In Biswanath Chariali, the temple town
(… continued from In Tezpur, the City of Love)
The next thing we saw in Tezpur was the Harjara Pukhuri (tank). It is believed to have been constructed by King Harjjar Varma of the Salstambha dynasty in the 9th century. There are a few rock inscriptions belonging to that era, too.
Another tank located in the heart of the city is the Padum Pukhuri or the ‘lotus pond’. Interestingly, there wasn’t a single lotus in the pond when we saw it, although locals say it used to be covered with the exotic plant once upon a time.
Neelam wanted to see the famous Mahabhairav Temple, so we went there. It is an ancient temple, which was originally built of stone. Legend has it that King Bana had constructed it. It got its present structure during the Ahom period. Today, it is owned and managed by the government and the Deputy Commissioner directly supervises affairs of the temple. It is particularly known for the grand celebration of Shivratri every year. And although she is a Sikh, Neelam is a follower of Lord Shiva. She has her own reasons though.
She says Lord Shiva is a very ‘manly’ God and very likeable. Not her fault really. When we were young, she used to watch the series Om Namah Shivay on Doordarshan, where the manly Samar Jai Singh had played Lord Shiva. But anyhow, I know it for sure that none can beat my wife’s logic! She even surprised me by wearing the shalwar kameez to the temple.
Our next destination was the temple town of Biswanath Chariali. Actually, it is also my nanihaal (maternal home), and my mother’s family is the custodian of all temples in the town.
We were received in a grand manner there as it was my first visit after marriage. With her pleasant experience in Tezpur, Neelam was much more at ease here. Besides, she knew that I have fond memories of this place since I would come here often in my childhood. Back then, things were much simpler and life was so carefree. City life complicates things.
I showed Neelam around the big courtyard of the house and told her stories of my childhood. I also took her to the place where once there was a huge orchard, but after the death of an uncle and my grandpa, it died out of lack of maintenance. I took her to another field where once upon a time, I used to reap the potato harvest with my grandpa and uncle. I showed her the huge rooms of the haveli-like house, where there used to be a lot of people not very long ago. Today, some of the rooms have been locked up, for their inhabitants are dead.
We went to the Biswanath Temple early in the morning. The temple area is located at the confluence of the Burhigang and the Brahmaputra. In ancient times, this place was inhabited by the Austro-Asiatic races. Several traces of a Neolithic civilisation have also been found here.
One of my grandpas was performing priestly duties when we reached. He blessed both of us and made us take rounds of the temple, which is also known as ‘pradakshinam’. We were then taken to the deity called ‘Bhalook Guxain’ (Bear God). They say if you lose something and you come here and pray, you get it back always. My youngest uncle (paternal) had left home 27 years ago. My family came here several times to pray for his return. He never came back.
“You know sweets, the idol that you see is actually four lions. Some historians argue that it is an inferior representation of the Lion’s Capitol of Emperor Asoka. The architecture is Perso-Hellenic. It is possible that this place may have been a Buddhist centre of worship once upon a time,” the historian in me couldn’t keep quiet for long.
Then we came to know that we could actually visit the older, ruined temple that’s located in the midst of the Brahmaputra. Locally, this temple is called Paani Vishwanath (Vishwanath of the water). It was an opportunity we couldn’t miss, for this temple remains submerged for most part of the year. Only lucky people get to offer prayers here.
So, we embarked on a short boat trip to the temple. Nothing much is known about this temple, but the architecture resembles that of the Gupta Age. A little ahead lies a massive rock inscription where blueprints of some ancient temples of the area are inscribed. Also inscribed is the famous ‘chakravyuh’ mentioned in the Mahabharata. In fact, the place is mentioned as a major centre of Shiva and Shakti worship in the Kalika Purana and the Yogini Tantra: the former was written during the 10th century, while the latter is a 16thcentury work.
We then went to another Devi temple called Uma Tumuni. The area had a major naval base of the Ahoms once upon a time. In fact, most of the temples in the area were lost when the Brahmaputra changed course and submerged a huge area. It is also said that King Siva Singha had lived here for a very long time and was known for his indulgences. So much so that when King Gadadhar Singha died, he refused to go to the Ahom capital to pay the last respects. The place had some magic over him. It can still be felt. No wonder my mother’s family has lived here for nearly three centuries now after King Siva Singha invited them from eastern Uttar Pradesh to settle down in this place. Some copper plate inscriptions, which were devottara land grants issued by the Ahom king, are still there with my maternal family.
Neelam was fascinated to see and know the vibrant history of the place. “Tum itne ancient ho?” was her instant remark after knowing all that. She also said that she felt as if I was right there when all this history happened. “Filmon mein narrator ban sakte ho, bete,” she said.
On our return, we went to the Chandi and Ganesha temples. It is said that King Rajeshwar Singha had constructed 18 temples in the area, most of which have long since disappeared. But their legacy has lived on. The locals here are very religious and spiritually inclined people.
However, this place is also inhabited by Bangladeshi immigrants, which has somewhat changed the demography of the place. But the temple culture and the pluralistic Hindu religion has ensured that there is no conflict between people of the two identically opposite faiths.
Visiting Biswanath Chariali was a very emotional experience, more than spiritual. Sadly, however, nothing much has been done by the government to make this place a tourist attraction. This is injustice for sure to a place whose history goes back to the time when man first learnt to lead a civilised life. For me, however, it will always be the place where the woman who gave birth to me was born.
Photo Credits: Lord Mani
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