The monsoon in my home state of Bengal, has set in. It was raining a while ago. I lazily gazed out of the window at the mango tree in front of my house. The full-grown mangoes were swinging in rhythm to the blow of the wind.
Abruptly, my eye ran into a roadside picture of a Bandel church and my mind shifted from the beautiful sight of mango tree to the picturesque Bandel church where I visited two years ago on this day, ‘a happening of pre-Covid days’, when life was smoothly sailing on a path of grace and greatness.
Bandel Church: Memory 2019
Bandel Church:Memory of 2019
Nowadays, the Bandel church is closed to visitors for the pandemic, but I have grown desperate to relive my last visit to Bandel Church for my Unveil.press readers. So, here I am, all set to put down my experience of visit.
Bandel Church is hardly a few kilometers from my place, Chandannagar. But I have only ever been there once, True to an old adage “ A Prophet is not honored in his own country”
Bundle Church: Symbol of Porthuguese Settlement
Well, Bandel church is a story of faith and veracity coupled with architectural brilliance of Medieval India. The historic Church witnessed the Portuguese settlement in India and its subsequent rise and fall in India. Besides, the church also portrays the rich historical heritage of our country.
. The history of Bandel church dates back to the 15th Century. The background behind the church was built when the first batch of Portuguese led by Admiral Sampayo via sea route arrived in Bengal in 1535 with an eye to set up trade in Bengal. Later they succeeded in convincing emperor Akbar to establish a settlement on the bank of the Hooghly river in 1575
Hooghly came up as a new hub of business activities. To facilitate business, the Portuguese built up a port at the bank of the river Hooghly and named the town Bandel. The word ‘Bandel’ means port.
As the Portuguese traders made their impression on trade here, their priests started coming in and began to preach to the local population. Bit by bit, Christianity induced in the region and by 1575, the Christian believers shot up to 5000 which led to foundation of Bandel Church in 1599.
Bandel church is one of the ancient churches in the country and, perhaps the oldest in Bengal. Bandel Church is also known as the Basilica of the Holy Rosary. The church is dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus Christ. She is also known as Our Lady of the Basilica. That’s why the church got the name ‘Basilica of Holy Rosley.
Fall of Portuguese
By the mid of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese, in pursuit of flourishing their trade, grew repressive, tortured and looted the natives and even caught women and children and sold them as slaves. However, barbarity of Portuguese spelt a doom for them
Infuriated by Portuguese audacity to slave trade, leading to capturing of Moghul ladies, Emperor Shah Jahan sent his strong army led by a Moghul Army General and Nawab of Dhaka Quasim Khan to attack and besieged Hooghly port. The church was badly burnt down during this attack. Four of the five priests were killed and only Father Joan the Cruz survived. The Portuguese had to bite the dust in the clash with Moghuls.
Impact after attack
The lone surviving priest Father Joan along with his followers were bundled out to Agra for imprisonment. Thereafter, what could be called a rare display of horrific cruelty, Emperor Shah Jahan ordered that the captured Father and other prisoners were to be trampled to death under the feet of a herd of wild ferocious elephants!
And then the miracle happened. Instead of killing Father Joan da Cruz, the elephant lifted the priest with his trunk and placed him on his back. The emperor was so impressed with this spectacle, that he freed the priest and his followers and let them went back to Hooghly. The emperor also gifted them 777 bighas (311 acres) of land and also funds to reconstruct the church.
Finally, the church was rebuilt in 1660 over the ruins of the older church by Gomez de Soto. The keystone of the foundation lies in the eastern gates of the church.
Visit to Bandel Church
As I entered through the main gate of the church, at the very first sight, the touch of Europe’s architecture grandeur was reflected in my mind. The Europe’s architectue style is identifiable by semicircular arches with domes. Precisely Bandel church is a Doric style church which is the simplest form of classical Greek architecture.
There was a grand clock engraved on all four side of top portion in one column of church.
I stepped into the church and was moved by beautiful painting and pictures of Jesus Christ and his preaching.
The entire church were covered with marble and granite. Murals in the wall of the church depicts the culture, religion and life style of Medivel and Modern India. Sidewise of church there is a big lawn where sculpture related to Jresus christ is well maintained. The revellers also enjoyed the day here.
There are places inside the church to offer and light candles in front of the altar.
Virgin Marry ‘the mother of Jesus Christ’ is referred by ‘Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows in relation to sorrows in her life. The Sorrows are often depicted as seven daggers stabbed into the Virgin’s heart . In this connection a spectacular life-sized statue of Mother of sorrows in marble sitting with the body of dead Jesus on her lap moved me very much.
The interior of the Bandel Church is decorated with beautiful chandeliers.
On the eastern side of the Church premises, a 350-year mast is there. A clergyman in church told me that according to a documentation, a Portuguese ship landed at Bandel port . It survived a deadly sea storm. The Captain of the ship prayed to God that if they lived through the storm, they would donate the ship mast to the first church they come across during the voyage. As the Bandel church fell first in their route, they donated it to the church.
Henry D’Souza Archbishop Emeritus of Kolkata in an interview on a ‘You tube channel,’ recalled how the statue of Lady, which was carried by a soldier during the attack by Saha Jahan’s army, crossed a Portuguese boat and emerged from the river.
Father Thomas of Bandel Church said the statue on the balcony of the church is called a Lady of Happy Voyage.She is a pattern of those who sails, travel or go for audacious adventure. Today the statue of Mary of Holy Rosary was raised to the standard of the Basilica. It is no more now an ordinary church” .
Conclusion of Visit
Peope come here for spiritual silence. They come here for unlocking the stresses of varying degree in life.
As I reached the exit door of this legend bound iconic church, the thought that poured in my mind was that Portuguese certainly in Hooghly district were pioneer in architecture and trade and perhaps inspired by them, the British gained the idea of starting their business with India that eventually led to formation of East India company in India and the rest is history.