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Chandraketugarh: Lost Civilization

Ritusmita Biswas

After driving about 50 kms from Kolkata, you literally reach the end of the road. The motorable one, that is. Ahead lies a simple paved pathway and when you stretch your eyes there is an enclosure. An ASI board proclaims in a matter of fact manner that these are the ruins of Chandraketugarh, the huge fortified township dating back to 4th Century.

The Remnants of History

What you find there now is nothing but ruins. Nonetheless for those of you who like to walk the dark recesses of history a visit to the place is a treat in itself as it exposes you to a world that you never knew even existed. In fact, as you walk down to the place you will be a bit disappointed as you will notice nothing much unusual at the surroundings except some ruins at a distance. But as you look down at the ground you are sure to notice the various potsherds that appear strewn across the place. These are nothing but remnants of the ancient civilization that is believed to have flourished centuries back. If ancient history is something that fascinates you this place is a must visit.

Photo credits: Historyofbengal.com                                                          Photo credits: Kubera: Pinterest

A Storehouse of Treasure

It’s not too far from Kolkata, but it takes quite a bit of time to traverse as one tends to linger to seep in the verdant beauty and the historical mystery of the place. Our first stop in the destination is Mr Dilip Mait’s museum named Chandraketugarh Pratna Sangrahalaya. It is noon and time for lunch at the Maity house. So we wait for some-time before we are let into his house that hosts the museum containing many a collectables unearthed from the Chandraketugarh site. The first impression is that of wonder as we stare agape at the numerous terracotta idols and statues which clearly suggest that an ancient civilization once flourished just yards from this place.

The first artifact that draws your eyes is the huge tumblers from which the royalty drank exotic wine that were most probably imported from Rome. History establishes the fact that even in the 3rd century BC, during the pre-Mauryan era Chandraketugarh was an important urban center, a bustling town and most probably a port city. The numerous ship seals found in the place [some of which is stored in Dilip Mait’s museum] corroborate the same. The museum is a storehouse of treasures housing artifacts from all ages making one take a journey through ages in history. It has tablets containing engraves in Brahmi and Kharosti scripts [same were found in Mohenjo-Daro], idols of royal women in the Gupta Age, and numerous sculptures where artisans of those eras had captured a slice of their contemporary life. Then there are idols of numerous local gods and goddesses, a prominent among them being the “ichhapuran debi” [i.e. wish granting mother] showing that even in those early times men looked to the divine for inspiration and solace.

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The Historical Evidence

In his book Geographia, Claudius Ptolemy mentions a river port called Gange in southwest Bengal. Plutarch wrote about a powerful tribe called Gangaridae living near a prosperous port Gange in the Gangetic delta. Furthermore , an anonymous Greek sailor mentions in his book Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (first century A.D.), a port at the mouth of the Ganga from which Roman ships sailed out with exotic goods. This most probably was the port town of Chandraketugarh.

Not much is known about the history of this civilization. Excavations at the place reveal that a part of the ancient city was surrounded by a high fortress wall where probably the rulers and the other important men lived. The ordinary people like farmer, craftsmen however stayed outside the fort boundaries. The Chandraketugarh site reflects that key era in civilization when agrarian life acquired an urban face and the discovery of carved ivory and bone objects and a few specimens of wood carvings show that skilled craftsmen must have inhabited there.

Photo credits: Historyofbengal.com                                                       Photo credits:Yaksha:Pinterest

A Journey Back in Time

For a person who loves walking the corridors of history this place is an ideal getaway. As you cross the “burz” imagine you have traveled a few centuries back in time. You have already crossed the moat that surrounded the fort and are probably waiting for the sentry to let you in. Walk down the ancient fortified ramparts, now a nice tree-lined path. Look at the ground below and you will find it scattered with pottery and brick shards lurking underneath the dusty cover, remnants of a long lost civilization.

As we walked down the ruins the first feature that held our attention was a massive temple like structure locally known as the Khana Mihirer Dhibi. Barahamihir was among the Navaratnas of King Chandragupta II while Khana his wife was famous for her Nostradamus like prediction. Legend goes that disturbed by Khana’s knowledge her husband Barahamihir cut off her tongue which lies buried under the ruins of the Khana Mihir Dhibi. Whether it is true or not it cannot be denied that as you stand in front of the Khana Mihirer Dhibi you are filled with an intense sense of awe and reverence at being so close to a place where probably India’s legendary mathematician pair dwelled.

We walk further and enter the main site which was probably the enclaves of the fort where the royalty dwelled. The area that was for the commoners have not yet been excavated and now lies beneath today’s modern urban townships in the adjoining areas. A huge part of the area enclosed within barbed wires is covered by dense forests and it is believed a part of the fort city lies beneath the forest land and is yet to be excavated.

In fact the view around the archeological site offers a sense of great incongruity. As one looks closely at the ancient terracotta bricks that once formed the walls of the ancient fort where mighty king Chandraketu dwelled he/ she at the same time can also look at an arm’s length the modern row of houses belonging to the local inhabitants clearly stressing the point that time waits for none; and however mighty one might be today one is sure to be a part of the past tomorrow.

The blazing noon sun was on its way back. Like the civilization in front of which we stood now it was too fading away fast. We turned back and headed back home stopping briefly at the Berachampa more to savor the famous mishti doi and makha sandesh, which were the specialty of the area. Kanai the 14 year old tea stall boy in the sweetshop informs us that we are out just in the right time. After dusk 144 clause of the law is enforced in the place and it is forbidden to enter the site. Probably it is then time for nature to continue its rendezvous with this ancient civilization once again.

How to get there: The nearest airport is Netaji Subhas Chandra Airport in Kolkata. Chandraketugarh, situated at Latitude 22.41’N and Longitude 88.42’E, is on the Kolkata-Barasat-Basirhat Road, which one can approach through Jessore Road to the north. You can either take a rented car or bus to Berachampa junction from where you need to turn right and travel about a mile.

Best Time to Visit: This place is best to visit during the winter season as otherwise the climate can be pretty humid. It is a great getaway for a day suited for people who love history.

Hotels and Restaurants: There are no proper restaurants and the best bet is to try the sweet shops in Berachampa more that serve local sweets and snacks.

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