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Preserving Monuments Of The Old Jagannath Sadak

GM Kapur

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Odisha, had launched the Project “Listing and Documenting the Monuments of the Jagganath Sadak in West Bengal” at Kolkata  on the 19th November 2015. The project was flagged off by His Excellency, Shri Keshari Nath Tripathi, Governor of West Bengal at the Raj Bhavan.

INTACH had earlier undertaken and completed the Listing of the Monuments of the Old Jagannath Sadak on the Odisha stretch and a report was prepared which was released at Bhubaneswar in July 2014 by the State Minister Culture Mr. Ashok Panda, Secretary Tourism and Culture Dr. Arvind Padhi and State Convener INTACH West Bengal, Mr. G. M. Kapur.   The report had listed 200 Monuments of the old road, starting from Jaleswar to Puri.

The Jagganath Sadak was the old pilgrim road from Kolkata to Puri. It took form sometime in late 1700’s and was the lifeline for all pilgrims who came to the Lord’s abode at Puri. From 1825 known as the Orissa Trunk Road, but for the devotees who descended on this path and made the slow way to Puri, it has always been the Jagannath Sadak. The road wound its way touching Midnapore, Chanderkona, Tamluk, Belda, Dantan, Balasore, Bhadrak, Jajpur, Cuttack, Bhubaneswar and Pipili. The travelers covered the distances by bullock carts, hackneys, palanquins, horses and elephants, but most of them trudged on foot.

With the advent of the railways in 1892, the Jagannath Sadak fell into disuse and over the next few years was lost forever. The railways shortened the travel time from three weeks to eighteen hours. As it was a coastal road, many stretches of the road just vanished with time and others were encroached upon by villages, and some lengths now form the NH-5 and are part of the railways.

There has been wanton destruction of heritage monuments, structures, wells, ponds, etc. which were on the path of the old road. The relevance of the road in the formation of Odisha and the spread of Jagannath Culture has been overlooked in history. This was the road which was taken by the marauding Mughals, Afghans, Marathas and later on the British to conquer Odisha. This was the road on which Chaitanya, Guru Nanak and Kabir travelled when they visited Puri. Thus, the road played a very important role in the formation of the State of Odisha and development of cultural links with Bengal.

Out of the 516 kms of the Old Road, 200 kms was in West Bengal. While most of the remnants of the Jagannath Sadak have been wantonly destroyed, nearly 100 remnants of the Old Road were discovered in the three districts of Howrah, East Medinipur and West Medinipur. There are a string of Mutts and Ashrams of the Vaishnavites and Gaudiyas on the Old Road, many of which are still seen. These Mutts were important in providing shelter and assistance to the ancient travelers.

The team discovered that there were three different routes taken by the pilgrims from West Bengal all of which converged at Dantan. While Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had taken the road through Tamluk, Guru Nanak had travelled through Chanderkona and Medinipur. A detailed survey was conducted of all the three stretches for nearly six months.

The listing will help in creating awareness of the history of the Jagannath Sadak and help in conserving and preserving whatever is left of this great road.

The Three Volume Report has listed 315 monuments in detail. INTACH shall appeal to the governments of Odisha and West Bengal to notify these monuments as heritage structures and take adequate steps for the proper conservation and preservation of the structures. While more than 700 important vestiges of the old road have been destroyed in the last few decades; the few that remain are important symbols of the rich cultural heritage of these two states.

INTACH too shall take steps in requesting the Ministry of Culture and the Archaeological Survey of India to notify these remaining structures as protected monuments, thus helping to conserve and preserve our cultural heritage and monuments for posterity, for it is through the study of these that we are able to learn more about our past and its rich cultural history.