Beyond Bishnupur ~ Brick and Stone Temples

Beyond Bishnupur

Brick and Stone Temples

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.

But the tourist attraction of Bishnupur are not restricted to Bishnupur alone. Several non – descriptive towns and villages, located within 50 km radius of Bishnupur, have the distinction of housing some of the spectacular terracotta and stone temples of the state.

So next time in Bishnupur don’t give this places a miss.

Joypur

Terracotta Temples

Terracotta, Vishnu Temple, Joypur

Terracotta, Vishnu Temple, Joypur

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.

The Damodar Temple of the Dutta family and Vishnu temple of De family 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. Read more…

Reference:

Gokulnagar

Stone Temple

Gokuleshwar Temple, Gokulnagar

Gokuchand Temple, Gokulnagar

Although numerous brick terracotta temples dot the entire Gangatic West Bengal but they are not the only form of temple architecture. Stone temples do exists in West Bengal and are mainly concentrated in the western region of the state and adds a new dimension to Bengal Temple Architecture.

Probably the grandest of these few Bengal stone temples is the Gakulchand Temple of Gokulnagar. Located only a few kilometer from the spectacular terracotta temples of Bishnupur this laterite stone temple is considered as the largest stone temple of Bankura District.

The 64 feet high pancha – ratna (five pinnacled) temple is flanked by a natmandir and the entire 23,500 sq. ft. temple complex is surrounded by a high wall, giving the impression of a fort rather than a temple. An arched gateway leads to the temple complex. Read more …

Reference:

Kotulpur

Mansions and Terracotta

Cluster of Temples, Kotulpur

Cluster of Temples, Kotulpur

Kotulpur is located about 38 km south – east of Bishnupur and contains some fine terracotta temples along with large mansions. The Bhadra family of Kotulpur made a fortune trading with the British and constructed palatial mansions and large number of temples. Although in ruins the mansions and few of the temples still stands reminding one of the glorious days of Kotulpur.

The Girigabardhan temple is the star attraction of Kotulpur. The panch – ratna (five pinnacled) temple follows the girigobardhan style and looks like a boulder. The Sridhar temple contains intricate terracotta works. Kotulpur also has a 17 pinnacled Rashmancha and 9 pinnacled Dolmancha.

A detailed article on Kotulpur will be coming soon in my blog.

Sonamukhi

Terracotta at its best

Terracotta, Sridhar Temple, Sonamukhi

Terracotta, Sridhar Temple, Sonamukhi

Sonamukhi is 36 km from Bishnupur. The town was mentioned in the 17th century manuscript of Deshaabali – bibriti, written by Jaganmohan as a village of tanti (weavers). Sonamukhi, meaning gold faced is named after the ancient village deity of “Swarnamukhi.” The temple of Devi Swarnamukhi, although modified into a moden structure, can still be seen in Sonamukhi.

But the star attraction of Sonamukhi is the Sridhar Temple. Built in Panchabinsati Ratna (25 Pinnacled) style the temple not only follows an unique style but also houses some of the most beautiful and intricate terracotta art of West Bengal.

Located in the Madan Gali, near the chowrasta of Sonamukhi, the Sridhar Temple was constructed in 1845 by Kanai Rudra, a weaver. Presently the ownership of the Sridhar Temple is with the Gangully family. The Sridhar Temple has terracotta on all four sides but almost three of its sides are badly encroached. Sadly the temple is in an utter stage of neglect and need immediate professional conservation.

Sonamukhi also houses several other temples and religious structure but sadly most of them have been reconstructed into modern structures and in the process wiping out centuries of intricate terracotta art.

A detailed article on Sridhar , Sonamukhiwill be coming up soon in my blog.

Reference:

Hadal – Narayanpur

Terracotta and Mansion

Mandal Mansion, Hadal Narayanpur

Mandal Mansion, Hadal Narayanpur

Hadal and Narayanpur are twin villages approachable from Bishnupur via Sonamukhi. Three branches of the erstwhile Mandal zamindar family erected huge mansions and intricate terracotta temples, many of these have survived the test of time and can be seen to this day.

