Kolkata, the city of Joy, is a melting pot of humanity of various castes, creeds, races and religions who have been living together in perfect harmony for centuries together. The ethnic Chinese of China Town at Tangra, the Jews, the Armenians, the Parsis, the Iranis, Anglo Indians, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Hindus, Marwari, Biharis, South Indians, people from the North East, all call Kolkata their home. Pagodas, Synagogues, Fire temples, Churches, Gurudwaras and Temples all dot the secular, cosmopolitan landscape of Kolkata.
Temples dedicated to the Hindu Mother Goddess, Durga and her various incarnations especially Goddess Kali are found in abundance in Kolkata. To state that Ma Kali is the presiding deity of the city would not be an exaggeration. Kali Ghat and Dakshineswar temples dedicated to Ma Kali are renowned the world over and they evoke immense emotions among the devotees who throng these temples.
Hence, the temple of Balai Chand located within the private precincts of the Mitras of Phool Bagan, Beleghata, east Kolkata comes across as a very unique temple.
The temple of Balai Chand owes its origin to Shri Pitambar Mitra, the grandfather of Raja Rajendra Lal Mitra, the doyen of the Mitra family who was an Indologist, an author and a key figure in the Bengal Renaissance, the awakening that infused modern thoughts and scientific temper in the otherwise religious bigotry riddled society especially in Bengal. The lore is that Pitambar Mitra when on a trip to the holy city of Vrindavan, once saw in his dream Lord Balaram or Balbhadra, the elder brother of Lord Krishna, arguably the most popular of the Hindu Gods. During the course of the dream, Lord Balaram asked Pitambar Mitra to construct a temple dedicated to him in which the deity should be carved out of the wood of a neem tree that Lord Balaram promised would come to Pitambar.
The next morning Pitambar Mitra woke up and did not think much about his dream. Dismissing the entire episode as a flight of his imagination, he went out for his usual stroll on the banks of the River Yamuna. While he was in the midst of his stroll at Keshi Ghat, he chanced upon a log that had been washed ashore. And Lo, as though a miracle the log that had been washed ashore was a log from a neem tree. The prophecy made by Lord Balaram in the dream had come true.
Taking a cue from this event, Pitambar Mitra set it upon himself to build a temple dedicated to Lord Balaram as directed by the Lord in his dream from the wood of the log that had miraculously come to him.
Today, the idols of Lord Balaram, his consort Revati Rani, Lord Krishna and Lord Jagannath that one sees at the Balai Chand temple is made from the same neem wood that Pitambar Mitra came across during his stroll, one fine day in far off Vrindavan, nearly century and a half years ago.
The family organized annual ‘Raash’ at the Balai Chand temple that takes place usually in the month of March after the festival of color- Holi or Dol is over, is an event that is looked forward to by all.
During this time, the deity and his consort are taken for a round across the grounds of the temple by the devotees.
During the round of his estate, Balai Chand as Lord Balaram is fondly referred to, rests at the embankment of the pond located within the premise. At night, cultural activities like ‘Jatra’- local musical plays are organized in Balai Chand and his consort’s honor which the deities enjoy from a specially made elevated pavilion along with the devotees.
In fact, a 3 day fair is held during the course of the Raash in which children have a great time riding merry go rounds and ferris wheels, the women shop to their heart’s content and the men folk watch the Jatras and musical programmes that are held. In a nutshell, enjoyment and amusement galore but all dripped in the religious fervor of Balai Chand.