Stone has always been in short supply in the vast flood plains of Bengal. Hence the architects had to restore to other substitute. As clay was easily available the burnt clay bricks soon became a good substitute of stone. This gave rise to a new form of temple architecture and lead to the construction of elaborately decorated terracotta temples. The terracotta art reached its pinnacle under the patronage of the Malla Kings of Bishnupur during the seventeenth century. The temples are still there turning Bishnupur into one of the most favored tourist spot in West Bengal.
Located just 15 km east of Bishnupur the non – descriptive village of Joypur houses some of the finest specimen of terracotta art. It was during the 18 – 19th century few families of the village took advantage of the cloth trade with the British and made a fortune. They acquired land and became zamindars and built fantastic temples. De and Dutta family were two such families and they still have a temple standing in the courtyard of their decapitated family mansion.
Both the temples are built in naba ratna (nine pinnacles) style and are approached by a triple arched entrance from the Northern and Eastern side. Sadly the temples are in bad shape and are in desperate need of professional restoration.
The Damodar Temple of Dutta family has elaborate terracotta on the Eastern arch panel. The central arch panels have scenes from Krishnalila while those on the left and right contain battle scenes from Mahabharata and Ramayana. The uniqueness of the Joypur terracotta is its deep relief giving an almost three dimensional effect to most of the figure. The set of musicians on the cornice are in full three dimension. The temple also contains panels of das avatar, Vishnu in anantasaya and Bishma in sarasaya (bed of arrows).
Located a short distance away is the Vishnu Temple belonging to the De family and follows the same pattern of Naba Ratna architecture. The arch panel shows a series of boats some with armed guards and other with noble men and ladies, including a scene where a noble man smokes a hookah carried by an attendant in different boat.
Another arch panel shows two fantastic jumping lions embedded on a floral motif complete with birds and flowers. Just above the lions is a fantastic panel showing Ram and Sita enthroned attended my monkeys and musicians. A little away from the De family temple is a spectacular octagonal Rash Manch crowned with nine onion shaped pinnacles.
So next time when you are in Bishnupur to enjoy do take a couple of hours break to visit the spectacular temples of Joypur, but don’t be late because centuries of neglect can soon turn the temples to dust.
- Joypur from www.aishee.org
- Next Weekend you can be at … Jaypur by Somen Sengupta, The Telegraph 13 July 2011
- Travel article on Joypur (Link not yet ready)
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Temples and Boats
See also: My blog post Mitra Mustafi Trilogy
Almost a hundred years after Vasco da Gama landed on the West Coast of India the Portuguese & other European powers started making inroads into Bengal. Using the intricate network of rivers of the Ganga – Bramhaputra Delta the Europeans settled in various parts of Bengal. Their huge barges and ships sailed up & down the Hooghly carrying merchandise from far off lands.
Soon the country was in need of boats, barges and even ships. A boat building industry was set up in Sripur, near the present day Balagarh station on the Bandel – Katwa line. Sripur soon started producing not only boats of different shapes and sizes but also ocean going ships turning the non descriptive village into a busy industrial town.
In the early 18th century, during the golden days of Sripur, Raghunandan Mitra Mustafi of Ula Birnagar in Nadia, migrated to Sripur. Taking advantage of the river trade he soon made a fortune and established a fort complex complete with several temples and other religious structures decorated with elaborate and intricate wood curving. The fort has long crumbled into dust but a few of the temples, along with the intricate wood work, have survived the test of time and can still be seen to this day.
Century old temples with extensive wood curving, along with age old boat making industry and last but not least the grand views of the river Hooghly can well turn Sripur into your next Sunday outing destination.
The 70 km journey to Sripur takes about 2 hours from Howrah. Although rickshaws are available from the Balagarh station to the Sripur temple complex, but it is best to take a leisurely walk. After about 25 minutes of walk you reach the Sripur village, where you are welcomed by the sound of boat maker’s hammer. Walk past the numerous boat making workshops to the temple complex.
On the left of the road lie a temple and a Dol Mancha. The temple, housing a Shiva – Linga, have been reconstructed and in the process losing its beauty and grace. But the two storied Dol Mancha, with its elegant pillars & arches and crowned with the decorative railing, still reminds one of the glorious days of Sripur.
From the Dol Mancha take a right turn and walk past the Twin Shiv Mandir towards the main cluster of temples. The walls of the Twin Shiv Temples were once covered with intricate terracotta works but sadly they have been plastered off.
The main temple complex houses the Radha Gobinda Mandir along with several temples, Rash Mancha, Nat Mandir. But the star attraction of Sripur is the intricately curved wooden Chandi Mandap.
The Chandi Mandap constructed in 1707 by the Mitra Mustafi family, has recently been declared a protected monument. The hay thatched roof has been replaced with corrugated sheet, thus robbing it of its former beauty and grace. But the real wonder lies inside the Mandap, where the Durga Pujo is held to this day. The three walls of the Chandi Mandap are decorated with the most intricate wood curved panels. The wooden panels are very similar to the terracotta panels that dot the walls of the numerous temples of Bengal. But the wood work is not restricted to the panels alone. The pillars and the roof beams are curved with the finest floral, geometric & figurative designs.
The temple complex houses a octagonal Rash Mancha, complete with nine pinnacles (one each at the eight corners and a larger central one) and an Nat Mandir with elegant pillars. The main temple housing dedicated to Radha Gobinda has totally been transformed into a modern structure.
Bidding farewell to the temple complex head for one of the numerous boat work – shops. Although the Sripur boat industry is now only restricted to small boats but it is still a great experience seeing the boat taking shape. You are also likely come across some over enthusiastic boat maker narrating you about the glorious days of the boat construction industry of Sripur.
Head past the Sripur Bazar to the banks of the Hooghly, where the fresh air will add an extra dash of oxygen to your tired lungs.
- Hooghly Jelar Purakirti by Narendranath Bhattacharya.
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