Chandraketugarh – The Forgotten Bengal Empire


Chandraketugarh – The Forgotten Bengal Empire

My paternal grandmother was an avid storyteller and during the mid-80’s when Calcutta was constantly suffering from daily dosages of load shedding which in plain and simple terms means power cut due to excess demand these stories used to work like a charm. The darkrooms are only lit by kerosene lamps and my grandmother constantly swinging her haath pakha (hand fan) to cool us during the summer nights.

From fairy tales to stories from her childhood the darkness and heat did not feel that bad all with these adventurous stories. When a huge multi-storeyed building was being constructed right across the street she used to notice the black clay soil that was being dugout. After digging around ten feet water table was hit and a steady flow of water used to constantly flood the dugout sections. Pumps were deployed to drain out those water to continue the digging process. My grandmother used to mention that the heavy presence of water and a high water table was due to the numerous rivers that once dotted this region of Bengal. One river which she always used to highlight was Bidyadhari River. She used to keep saying that historically this river was a lifeline to Bengal and much of lower Bengal had connections to Bidyadhari River through numerous tributaries and channels.

During the lockdown, I was initially desperate for a quick getaway as I am used to regular travel either due to work or just for a casual time out. I had nothing to blog about and the only option for me was to look into my stock images and these were the usual tough nuts that I hadn’t blogged about.

I used to keep thinking that Kolkata unlike any other metro cities had very few historic landmarks beyond the typical British Raj-era buildings. How wrong was I when I started slowly uncovering one after the other archaeological site all within a day trip from Kolkata.

One such interesting archaeological site is that of Chandraketugarh. What is most intriguing about this place is that very little has been excavated and what lies beneath the ground is best left to guesswork.

History of Chandraketugarh

The region of Bengal where it meets the bay is an active delta and as with any delta, the geography dramatically can change over the years. Due to silt and sedimentation, the delta is one hand slowly increasing in length while global warming now has done the reverse with increasing sea level.

The location of Chandraketugarh has a deep historical presence and was once set to be the capital of Bengal Gangetic plains that had active trade links with Europe especially with the Greeks. The Greeks referred to this region as “Gangaridai” and have been mentioned in several Graeco-Roman texts.

Bidyadhari River was then much bigger and greater in size and was easily accessible to trading ships coming in from the Bay of Bengal.

The mounds were first located around 1905 – 1906 by a local doctor named Taraknath Ghosh and this information was passed on to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). A.H. Longhurst from ASI – Eastern Circle visited this site for inspection which led to the discovery of ancient pots and bricks.

It is also to be noted that eminent archaeologist Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay had also visited this site around 1909. However nothing much happened till as recently as 1955 that a small level of excavation work was carried on by the Ashutosh Museum of Indian Art.

The excavation resulted in the discovery of pottery, beads from the various era which can be classified as:

Period I which might be Pre-Mauryan and can be characterized by Red Ware typical of this era
Period II which might be the Maurya-Sunga era was marked by Northern Black Polished Ware
Period III is Post-Sunga with redware, stone beads, cast copper coins, etc.
Period IV which is the Kushan era with terracotta figurines
Period V Gupta era with burnt bricks and other relics

The further detailed excavation was planned but never executed. The excavated mounds were covered up and waiting to be dug again.

As the name suggests “Chandraketugarh” can be roughly translated as the region ruled by Chandraketu. Very less is known about him and some references put him as one of the greatest rulers of the Gangetic delta region.

Who Was Sandrocottus?

There is an ongoing debate that Sandrocottus has been mentioned by the famous Greek explorer Megasthenes. People usually assume Sandrocottus with Chandragupta Maurya or Samudragupta but recent research has pointed out various references that point out to Chandraketu the king of Chandraketugarh as Sandrocottus.

Sandrocottus is mentioned by Megasthenes as the most powerful king of Gangaridai and it’s a well-known fact that Gangaridai was the people of the Gangetic plains of Bengal as referred to by the Greeks.

Chandraketu was such a powerful king that Alexander himself had met him personally thus placing him in the timeline somewhere between 5 – 4 century BC which matches perfectly with both the timelines of these two great kings.

Location of Chandraketugarh

If you Google Chandraketugarh then the first location that you would be prompted would be at a crossroad at Berachampa. The historic sight lies within fifty meters of the Haroa Road and Taki Road crossing at Berachampa. But here lies the main confusion as the archaeological site at the crossroad is just one of the two sites. While this one is popularly known as Khana-Mihirer Dhipi the real location for the Chandraketugarh Fort lies in the opposite direction from the crossroads. The historic location of Chandraketugarh Fort is around 2 kilometers in the opposite direction. 

