When a young Turkish cavalry troop led by Md Bakhtier Khilji moved into the capital of Gour in 1203 AD, people mistook the intruders for pony traders and the defence was taken by surprise. History records how the aliens conquered Gour without much sabre-rattling. The octogenarian King Lakshman Sena, without any options, escaped through the backdoor of the palace. The defeat of this last Sena king ushered in Muslim rule that lasted about a millennium in Gour Bengal, as also the rest of the country.

Though the deposed king never emerged to regain control of the besieged kingdom, the enigma of his mounting a sudden attack continued to haunt Md. Khilji. Historians believe that was the principle reason why Khilji, instead of settling in the occupied prosperous capital of Lakhnawti or Nadia, shifted far away to Debkot or Bangarh of Dinajpur, an ancient abandoned city in the lap of Punarnaba, till he was killed by one of his trusted lieutenants.

The latter life of Lakshman Sena remains a mystery in the records of medieval history. It is believed that the King headed for Bikrampur in Dhaka; for some, Puri was his destination for spending the rest of his life. However, for a priest, whose family claims to have been engaged in running an ancient shrine for generations around Kanksa forest of Burdwan district, “the King and his royal court stood right here at this Gardham and the ancient Durga Temple was originally built by Maharaja Lakhman Sena while in exile”.

Though a new temple came up right on the ruins, one can still feel the aura. A few yards from the temple I came upon a flight of steps that disappeared down into the deep gorge. Following a solitary fellow, possibly a woodcutter, I walked down but got lost in the thick canopy of the jungle. Suddenly scared of wild creatures or reptiles that could be heard as they rustled along, I desisted and came back, only to be told by the priest that it was the Ajay river, which had changed course and was flowing feebly a few miles from the Gardham.

At a little distance and further across a small clearing, I came upon a bewildering giant tamarind tree. Its ghostly amber branches stretched out into the thicket of leaves and sheltered a multitude of nests. Its huge hollowed trunk had taken the shape of a cave big enough to provide shelter for the meditating Mahanta Giriraj or Jogibaba, who is believed to have discovered this Gardham, as is explained in the Puranas.

As I wandered through the forest, a middle-aged Sanyasi emerged and greeted me with warmth. He narrated scintillating events from the Puranas that had taken place in this wooded enclave. He took me to an elevated mound with a subterranean temple structure that jutted out and explained the many myths surrounding them. A number of old temples dedicated to the deities Mahalaxmi, Mahasaraswati and Mahakali are worshipped there. Each temple bears testimony to ancient arts, and there are sculpted remains of floral motifs and intricate designs.

According to him, Gardham is much before the era of King Lakshman Sena; it is actually linked with Mahamuni Medhos and Raja Surath. An ashram built recently stands on an elevated mound in close vicinity of the Durga Temple.

Spartan tiny bricks in developed shrines reveal an invaluable treasure of antiquities lying covered under the deep forest. That was the site where Durga Puja had commenced for the first time and was solemnised by Maharaja Surath at the guidance of Mahamuni Medhos in the “Age of Truth”, or Satyayug. The ashram of the Maharishi stood in another corner. The Gardham and everything inside it is well maintained.

Legend says the tired King Surath, after being dethroned by his enemies, one day came upon a heavenly abode of the sage Medhos, the embodiment of supreme knowledge and divine power. The Mahamuni Medhos had narrated the glory of Mahamaya Chandi or Durga to the King. Later, guided by the Medhamuni, King Surath performed puja and, having sought blessings of the Goddess, regained his lost kingdom.

The Gardham or “Garjungle” is located on a bank of the Ajay river, while Kenduli, the native village of Kavi Joydev, is on the other side. The medieval Sanskrit scholar and poet of the royal court of Gaur, Kavi Joydev, penned the musical classic Geeth-Gobinda. The archaic temple no longer exists.

The enclave of the Gardham was fortified by the high mud-wall, which is still visible. The encircled water body connecting the Ajay has now dried up, leaving a trail of a deep gorge that wove through the mesh of tropical trees. India being an ancient land, there is no dearth of such sites referred to in ancient scripts and the Puranas that is considered true cultural heritage, and which have been uncovered by scientific excavations.

But one fails to understand why these muddled remains and old scripts have not been assessed and why nothing has been done to bring to light the hidden treasures and preserve or even protect them. Due to negligence, numerous valuable antiques, idols, medieval artifacts and temple art have already disappeared. If nothing is done, it might be too late.

As the sun began to set, I too made my way back, bidding adieu to the sadhu of the ashram, assuring him I would be back to enjoy his hospitality. Indeed, his is the real abode of peace.

Getting there

From Durgapur station, one can avail the bus en-route to Shivpur and get down midway at Garhjungle Maharshi Medhashram. From there, walk along the narrow alley that runs about six kilometres through deep jungle to reach the exact place. A private/hired vehicle is preferable to reach Gardham directly.