The antiquity of this old complex is not exactly known. Old timers of Cuttack call it the Goshala, but it was originally a Dharamshala for the pilgrims of the old Jagannath Sadak. Just 100 metres from the Nayabazar Chhak, on the far end of the City, it lay right by the side of the old road. This stretch of the Jagannath Sadak, from the Mahanadi till the Kathjori Ghat was once a 100 feet wide road. During the monsoons, when the Mahanadi was often in spate, pilgrims often had to camp for days to make the crossing; the Dharamshala was built well away from the flood plain, right between the two rivers.
Most of the Pilgrims to Puri gave the city of Cuttack a go by. Chauliaganj had been set up by the Marathas as a market place for rice. It was a busy bazar where the pilgrims could get all provisions. There were carpenters and blacksmiths who repaired the bullock carts and chariots, farriers who shod the horses and bullocks, a police Chowki and a military encampment at the nearby Maratha Barracks. There were two Chaitanya Mutts near the complex, one of which still exists. The old bridge over the Taladanda Canal is still used by the locals.
The place was originally set up as a Dharamshala by one Seth Jagannath Halan of Calcutta. It was a huge complex with rooms and halls for the pilgrims. There was a big tank and wells dug inside the complex and a large pond, which still exists. It was the largest Dharamshala of the old road and could house a thousand pilgrims. There was a separate accommodation block for the Sadhus and Mahants who traveled on the old road. Many of the pilgrims camped under the huge trees.
The sprawling single storied complex had 50 rooms and a wide courtyard. The high entrance way had a room on the top; the height was to let in the elephants with the howdahs. There was an arched veranda all around and the Dharamshala was made in a rectangular style with rooms facing each other. Besides, there were even stables and sheds for the horses, bullock and elephants that were used by the pilgrims. The entire Dharamshala was spread over a heavily wooded area of 12 Acres. Many old banyan and mango trees still exist inside the complex.
When the railways started running trains from Kolkata to Cuttack in 1895, the pilgrims stopped coming by the road. They would come by train till Cuttack and then do the crossing at the Puri Ghat and continue their journey to Puri. After the Kathjori and Kuakhai bridges were completed in 1898, the travelling time to Puri from Kolkata was reduced to 20 hours, the bullock carts took two weeks. No pilgrims walked on the old road anymore and the Dharamshala was no more in use.
In 1905, two benevolent Marwaris of Salkia in Howrah District, Seth Bishen Dayal and Seth Hari Dayal, took over the abandoned Dharamshala and transformed it into a Goshala. There is a marble plaque which says that the Victoria Gorakhini Sabha opened the Goshala in the place in 1905. They made some alterations and repairs to the old building and made it into a charitable institution rendering service for old and infirm cattle.
Today, the shelter is run by the Cuttack Marwari Samaj and has been named as the Shree Gopal Krishna Goshala. With younger generations showing little interest, the shelter, which took care of hundreds of cows, is being run by the elders of the community. It is the oldest and biggest Goshala in Odisha. It does not get financial aid from either Governmental or non-Governmental Organisations, and is run by the benevolence of a few charitable minded citizens.
The Goshala is a heritage structure with a lot of history attached to it. It is one of the forgotten vestiges of the old road. Few of the citizens of the millennium city know about it. The serene environs of the place have a calming and soothing atmosphere. A visit to the place, the old buildings, the trees and the hundreds of cows, reminds one of the days when the place was a very important stop for the pilgrims travelling to Puri. According to Pradyumna Mishra, the Convener of INTACH’s Cuttack Chapter, some of the buildings are in a state of disrepair and steps should be taken up for the proper conservation of this heritage.