Friday, 2 January 2015

Chetla Chhoto Rashbari, 93 Tollygunge Road

Chetla Chhoto Rashbari - interior


Hiding behind the busy market on Tollygunge Road, at number 93 is the elaborate temple complex known to locals as the Chhoto Rashbari (also spelt Rasbari, Ras Bari, Rashbadi or Rash Badi) or minor house for the Rash festival. What was once the Govindpore Creek, became Surman’s Nullah after John Surman of the East India Company started living there. It would then come to be known as Tolly’s Nullah after Major William Tolly conducted dredging and excavating operations there between 1774 and 1777, making it navigable upto Garia. Indeed the entire area of Tollygunge gets its name from him. But for locals, this is the Adi Ganga or the original Ganges, since it was through here that the Ganges or Hooghly flowed before it changed its course. The Ganges being a holy river, all along the two roads on its East and West, Tollygunge Road and Chetla Road, ghats and temples may still be found. Like many other heritage structures in the Chetla area of South Calcutta, the Chhoto Rashbari is also neglected, overgrown, and other than local residents, few are aware of its existence.




Entrance to Chhoto Rashbari
The Chhoto Rashbari temple complex consists of a walled courtyard with a pedimented gate with four Doric columns. Past the gate, the courtyard is covered in black and white marble tiles in a checkered pattern. Along the walls of the courtyard are 12 Shiva temples, 6 on either side, but the principal attractions are the 3 temples on the Northern wall. Here may be seen a Navaratna or “nine jeweled” temple with two Pancharatna or “five jeweled” temples on either side. From 3 plaques at various positions on the walls of the complex, what we can discern is this – the central temple is dedicated to Sree Sree Gopal Jeu. Jeu or Jew is an antiquated form of “Ji”, the suffix of respect and Gopal is a manifestation of Lord Krishna as a child. The surrounding temples, according to the plaques, are dedicated to “Kashi Pati” which would refer to Lord Shiva. Installed in the Navaratna temple are the stone idols of Radha, Krishna and Gopala. Each of the surrounding Shiva temples contains the stone phallus known to Hindus as a “Shiva Linga”. Worship happens here every day, between 7 and 10 am. All major festivities associated with the Chhoto Rashbari complex, including the Rash and Rath or car festival, are of the Vaishnava sect of Hinduism.


The plaques on the walls of the temple


Shiva Linga inside Chhoto Rashbari
Although many would associate this temple complex with the Mondals of Bawali, the plaques tell a different story. In extremely antiquated Bengali, that keeps lapsing into Sanskrit, the plaques explain that the two people responsible for setting up the Chhoto Rashbari are Pyarilaal Das and Manimohan Das. Construction began on 27th Phalgun, 1252, which corresponds to 11th March, 1846. Construction was completed on the 31st day of Chaitra, in 1253, which corresponds to 2nd April 1847. That would mean that Chetla’s Chhoto Rashbari just about predates Rani Rashmoni’s much more famous Dakshineswar Kali Temple. The plaques also contain elaborate instructions about how to enter the the temple. Footwear must be left outside, and the temple may not be entered on horseback, elephant back, in a palki or in a car or carriage. Very specific, but I wonder what elephant would fit through that gate!


Temple outside the main complex
Around the Chhoto Rashbari, is the Rashbari’s Ghat, which while still preserved is in bad shape. The plaster has all peeled away, the bricks are exposed, and encroachments and illegal constructions have hemmed it in on all sides. Around the temple, three more Shiva temples may be found, but these are now completely defunct and are used by local artisans as studios for creating idols of Gods and Goddesses. If you’re planning to visit the Chhoto Rashbari, do go early. I suggest reaching before 9am. But even if you do that, there is no guarantee that you will be able to enter. If you're lucky like I was on my first visit, you will meet the mild mannered caretaker, who will gladly show you around. If luck is not on your side, you will run into the temples two purohits, or priests, who are two of the most foul-mouthed, ill-mannered and arrogant individuals I have ever had the misfortune to interact with.



Message scrawled on temple roof
The Chhoto Rashbari today is in a pathetic state. Trees have taken root all over the structure and the priceless marble on the floor is covered in dirt. A plan had been floated to sell the fallow land attached to the temple to a real estate development company. Sale of this land would have generated enough funds for the upkeep of the temple. But locals protested that this was the only place kids in the neighbourhood had to play in, and nothing could be done. Those kids today are also vandalising the temple, scrawling messages like "I love you Madhu" on its roof. I wonder how they get up there? But what is even more curious is the fact that the Chetla’s Chhoto Rashbari, Boro Rashbari, the Mathur Sha temple of 86a, Tollygunge Road, the Mondal temple of 1 Mondal Temple Lane, and the Zohra Begum Mosque, all share the same assessee number in the municipal records. That can only happen if all of them have the same owner. Now that, is a mystery worthy of Holmes himself. Who would own 4 temples and a mosque? Who owns the Chhoto Rashbari?



- by Deepanjan Ghosh

MORE ON CHETLA


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  • Plaques translated by my mother, Mrs. Snigdha Ghosh
  • Central plaque photograph courtesy Sumit Surai, used with permission. Sumit blogs on a wide variety of subjects. Check out his blog here.
  • Indrajit Das was the man who trawled municipal records for me. Check out Indrajit’s bloghere.
  • My thanks to all members of the Facebook community “Calcutta – Photographs and Memories”, especially Mr. Timirbaran Pal.
  • Many thanks to the other members of my “Gang of Four”, Amartya Saha (his blog), Sourav Mondal (his flickr page) and Soumyadeep Ray (his uber cool art).
  • And finally, thanks to my friends Ayan Dutta and Arijeet “Poltu” Banerjee for their guidance and advice about the Chetla area, which they are intimately familiar with.


SOURCES

A History of Calcutta’s Streets – P Thankappan Nair
Temples in Calcutta – Pijush Kanti Roy
http://goo.gl/djlfzV
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