Khana-Mihirer Dhipi

This is well marked and the excavations are still visible. The excavated sections have been cleaned up and various structures can be easily made out.

In 1957 excavation was carried out on a mound that revealed temple-like structures. The temple remains don’t just belong to one single dynastic rule but in fact, has all the trait marks from various periods in history which likely is the result of rebuilding over existing temple sites over and over again. The majority of the excavated pottery belonged to the Sunga-Kushana style.

During the excavation of this section various pottery, terracotta plaques, etc were also excavated. The nature of pottery clearly shows the attributes from various periods of rules in this part of the world. The nature of construction makes it similar to the Sarvatobhadra types of the temple.

Various objects that were excavated from this site included terracotta figures, cooking pots, coins, beads, long neck jars, etc. Some interesting find around this excavation site were terracotta plaques human, animal, and bird markings.

There are no parking spots around the vicinity and is approached by a narrow road from Berachampa Crossing. It is advisable to keep your vehicle before the crossing near the market and then approach the site on foot.

There are no tickets but you do have to enter your name in the register. The walking paths are well marked and you can go around the site with ease. You are not allowed to climb on top of the excavated structures and need to walk only on the designated pathway.

Visually what you get to see are huge foundation sections of various sections within the excavated area which only comprises terracotta bricks. No visual figures are present, the ones excavated from this site have been shifted to the nearby Chandraketugarh Museum.

Chandraketugarh (Khana-Mihirer Dhipi) – Take Left from Berachampa Crossing towards Chakla Mondir
Chandraketugarh (Khana-Mihirer Dhipi) – Take Left from Berachampa Crossing towards Chakla Mondir
Chandraketugarh (Khana-Mihirer Dhipi) – Main Entrance
Chandraketugarh (Khana-Mihirer Dhipi) – Main Entrance
Terracotta Brick Foundation at Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
Terracotta Brick Foundation at Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
Terracotta Brick Foundation at Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
Terracotta Brick Foundation at Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
Terracotta Brick Foundation at Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
Terracotta Brick Foundation at Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
What Remains Are Just the Base Foundations of Various Structures at Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
What Remains Are Just the Base Foundations of Various Structures at Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
Close Up Of Terracotta Bricks That Form the Foundation of the Base at Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
Close Up Of Terracotta Bricks That Form the Foundation of the Base at Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
Close Up Of Terracotta Bricks That Form the Foundation of the Base at Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
Close Up Of Terracotta Bricks That Form the Foundation of the Base at Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
You Get To See One Large Foundation Structure Along With Some Smaller Side Structures Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
You Get To See One Large Foundation Structure Along With Some Smaller Side Structures Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
Chandraketugarh - Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
Chandraketugarh – Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
Northern Section of the Main Foundation Structure at Chandraketugarh - Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
Northern Section of the Main Foundation Structure at Chandraketugarh – Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
A Smaller Foundation to the North at Chandraketugarh - Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
A Smaller Foundation to the North at Chandraketugarh – Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
A Smaller Foundation to the North at Chandraketugarh - Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
A Smaller Foundation to the North at Chandraketugarh – Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
A Smaller Foundation to the North at Chandraketugarh - Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
A Smaller Foundation to the North at Chandraketugarh – Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
View of Chandraketugarh - Khana-Mihirer Dhipi from the North Looking Towards South
View of Chandraketugarh – Khana-Mihirer Dhipi from the North Looking Towards South
View of Chandraketugarh - Khana-Mihirer Dhipi from the North
View of Chandraketugarh – Khana-Mihirer Dhipi from the North
View of the Main Large Foundation at Chandraketugarh - Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
View of the Main Large Foundation at Chandraketugarh – Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
View of the Main Large Foundation at Chandraketugarh - Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
View of the Main Large Foundation at Chandraketugarh – Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
Water Tank - Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
Water Tank – Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
View of the Main Large Foundation at Chandraketugarh - Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
View of the Main Large Foundation at Chandraketugarh – Khana-Mihirer Dhipi

Along with the terracotta brick foundation, you can see large soil mounds that gave the name “Dhipi” which can be roughly translated as soil mounds.

Large Mud Mounds around Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
Large Mud Mounds around Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
Large Mud Mounds around Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
Large Mud Mounds around Khana-Mihirer Dhipi

Chandraketugarh Fort

To reach the fort site take right from Berachampa Crossing and around 1.5 Kilometres take left on a small lane and go further 500 meters to reach the fort site. You will see a mud road going up from the lane. This part is not motorable and you need to park your vehicles here to visit the fort site. As with any ASI site, the place is well demarcated with fencing and signboards.

