Durgapur is an industrial town in the state of West Bengal, India. Today it is dominated by the chimneys of industries alright, but it has not always been so. The mighty river Damodar has played an important part in its history. Durgapur in fact was home to dense forests along its fringes, called the Garh forest. Mentioned in the Puranas ( ancient Hindu Scriptures), the Garh forests are one of the oldest known lands in India. It is believed that it was in the depths of the Garh forest that the tradition of worshiping Goddess Durga, the deity of power started (and hence the name, Durgapur).
The town is strewn with remnants of its rich and varied historic legacy. Some fascinating noteworthy structures include the ones related to noted dacoit leaders Bhabani Pathak and Ichchai Ghosh. Back when India was under the British rule and common villagers were exploited, there grew scattered gangs of dacoits and looters around Bengal. They were bands of outcasts and operated with primitive weapons and waylaid vehicles carrying taxes to the British coffers. They took cover in the dense forests of the local areas which the foreign soldiers were clueless about. Some of these gang leaders were revered by common villagers for whom they were a Robin Hood like figure (they looted the rich people and distributed the loot among the poor villagers, in essence). There is historical documentation of these gangs running their own parallel government in pockets around the country. Villagers resorted to these local justice bodies for settlement in case of conflict. One man’s terrorist, after all, is unfailingly another’s freedom fighter.
The historic figure of Bhabani Pathak was a well educated Brahmin Scholar learned in the scriptures and martial arts. He strategically led his gang of loyal supporters to successfully lead several campaigns against the British. His protegee Devi Choudhurani overtook the reigns of his gang after his death. Now, the duo of Bhabani Patahk and Devi Choudhurani were wanted by the British Police of that time, however they managed to elude the Police because of the existence of a network of tunnels that helped them escape. These tunnels started from a place called ‘Bhabani Pathaker Tilla’ (the present site for the Science and Energy Park constructed by the Durgapur Nagar Nigam) and extended as far as the banks of the mighty Damodar River.
Though the historical existence of the characters of Bhabani Pathak and Devi Choudhurani can be proved through contemporary Police Records, further documentation is not available. This lack of information had been fully exploited by the Bengali Litterateur Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay who popularised their story (with ample amount of creative liberty taken to weave their personal stories) in his acclaimed novel ‘Devi Choudhurani’. A bengali film (with the same name) based on the same novel has also been made subsequently.
Architecture and other Essential Information
How to reach?
Durgapur is well connected by roads and rails. It is about three hours away from Kolkata, the capital city of West Bengal. Buses ply in the route between Kolkata and Durgapur at an interval of 15 mins from 6am to 6 pm every day. The entrance of the tunnels is situated barely a 20 minute walk away from the City Centre Bus stand. There are a number of hotels and restaurants located in the area and hence fooding and lodging should not pose a huge challenge.
A stone’s throw away from the entrance to the tunnels is located a two hundred year old Kali Temple where according to legends, the dacoit gang used to worship the Goddess Kali before setting out for any operation. The ancient temple has been reconstructed with donations from ardent devotees and is still in active worship. The ambiance of the temple is extremely serene and uplifting.
Archaeological studies have conclusively proved that the said network of underground tunnels had been constructed in the Seventeenth century (in the later part of the Mughal Era) in a style comparable to the Roman style of architecture. The stone blocks used for construction had carved joints and rivets and were further held together by indigenous mixtures of sand and limestone. They had been used for supplying water and also to dispose off extra water in the area prior to serving as an exit plan for the dacoits.
Unfortunately, the said piece of heritage had been lying in neglect for years. Finally in 2009 restoration efforts taken by the Durgapur Nagar Nigam bore fruits and the tunnels were reconstructed to their earlier fascinating states. As seen from the entrances, the tunnels are quite narrow allowing a single person to pass with difficulty. Due to the dangers involved, the tunnels are now inaccessible to the public. However one can admire the entrance itself, which is actually quite fascinating and can be seen proudly proclaiming its presence as a relic of an era gone by.
History, they say, has a way of revealing itself. It is not astounding, thus that a network of underground tunnels located in an industrial town otherwise known by the tonnage of annual steel production can transport you to a period long forgotten.