39. Senhora di Rozario

@Bandel, West Bengal, India.

It was Bandel, a small town founded by Portuguese settlers, existing in the Hooghly district of West Bengal at a distance of about fourty kilometres from the Howrah Railway station. But it did take an eternity to reach there; as so it seemed; even the driver wanted to stop in between and drink tea as if to match my tea drinking capabilities which I still valued as a tradition and that talent of my individuality; therefore it was not to be broken as I kept drinking those small quantities of tea which was served in small clay pots; the ones which were to be destroyed after use. It did hurt me though, as there were so many of them to be destroyed considering my everlasting tea drinking ability which lasted so long that there was no challenge to be made. But still, all those lovely pots were to be destroyed; but I had created no similar thing for drinking tea by myself. Tea was served in those works of art, those which were less important because there were so many of them, but they were still good enough to provide the aesthetic value and that sense of ancient traditions before glass and steel took over along with the heavy influence of plastic and iron in other areas. Those clay pots would live forever though, as their unimportant souls and body parts will exist even after it’s destruction.

I wouldn’t consider it a match for the traditional ‘Chatti’, but it is a holder of tea and therefore has it’s own importance and has to get that respect for being the holder of the world’s most majestic drink. Considering tea as the immortal drink that it has proven to be, the clay pot automatically becomes the holder of eternity. It is the symbol of something which gets destroyed for the sake of something inside it. If tea is the soul, it is the body; the materialistic carrier or the vassal. It lacks heart, pancreas, liver, brain and stuff which would keep the diseases away and the need to go to a hospital also ceases. Without an apple a day it lives without the doctor; until the ultimate destruction which can happen only by murder by another person who takes away the soul and kills whatever is left of the body. It is more of a cycle which continues at high speed. I would have kept one of those pots with me to break the great cycle, but it would still be broken on my way back home in a flight and a train both contributing along with some travel in bus. May be it won’t even last that car trip considering the fact that the roads were small and the trucks were too many, for which there was very little space leading to highly frequent braking process which continued throughout that journey to Bandel and back.

The true final destination of the trip would be the Bandel Church, something of Basilica status, as it is one of the oldest churches in the state of West Bengal. It stands as a monument to the ancient maritime adventures and also as a memorial of the Portuguese settlement in Bengal. The original structure was built around 1660, and is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, or Nossa Senhora di Rozario as the Portuguese would call it. It is one of the most prominent historical churches found in the North East or even all of Eastern India. The presence of the Portuguese in this part of the country can be traced back to the era of Akbar the Great himself, the Mughal emperor and one of the greatest emperors ever to have ruled in the Indian subcontinent. As we go back to this time of greatness and glory, this Golden Age was when the Portuguese Captain Pedro Tavares obtained the emperor’s permission to build the church; this church which was later destroyed by the Moors as they sacked Hooghly in just a few decades. St. Francis Church, in Fort Cochin, Kerala, built in 1503, is still the oldest European church in India while St. Thomas Church at Palayur the oldest church and the St. Mary’s Church or the Thiruvithancode Arappally in Tamil Nadu is considered the oldest church structure in India.

The claims for various titles would change with time, but the significance of this church at Bandel would be something beyond history. Long ago, a ship which had encountered a fierce storm in the Bay of Bengal, had its rescue was attributed to Mary, thus it is also known as the Basilica Shrine of “Nossa Senhora da Boa Viagem”, meaning “Our Lady of the Good Voyage”. Thus Mother Mary is also depicted as holding Infant Jesus, both crowned and standing on a ship. There is also a monastery attached to the church building and the keystone to the first church building can be seen near it. There is a small cemetery on the side of the church and a store selling the religious things if one walks through the side path of the church. There is another grotto on the way leading to the top of the church where there is the place for lighting the candles and a statue dedicated to “Our Blessed Lady of Happy Voyage”, as written there. It is actually two-sided and there is also the history of the church shown there, including that of the Siege of Hooghly by the Moors, Miracle of the elephants, the sinking of the statue and finally the reconstruction and rehabilitation, most of the details written in three languages, English, Hindi and another one which should obviously be Bengali.

The view from the top of the church is simply wonderful. The beauty of nature added to all that spirituality which mounted the stairs with me. This view was only matched by a view from the back of the church, but not that much as to challenge the aerial advantage which the first one had. There is the river, with greenery on both sides, but not that much unaffected by pollution for sure, not only with air, but also with water. There are also the coconut trees to give the feeling of Kerala, at a place which is so far away. The green covering of Earth already gave that feeling along with some rain which followed me there giving relief in the heat. This rain was to become so heavy that I started to wonder where I was, but that was a different story which happened much later and not on this journey which was too small and in the heat. The birth place of the Bengali author Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay was not too far away from there, and as Rabindranath Tagore was already missed, that was an option for some literature infestation into the brain as an addition to the historical and spiritual aspect of Bengal, but it was not to happen as the return was to be quicker.

Back to the church building; it was a refined structure and not an old building from any visible angle. From the inside, only the altar looked somewhat old; with a Bengali Mass going on, the only thing I could do was to look straight there and hope to translate Bengali directly into Malayalam or through the medium which was Hindi with a little addition of English. There was the modern and tiled interiors, with a picture of the Last Supper on the front, right above the altar, a few metres before it. When looked from the outside, it was quite a big structure and may be the biggest I have seen in West Bengal and enriched by the different pictures of Mother Mary and a few other saints as well as the clock tower and the church bells. There was more than one tree which added to the beauty of the church, mainly from the front and a little from the backside. The balcony would look a little strange from the outside, from the frontside below it; but it was what became the better thing, if not the best. Except for its walls which didn’t match at all, the rest formed a perfect picture, making the journey worth the time; as it took so much time out of the period of stay in that part of India, it had to be good and it succeeded in living upto the expectations in the end, and came so close to exceeding them.

Diving out —>