During the Holi weekend of 2019, we planned a trip to Pandua in Hooghly district of West Bengal. It is around 60 km by train from Howrah. We boarded the morning Howarh Pandua local and reached Pandua after more than an hour long journey.
The main attraction of Pandua is the Pandua Minar and the Baais Darwaja Masjid or Bari Masjid. We took a toto ride from Pandua Railway station and reached the main site. It is a huge field like complex with the ruins of the Bari Masjid on one side and the towering Minar on the other side.
The huge tower is around 125 ft in height. The height was reduced by few feets during an earthquake in the 19th century. The Minar is protected by the archaeological survey of India. The collapsed part of the Minar during earthquake has been renovated by ASI. There is a spiral staircase inside but the keys of the door remains locked. The Minar is five storied made of bricks. But the door is stone carved with Hindu gods and goddess adorning on either side.
Panduraja lived in adjacent Mahanad and Syed Shah Saifuddin, the Nephew of Feroze Shah Khilji( Sultan of Delhi) visited the place during 13th Century. Cow slaughter was banned in the area during the rule of Panduraja. But Syed Shah Saifuddin performed Khatnah ceremony of his son and slaughtered a cow. This made Panduraja angry and he sacrificed Syed Shah Saifuddin’s son to goddess Kali. Syed Shah Saifuddin went back to Delhi and under the command of Jafar Khan Gazi he attacked Pandua with a huge army from Delhi. After a great battle, Panduraja was defeated and the Minar was constructed by Syed Shah Saifuddin as a mark of victory during the end of 13th century. Syed Shah Saifuddin was also wounded and died subsequently. His Dargah and mosque was constructed nearby on the GT road. The Pandua Minar also served as an Ajan Minar of the adjacent Bari Masjid for a brief period of time.
Some also say that the Pandua Minar was a huge Vishnu temple built by Panduraja which was later demolished and Muslim structures were incorporated over it. The stone door at the bottom with figures of hindu gods and goddess testifies the fact.
It is also believed to be the site of Pradyuman Shrinkala Devi shrine, one of the 51 Shaktipeeths.
A huge fair takes place in the adjacent field by the name of Mela Talaa during Magha Masa of Bengali calendar around February. It is a month long event attended by millions of devotees.
The adjacent Bari Masjid built during 13th century is a specimen of the typical brick style of Bengal. It is a long low building measuring 70.41 m by 12.80 m having three aisles, with 21 door openings in front and 3 on the sides. Its roof has 63 small domes over brick arches resting on stone pillars of hindu design. A canopied platform is an attractive feature of the mosque.
We started our return journey towards Kolkata by evening by reaching Pandua railway station.
Pandua also holds an important chapter in Indian railway history. It is not well known that Kolkata missed the chance of being associated with the country’s first railway system in 1853.
Dwarkanath Tagore, the quintessential businessman of 19th century Bengal and grandfather of Rabindranath Tagore, conceived a railway system for India during his travels in London in 1842.
Lord Dalhousie speeded up sanction for construction of an experimental Eastern Indian Railway (EIR) line from Howrah to Ranigunj in 1849, and by the end of 1853, the 64-km railway line up to Pandua was ready for commissioning as the sub-continent’s first train line.
But fate intervened when HMS Goodwin, the ship carrying the engine for the first Indian railway, sank at the Sandheads before reaching Kolkata, and another ship carrying the coaches got misdirected to Australia.
There were also delays in obtaining permission from the French for traversing their territory at Chandannagore (then a French colony).
Because of these events, the honour of the first train run in the country went to Bombay (Boribunder to Poona) in 1853, and eastern India had to wait for one more year for the first train from Howrah station to Hooghly (a distance of 39 km) which ran on August 15, 1854.
While the engine was brought from England, the carriages were built in India.
Train services were extended up to Pandooah from September 1, 1854.
Overall a small short trip to Pandua from Kolkata was really enriching and enjoyable.