The forgotten Jain heritage of Pakbirra and Purulia



Since ancient ages, the Purulia district of West Bengal has been bestowed with the fortune of being extremely rich in heritage and culture.  As mentioned in one of my previous blogs as well, the “Acharang Sutra”, states that Lord Mahavir visited a region known as Radh Pradesh shortly after Diksha, where he had to face numerous calamities. Also, in the “Bhagwati Sutra” it has been stated that Lord Mahavir  spent many ‘Chaturmas’ in Panit Bhoomi, which is a portion of Radh Pradesh. As per Encyclopedia Britannica, thr geographical & historical indicators state that Radh Pradesh is a toponym for an area in the Indian subcontinent that lies between the Chota Nagpur Plateau on the West and the Ganges Delta on the East. Although the boundaries of the region have been defined differently according to various sources throughout history, today it is mainly coextensive with the state of West Bengal also comprising some portions of the state of Jharkhand and Bihar in India.

Pakbirra Jain Temples


Therefore, it is evident from the above facts that Lord Mahavir blessed this region in the 6th century BC. Further, between the 8th and 12th Centuries AD, many Jains, especially from northern and central India started trading by transporting their ships to Bay of Bengal via various rivers namely Damodar, Kangsabati, Dwarkeshvar, Subarnabaluka, Shilavati which flow through this region. As their networks spread, these traders evolved from mere trading to exporting various natural resources which were mined from this mineral rich region.

Pakbirra Jain temple during excavation. Source: British Library


As per historian and Assistant Professor Chintu Dutta, just like other parts of Bengal, Purulia too faced the vicissitudes of time and yet the people from this part responded lively to every cultural event. Jainism had been one of those cultural events and quite interestingly the local people of this region embraced Jainism first and still today they follow certain folk rituals, the origin of which can be traced back to Jainism who are known as "Sarak's". Thus, as the Jain influence spread a lot of Jain temples were constructed not only by wealthy traders, but also local chieftains and ministers under the rule of Anantavarman Chodaganga. Today, Jain idols, temples and ruins have been found in hundreds of villages in the Purulia district which prove that Jainism thrived in the ancient era. Some of them are as below -

Sankra/ Sankda – Ancient idols of Lord Parshwanath and Lord Shantinath excavated and worshipped as Dharmaraj.

Jain idol at Sankra 


Anaijambad - Idols of Lord Adinath, Lord Parshwanath and Chandraprabhu bearing the mark of Pala era excavated.

Recovered Jain idols at Digambar Jain Temple, Anaijambad


Sitalpur – Idol of Adinath Bhagwan Chovisi excavated which is worshipped as Bhairavji. Bali (animal sacrifice) is conducted in front of the idol on the Ashadh and Vaishakh Purnima

Shri Adinath Bhagwan, Sitalpur

Bhangra – Chaumukhi idol of Mahavir Swami, Lord Adinath and Chandraprabhu Swami excavated. One idol of Shri Adinath Bhagwan is pasted on the back wall of a Shiva temple and worshipped as Bhairav. Sadly, as the idol is kept in the open, local children have damaged parts of the parikar by using the idol as a 'wicket' for playing cricket.

Idol of Lord Adinath at Bhangra village

Chaumukhi Chaitya Structure at Bhangra village


Remains of a Jain idol pasted outside Digambar Shrine in Bhangra

Sanka: Beautiful Chovisi idol of Shri Adinath Bhagwan currently protected by Shree Digambar Jain Tirth Sanrakshini Mahasabha. One Jain idol lying in ruins near the local pond whereas one idol of Shri Adinath Bhagwan has carvings of cloth (Katisutra).

Shri Adinath Bhagwan, Sanka

Damaged Jain idol lying in ruins near a pond in Sanka

Idol of Shri Adinath Bhagwan with carvings of cloth (Katisutra) at Sanka


Rakshatpur: An exceptionally beautiful idol of Shri Parshwanath Bhagwan with carvings of clothes (Katisutra) and a Tirthaankar idol preserved by Shree Digambar Jain Tirth Sanrakshini Mahasabha. 

 Idol of Shri Parshwanath Bhagwan with carvings of clothes (Katisutra) at Rakshatpur

Barra: A badly damaged Sahastrakut (due to constant pasting of sindoor) and a Chaitya Chaturmukhi shrine is placed outside a Hindu temple. 

Locals playing cards in front of a Jain Chaturmukhi shrine in Barra.


Telkupi  1200 year old ruins of Jain temple which was submerged deliberately under the newly constructed dam by Damodar Valley Corporation without allowing any scope for documentation or translocation. Telkupi was a major Jain settlement with temples and other artefacts dating back to the 9th century Pala period.

