Tarun Tapas Mukherjee, Bhatter College, Dantan, Paschim Medinipur
Jainism as a religion had existed in Bengal—mainly in the Rarh region, for many centuries. Lord Mahavira himself is said to have travelled to Bengal, and if it be true, he must have preached the religion himself. A number of ancient Jain and Buddhist texts attest to the dominance of Jainism in the ancient Gouda kingdom. However, afterwards it lost much of its position in the triangular struggle involving the Brahminical Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism for dominance in various parts of the early medieval post-Pala period. In the 12th century Jainism received royal patronage from Anantavarman Choda-Ganga-Deva (1078 AD), the Odishan ruler who occupied the entire southwest Bengal up to the river Bhagirathi and created his second kingdom at Ambikanagar, Bankura. Many temples for the Digambara sect were built in Bankura and Purulia in the 11th and 12 century AD in honour of Parswanatha and Mahavira.
When I made a visit to pre-Islamic Jain temple complex near Kharagpur in the district of Paschim Medinipur, West Bengal, I recalled the history. I had to recall because no record of this precious structures can be found. The local people think that the complex is more than a thousand years old. But when I related the historical data of the Odishan invasion of Bengal, it seems to me that the complex came into being in the 11th or 12th century AD and possibly not much later because the same Odishan kings who later on inclined towards Brahminical faith converted Jaina temples into Hindu temples for Shiva or Vishnu. Many temples in the course of time met this fate and images of Jain Tirthankaras came to be worshipped as the images of the Brahminical order like Vishnu, Shiva or Dharma Thakur. At some places attempts have been made to modify the images and in that process deformation took place. So, it may be presumed that the Jain temple complex of Jinsar either did not get any royal patronage and in that case it might have been built later on. But in the case of its getting the royal support it must have been built in the closing years of the 11th century or in the early part of the 12th century. I also found similar construction materials and techniques in two other places in this region—the remnants of a temple complex in Raibonia Fort, Odisha and the Kurumbera Fort at Keshiary, Paschim Medinipur.
Whether the Jinsar complex was primarily a temple complex is not certain. Idols have long been removed and only a fragment of a minor sculpture is put there which was being worshipped till a few years ago by the modern Jain followers of Medinipur. That the complex is situated on the bank of the river Kansai indicates its location on a trading route. It is well known that some Jain temples in those times functioned as a financial establishment. However, the complex might have been built as an abode of the travelling Jain Shramans or Sanayasis and some arrangements might have been there for them.
Sadly the complex is now completely abandoned and it stands on the mercy of nature and the local people who do not have any religious or cultural attachment to the beautiful structure. Many stone slabs are found dislocated and people use them for various daily purposes. I found strong destructive vegetation growing threateningly all over the complex and if not taken care of, the trees growing on them will tear it apart.
I talked with some academicians about it and found that they know almost nothing about it. The modern Jain communities of Kharagpur and Midnapore must be either ignorant of its existence or apathetic to it. Otherwise, this beautiful and sacred architectural specimen must have drawn their attention. Finally, I found no restoration or conservation initiatives by the Govt. agencies. It is strange that they are mainly concerned with the preservation of colonial heritage in and around Kolkata. The tourism department (does it exist at all!) could have linked it with the Pathra site just on the opposite bank of the river and made a very attractive tourism destination. But no such effort is in sight. The Bengalis feel proud of the Muslim and British rule here, but they perhaps cannot accept the fact that for many years a considerable portion of Bengal was under the Oriya kings and many people for many years lived within the culture they created.
Gallery of the Jinsar Temple Complex
Tarun Tapas Mukherjee is Assistant Professor, Bhatter College, Dantan, Paschim Medinipur.