During the reign of Malla King Gopal Singha (1720 – 1752) Muchiram Ghosh came in Hadal – Narayanpur and with the help of Subhankar Das, a member of the royal court, settled down and started his business. Muchiram Ghosh made a fortune by dealing with neel (indigo) and received the title of Mandal.

Muchiram Ghosh built several temples and mansions and his desendents followed his footsteps turning the non – descriptive village into a temple town.

A detailed article on Hadal – Narayanpur will be coming soon in my blog.

Reference:

Dihar

Ruined Twin Temples

Sareswar and Saileswar Temples, Dihar

Sareswar and Saileswar Temples, Dihar

Located 8km from Bishnupur, on the Bishnupur – Sonamukhi highway, the village of Dihar houses two ruined but majestic temples. Both the temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva and are known as Sareswar and Saileswar. A Nandi Bull guards the entrance of Sareswar Temple.

Built in 1346 by the Malla King Pritvi Malla, the temples follow the Oriya Deul style. The towering spires of both Sareswar and Saileswar have long collapsed, but they still commands majestic presence. The Temple contains beautiful floral and geometric stucco work. Read more…

Reference:

Dharapat

Temple of the Naked God

Jain Tirthankar, Dharapat

Jain Tirthankar, Dharapat

Dharapat is located 11 km north of Bishnupur, on the Bishnpur – Ajodhya highway. A plastered laterite Oriya style Deul temple is the main attraction of Dharpat. The temple is complete with flying lions, signifying Oriya influence. Built in 1701 by King Advesh of Dharapat the temple contains images of naked Jain Tirthankar on its outer walls, hence the name Nangta Thakur er Mandir (Temple of the Naked God).

According to historian Amiya Banerjee, the deul like structure was actually a Jain Temple which may have been converted into a Hindu Temnple. Today the inner sanctum of the temple is empty and the temple is abandoned.

The temple contains four stone panels on its four walls. The Eastern wall contains a massive panel of Vishnu, complete with two men flying above Vishnu’s head and two women at his feet. The other three sides contains naked images of Jain Tirthankars. Dharapat also contains a temple complex housing of 10 smaller Deul styled temples.

A detailed article on Dharapt is coming soon in my blog.

Reference:

Bahulara

Towering Deul Temple

Siddheshwar Temple, Bahulara

Siddheshwar Temple, Bahulara

Located 14 km from Bishnupur, near the Ondagram railway station, Bahulara has the distinction of housing on of the oldest and unique temples in the whole of West Bengal.

The brick built Oriya deul style Siddheshwar Temple dates back to the 11th century. The temple stands on a base measuring 30 feet by 27 feet and towers to a height of 64 feet.

Nothing much is known about the Siddheshwar Temple and absence of a dedicatory plaque have kept the historians in the dark. Mr Beglar of ASI in 1972 describes the Siddheshwar Temple of Bahulara as the “The bet in this district and if not the largest but brick – built temple.”

A corbeled arch leads to the inner sanctum of the Siddheshwar Temple contains images of Ganesh, Durga and a Jain Tirthankar. The Southern side of the temple complex houses scattered remains of dilapidated stupas.

A detailed article on Bahulara is coming soon in my blog.

Reference:

General Reference:

  • Jewels of West Bengal – District of Bankura – Temples, Terracotta and Handicrafts

Note:

  • Two days are required to cover the above mentioned places.
  • A car is absolutely necessary
  • Day1: Joypur, Gokulnagar and Kotulpur (Rs1000 aprox. in an Ambasador)
  • Day2: Sonamukhi, Hadal – Narayanpur, Dihar, Dharapat and Bahulara. (Rs 1500 aprox in an Ambasador)

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  1. Meera
    August 22, 2012 at 12:21 AM

    Who organises the tour? Where can I book the tour in advance? whether there is a possibility to book online

    • August 22, 2012 at 8:39 AM

      Dear Meera Madam there are no organized tours for the above mentioned places. This is the sorry state of West Bengal Tourism.

      For Bishnupur you can get organized tours but you can always arrange your own tour by booking the West Bengal Govt. Tourist Lodge. It does provide god rooms with good felicities.