Ruins of Jain temple at Telkupi (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


Gurudi: Idols recovered from Telkupi worshipped here in a shrine maintained by Shree Digambar Jain Tirth Sanrakshini Mahasabha. Idols of Shri Adinath along with Bharat & Bahubali worshipped here.

Shri Adinath Bhagwan, Gurudi

Lakhara – Idols of Lord Adinath (Chovisi) and Lord Chandraprabhu (Panchtirthi) excavated from a field.

Jain idols at Lakhara (Source: Bharat Bahubali TV)

Dhadhki – Idols of Lord Adinath, Lord Shantinath and Lord Mahavir Swami excavated, which are worshipped as Kaal Bhairav.

Dhadhki (Source: Bharat Bahubali TV)

Lagara – 3 idols of Jain Tirthankars were excavated and placed in the local Kali Temple. However, many antique idols stolen in the past years from this region as well.

Jain idols at Lagara (Source: Bharat Bahubali TV)


Barmasia – Idols of Lord Adinath, Ajithnath, Chandraprabhu and various chovisis excavated.

Jain idols at Barmasia (Source: Bharat Bahubali TV)

Paruldiha – A 5ft tall idol of Lord Adinath excavated from a villager’s house which is worshipped as Bhairav.

Shri Adinath Bhagwan worshipped as Bhairav at Paruldiha (Source: Bharat Bahubali TV)


Bhasardanga – Chaumukhi idol excavated from a field

Chaumukhji at Bhasardanga (Source: Bharat Bahubali TV)

Tusiama – Idol of Lord Adinath excavated.

Manbazar –Idols of Lord Adinath and Shantinath Bhagwan excavated

Shri Adinath Bhagwan, Manbazar

Polma 7ft headless idol of an (unidentified) Jain Tirthankar excavated along with idols of Lord Adinath & Sambhavnath.

Jain idols at Polma (Source: Bharat Bahubali TV)

Jain idols at Polma (Source: Bharat Bahubali TV)


Paglara – Beautiful idol Parshwanath has been excavated which is worshipped by the local villagers as Kaal Bhairav. Despite requests by Jains, regular animal sacrifice conducted in front of the idol.

Shri Parshwanath Bhagwan, Paglara (Source: Bharat Bahubali TV)


Charrah – Ancient relics of Jain temple as well as multiple Jain idols excavated. An idol of Shri Adinath Bhagwan used as a "dwarpal" (gatekeeper) of a Kali Mata temple.

Jain idols at Charrah

Idol of Shri Adinath Bhagwan used as a "dwarpal" (gatekeeper) of a Kali Mata temple


Remains of an ancient Jain temple at Charrah

Jain ruins at Charrah


Golamara – Ancient 7 ft damaged idol of Lord Mahavir without hands worshipped as Bhairav by locals. 

Damaged idol of Lord Mahavir at Golamara (Source: Bharat Bahubali TV)


Banda – Ruins of an Ancient Jain temple.

Banda Deul (Source: Outlook India)

Para – 2 temples and an ancient idol of a Tirthankar worshipped as Bhairav where a sacrificial altar has been newly constructed for regular animal sacrifices.

Para Deul

Deulghata – Ruins of beautiful Jain temples.

Deulghata Jain Temple (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


While these ruins recount the glorious past of Jainism, one such village in the Purulia district stands out –Pakbirra (See location here). Situated around 50 kms from Purulia town on the Purulia-Pancha road, this village houses a treasure trove for Jains. Pakbirra came into the limelight when a plethora of antiquities related to Jains were discovered along with three temples with unique shape dating back to the 9th & the 10th Century AD. More than 100 years ago, Pakbirra was an open archeological gallery, housing several temples and innumerable Jain statues. Today, after utter neglect only three temples remain standing while several priceless statues are turning into ruins.

The third and the smallest surviving Jain temple

Mr. J.D. Beglar, one of the pioneer scholars of Indian archaeology started to explore the place and what he found was quite amazing. In 1872 when he started exploring the place, there were only 3 temples remaining out of 24. The material used to construct these temples was greenish chlorite stone, which is found in abundance in the area. All the temples are built in ‘rekha deul' style of Odisha school of architecture. In first temple, the entrance is built like a chariot with a corbelled entrance. The second temple also faces north while the third faces east.

Locally known as the Bhairav Sthan

These temples, buried several feet upto the level of the wall niches, still have some of the lower façade stones, which give an idea of their appearance. The have the basic tri-ratha plan with simplified squad of moldings. The large amalaka fragments lying about, and the stone kalasha’s with lotus buds emerging, make it obvious that most of the temples here belonged to the usual nagara order.