In reality, there is absolutely nothing to see at the Chandraketugarh Fort site. It’s just a huge mud mound on which you can walk. Excavations were previously done and now covered up so there is nothing visually to see.

Few important things excavated here include coins, tiles, beads, wood sections which perhaps were part of the fort, some gold coins were also excavated from this site. A very small portion of the fort which was presumed as a rampart wall around the fort was excavated here. The area around the site is used as agricultural land thus nothing extensively was excavated.

Take the Narrow Mud Lane to Reach Chandraketugarh Fort Site
Take the Narrow Mud Lane to Reach Chandraketugarh Fort Site
Follow the Lane for Around 100 Meters to Reach Chandraketugarh Fort Site
Follow the Lane for Around 100 Meters to Reach Chandraketugarh Fort Site
The Iron Gate and the Signage Lets Visitor Know About Chandraketugarh Fort
The Iron Gate and the Signage Lets Visitor Know About Chandraketugarh Fort
Nothing Visually Significant Can Be Seen At Chandraketugarh Fort
Nothing Visually Significant Can Be Seen At Chandraketugarh Fort
These Large Mounds Were Once Excavated and Later Covered Up - Chandraketugarh Fort
These Large Mounds Were Once Excavated and Later Covered Up – Chandraketugarh Fort
Chandraketugarh Fort Site
Chandraketugarh Fort Site
Chandraketugarh Fort Site
Chandraketugarh Fort Site
Cultivated Lands around Chandraketugarh Fort Site
Cultivated Lands around Chandraketugarh Fort Site

Chandraketugarh Museum

This is a new museum under the state government which was built to store the excavated artifacts from both sites. Previously these were stored at the house of two local enthusiasts while some were kept at the local school museum. Photography is not allowed inside the museum. I would recommend you to visit the museum because it’s only here you get to see the vast artifacts that were excavated from this region of Bengal.

Chandraketugarh Museum
Chandraketugarh Museum
Chandraketugarh Coins (Punched Marked With Fish Symbols) – Courtesy Ravi Shankar Sharma
Chandraketugarh Coins (Punched Marked With Fish Symbols) – Courtesy Ravi Shankar Sharma
Chandraketugarh Coins (Punched Marked With Fish Symbols) – Courtesy Ravi Shankar Sharma
Chandraketugarh Coins (Punched Marked With Fish Symbols) – Courtesy Ravi Shankar Sharma
Goddess and Attendants - 1st century B.C. Excavated from Chandraketugarh (Courtesy MET Museum)
Goddess and Attendants – 1st century B.C. Excavated from Chandraketugarh (Courtesy MET Museum)
Rattle in the Form of a Crouching Yaksha - 1st century B.C. Excavated from Chandraketugarh (Courtesy MET Museum)
Rattle in the Form of a Crouching Yaksha – 1st century B.C. Excavated from Chandraketugarh (Courtesy MET Museum)
Rattle in the Form of a Crouching Yaksha - 1st century B.C. Excavated from Chandraketugarh (Courtesy MET Museum)
Rattle in the Form of a Crouching Yaksha – 1st century B.C. Excavated from Chandraketugarh (Courtesy MET Museum)
Plaque with a Royal Family 1st century B.C. Excavated from Chandraketugarh (Courtesy MET Museum)
Plaque with a Royal Family 1st century B.C. Excavated from Chandraketugarh (Courtesy MET Museum)

References

Archaeological Remains Monuments And Museums Pt.1
Numismatic Literature (1982-1983)
Indian Archaeology A Review 1956-57
Journal Of The Numismatic Society Of India Vol.23 (Golden Jubilee Vol.)
Bengal Legislative Council Debates (1957) Vol.12
Indian Express
Times of India
Times of India

3 thoughts on “Chandraketugarh – The Forgotten Bengal Empire

  1. Namaskar. Very nice report.

    My home was hard by BeDAchAmpA, Berachampa. In the 60s, just one road connected north Kolkata to Barasat [ currently satan’s favorite dystopia on earth] and onwards to Itindaghat, i.e. East India Ghat, on the river Icchamati. Have you ever driven to this terminus, beyond which the Bangladesh border begins after a km or 2?

    Travelling north-eas from Barashat, via the Champadali More axis, you come first to Kajipara, on the banks of a moribund river [ Shoonti Nodi], which used to mark the official boundary of Sundarbans. Relatives speak of a time when leopards and such were all too common, in the 1940s, and in the 60s, I grew up in a semi-wild landscape of intoxicating beauty that has today disappeared for all time.

