This blog is part of my Chinsurah Series and today I would be telling you some new and fascinating facts about the Hangseshwari Temple. If you search online you will get only a basic knowledge about this temple and when I was about to write about this temple I found it quite challenging to get details from different sources. Finally after going through several books and other documents managed to stitch together a fascinating story.
Hangseshwari Temple is situated in Bansberia in the Hooghly district of West Bengal, as mentioned earlier in my previous blogs that I have visited Bansberia several times since my relatives stay there and surprisingly never visited this temple. I had visited this temple as a part of a day trip to this wonderful town where there is history in every corner.
Bansberia, in fact, Hooghly overall was a very important port towns in this part of the country but this place was not populated as such and was more the hinterlands of Bengal.
There was a large exodus of Hindu zamindars to Patuli which was a small village in the district of Bardhaman district. This was a small yet beautiful village where Joyanondo Rai had his zamindari. Joyanondo Rai had five sons and the eldest of them was Raghab Rai who somehow managed to get a favour from Emperor Shah Jahan and was conferred the title “Chowdhuri”, matters did not end here and the next year he was given the title of “Majundar”.
Along with this, he got the zamindari rights of 21 Parganas which were Arsba, Haldaha, Mamdanipur, Panjnaur, Boro, Shahapur, Jehanabad, Shaistanagorc, Shahanagore, Raipur Kotwali, Paonan, Khosalpore, Moiat, Bux- bunder, Havilishahar, Paikan, Mozzaferpore, Hathikanda, Selimpur, Amirabad and Janglipur.
Raja Mahasai Rameshwar Rai
Thus, the Rai family fortunes suddenly jumped folds and became one of the most affluent Bengali families of the region. After the death of Raghab Rai Chowdhuri his two sons Rameshwar Rai and Basudeb Rai decided to divide the property. Rameshwar Rai being the eldest son got two-thirds of the property whereas Basudeb Rai got one-third.
Rameshwar Rai then moved out of Patuli and settled in Banskabati which we now know by the name Bansberia. Settling in this region Rameshwar Rai opened many Sanskrit Tol (school) and even managed to get teachers from Banaras. Just like his predecessors, he was also very loyal to the Mughals, he found out that some of the Parganas (Regions) were not paying the correct tax which was due to the emperor and took the onus on himself to get those zamindars ousted and taking possession and paying the rightful tax to the emperor. Aurangzeb them emperor of the Mughal dynasty took note of this and conferred the title of “Raja Mahasai” to Rameshwar Rai in the year 1673.
Things did not end here and he was rewarded with more Parganas and land for his private residence. He was given 401 Bigah (160 Acres) of land for his personal residence which was completely rent free. Apart from this, he was also given additional twelve Parganas of Kalikata, Dharsa, Amirpur, Balanda, Khalore, Manpur, Sultanpore, Hathiagarh, Medamulla, Kujpore, Kaunia and Magura.
Ananta Basudeba Temple
Raja Mahasai Rameshwar Rai was a devote Hindu and a deep sense of belief of the Hindu God Vishnu also known as Basudeb. In his honour he built a beautiful terracotta temple in the year 1679. This is what we now know as the Ananta Basudeba Temple.
This temple is one of the classic examples of the fine terracotta architecture of Bengal. There is a basalt slab attached in the temple which has the following inscription in Bengali (old).
Raja Nrisinhadeb Rai
Fast forwarding to the next three generation we get Raja Nrisinhadeb Rai. By now the legacy was much divided amongst the many male members of the family and the Mughal dynasty was getting replaced by the fierce powers of British East India Company in the region. Raja Nrisinhadeb Rai was a Sanskrit scholar and had spent quite some time in Banaras learning the true meaning of life and practising Yoga. He got a chance to go to England to pursue higher studies but instead headed back to Bansberia.
He wanted to build a temple in accordance with the mystic formula of Shata-Chakra-Bheda with five stone staircases to represent the five Narheis or vital channels in the spinal cord, namely, Era, Pingala, Susumna, Bajrakhya and Chitrini. Central to this was Goddess Hangseshwari to represent the Kundalini Shakti or Para Saakti of Yoga.
He was so inspired that he himself went to Chunar (a small town near Varanasi) and purchased stones that were sent by boats to Bansberia.
He reached Bansberia and laid the foundation stone to the temple in the year 1799. Unfortunately, he did not survive to see its completion and died 1802, by now only the second floor of the temple was completed.
Raja Nrisinhadeb Rai had two wives and as per the then tradition the elder wife died (Sati) along with the funeral pyre of the Raja Nrisinhadeb Rai. The younger wife Rani Shankari took the onus on herself to complete the construction of the temple. Finally, in the year 1814, the temple and its five-storied structure were completed. The total cost for construction was nearly Rupees 5 Lacks during that time which was a huge sum.
There is a stone slab with words in Sanskrit in the front portion of the temple which has the following text. “This holy temple made resplendent by Hangseshwari in the company of fourteen Sivas who are so many doors to salvation (Mokska) it was begun by the earthly lord Nrisinhadeb of good deeds, and has in obedience to his mandate been completed by his wife, the auspicious Sankari, who is constantly devoted to the lotus- feet of her Guru. In the Saka year 1736”.
This temple is one of a unique temple structure that I have ever seen. It is a perfect example of beauty, symmetry, and unique architecture. It has thirteen minarets which are shaped on top like lotus buds with the deity being placed under the central spire standing on a lotus.
The goddess is carved Neem wood and painted blue. In the upper storey, there is a Shiva carved out of white marble and there are another twelve underneath the remaining twelve minarets.
In order to really appreciate the beauty of this temple I would recommend you to spend a couple of hours to enjoy its real architectural beauty.
The house of the raja is still present next to the temple complex. Unfortunately, the present condition is nothing in compares to the original grandeur. Apart from the main housing section, there are several broken uncatalogued brick structures around the property.
This blog was part of my Chinsurah series. My next blog will be on Zafar Khan Ghazi Mosque & Dargah so keep watching this space.
Bandel Church – Hanseswari Temple – Zafar Khan Ghazi Mosque & Dargah