8 ft idol of Lord Shitalnath/ Padmaprabhu worshipped as Bhairavnath by locals

The most significant excavation from Pakbirra was an 8 ft high idol of Lord Shitalnath/ Padmaprabhu standing on a lotus flanked by two celestials with fly-whisks. As the idol is now worshipped as Bhairavnath, a Hindu celestial, the forehead and feet are full of oil and vermillion and a trident placed next to him. Along with the large idol, an idol of Adhishtayika devi was also found which has also been kept next to it. The local population along with the local authorities and the State Government has named this site as “Bhairav Sthan” and a Hindu temple is being constructed where this idol will be worshipped as Bhairavnath. Very soon the remaining traces of Jainism will be lost until the Archaeological survey of India wakes up and takes corrective action. The locals bath here in the nearby pond while the children play cricket creating further damage to this heritage site.

Temple construction on full swing
Children playing cricket in the compound



The smallest temple facing the east houses a beautiful idol of Shri Chandraprabhu Swami with a Chovisi. Although the idol is not damaged, its Parikar which houses the chovisi has been partially destroyed. The other two temples facing the north, house 2 beautiful and undamaged idols of Lord Adinath and Lord Mahavir each with a Parikar housing a chovisi. Another idol of Lord Adinath with a Panchtirthi in its parikar is also housed in the third temple.

Idol of Chandraprabhu Swami

Idol of Lord Adinath

Idol of Mahavir Swami

Apart from these, many other idols of Tirthankar’s and celestials were also unearthed, which have now been kept in a room which is planned to be converted into a museum. The room houses multiple images of Lord Adinath with different hair designs –see images below (Lord Adinath is represented with locks of hairs as when the Lord was plucking his hairs before Diksha, Indra dev requested him that they looked divine and not to pluck them).

10 idols of Lord Adinath - all with different hair designs

Idols of various Tirthankar's

Another interesting relic discovered from the excavations was a Sahastra-pat -  a stone plate housing 356 idols of Tirthankar’s with Lord Adinath seated in the middle. Two damaged idols of Lord Parshwanath were also found with Dharnendra and Padmavati carved on them. What is interesting that these idol designs, structure and carvings have a strong resemblance with the idol of Mahavir Swami at Kshatriyakund which provides an insight of the sculptural art over the ancient era. (See image below)

Sahastra Pat
Damaged idols of Lord Parshwanath with Dharnendra & Padmavati

Design similarities

While these ruins at Pakbirra are being looked after some members of the Jain community, we still have a far way to go to preserve our heritage. It has to be preserved soon, otherwise no trace of our roots will be left in this region.


Chaumukhi Pratimaji


How to reach
Purulia is around 270 kms from Kolkata and is accessible by Road, Train and Bus. By road, Purulia can be reached via NH 314 and SH 2 from Kolkata. Regular trains like Howrah Chakradharpur Express and Rupasi Bangla ply to and from Kolkata.

Shankeshwarpuram Jain Tirth
Where to stay
Shankheshwarpuran Jain Tirth (SH5, Sankra, WB 723126. Click here for location), constructed under the guidance of Acharya Muktiprabh Surishwarji Maharaja and Acharya Vinitprabh Surishwarji (Mohansuri Samuday) is situated in Sankda village near Anara Jn. which is 25km from Purulia and 52km from Pakbirra. The complex houses 2 beautiful Jain temples and has lodging facilities along with a Bhojanshala. However, prior intimation is important. Contact – 9932542001.


Idols of Adhishtayak Dev-Devi's







Comments

  1. You are doing good work, bro.
    Looking at your orientation, you may also like to visit Ahichhatra in UP, Gopachal Parvat, Gwalior Fort, MP and Mangi Tungi in Maharashtra.
    If you are interested i can share many more. I am also into searching and doing jatra to many such odd locations.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I would love to visit these places as well. Please send me the details at csarpitshah@gmail.com

      Delete
  2. Anumodna
    But still we have to do much for endangered heritage

    ReplyDelete
  3. Very very knowledgeable writing.
    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  4. From kolkata about 25 f us are planning to visit Purulia as Jain Teerth.

    Could you share your number and build us a road map to make it easier for us? We will be taking 25 seater bus and will also have elderly people with us.

    ReplyDelete
  5. मैं इस जगह प्राक बिर्रा जा चुका हूं , बहुत ही सुन्दर जगह है परन्तु रख रखाव के अभाव से बहुत सारे पुराने महत्वपूर्ण मूर्तियों की दशा खराब है , सरकार को इस ओर ध्यान देना चाहिए

    ReplyDelete
  6. Very nice comprehensive information provided by you..Jain Community of purulia with the help of others should take note of it and it should make a trust to re-establish the Jain Temple with modern facilities

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you Brother. You have described well about Pakbirra. I visited Pakbirra in last month and
    I think this was the largest Jain centre in Kansai valley. You have mentioned the stone plate as "Sahastra Pat, in which miniatures of Tirthankaras are engraved in several lines around Adinath. Is it also called Ayagapatta?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Start fundraising so these can be renovated or bought

    ReplyDelete

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