Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Bada Imambara,Chinsurah,West Bengal

             As the mighty bell rang I pressed my palms against my ears.The sound was deafening.There was a grilled door separating me and the bell.I was standing beside the huge bell of the Bada Imambara in Chinsurah.

             Chinsurah is a small town an hours drive north of Kolkata. Along with Bandel and Chandannagar it forms a group of towns seeped in history. Chinsurah and Bandel were Portuguese settlements while Chandannagar was a French settlement. Chinsurah was founded by the Portuguese in 1579 on the banks of Hooghly and it flourished as a trading port.

              The biggest attraction of Hooghly is the Bada Imambara.Imambara means a congregation hall usually built by the shia sect of Muslims. Hooghly Imambara was built by a Persian merchant Mohammed Aga Motahhar in 1717 AD. The actual structure built by him was much modest than what exists today.Mohammed Mohsin,A successor of Aga Motahhar inherited the building but he passed it on by a charitable deed and appointed a manager to look after its upkeep. Then in 1837 came Syed Keramat Ali,a brilliant architect who came to Bengal from Rajasthan. He was appointed the manager in the month of January of that year.He constructed the beautiful structure that still stands today on the ruins of the older one.

             The structure is situated near the banks of Hooghly river.A narrow street runs along the face of the building upon which is situated its grand doorway.I had taken a share auto from the Chinsurah railway station and it dropped me a few meters away from the doorway.I walked in and took a ticket.Cost was Rs 10 and there were no charges for still camera.The grand doorway opens to a rectangular courtyard which has a rectangular tank in the middle.There is a beautiful fountain at the center.I could spot some fishes in the clear water there.A few kids were all excited and were scurrying up and down the length of the tank as they followed the tiny pretty fishes.

The prayer hall
            I started my stroll from the left.The building is two storied with a wide tower at the front.This tower had two domes at the ends.There are a number of  rooms in the ground floor.All had descriptions in Urdu which was quite exciting for me to see in this part of India.At the end of the courtyard lies the main prayer hall.As I was checking out the decorations on the walls from outside a guy called me inside.I entered and had a closer look.There were many inscriptions in Arabic and ususally there were a few paintings too.There were lanterns and chandeliers and a heavily decorated throne.As I was looking around, a group of ladies came and sat in front of the throne and started praying.I watched for a few minutes then quietly walked out so as not to disturb them.

         Behind the Imambara near the banks of Hooghly I spotted a sundial.I never saw a sundial before so with much excitement I went near it and observed if it was showing the correct time.It was.From here I walked back inside the courtyard.
The sundial

         After completing the stroll of the ground floor I made my way to the top of the tower.The view from the top was spectacular.There is a clock in the middle portion of the tower.One dial faces the inside of the building while a second dial faces the outside.While climbing the steps to the top just before a few metres from the top to the left one can see,through a grilled door,the three bells.The smallest of the lot rings about every 15 minutes and the biggest rings every 1 hour.I spent 30 minutes right in front of the door just to see and hear the big bell ring.After the satisfaction of hearing the deafening bell I made my way down.One interesting aspect here is that there are two staircases to reach the two domes.And ladies have to use one and gents the other. They are not allowed to go together.
View from the top

      Back on the ground floor I sat on one of the small stairs and just took in the quiet atmosphere.There were a only a few people here and there.Five minutes into this quietness, the silence was suddenly broken by the laughter of children.A school group was coming in making a huge amount of noise.It felt good to see children on a visit to a historic monument.Children should be encouraged to visit such places.I then made my way out and after drinking a cold drink to quench my thirst I took a share auto and went back to the Chinsurah railway Station.I boarded a local and reached Kolkata in an hour.After a nice dinner in the legendary Royal Indian Hotel I boarded the Howrah mail to reach Raigarh the next morning.