Midnapore is not a name that easily comes to mind when you think of a weekend getaway but there is much to see in this town — from historic temples and churches to a lovely museum. The historical accounts of the town in West Midnapore district date back more than 800 years.
Many believe that the place was part of Biratrajya in the Mahabharata. According to Mednikosh, written in the 13th Century, the town was established by King Mednikar. A 12th Century plaque found in Orissa describes the place as Midhunpur, a part of Chorgango dynasty.
Another source states that a holy man named Maulana Mustafi Madani founded the place during Emperor Aurangazeb’s time. It was then known as Madanipur. The town became the district headquarters of Midnapore on September 22, 1783. Midnapore is on the border of Bengal and Orissa. It was once a part of Orissa. The cultural influence of the neighbouring state is apparent in this part of Bengal. The fusion is discernible in food, language and even social customs.
There’s symbiosis of Orissa and Bengal schools of architecture in the temples of Midnapore. One of the classic examples of this is the Jagannath temple at Natunbazaar. Founded in 1851, this 73-ft high temple is partly built in Deul form, which is the Orissa style, and partly in Charchala form, which is typical of the Bengal school.The majestic structure is adorned with terracotta panels and limestone. The image inside is the same as the one in Jagannath temple in Puri. Do not miss the Garuda stambha in front of the temple. It is also bears characteristics of the Orissa school of architecture.
Midnapore once had a sizeable Christian population. There are several old churches in the town. The best of the lot is St John’s Church, founded in 1851 by the Church of England Mission, at Sekpura. The yellow building has elegant colonial pillars. The huge tower stands like a sentinel. There are several graves on the compound.
There’s another historic church in the Abasgargh area known as American Baptist Church. It, too, is a nice piece of architecture. Built in 1862-63 by Reverend Otis R. Bachelor and his wife Sarah, the white-coloured church has a huge iron bell in the tower. There’s a beautiful lawn around the church.
Jora Masjid is another attraction and a shining example of communal harmony. The mosque, founded by Moulana Hasrat Shah and housing his grave, is a pilgrimage spot for Muslims from the subcontinent. Every year, a grand fair is held in the Bengali month of Poush on the occasion of the Pir’s birthday. The fair, known as Poush Mela, attracts many from across the border. The government of Bangladesh runs special trains to carry pilgrims to Midnapore for this fair. People from Pakistan and West Asia also come down. Hindus in large number join the celebration by lighting lamps in the memory of the Pir.
The biggest attraction of Midnapore is Vidyasagar Mandir. Rabindranath Tagore inaugurated this superb museum in 1938. The foundation stone was laid by former President S. Radhakrishnan, who was then a professor at Calcutta University. The museum has several manuscripts, coins from the Pala and Sena eras, stone and metal statues, books, photographs, terracotta panels from temples, copper plaques and much more.
There are more to see in this town. Ramakrishna Mission temple, founded in the early 19th Century, is now a cultural and spiritual hub. The pink temple is a replica of Belur math. The Mission also runs a library and a handicrafts centre.
The Navaratna temple of Radhakrishna Jew and Shiva temple of the Mullick family are beautifully decorated with terracotta artefacts. The 150-year-old Saptarath Shiva temple at Khaprel Bazaar, the 200-year-old Shitala temple and the old Roman Catholic church are also worth a visit.
Midnapore is 128 km from Howrah station and 135 km from Esplanade. It takes little more than two hours to reach. The road from Calcutta is smooth but the bridge near Kolaghat is in bad shape, so drive carefully. If you want to come back by evening, start early. It takes about four hours to see the town properly. You can even cover Pathra and Karnagarh in a day. Vidyasagar Mandir is closed on Sunday. Photography is allowed everywhere.
There are several hotels with tariff between Rs 400 and Rs 2,000 per night.