Before Bengal embraced Tantric Shaktism, it was the bedrock of Vaishnavism, for ages, perhaps immediately after Adi Sankara. The Madhava's school of Dvaita (dual) Vaishnavism gained primary prominence during 13th century and spread from Udupi, across the Vijayanagara kingdom, via shores of Neelachala (Puri, Odisha) to Bengal, as the popular Vaishnavite seers of East, Madhavendra Puri, Ishvara Tirtha and Sri Chaitanya took the center stage. Before this wave of Madhavacharyan tenets, South Gangetic and Rahr Bengal under the powerful Malla kingdom in circa 9th century were already practicing Vaishnavism.
Without digressing much, I devote the rest of the paragraphs exploring that 'Bengal Before RSS', how King Lord Raam was revered then and the Bengali Hindu traditions of celebrating RaamNavami as a prominent festival of masses.
RaamNavami Fair and Baul Assemblage of Sonamukhi (Bankura)
RaamNavami fair of Sonamukhi, a small town in the district of Bankura, is an age old event. On this day, an assemblage of bauls, the roaming poets and singers of Bengal, and seers take place here. This is also known as a miniature of the Jaydev Kenduli Mela. This is accompanied by fair, joyrides and shops.The RaamNavami fair of Sonamukhi is a unique amalgamation of medieval Bengali Vaishnavite stream with the Santhali and Rajwari culture that have only enriched the event.
|Guptipara Raam Chandra Mandir, Hooghly|
This 18th century "single pinnacle over char-chala" (four sloped roof) temple stands specimen to the widespread practice of worshiping Lord Raam during the East India Co. days, not too far from their barracks and quarters in Kolkata.
This terracotta temple complex also houses a Krishna Chandra,
a Vrindavan Chandra and a Chaitanya temple. Though each of
these four temples were built at different periods of time, the
Raam Chandra Mandir was built by Raja Harish Chandra Roy
Raghunath Mandir of Chandrakona (Medinipur)
|Sri Raghunatha Shrine, Charndrakona|
It is said that these temples were built in early 17th century by Raja Krit Chand of Bardhaman, who might have overthrown the later heirs of Chandraketu.
The Raghunath Mandir is a Odishan deul structure, approx. 52 ft.
tall, in ruins now.
Raam Mandir and Raam Navami Fair of Ramrajatala (Howrah)
|RaamNavami Celebrations at Ramrajatala|
A four-month long festival kicks off during the RaamNavami and continues thru the month of Shravana. Around 250 years ago, zamindar Ayodhya Raam Chowdhury, erected this Raam temple complex on his personal land.
Art work depicting different episodes of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are carved on the walls of the temple.
Since then, RaamNavami celebrations and the Ramrajatala fair are centuries old and draws big crowd and local businesses.
Raam Sita Mandir of Krishnaganj (Nadia)
|Raam Sita Mandir, Krishnaganj|
This shrine is a char-chala (four sloped roof) architecture with a single ratna (pinnacle) on the top. It is an active center of daily worshiping of Maryada Purushottam Raam.
Town of Krishnaganj was built as a temporary capital of Raja Krishna Chandra, as he shifted it from Krishnanagar, to protect from attacks of the Bargis. The temple houses stone and ashtadhatu (eight metals) idols of Sri Raam and Sita devi, respectively.
Raamjiu Deul of Tamluk and Sita-Raam Mandir of Ghatal (Medinipur)
At Harir Bazar area of the town of Tamluk (old name, Tamralipta) in Medinipur stands the Odishan deul structured Raamjiu, built somewhere around 18th century, by Tamluk rajas. It is a char-chala styled brick and mortar deul.
In Ghatals' Kharar area, Sita Raam deul, is another splendor of terracotta architecture. But specialty of this temple is its 13 ratnas (pinnacles). This shrine was built in 1865 by Maji zanmindars.
Raamachandra Mandir of Chirulia (Medinipur)
Also, popularly know as 'Baro Chala' mandir, i.e. temple with 12 chalas (12 sloped roof) is a Raam mandir was built on terracotta structure, in 1843. This is one of the only four 12-chala temples in Bengal.
RaghunathJi Mandir of Nashipur Akhara (Murshidabad)
|Vishwaroop on walls of Raghunath ji temple|
Nashipur is a village under Bhagawangola block in Murshidabad district. The Rajbari (royal palace) of Nashipur is a prominent travel destination. This was originally built by Raja Debi Singha of Nashipur royal family and later reconstructed by Raja Kirti Singh Bahadur in 1865.
The Akhara is close to the Nashipur Rajbari complex, in Jafargunj, which also draws a lot of tourists. The Akhara houses the Raghuntah ji temple which is still an active place of worship.
|SitaRaam jiu Mandir, Rautara|
Built in 1700 CE, SitaRaam jiu Mandir of Rautara at Ghoshpara is a traditional aat-chala (8 sloped roof) temple with terracotta and brickworks.
This Sita-Raam temple was built by the zamnidar family Ghosh's for daily worhsip.
Medinipur has abundance of Raam Mandirs in many other places too, like the tero-ratna (thirteen pinnacle) SitaRaam mandir at Majipara or the SitaRaam jiu deul of Janardanpur.
Matiari Raam Sita Mandir and Rural Raam Navami Celebrations (Nadia)
|Raam, Sita, Lakshman idols of Matiari|
The historic RaamNavami celebration and fair draws thousands from villages and small towns of this belt. The temple has the murtis of Lord Raam, Sita devi and Lakshman ji.
Garh Panchakot - Ruins of Raam Temple (Purulia)
|Garh Panchakot fort and temple complex|
Panchakot kingdom might have fallen at the hands of Malla kings of Bishnupur in around 16th century and later faced 'Bargi' attacks. During Malla occupation, Panchakot king built a number of temples, among which the Pancharatna temple, a Krishna temple and a stone carved Raam temple are mentionworthy. Even though most of the temples, the palace and the fort are in their ruins now.
Raamchandra Mandir and RaamNavami of Narajole Royal Palace (Medinipur)
|Raamchandra Mandir at Narajole Palace|
Narajole Rajbari, around 25 km from Ghatal, which is 600 years old palace of the Narajole royals houses the Raamchandra and Sita devi shrine and a Raam Manch, a stage for Raamdhun and pala plays (a Bengali traditional form of competitive poetry).
In 1819, Narajole King Mohanlal Khan, spent 1 lakh rupees to bring stone from Ayodhya Raamjanmabhoomi and build this Raam temple. It is believed that the king who did not have an heir, was blessed with a son after this. He also started the Raam rathyatra on RaamNavami, the chariot of which is still preserved in the premises.
Most of the ancient Hindu temples in Bengal have been destroyed. One can hardly find large temples built before 17th century still standing due to the onslaught of Muslim rulers, from Bakhtiyar Khalji to the Nabobate. But the one convert despot, who demolished most of Bengal's Hindu temples and Buddhist viharas single-handedly, was Kalapahad. It is said, that he alone broke at least 800 temples in Bengal and Odisha in the later half of 16th century.
Yet, there are remains of many old Raam mandirs in Bengal, that are still mentionworthy. Of course, needless to mention, the hundreds of new Raam Mandirs that have been built over last 50 years, and some of them are magnificent.
Hope, shallow ideologues of mediocrity will take some clues of pure Bengali Raam bhakti from this. Devi Durga will bless them for that.
Jay Shree Raam.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia commons, historyofbengal.com, sthapatyakala.in, various other sources and personal collection