      For the trips outside Bishnupur you need a car. If you are really interested do drop me a mail, I will provide you with the contact no. of the driver who is familiar with the places.

  2. August 22, 2012 at 1:08 AM

    Many people would be benefited & mother tongue enriched, if you wrote in Wikipedia Bangla (http://bn.wikipedia.org/wiki/প্রধান_পাতা) as well

    • August 22, 2012 at 8:47 AM

      Dear Loken da, you are very right. I am a regular contributor for English Wikipedia, heres my user page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Rangan_Datta_Wiki

      Frankly speaking I am not not very familiar with Bangla typing. I have attended some of the Kolkata Wikipedia meet and fellow wikipedians have advised me on Bangla typing but I am still unable to pick it up.

      But I will definitely pick it up and write for Bangla Wikipedia soon. It will be a tribute to my mother tongue.

      Thanks once more for your comment and advice.

  3. August 22, 2012 at 8:52 AM

    Also if you go further up from Hadal-Narayanpur by the winding tarred road, it brings you to a village named Rampur…The ancestral village of mathematician Subhankar Roy, the proponent of Subhankar er Arjya…the village also contains some old dilapidated temples, but not with much terracotta. Also more interestingly, the remains of an Indigo Factory (the tanks) could still be seen in the fringe of the village near Subhankar er Dara or an irrigation canal designed by the mathematician himself and which post dates the indigo factory. Also Rangan da I think, following the enquiry of Meera…this would really be a nice heritage trail if properly and enthusiastically organised…in fact as you are already aware…many such brilliant heritage trail prospects exist in our state, which will not only attract tourism, but also be a good way for a sustainable development in Community focused heritage management. But well…no takers for such visions here..SIGH!!

  4. August 30, 2012 at 1:42 PM

    Thanks Tathagata for the long and informative comment. I have heard of the decapitated temples of Rampur but was totaly unaware of the canal and the Nil Kuthi. I think there is another Nilkuthi in Bankura, near Onda.

    The Bishnupur Heritage Trail in Bankura can be an interesting history and architecture circuit but will it ever mature?????

    • August 30, 2012 at 5:22 PM

      Hi Thanks for your reply. Yeah the other nil kuthi is in the village of Patrahati, and there is a dilapidated brick temple too near the remains of the tanks.

      about the heritage trail…I dont see why it wont succeed if the money is spent diligently to create a tourist friendly system and also money has to go to the right people and through right channels so as to prevent misappropriation (if you know what I mean). In Exeter, where I did my MA from and now doing my PhD, there is this drainage system underground which was set up during the roman times and then gradually expanded through to the middle ages before being abandoned. It is exemplary how Exeter Archaeology with the help of Exeter City Council has conserved and promoted these underground passages and conduct a daily tourist trail through these ancient drains that runs through the length and breadth of the small city of Exeter. If a drain can be promoted as such and attract tourists and generate revenues, Bishnupur and its hinterland has far more attractions and surprises to offer. What is amiss is the good and true will and commitment and investing on truely passionate people to do it and promote it in a proper professional way maintaining international standards.

  5. August 30, 2012 at 5:51 PM

    sorry correction….these are the underground aqueducts to bring fresh water to the city not drainage system. and is mostly medieval. Legend however dates them to roman times. Also I should include a point of active involvement of local community in any such tourism projects or trails. So that with the development of the sites, the community also sees similar development.

    • August 31, 2012 at 10:41 PM

      Thatgata thanks once more. It hard to believe that a place like Rampur has such a network of underground drainage system. Thanks for the info.

  6. September 1, 2012 at 8:59 AM

    Hi Rangan Da sorry I wasnt talking about Rampur having passages. I was saying that Exeter in UK, where I did my MA from and now doing my PhD has a labyrinth of underground aqueducts dating from 14th century. They were used to bring in fresh water to the city. The way they promoted and conserved it is exemplary. The terracotta temples in Bengal, including those in Bishnupur and its hinterlands, would be attractive enough if it can be promoted and conserved with international standards in mind and generate similar kinds of revenues.

    More about exeter underground here: http://www.exeter.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=2914

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