Dhaka, Sunday December 31, 2006

The temple courtyard
  The terracotta legacy of Bangladesh


Facade of the temple

Reaching Thakurgaon in the evening, we rested the night and the next day, my stiff legs getting a stretch after driving for 300 miles. We spent the day at Panchagarh guesthouse managed to have a peep at the "Rock Museum" as it is called inside the Mahila College. We came across various rocks from Paleolithic era, two dinghi boats some 300-400 years old and many other objects and rocks from Paleo-Copper-Iron age.

It is an all-private affair managed by a local teacher. From Panchagarh we came back to Thakurgaon but did not forget on our way back to have a glimpse at "Bhitar garh" fort at Bhitar garh, a huge fort, biggest so far in Bangladesh, unexcavated and lying across for 12 miles near the Indian border. It was a fort built during the 6th or 7th century AD by Prithu Raja. Like wheel within a wheel, the fort is actually many forts within a fort, the Raja's palace being at the centre in the inner most fort.

Kantajeu shrine is one of the most spectacular pieces of Indo-Persian architectural beauty. Built during the golden architectural period of the Mughals, this shrine is unparallel in splendor, architectural value and structural beauty. This architecture is one of its kind with red clay images from the Ramayana, Mahabharat and Mughal characters. Some of the images even resemble the Khajuraho image of Konarak.

Kantajeu has its own vibrant expression distinct from any other temples around the world in the fact that its walls, both inside and outside, are completely filled with terracotta images. Having 12 cutaway arched doors, this temple is three storied, resembling the Mughal architecture. The arches are built mainly with bricks and stones and the lintels with wood.

Situated by the river Dhepa 13 miles north of Dinajpur district, Kantanagar is a quite peaceful village. The river changed its course from west to east during the great flood of 1787. The site belongs to the pre-historic civilisation of Birat Raja according to Hindu mythology and also Dinajpur Gazetteer. On my visit, I found traces of historic desolate small temples standing unattended there. Bricks are sticking out from the ground on the small field behind Kantajeu, suggesting that the present temple was built on a site of another much older temple. Major Sherwill in his first survey map of the place in 1860 named it Shyamgarh or Shyamnagar, a probable recluse for an unknown Raja called Shyam whose fort was probably washed away during the great flood of 1778.

Under the great Mughal emperor Aurangzebs patronage Raja Prannath of Dinajpur laid the foundation of the Kantajeu shrine with black stones from the rubbles of the old capital of Bengal, Bangarh (Dinajpur) during 1704 as mentioned in Dinajpur Gazetteer (FW Strong 1912) and eventually it was completed by his son Raja Ramnath in 1722. The sculptural depiction on the murals show the colorful village life, European merchants as extortionists and rapists, Bombay pirates and epic Purana stories with such vibrant expressions on the images that they evoke mixed emotions. But the obvious question that comes to mind is why a Krishna temple as it was dedicated to Lord Krishna by the Maharaja Prannath would carry such mixed messages on the terracotta.

It was as if four stages from Hindu scripture -- Satya, Kreta, Depar and Koli -- have been depicted in on the wall in delicate details. But the images of Kopy soldiers raping women carry an entirely different message. Meant to be a place for worship, Kantajeu shrine definitely takes us to a world shrouded in mystery. To commemorate the Radha-Krishna episode, hundreds of Hindus come from miles around to attend the religious festival called Rash Purnima at the shrine in the Bangla month of Kartik (October-November) every year. This festival has been going on here from the Raja Prannath's time.

Kantajeu caught the first international attention during the 1885 industrial exhibition of the English empire at London, representing the Bengal's best architectural presentation, a wooden model of Kantajeu. From then on, especially after our liberation, this beautiful piece of creation won the imagination of the world and it will continue to do so in the years to come.

Story: Omar Khalid Rumi
Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain

Bird watching with Dr Reza Khan

Little Heron or Little Green Heron
Butorides striatus

It is one of the smaller and most colourful of our herons. Large numbers often found in small pockets, including Dhaka City. Present in almost all parts of the country from the coastal areas to the hilly streams in the south-east. Rather a smaller version of the Night Heron with short legs, thick neck, dark green back, greyish underside and yellowish legs.

Actual size ± 48 cm with±5cm long bill.

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