temple complex of Shri Shri Radharaman Jiew and Lord Shiva built by late Purna Chandra Daw stands tall. This temple complex is more popularly known as Rashbari. Situated on the western banks of the Ganga, the Rashbari of the late Purna Chandra Daw of Jorasanko is considered to be “the Varanasi of the east” by devotees of Kolkata and Howrah. Spread across two acres of land, the temple of Shri Shri Radharaman Jiew along with half a dozen Shiva temples, the Rash Mancha, Nahabatkhana, Naat Mandir, Khichudibari, Pukurghaat, Sadarbati, Andarbati, Gharighar, and the place of stay of the shebaits and devotees during festivals and ceremonies, is nothing less than a spectacle. The abode for the shebaits and devotees is now being restored and renovated as a homestay named ‘The Rashbari Garden House’.
As we drove close to the Rashbari temple gate, we were welcomed by the gracious Atanu Daw, an heir, a sole shebait and the trustee of the Shib Krishna Debuttar Estate which administers and manages the seba puja and activities of the temple according to the rules laid down by the founder late Purna Chandra Daw. Atanu took us on a guided tour of the temple premises. It is a vintage world with a religious character getting a make-over with modern boarding and lodging facilities for guests.
Radharaman Jiew Temple
On entering the main temple, we stood with folded hands marvelling at the shrine of Shri Shri Radharaman Jiew. It was time for the bhog-aarati and as the priest performed his rituals, the atmosphere, holy and zen-like, gradually began to overwhelm our senses. By the time we stepped out of the temple, the drizzling had stopped and the clouds had gone from dark to slate. No language was necessary to express our readiness to go around the temple premises to view the six temples of Lord Shiva, three on either side of the main temple.
The gorgeous Rash Mancha close to the main temple remains open on the festival days of Rash Utsav from Rash Purnima for four consecutive days. During these days, Radharaman Jiew is decked up grandiosely and revolved around the main temple on a chaturdola. During the Rash Utsav, the dolls’ houses that stand opposite the main temple are beautifully decorated with dolls and put on display for public viewing. Thousands of devotees assemble here at the temple premises to witness this magnificent affair.
Gharighar, the clock tower, was constructed in such a way that it can not only be seen from, but its hourly gong also heard in, the boats and steamers on the waterway. It is an exceptional combination of benevolence and imagination that makes an expansive property on the banks of a river to be useful not only to the owners and the locals but also to the passengers crossing the Ganges.
Naat Mandir and Nahabatkhaana
The Naat Mandir and the two Nahabatkhanas articulate wordlessly the past glory of the place which the Deduttar Estate, founded by Purna Chandra Daw and Kadambini Dasi is trying to revive. You can lose yourself in the sounds of the local kirtanias who present their mystic kirtan, almost every evening at the Naat Mandir. Kirtans are devotional songs sung along with strange old chants to the accompaniment of traditional musical instruments. However, once overflowing with the soulful sound of the shehnai, the Nahabatkhanas are now getting renovated to their original form and glory. With proper investment and planning, they can work wonders in bringing back the lost rhyme.
The priests, understandably, were an indispensable part of the Rashbari and hence were allotted separate quarters for their accommodation, which was called the Khichudibari. According to Atanu Daw, “During the Rash Utsav the Brahmin cooks were busy engaged in feeding the devotees. Hundreds of devotees sat in rows to enjoy the simple fare of khichudi-bhog, which was curried rice with dal, vegetables (chacchari) and sweetmeats (malpoa, halua and chaler payaesh), served on dried sal leaves. This was distributed from here, and hence the name. Thousands of people were fed during the four days of Rash Utsav and the quietness and the regularity of the feast were marvellous.”
Looking at the shabby, mossy Pukurghaat adjoining the Khichudibari, it is difficult to guess that it is soon to be revamped to promote fish tourism! The twin brothers, Arijit and Shubhajit Dutta, dream of giving the Pukurghaat, and thereby the entire Rashbari homestay, a global touch.
It was already past 12 when we were invited to try some bhog which included luchi, phulkopir torkari and peda, followed by some tea, which was most welcome on such a chilly day. Atanu then shared the exciting antecedents behind the development of the Rashbari.
What we fancied the most about the Estate was its remarkable history. According to Atanu Daw, “When my ancestor, Shib Krishna Daw, died, his property was divided equally among his wife Kadambini Devi and each of his two children, Purna Chandra Daw and Haridas Daw.” It seems, Purna Chandra Daw was leading a lavish lifestyle and exhausting the wealth of the Estate. At this juncture Kadambini Devi influenced him to do some constructive work beneficial to the society with his share of the property and find of some purpose in life. Thus, around 1888- 89, when Purna Chandra discovered this site on the western bank of the Ganges, he decided to convert it into an excellent religious and devotional establishment for Kolkatans and the people of Howrah and to spend the rest of his life in the service of Shri Shri Radharaman Jiew. He died at a very early age of 36 years after suffering from some unknown disease. It is difficult to believe that he spent only the last six years of his time on earth in breathing life into this picturesque temple, as a mark of repentance.
