Sainthia, formerly known as Nandipur, standing on the southern bank of the Maurakshi River, is one of the busiest economic hubs of Birbhum district, right in the middle of West Bengal. The small town is famous for its rice, mustard oil, rice bran oil, puffed rice mills and galvanized wire units. The town of Sainthia is a major railway junction with one of the oldest platforms of the country. It is 192 Kms from Howrah and the travel time is 4 hours approximately. There are more than 46 trains connecting Sainthia to Howrah and Sealdah. One of the best trains is the Ganadevta Express which departs from Howrah at 6:05 am and reaches Sainthia by 9:25 am. The other good express trains are Kaviguru Express, Howrah – Malda Intercity to name a few. The nearest airport is the Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport at Andal. The National Highway 114 and State Highway 11 runs across the town. Therefore, you can also reach Sainthia by bus. There are budget hotels and lodges near the station like Dutta Residential Lodge, Natraj Lodge, Balaji Hotel to name a few. Sainthia is famous for the Nandikeshwari Temple which is one of the Shakti Peethas of India.
The lonely sands of the ‘Peacock’s Eye’ or the Maurakshi marks the boundary of Sainthia. The scorching heat of the summer months shrivel the river into a small stream and people can walk across the rivulet with ease. But during the monsoons, the river looks rather unmanageable with torrents of angry waves gushing across the river bed. Small boats with their bellowing white sails ply across the river carrying people, goods and cattle. Every Friday, the lonely sands come alive with the ‘Cattle Haat’ where goats, cows, oxen and buffaloes are sold. Villagers from nearby villages walk across the river bed to buy and sell cattle. Exotic birds are also sold in this temporary haat. There is an old railway bridge which spans across the river connecting Sainthia to other places. Today the old bridge has a new companion, a new flyover which has shorten the bus routes considerably. The town of Sainthia was previously known as ‘Nandipur’, named after the ‘Nandikeshwari Temple’. The temple which is built around a huge banyan tree is visited by thousands every day. Sainthia has grown from strength to strength with its booming industrial units generating employment for the youth in this region.
The old railway bridge with its narrow pavement always attracted me. My grandfather and I would walk across the bridge every day. You could have a bird’s eye view of the Maurakshi River as she changed her character every season. In the hot summers, she was a timid woman hiding behind the veils of the sand dunes. But during the monsoons, her fury knew no bounds. On the banks of this river, we often witnessed the dead being cremated. The body lay sandwiched between logs of wood which was drenched in ghee before it was lit by a family member. The pyre would be surrounded by grieving family members. As the tongues of fire consumed the wasted body, it puffed out thick curls of gray smoke with an unbearable stench of burning flesh. Wails of loss filled the air and it would often fill my eyes with tears. Involuntarily, my little palm sought refuge in my grandpa’s warm hand. My curiosity laden eyes tried to trace the path to heaven as grandpa pointed out the inevitability of death. The acrid smell of death stained our clothes and my young impressionable mind. For me, the river revealed the eternal truth of life.