Tuesday, 14 February 2017

A Lovers' Temple in West Bengal

Akash-er Kaachhe in Baruipur is perhaps the only example in West Bengal or even India, of a lovers’ temple. Located 26 km to the south of Calcutta, on the Baruipur Bypass Road, on the Western bank of the Adi Ganga Akash-er Kaachhe is especially popular among young couples who pray for their love to be true and everlasting. While it isn’t especially old, the circumstances that led to the temple being built, are both tragic and mysterious.

 

AKASH’S STORY

Akash-er Kaachhe is a temple built in the memory of a young boy, Akash Sardar, by his father Debdas. The family resides in the Baishnabpara area of Baruipur and Debdas is a supplier of rice, wheat, sugar and other essentials to West Bengal’s “ration” system, which distributes foodstuffs to the poor at low prices. Around 2008-2009, Akash, then in high school, fell in love with a local girl. About the girl, nothing definite is known, but Akash’s father objected to the relationship. In some versions of the story, the girl is Muslim (while Akash is Hindu). In other versions, she is variously, older than Akash, from a considerably poorer family, was two-timing him or simply turned him down for another guy. Deddas could simply have forbidden Akash from meeting her out of the fear that the relationship would be a dangerous distraction for a student who had exams coming up. Whatever the case maybe, the heartbroken boy made the tragic decision to end his life by hanging himself. The grief-stricken Debdas decided to build a temple to perpetuate the memory of his son, and named it “Akash-er Kaachhe”, meaning, “closer to Akash”.

 
VERIFYING THE STORY

Sherlock Holmes had his “Baker Street irregulars”. I have my “Baruipur gang”, a group of youngsters who reside in the area, who had first informed me of the existence of this temple. On my request, they went around speaking to locals and getting me in contact with them so I could verify the story. I was discouraged from contacting Akash’s family. His father, understandably, didn’t like speaking about his son’s death. Only the vice-chairman of the Baruipur Municipality, Goutam Kumar Das, contested the story. According to him, there was no suicide. Akash had asked his father to buy him a motorcycle, which his father did, and the boy was killed in a biking accident. A journalist could march into the local police station and demand to see the case records. But the police wouldn’t indulge a blogger like myself, so that’s as far as I go with the verification business.

 
ARCHITECTURE AND INTERIORS OF AKASH-ER KAACHHE

Being a modern temple, less than a decade old, there isn’t much that is fascinating about Akash-er Kaachhe, architecturally speaking. An arched gateway, painted in bright colours, leads to the temple. Niches inside the arch pillars contain marble statues of Hindu deities. The temple itself is two storeys tall and built of brick and cement with stone cladding. It is built on a plinth about 5 feet high and buried inside the plinth, it is said, are many things that belonged to Akash, including his laptop and his motorcycle. The open ground floor is dominated by a glass enclosure which contains deities, and photographs of Akash and some of his personal items, such as his shoes and books. The enclosure is topped by a marble slab. Inscribed on this slab are the contents of a page from Akash’s diary, where describes how life should be lived, and sounds wiser than a high school boy, to be honest. The temple’s upper floor is mostly empty, but the one thing that caught my eye was the Japanese Pagoda style ornamentation on the roof - perhaps the work of an overambitious mason.

 
A LOVERS’ TEMPLE

For youngsters in the Baruipur area, Akash Sardar is now the patron saint of young lovers. The temple is frequented by couples who have left graffiti all over its walls, often writing in blood. Scribbled all over the walls are hopes that love doesn’t remain unrequited, prayers for love to last forever, and in one case even a multiple choice type scenario where a girl lists all the boys she likes! In a country where arranged marriages are still quite normal, and where parents feel it is their right to control every aspect of their childrens’ lives even after they have become adults, relationships ending because families object is quite normal too. When nothing else works, the youngsters turn to faith. The fact that their patron saint is as young as they are, perhaps increases his appeal.


- by Deepanjan Ghosh



GPS LOCATION OF AKASH-ER KAACHHE

22°21'12.0"N 88°25'33.2"E

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  • My thanks to the Baruipur Gang, who I won’t identify by name at their request.
  • Sincere thanks to Vivek Sharma for his help with contacting elected officials from Baruipur.


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