Updated: 3 days ago
A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee
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Last weekend we had been to Chandraketugarh – a 2200+-year-old lost Bengal glory pre-Maurya period archaeological site which boasts of Vikramaditya’s favorite astrologer Varahamihir’s mansion from where his daughter-in-law Khawnaa used to preach her poetic forecasts. It is located at a distance of just 40 kilometers from Kolkata besides the gorgeous Bidyadhari River near Barasat.
Green serenity of Chandraketugarh
The excavation has been stopped in the middle as it is said (as per a locale’s version), the pit here is baned by a monster called Betaal 2500 years back
When we reached there after a dusty village drive, we were already half dusted ourselves. The green sojourn at Chandraketugarh was rejuvenating but the first impression of the archaeological site conveyed an air of utter negligence in terms of maintenance – even the excavations have been left incomplete due to unknown reasons. A locale said that the pits here were cursed by a monster called Betaal 2500 years back and thus anyone who tries to dig the area gets killed by the devil. The site has now become more a rural romantic getaway for the local couples than a historic site. A century-old tree right in the middle of the mounds stands as the only testimony to its rich past.
Way to Varahamihir’s mansion
Finding outsiders taking photographs around the place stimulated interests in various forms to the surrounding public. As we looked around, an old Muslim gentleman left his dirty bicycle near our car and approached us almost voluntarily and introduced us to a neglected chapter of medieval Indian history.
The Chandraketugarh area belonged to a 2500+-year-old urban civilization that flourished in the nation during pre-Mauryan period till the Pala dynasty. It can be worth tagged as the ‘Mohenjo-Daro of Bengal’. But due to the sheer disregard from authorities, it never came to limelight neither received the deserved importance over time.
The brick mounds on which we were standing actually belonged to Vikramaditya’s favorite astrologer Varahamihir. His son Mihir was a legendary mathematician of Ancient India, sharing equal credits with Aryabhatta and was one of the esteemed gems of Vikramaditya’s Navaratna jewels.
The main mansion of Varahamihir – now underground, left half excavated due to brittleness of the ancestral bricks
Upon invitation, Mihir had once been traveling to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to exhibit his mathematical skills. There he grew love interests on the king’s daughter Lilavati and tied knots with her. After they came back to Chandraketugarh, motivated with the astrological calculations, Lilavati casually started delivering her agricultural predictions to the local women folks. Within a year, her poetic style and accuracy of predictions caught the attention of Vikramaditya and he appointed her as one of his Navaratna gems, replacing her husband Mihir. Thus arguably princess Lilavati became the first Indian lady to earn a monthly salary.
Way to the inner sector of the fort
Varahamihir sensed immense threat from Lilavati’s rising popularity at the royal court and thus he instigated his son Mihir to take immediate precautions against their capsizing future. Unnerved, he approached the mythical king Chandraketu to seek his guidance. When Lilavati came to know about her husband’s conspiracy, she chopped her tongue off with a double-edged knife and promised not to talk ever in her lifetime if that would safeguard Mihir’s honor at the royal court.
This infuriated Vikramaditya and he persistently motivated Lilavati to continue with her tuneful art of predictions. Much later Mihir too realized his offense and requested Lilavati to start prophesying again. It was then she learned a special art of speaking through her nasal passage. The pronunciation added a nasal tone to her voice and thus with time she came to be more known as Khawnaa (nasal speaker) and her sayings as ‘Khawnaar Bachan’.
The brick mounds were the remnants of the temple, prayer hall, adjacent vestibule, astrology chamber, living room, kitchen and remaining portions of the mansion of Khawnaa and Mihir. Now only the wrecked brick walls remain with a green carpet of long grown grass over them at places. But there is indigenous anticipation that many precious gems of golden age might be hidden inside.
Remnants of Mihir’s astrology chamber
This is the remnant of Chandraketu’s inner fort – most probably the ‘andarmahal’
The slant is the crown of the temple – exactly the spot from where Khawnaa used to chant her sayings
Terrace of Varahamihir’s darbar
The roof had already collapsed long back, perhaps even before the half-hearted excavations had started. Due to the eroding condition of the structures and brittleness of the primeval bricks, it has been left half dug by the authorities and the edifices are mostly underground at present. There did exist a flight of broken stairs which led us to the lower floors of the building but due to fears of snakebites, we could not walk to the bottom-most level.
Steps down the lower floors
The old man also warned us of a misleading patch of green grasses over the mounds – It has soft pits at many places and no one knows if you happen to step on any of them, in which obscure world will you end up inside! Some ancient Kharosti scriptures were visible on the brick walls of the temple, probably the place from where Khawnaa used to chant her melodic forecasts every afternoon.
The green grass is highly misleading – it has soft pits in many places. No one knows if u happen to step on any of them, in which sinistrous world you will end up inside
The remains of the temple from where every day in the afternoon Khawnaa used to preach her famous poetic sayings to the villagers
After a historic visual drive to the past, we enjoyed a brisk walk to Chandraketu’s garden and burial ground little away from the fort. The government allowed public access to this side of the citadel for picnics earlier, but now due to political reasons, the gates have been closed for picnickers. It has been converted to a religious place where there is a Muslim graveyard at one side and Hindu burial ground on the other. They say Chandraketu was very liberal towards religious beliefs which perhaps have made this possible.
Village walk to Chandraketu’s garden and burial ground
A religious place where there is Muslim kabaristan at one side and Hindu burial ground on the other.
The sun had set in the west by then. We thanked the old man for rejuvenating the historic sacrifice of a talented lady. After listening to the mythical stories surrounding the place, we felt very uncanny to stay there after sunset. Thus, hurried our way back to the car and geared off fast.
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