Paschim Medinipur is located in southwest Bengal. It is bordered by the districts of Bankura on the north, that of Hugli on the north east, by the states of Jharkhand and Orissa on the west, and the Bay of Bengal in the south. The district has 4 sub-divisions, namely, Kharagpur, Ghatal, Medinipur Sadar and Jhargram. One of the country’s most backward districts, it is one of the largest districts in the state and covers a total land area of 9295.28 square kilometers.
The area of the Kanak Durga temple is in the Jamboni area of the Jhargram sub-division. At one time known as the Gateway to Bengal, the place is in very close proximity to the border of Jharkhand. An early documentation mentions this place as a small kingdom that was part of the larger Samantabhum kingdom of this area. The temple is located beside the River Dulong in the forest, in close proximity to the forests of Lalgarh and Jangal Mahal. Chilkigarh, where the temple is located, is within the mahakuma of Jhargram. Despite the cartographic location of this area as part of West Bengal, the territory and its people have a distinct identity and socio-cultural ethos that is in many places closer to the tribal population of Jharkhand, a state that was carved out from the larger state of Bihar in the year 2000. It is because of this distinct identity that the demand for a separate state has existed in the area for the past three decades.
The village of Dubra where the temple is located has a mixed population of about 50 families from the Brahmin caste,60 from the scheduled caste groups,20 from the scheduled tribe groups and 30 from the other backward caste groups.
The folklore surrounding the temple and the practices followed during worship reveal aspects that hint strongly of Brahminical appropriation of a tribal cult. The folklore says that the King built the temple after he was ordered to do so by Devi Mahamaya in a dream. The stone idol which used to be housed in the temple is now covered in gold, (thus Kanak Durga, the Golden Durga), leading one to wonder about the original stone idol that used to be worshipped earlier.
Oral lore speaks of a king Jagatdeo who came here from Madhya Pradesh and who belonged to the Suryavansh dynasty. He defeated the local reigning King Dhabaldeb, took on the name of the vanquished ruler, possibly with the intention of making his rule more acceptable to the indigenous inhabitants of the place, and married the queen of Dhalbhum. Another version of the story speaks of the local tribal ruler offering his daughter in marriage to this new king Jagatdeo Dhabaldeb, a union which cemented the friendly relations between Junglemahal and Dhalbhum.
The folklore speaks of a dream that a later King Gopinath, possibly a descendant of Jagatdeo, had. In this dream, the Devi asked the king to build a temple for her. The next morning, the King was visited by two visitors, an artist, Jogendranath Kamilya, and a pujari Brahmin, Ramchandra Sarangi, both of whom had also had the same dream as the King. They had been ordered by the Goddess to aid the King in his setting up the temple. The old temple, widely known as Baramahal, is said to have first had a stone idol which is now covered in gold and worshipped as Devi Kanak Durga. Many believe that this idol was kin to the Devi Chandi, two idols of whom may be found in the nearby forest and are worshipped by the tribals.
The hints of a Brahminical and tribal mingling is borne out by the rituals of worship. Though the deity herself is named after Durga, and is seen as Mahamaya, the worship practices reveal the coming together of the indigeous and the Sanskritic cultures. The rituals include animal sacrifice in which, as the lore goes, the trail of blood had to flow down to the nearby Dulong River before the sacrifices could be stopped, in order to bring fertility to the land.
The value that the local inhabitants place on the surrounding forests and its animals also suggest the presence of a primitive cult. The tress are considered sacred in the area, much in the tradition of the sacred groves, and the monkeys inhabiting the forests are given much respect as embodying the ancestors of the royal dynasty. The architecture of the temple itself is reminiscent of the Surya Temple of Konarak and was possibly built three to four centuries ago. A huge Banyan tree, said to be three hundred years old, occupies the front of the temple, and is regarded as a sacred tree.
Yet another interpretation connects the sacrifices at the temple to the Tantric tradition of which one of the kings, King Jagadish Chandra, is said to have been a believer. He is said to have been a disciple of the Tantic Sadhak Bama-khyapa, and thus encouraged the daily offering of fish and rice to the deity.
All photos courtesy: Saurabh Sangari