Terracotta Temples of Surul
Shantiniketan, Birbhum, West Bengal
Shantiniketan has always been in the top of the list for the travel loving Bengalis. But apart from the the Rabindranath Thakur (Tagore) related heritage, Shantinekatan also acts as a base for several short excursions showcasing some unknown and neglected heritage of Bengal.
Surul, located 5 km from the Bolpur Station in Shantiniketan, is probably the nearest heritage excursion spot from Shantinekatan.
Sukharia, Somra Bazar, Hooghly
Restoration of Harsudari and Nistarini Kali Temple
See also: My blog post Mitra Mustafi Trilogy
The quint little village of Sukharia, located next to the Somra Bazar station, on the Bandel – Katwa rail line houses an amazing collection of temples and huge mansions.
Amazing Terracotta Beyond Bishnupur
Bushnupur has always been considered as the Terracotta capital of West Bengal. But the terracotta temple art have spread far beyonds the limits of Bishnupur and several of the villages surrounding Bishnupur houses many spectacular terracotta temples.
Joypur, Dihar, Bahulara, Gokulnagar and Sonamukhi definitely deserves a mention but the village thats stands out is Hadal Narayanpur. This twin villages has the distinction of housing several terracotta temples with the most intricate and delicate carvings.
Halisahar and Kanchrapara
Temples and Pilgrimage
Halisahar is a non – descriptive town on the northern fringes of the North 24 Parganas district. Today it is a busy unplanned and overcrowded industrial town but the history of Halisahar dates back to the pre – Mughal days. The name Halisahar is probably of Islamic origin and is derived from “Haveli Sahar” meaning “City of Palaces.” (Haveli = Palace, Sahar = City)
Sadly the “Havelis” of Halisahar didn’t survive the test of time and have long crumbled into dust. Strangely a small terracotta temple complex have survived the centuries of human neglect and can still be seen today. Halisahar is also the birth place of legendary religious reformer Ramprasad Sen. His Kali Temple, although converted into a modern structure, is the prime attraction of Halisahar.
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.
Terracotta literally means baked earth in Italian but West Bengal has the distinction of housing some of the finest terracotta art in the world. The terracotta art reached its pinnacle under the patronage of the Malla Kings of Bishnupur during the seventeenth century.
Sribati, Katwa, Burdwan
West Bengal’s Hidden Terracotta Gem
Once upon a time a family from far of Gujrat migrated the entire length of the country to settle near the present day town of Katwa in Burdwan district. Belonging to the trader class they soon exhaled in trade & commerce.
Their huge barges sailed up and down the Hooghly and it’s tributaries and distributaries carrying merchandise from far off lands. In a very short span of time the Chandra family earned enough to build themselves a huge mansion, and several temples dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Rajrajeshwar Temple ~ Kotalpur, Hooghly
~ Unusual Terracotta Panels ~
The Parsis leave their dead bodies for the vulture to eat but for the Hindus vultures have always been considered as a symbol of misfortune and bad luck. So the image of vultures is the last thing you expect to see on the walls of a Hindu temple but the Rajrajeshwar Temple, in the remote village of Kotalpur, have a distinction of housing several images of vultures. One of the terracotta panels on the temple walls shows two vultures feasting on a human corpse and several other panels show vultures in different postures.
Bengal is known for its terracotta temples. Starting from temple complex Bishnupur to the temples of Aatpur, Bansberia, Guptipara and Kalna West Bengal has the distinction of housing some of the finest terracotta works in the world. But apart from these well known temples West Bengal is also home to hundreds of lesser known terracotta temples scattered in the remote villages of South Bengal. Kotolpur, in the Jangipara block of the Hooghly district, is one such village which has the distinction of housing one such terracotta temple.
Mahabharata on Bengal Terracotta
~ A compilation of Mahabharata panel in Bengal Terracotta ~
See also: Mahaisasuramardini on Bengal Terracotta
The two great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata represents the real perspective of the Indian philosophy of life and is considered as the phenomenal history of men, gods, spirits, demons, social and political space, time, truth, law, austerity, usage, purities, sins, evils and finally wisdom of the people of the great sub continent. Both the epics have shown astounding vitality not only in the years of political dominance of the Hindus, but also in the days of invasion, and assimilation of alien people and their cultures.
For over two thousand years the Ramayana and Mahabharata has been influencing deeply the religious and moral thoughts as well as literacy and artistic production in India. The exotic terracotta Temple of Bengal (West Bengal and Bangladesh) are no exceptions.
The walls of the Bengal terracotta temple are dotted with stories from the two great epics but strangely Ramayana panels far out number the panels from Mahabharata.
Mahisasuramardini on Bengal Terracotta
~ A compilation on Mahisasuramardani panels on Bengal Terracotta Temples ~
See also: Mahabharata on Bengal Terracotta
Mythology presents goddess Durga as the genius of destruction springing into existence on occasion to fight out destroy the evil forces jeopardising the values and virtues of the earth and also posing threats to god’s creation.
Mahisasurmardini, one of the most popular form of goddesses Durga, is described as a slayer of the bull – shaped monster Mahisasur, who challenged the ocean and the Himalayas. Mahishasur is said to be like a roaring cloud and regarded as a Danava and Asura. Mahishasur was like a storm capable of defeating the in battle, till such time goddess caused his slain.
The most popular form of Durga appearing on on Bengal Terracotta Temple is the episode of slaying the buffalo demon (Mahishasur). Durga riding her vehicle, lion is mostly accompanied by her daughters and sons, namely Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartik and Ganesh.
The Mahisasuramardini motif is common on many of the late medieval brick temples of Bengal, irrespective of the worshiped deity to which the temple belongs.
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.