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HomeNews ReportsSiege of Bangladesh's ancient Kantajew Temple, built by Maharaja Pran Nath: How Illegal construction...

Siege of Bangladesh’s ancient Kantajew Temple, built by Maharaja Pran Nath: How Illegal construction of mosque on the Temple land has only been paused, not abandoned

The historic Kantajew Temple has been a pilgrimage site for hundreds and thousands of Hindus from Bangladesh and abroad.  

Amid international outcry centering illegal construction of a mosque on the land of century-old Kantajew Temple or Kantaji Temple in Kaharol upazila (sub-district) under Dinazpur district in Bangladesh, the district administration on March 24 banned “all kinds of construction work” on the land of the temple – more than 23 days after local Muslims began illegally constructing a multi-storey mosque by forcefully occupying temple land.

It may be mentioned here that centuries ago total 156.53 acres of land was registered in the name of Maharaja Jagdish Nath Roy who represented Sri Sri Kantaji Vigraha and since then the historic Kantaji Temple has turned into a pilgrimage site for hundreds and thousands of Hindus from Bangladesh and abroad.  

Kantanagar Temple, commonly known as Kantaji Temple or Kantajew Temple at Kantanagar, is a Hindu temple. It is a religious edifice belonging to the 18th century. The temple belongs to the Hindu Kanta or Krishna. Built by Maharaja Pran Nath, its construction started in 1704 CE and ended in the reign of his son Raja Ramnath in 1722 CE. It is an example of terracotta architecture in Bangladesh. It not only globally represents Bangladesh but also is a UNESCO-listed site in the Indian subcontinent.

It is the most visited religious site for the country’s Hindu community and is frequented by devotees from other countries as well.

On March 1, newly elected Dinajpur-1 lawmaker Zakaria Zaka laid the foundation plaque for the mosque on the land of the iconic religious structure. Zaka, also president of Birganj upazila Awami League had contested the January 7 elections as an independent candidate and emerged victorious after defeating four-time Awami League lawmaker of the constituency, Manoranjanshil Gopal.

Following the foundation laying ceremony, construction began the very next day, stirring much controversy. As the matter appeared in a number of newspapers including Weekly Blitz, VT Foreign Policy, OpIndia and Hindu Post, local administration immediately claimed that the construction of mosque has been halted. But in reality, nothing had stopped. Rather the pace of constructing the 3-storey mosque complex was accelerated.

Now after 23 days of beginning of the construction work, Shakil Ahmed, deputy commissioner of Dinajpur district visited the site of March 24 and told media that he has imposed ban on “all kinds o construction on the Kantajew Temple land”.

According to media reports, visiting the site in the morning of March 24, he spoke to members of the mosque construction committee and ordered them to suspend the work. He also met the leaders of the upazila’s Hindu community at his office.

At the briefing, the DC said the mosque was being reconstructed on “Debattor land” (land of the Deity) of the Kantajew Temple without any permission taken by the authorities concerned, rendering the construction illegal.

However, he said, the situation is under control there and that a suitable place will be provided for the mosque’s construction.

Shafiqul Islam, Kaharol’s upazila nirbahi officer, went to the construction site on March 24 and hung a notice banning all sorts of construction on the land.

Local Muslims claim a mosque was established on a portion of the land back in 1950 after the Muslim population increased in the district. In 1976, the then deputy commissioner leased out that portion to the Muslims to build a makeshift mosque there. However, a 1999 High Court ruling said Debattor land belongs only to the Deity.

In this regard, DC Shakil Ahmed said the validity of the lease documents submitted by the mosque committee is now being verified by a team led by the Upazilla Nirbahi Officer. He did not say, how a “Debattor land” (land of the Deity) that belong to the Kantajew Temple had been leased to Muslims for construction of mosque. Moreover, such lease order is direct violation of the 1999 High Court ruling that said “Debattor land belongs only to the Deity”.

It may be mentioned here that on March 13, Ronojit Kumar Singha, an agent of Raj Debottar Estate in Dinajpur, where the temple stands, sent a letter to the deputy commissioner, urging a halt to the mosque’s construction.

Speaking to media, he said, “The mosque was supposed to be built on eight decimals of land of the temple, but they took over 16 decimals and have already gathered construction materials there. The distance between the temple and the construction site is about 500 meters”.

The Daily Star saw the papers relevant to the land of Kantajew Temple.

According to Khatian-5 records, the 94.07-acre land was recorded to Maharaja Jagadishnath Roy. It is located around a mile west of the road across the Dhepa river in the Kantanagar village.

The land spans several plots (daags) surrounding the temple. Daag-16 is around 6.48 acres, where the mosque was being constructed. Ronojit also told media that around 63 acres of the land, according to Khatian-5, is under the possession of Raj Debattar Estate while the rest was illegally grabbed by locals, mainly Muslims – and many people have been living there with their families. Although cases were filed several times to recover the grabbed land to no avail.

The Estate committee has been paying the land tax regularly till even last year.

Speaking to media, Dinajpur-1 MP Zakaria Zaka said, “I have come to know there was already a mosque there in 1950, which was renovated later. The mosque was demolished just a few days before the construction of the new one began. I was also told this entire area is situated on endowment property … The locals wanted the old mosque demolished for a new one. As per their request, I went to the foundation stone laying program. That was the extent of my involvement here”.

Meanwhile, leaders of Dinajpur unit of Bangladesh Puja Udjapan Parishad and Bangladesh Hindu-Bouddha-Christian Oikya Parishad expressed their dismay over the construction on the temple’s land.

Swarup Bakshi, president of Dinajpur’s puja udjapan parishad and Dinajpur Press Club, said the DC suspended the work but we want a permanent solution so that such incidents do not recur.

“Since the construction began, most of the basement work has already been completed”.Former Dinajpur-1 lawmaker Manoranjanshil Gopal said, “This [construction on Deity land] will definitely hurt the communal harmony”.

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Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is an internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, writer, research scholar, and counterterrorism specialist. He regularly writes for local and international newspapers.

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