Temple of Ichai Ghosh – Gourangapur

Situated 9km west of Illambazar on the south bank of the river Ajay, the Temple of Ichai Ghosh (alternatively Ichhai Gosher) is possibly one of the most enigmatic and curious brick temples to be found in West Bengal.

It is built in the rekha deul style of architecture, one of a handful of such brick-built temples in the state and a style that is more typical of Odisha. Other examples in West Bengal include Sat Deul, Sonatapal Sun Temple, and Siddheshwara Temple, all of which are broadly dated to circa 11th century CE.

In case of this temple however, there is very little concrete information regarding the date of construction or its builder. There is no foundation inscription, nor has any archaeological excavations occurred here. Despite this absence of evidence, there are a few conflicting theories which are worth examining in more detail a little later.

The lower part of the temple is totally devoid of any ornamentation, but the mid to upper part of the tower has quite a lot of decoration, although sparingly used. Here we have what appears to be Narasimha and Nataraja, floral motifs, human figures, possibly musicians and dancers, and a series of arches. These elements exist on all four sides, but much of the detail has been lost to weathering. Traces of plaster still cling on to the brick in some areas although for the most part it has completely disappeared.

It’s clear this temple has endured a lengthy period of neglect, and with vegetation sprouting from the top of the tower I’m not sure much care is being undertaken today. For many decades the temple was abandoned and with no presiding deity, but today the sanctum houses a black Shiva Linga.

The monument has been declared of national importance and is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). A blue ASI notice board informs the visitor :

Temple of Ichai Ghosh
(Mid 18th Century AD)
This brick-built temple of the Sikhara type without any
image is known traditionally as the Temple of Ichai
Ghosh, who ws supposed to have constructed this
temple of Goddess Bhagabati.

So the ASI places the date of construction to mid 18th century, which strikes me as a little late for such a structure. I checked their website in case this was a typo, but the same estimate is repeated in a number of places. With the lack of documentary and archeological evidence, I can only assume the ASI has come to this date based on architectural details, of which there is very little.

Some locals in the area believe the temple was built by either Raja Chitra Sen Rai (reigned 1740-1744 CE) or Rani Bishnukumari, the young widow of Maharajadhiraj Bahadur Tilak Chand Rai (reigned 1744-1770 CE) of the Bardhaman Royal Family. This does of course correlate quite nicely with the date provided by the ASI.

So why is this structure known as the Temple of Ichai Ghosh ? This is where we enter the realm of folklore, and oral stories that have been passed down many generations.

According to legend, Ichai Ghosh (also known as Echai Ghosh or Ishwar Ghosh) spearheaded a rebellion against the then Pala King, Naya Pala. This would have taken place sometime between 1038 CE and 1058 CE, as the Pala dynasty administration gradually started to collapse. During these two decades many local administrators started resisting their Pala rulers, and strived for independence by refusing to pay taxes. This culminated in Ichhai Ghosh defeating Karna Sen, another local ruler, after a fierce battle and becoming undisputed ruler of the region. Ichhai subsequently captured more territory around Burdwan, finally cementing his authority as a king of the independent state of Gopabhumi.

Years later Lou Sen, the son of the defeated Karna Sen, took revenge for his father’s defeat by beheading Ichai Ghosh in a forest on the bank of the river Ajay. The exact spot where this happened is today known as “Kadune Danga“, and it is said that Ichai’s worshipping deity Durga wept for many days afterwards.

Unfortunately, the existence of all these individuals; Ichai Gosh, Karna Sen and Lou Sen, have yet to be firmly established historically. There is one piece of evidence however, but it is very tenuous at best.

210km south-east of the temple of Ichhai Ghosh is another brick-built rekha deul of similar proportions known as Jatar Deul. There in 1875 CE while clearing jungle just north of the monument, a copper plate was discovered with a Sanskrit inscription, declaring that Jatar Deul was constructed by Raja Jayanta Chandra Chandra in 975 CE. Significantly, an individual named Iswar Ghosh is also mentioned in this copper plate, which has since been lost. While this may sound mildly interesting, it should be noted that King Jayanta Chandra does not appear in any other known inscription or any other record either.

The first tangible evidence of the name Ichhai Ghosh that exists today comes from Ghanaram Chakrabarty, the greatest author of the Dharma Mangal epic, who lived and worked in the first part of the 18th century.

Some people believe this temple was actually built by Ichhai Gosh himself, or was built a couple of centuries later in his honour. It could well be the case that the popularity of epics such as Dharma Mangal in the early part of the 18th century inspired the Bardhaman Royal Family to build this temple in his name. It’s interesting how local history concerning this temple can become entangled in conjectures stemming from copper-plate inscriptions, oral tradition, and poetic narratives.

In more recent times locals have claimed this tower was used as a hunting platform, and there is some evidence to suggest that it was adopted by the British almost 200 years ago and used as a Great Trigonometrical Survey (GTS) Tower for surveying and mapping the countryside.

Although the Temple of Ichai Gosh receives few visitors, the area surrounding the temple has been developed into a park, called Duel Park. It seems to be a popular tourist spot and no doubt draws in visitors from the surrounding towns and villagers, not to mention the odd crazy Englishman who decides to document some of the temples of West Bengal :-).

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