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Kurumbera Fort

The Kurumbera Fort is a tourist attraction in West Bengal’s West Midnapore district. It is situated in Gaganeshwar village around 170 km from Calcutta. In the local language, Kurum means stone and Bera means a fence, and the name ‘stone-fence’ seems ideal for this stronghold. Built of laterite blocks, the monument has a syncretic identity, caught as it was in the crossroads of history.

History of  Kurumbera Fort

According to historian Harisadhan Das, the entire Midnapore region used to be part of the ancient kingdom of Kalinga. Eventually, the region broke away, becoming an independent kingdom with the port city of Tamralipti (modern-day Tamluk) as its capital. In the 15th century, the region was ruled by the Gajapati Dynasty (1434 – 1541 CE), a medieval Hindu dynasty that ruled much of present-day Odisha and parts of coastal Andhra Pradesh. The fort is believed to have been built by a king of this dynasty between 1438 and 1469. As per what is written in an Odia inscription dating back to the 15th century AD that can be found in the fort, it was built during the rule of Suryavamsi king of Odisha Gajapati Kapilendra Dev. (more in the History section)

The Fort as we see it today.

Unlike much of the Gangetic West Bengal, West Midnapore is part of the Chhota Nagpur Plateau, where laterite is commonly used for construction. The use of this material makes Kurumbera stand out from monuments in Gangetic West Bengal where terracotta is widely used since stone is rare in this region.

Kurumbera was first brought to the attention of antiquarians by W. Herschel, a British civil servant posted in Bengal, who wrote an article about the site for the Asiatic Society of Bengal in December 1867. Herschel notes that the monument is surrounded by a flat wall, about 15 feet high, enclosing an area of 312 by 252 feet. The entire wall is made of massive laterite blocks. The wall contains a row of “serai-like cloisters”, he noted. Each cloister has an arch, approximately 10 feet high, with a keystone depicting the lotus flower. The arches themselves are corbelled, which indicates their pre-Muslim origin. There is no gap or opening anywhere in the wall, except for a narrow gateway on the northern side. More details come from Herschel’s article titled Description Of A Hindu Temple Converted Into A Mosque, in which he writes that Kurumbera was planned with a temple located in the centre of a large courtyard, surrounded by a high solid wall forming a fort. More details can be found in the annual report of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) from 1921-22.

The report says that the sanctum of the original temple, which must have been facing west, was then represented by a well. The superstructure of the main temple and the jagmohan (assembly hall) have been completely destroyed. However, the plinth of the jagmohan, to the west of the sanctum, partly served as the foundation of a mosque, which still stands to this day.

Plain and small with the area of 23 by 14 feet, the mosque involves three bays capped by three domes built of rubble masonry. The peculiar thing about this mosque, as noted both in the ASI and Herschel’s reports, is that while the domes are radial, they sit on top of corbelled domes. Another unusual architectural solution is the exceptionally narrow entrance to the mosque.

The mosque has no stone plaques or inscriptions that could attest to its age or builder. All mosques have a mihrab, which is a niche in the western wall that points in the direction of the Kaaba, which the namazi is supposed to be facing when praying. Although the mihrab in many mosques is splendidly decorated, the one in this temple is very plain.

There is more evidence of both a Mughal and an Odia presence in the region. In neighbouring Keshiari, for instance, there are remains of Mughal-era structures including the remains of a large number of stone houses in an area called Mogolpara. Among the structures there is a mosque that contains an inscription in Arabic that suggests it was built during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb.

There are references to forts all across Bengal in old texts but the remains of these forts are few and far between. The reason is that most of them were built of brick, a material that cannot withstand the elements over centuries, especially the Bengal monsoon. Kurumbera, on the other hand, is in an unusually good shape, with its walls, pillars, and gateway still standing. The domes of the mosque, although built later, developed cracks but they were repaired. Apart from the south-west corner, the rest of the fort is in good condition and attracts local tourists in winter.

Tourist Information

The fort is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. all days of the week and has no entry fee. The nearest railway junction is Kharagpur Junction, 36 km away.

Text by Sammik C Basuu