As per the arpannamma (Deed of Declaration), the senior-most member of the Daw family would be the Sole Shebait and Trustee from generation to generation. To our surprise, the Daws have been following the same norm down the ages. Thus today, as it stands, Ashim Chandra Daw being the senior-most member of the family is the Sole Shebait & Trustee of the property. As per the arpannama of the founders, Sole Shebait & Trustee is empowered to take all property-related decisions of the Debuttar Estate and he is solely responsibile to look after the maintenance and upkeep of the property. He is not answerable to anyone for any matter regarding the Estate.
We were made privy to another interesting story as well – that of the twin brothers who relocated to Kolkata from Montenegro to spend their old age in their hometown and how they accidentally became an integral part of the Rashbari Garden House project.
It was time for our second round of exploration into this mysterious world which is both intimidating and transcendental.
In the lush green of the riverside lawn, as you sip a cup of Darjeeling tea, or enjoy the setting of the sun on a wintry evening, you are bound to get transported to another world. Standing by the Ganges, one can have a clear view of the Nibedita Setu on the left and Baranagar Kancher Mandir (temple built of glass) and Kashipur Mahasmashan right across the river. Arijit and Shubhajit are quite excited about the buffet counter that is being built on an elevated platform, adjoining the lawn, overlooking the gorgeous river.
Two of the houses of the Rashbari are being renovated for tourist accommodation – the Andarbati and the Kadambari-Sadabrata Kutir.
Sadarbati and Andarbati
Sadarbati, also known as the Baitakkhana, was the place of stay for the male members of the the Daw family during festivals. This house overlooks the garden where now organic farming is being carried out. You can see fresh green vegetables being grown organically, which are the same ones that are served to you in your meals during your stay at the Rashbari.
Andarbati or Bhetorbari, on the other hand, was meant for the stay of the ladies of the Daw family. The Andarbati is now being renovated for homestay. There are two rooms in this building, each having two double beds, an attached bathroom and a balcony area overlooking the lawn and the Ganges. So much space and privacy was given to the ladies of the family that they had a dedicated private ghaat with a flight of steps to reach the water edge, for bathing. This was called the Andarbati Ghaat, separate from the ghaat of the Mandir complex, which is accessible to all. “We wish to organise boat rides from this ghaat, which will take the visitors around Dakshineswar Temple, Addyapeeth and Belur Math,” says an enthusiastic Subhajit.
This house has already been given a facelift by the Estate and it now has a full-fledged dining hall on the ground floor while there are two double bedrooms fully renovated with modern amenities for guests on the first floor. The rooms are moderately but tastefully furnished, each having a dressing room with an alna (traditional cloth rack) unlike wardrobes in hotels, and a spacious, modern bathroom.
Right in front of this building is the house where the Daws reside during the festival. Atanu is focussed on reviving it to the best of his ability and converting it into a lavish stay for guests.
Adjoining the Kadambari-Sadabrata Kutir is the sprawling, beautifully-designed cafeteria with very unique interiors.
There is a huge table in the middle of the cafeteria, with garden-style benches surrounding it, that blend perfectly with the ambience.
The cafeteria is big enough to host a reunion or a birthday party, with an unusual clause – the food served has to be strictly vegetarian with only fish allowed as a non-veg item. The landscaping outside the cafeteria is splendid with a cobblestone pathway leading to the parking lot.
By the time we finished navigating the place we were famished. Atanu and his wife and son guided us to the dining hall where we were told that the food was strictly vegetarian and cooked in the traditional Bengali style.
We had a lavish spread of a typical bonedi-bari menu consisting of rice, daal, aloo-bhaja, aloo-posto with daaler bori, shim pathuri, fulurir jhaal and white mishti doi. The passion for cooking and the warmth of the hospitality made the food finger-licking delicious.
The most interesting part of the lunch was that the items, rice, daal, aloo-bhaja and daaler bori diye aloor torkari were prepared in the Rashbari in-house kitchen while shim pathuri and fulurir jhaal were prepared at the Daws’ ancestral home at Jorasanko under the supervision of Atanu’s mother and transported via boat to be served at the Rashbari! Back at Jorasanko, Atanu’s mother looks into the kitchen affairs and we were privileged to be gifted some of her popular recipes.
When we think of beauty in nature, we might most immediately think of what dazzle the senses – the expanse of a river, the greenery of a lawn, the blooming of a flower or the chimes of a temple bell reverberating in the air. Often it is merely the perception of these things itself which gives us pleasure, and this emotional or affective response on our part seems to be crucial to our experience of beauty, a beauty as natural and ethereal as the Rashbari itself.
By the time we headed for the city, the roads were getting wedged solid with a traffic gridlock. The adequately powerful 1.2 litre Tata Tigor, with its great steering feel, easy gear shifts and decent suspension impressed Team WHEELS as a sturdy city car