    Althought things were brutal those days with respect to all too many things, God offers compensations, too. Anywayk 1965 and 66 were the years when actual swarms of locusts of Biblical proportions darkened the skies during rice season. The last of their kind, we were later reassured, after DDT, and the so-called Green Revolution, began to make theri presence felt from 1968 onwards, along with the feeble, token supply of electricity from that year.

    This area has quite a significant place in the ongoping religious and spiritual history of Bnagabhumi. BTW, Barasat High Court was the site of the Hanging of Raja Nanda Kumar. Many of you iwll know about this and the role he had played in Siraj ud Daulah’s downfall. His spiritual mentor was one fo the greatest Vaishnava savants of the time, and had comped the Sri Gaura Chandrika, today beautifully presented by Sr Suman Bhattacharya, one of the greatest kirtaniyas of our time.

    Champadali, Berachampa, both point to the local flora, Michelia champaka, the golden or kanak champa, a glorious sight around Sri Guru Purnima tithi. In those days, along with the garlands of Jasminum sambac [ bel phool er goday mala,,] and Jui phooler mala, in wire frames that ladies would often wear in their hair after taking their evening wash, the kanak champa would be sold impaled on twigs in a bouquet of debdaru or Polianthes leaves.

    There should be many now in their 70s or so who might remember these beign sold all along the Chowringhee during this time of the year. And what a Chowringhee it used to be, then. SO beautiful, so quiet, and where cows of all types would gather for their afternoon siesta, on the dot.

    Bashirhat, BASHURHAT[ as per the Bengal Gazette 1886, which I have personally verified, and then named for the Boshu family that has continued to play a significant role in the history of Kolkata, to the modern times], Dhanyakudia, the home of a major rice mill in those day, and so many more places along this Taki Road just cause pangs in one’s heart. Not just because they will never bee seen gain, but because of all the changes that have occurred. As they say, you cannot go home ever again, once you leave it.

    You speak of the haroa road, and there is another that possibly leads directly “east” from the Taki road towards Nyazhat, another fascinating place. Dr. Humayun Kabir, and his son, Jahangir Kabir, had their home along this branch. Very interesting people. Jahangir Kabir was an excellent and innovative cook, and the area around and within Nyazhat is worth a trip to investigate the culinary and other cultural aspects of a Bengal that had come under the sway of Afghans. The food here is NOT Mughlai, but Afghan in inspiration!

    Berachampa is the home of a major temple to Mother Kali, that was desecrated a few years back. The local leftist leaders brushed this under the carpet, since anything that humiliated Hinduism is de rigeur among contemporary Bengalis, and with a savage venegeance. There is much more to this story, and those of us who have lived through successive upheavals, especially the 197071 period have many bitter memories.

    At Berachampa, there used to be a very nice shingara shop and a place selling green coconut. After performing worship at the temple, people would break their fast with these two items! Berachampa tiself is a sort of crossroads, with a road going left off the Taki Rd, when you face towards the Itindaghat direction, And another to the right. IN those days, the Chandraketugarh site was not very well-developed, no lovely museum as at present, nothing to explain to locals what the site meant. Most of the artifacts were squirreled away in the bowels of Calcutta University.

    THere are many other mounds, right from where Shoonit Nodi intersects the Taki road, to Bamunmura, and points northeast, that have never been excavated. SO be it. In time, many became the favorite dwelling of otters, which were found in plenty in those days. ALong with the otters, the golden monitor was frequently seen, inhabiting the burrows on these higher mounds. THere is an ecological tale that has never been properly investigated. Cry, my Beloved Country, truly cry.

    Thea floara and fauna was incredibly rich, so many butterflies, suxh amaging plant wealth in the secondary woodlands and wetlands that in those ties occupied a lot of the area. Massive mango, jackfruit, lakoocha, and so many other trees, all today fallen to the axe. Ancient mango orchards, often having one-of a kind varieties, like Kopaat bhangaa. Amazing.

    On the other axis of the Y, lies Bongaon, the setting fro Pather Panchali. Ray used the stark landscaped of western Banga, but the inimitable prose of Bibhuti Bhushan is about this region, and someone who is deeply in love with the land. Ashwiner Jhod: have we not all experienced such? And the magic of millions of fireflies dancing in the roadside Pipal trees, after a Kala Baishaki storm in April? I shall never cease to bless the Providence that graced us with such sights and so much more.

    Thank you so much for bringing up the topic of Berachampa. Hopefully, people will be encouraged ot visit, and to seek out the landscape with their hearts, as well as their minds. God bless, Namaskar.

    Like

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