Annapurna Temple: A Daughter’s Saga
The Babu Culture of Calcutta is known for various reasons. One of them was their flair to build temples. This story is about one such temple. East India Story is proud to Introduce Nabanita Sengupta with her story of Annapurna Temple.
A daughter’s relationship with her mother has many facets to it. She can be a companion or a rival, a source of solace, or a cause for worry. Our literature and films are replete with many such examples. Perhaps, growing up in mother’s footsteps and then leaving her shadow to create one’s own identity adds layers to this relationship. But whatever it be, where would we be without our mothers! So, this Poila Baisakh , I decided to make it special for that woman in my life without whom, to repeat the cliché, I would not be here at all.
I planned an early morning outing with my parents, for a few hours, before the sun reached its punishing mode. This woman with a hearty spirit loves nothing more than travelling, so I thought a brief outing would be the best gift for her. Several age-related constraints had to be taken into account before planning the trip – it had to be a short, early morning visit by car, to a place not extremely crowded. The trip could not involve much walking too. Covid fear was still furtively present in our lives and there was no point in taking a risk. So with all these limitations, only one place fitted the bill. We planned a tour to Annapurna Temple at Barrackpore, a place of historical importance, but not that high up on social media ranking of ‘must see’ places around Kolkata.
Little did I know before taking the trip that this place too had a mother-daughter story. As history says, this temple had been built by Rani Rashmoni’s daughter, Jagadamba, who was also the wife of Mathur Biswas, the lifelong follower of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa and the most trusted counsellor of Rani Rashmoni. The temple, interestingly, is a replica of the Dakshineswar Temple. There are many stories surrounding it.
It is said that once, while Rani Rashmoni and her companions were trying to go to Benaras to pay obeisance at Annapurna Temple, terrible weather disrupted the voyage.They had to take shelter near Dakshineswar, where Rani eventually built the famous Kali temple. This thwarted journey kindled a wish in Mathur and Jagadamba’s hearts to build an Annapurna temple at a nearby location. That wish was finally fulfilled by Jagadamba when she built this temple in 1875, almost two decades after the Dakshineswar temple.
Another story says that while building the temple Jagadamba had a dream in which she was asked not to surpass the glory of her mother. Therefore, she restricted the number of Shiv temples to six, which is just half the number of Shiv temples in Dakshineswar. It is said that the same set of builders was involved in the construction of the Bhabatarini (Goddess Kali) temple in Dakshineswar as well as Annapurna Temple in Barrackpore.
As I entered the temple, I was quite intrigued by Jagadamba’s dream. I wondered, how does one surpass another? What kind of surpassing was the dream talking about? Was it only in terms of physical attributes and appearances? Annapurna Temple has not been able to match the temple of Dakshineswar in several ways. The similarity ends in their physical resemblances. The extreme popularity and the iconic stature that Dakshineshwar holds in Kolkata is nowhere reflected in its replica. Even the deitiesare different. In Annapurna temple, we see the benevolent form of the Goddess, one who provides food to the world, and Shiva as a mendicant, seeking alms from the Goddess. But in Dakshineswar, we see the idol of Kali, the destroyer of the evil.
As we entered the temple premises, we saw people queuing up to offer puja to the Goddess. The atmosphere was homely and serene, in keeping with the nature of the deity there. It lacked the hustle of the Dakshineswar complex and its heterogenous tourist crowd. Here, most of the people visiting were locals and devotees. We stood in the queue which was not so long and waited for our turn. After offering the puja, there was pushpanjali too.Mother was very pleased to be able to offer puja to the Goddess on such an auspicious day. I was more engaged in observing the surroundings and the people and wondering about the relationship between Rashmoni and her daughter, Jagadamba.
The history of architecture has been a male-dominated one. Very few women have been able to create structures that have gained eminence in history. So this story of temples built by two women, related to each other, holds a special place. Very rarely do we find a pair of mother and daughter creating temples to fulfil their own spiritual wishes. I realized, there was another parallel between the Rani and her daughter concerning the temples. Both the temples were built by them in their widowhood.
For Jagadamba, her husband was still alive when the Annapurna temple was conceptualized, but Rani Rashmoni was a widow for almost twenty years when the temple in Dakshineswar was built. In the nineteenth century Bengal, it required a lot of fortitude for a woman, and that too a widow, to achieve such a feat. Rani Rashmoni is known for her courage and intelligence, to be able to maintain the zamindari even after her husband died in 1836, but what is heartening is to see her daughter imbibe similar qualities.
Like many of Rashmoni’s endeavours, there is a story that Jagadamba’s temple too ran into trouble with the British. The lion built atop the main gate of the temple had irked the British because it was the symbol of the empire. The case was ultimately settled in favour of the temple with the judge prioritizing the lion as a work of art and not any colonial symbol.
After spending about an hour in the temple complex, it was time to return home. The sun was gradually getting hotter and the temple more crowded. As we headed back home, I could not stop thinking about Jagadamba and her work. Was this temple her tribute to her mother or was it a desire to carve a place for herself in the pages of history? Are women allowed to create their legacies, because, through these twin temples, don’t we find the legacy of a mother being carried on by the daughter?Annapurna temple, existing in a state of semi-obscurity, holds so many stories within. But whatever be the case, it speaks about a woman, who like her mother, had a mind of her own.
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An assistant professor for over a decade, NabanitaSengupta is also a translator and creative writer. She holds a PhD in English and has been published in various anthologies, e-zines and journals. Her latest published books are Chambal Revisited (translation), A Bengali Lady in England (translation), and Understanding Women's Experiences of Displacement (co-edited). She has also authored an e-book of fiction, The Ghumi Days.
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