In this blog post, I would be speaking on Bishnupur sightseeing. A narrative regarding a guide to terracotta temples of Bishnupur. I would be emphasizing the various temples that are a must-visit. The temple town is so culturally rich since the yester-years, and it is one of the most prominent jewels in the state of Bengal acclaimed globally. Bishnupur can be categorised as one day tour from Kolkata.
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This country of ours has so much to offer with each region abounding in different aspects of what one is interested in finding and exploring. I have tried in visiting the places of beauty and nature but a part of me is also inclined towards History of our country.
The pandemic has resulted in me trying to focus on one day tour from Kolkata. in this regard one can visit Purbasthali to see the unique Ox-Bow Lake in the sleepy rural village of Purbasthali which is also a sought destination for bird enthusiasts. Then there is the one day tour from Kolkata towards the canyon of Gongoni through which the river Silabati flows.
One has to see the architecture glory of the Chalukya kingdom by visiting the temple ruins of Aihole and Pattadakal. In this context read here about the temples of Hampi. In fact my journey to the land of 1000 temples ( Tamil Nadu ) exposed me to some great architectural works of the Great Cholas . There include the Thallai Nataraja at Chidambaram, the Great Living Chola Temples at Thanjavur. One has to definitely see these once in this life . Click on the highlighted parts to read the blog post.
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Bishnupur – Relic of ancient India
Bishnupur was one of the most prominent cities of West Bengal in the time of the Malla Kingdom. The entire region of Bengal was a hub of Terracotta temples. The ruins of terracotta temples of Bishnupur still seen today in various degrees of degeneration. Bishnupur was one of the crowns when it came to Terracotta temples. The terracotta temples of Bishnupur built by the Malla Kings were all dedicated to Lord Krishna & Radha.
Imagine this, a city of temples thriving and being a beacon of learning, spirituality, and grandeur. The dramatic evenings with the city temples all lit with hundreds of earthen lamps as the evening prayers were performed in the various temples simultaneously. Terracotta temples of Bishnupur came alive and made a mark on all those who visited this pearl of Eastern India.
For now, what remains with time are relics of these very terracotta temples of Bishnupur. The earthen lamps are long gone, but the grandeur still speaks through the timeless temples. Let us have a look at some of the significant must-see terracotta temples of Bishnupur. Bishnupur is a classic one day tour from Kolkata.
Terracotta temples of Bishnupur
Rasmancha temple, I would say, is one of the peak attraction of Bishnupur. Built on a base made of Makara stones, the temple is made of bricks. The main event that used to occur in this pyramidlike structure was the Ras Utsav.
The Ras Utsav, as I understand, celebrates the legend of Lord Krishna, celebrating his love with Radha and her friends. The world-famous Indian classical dance Kathak is said to have evolved from the Raslila at Brij. Also, know as the dance of the divine love, this used to epitomize the love between Lord Krishna and Radha.
The rules of Mallya kingdom used to enact this Raslila at the Rasmancha in honour of Lord Krishna. This would have been on occasion to celebrate the life of Lord Krishna. The sight, if one can imagine, would be definitely something, imagine hundreds of earthen lamps against the backdrop of baked earthen temple walls ( Terracotta).
Madan Mohan temple
Madan Mohan temple was built by Malka Durjan Singh in the 16th century in the glory of Lord Krishna. The walls of the temple built of terracotta display delicate miniature carvings that depict scenes from the life of Lord Krishna. There is also a Chandi mandap inside the temple complex. The temple is of Do Chala construction, implying it has a secondary structure over the primary structure.
I would strongly recommend that one spends some time studying the various miniature terracotta works that have been carved on the terracotta temples of Bishnupur. One can see so many stories and legends depicted by the artists who conceived this temple/ It is truly a work of art and grandeur.
In bangla language, Jor means joined together, which is the central theme of these two temples, which share a common wall if one can say that. Built in the early 17th century with terracotta walls, these temples are one of the most recognized monuments of Bishnupur globally. Built to pay homage to Lord Krishna, the motifs and carvings in terracotta once again reflect ancient India’s history. Also known as Kesto Rai temple, this is one of the star attractions among the terracotta temples of Bishnupur.
Take time to observe the various carvings, and you will be surprised to see the depth of expertise and knowledge that the artist had when designing this temple. Each terracotta temples of Bishnupur is a homage to the skill set achieved during those times.
Bishnupur can be done in a way as well as a two day visit. It is a one day tour from Kolkata if one starts very early in the morning while the other format is a weekend trip spread over two days.
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Buil by Bir Singh of the Malla dynasty is one of the foremost Ekratna temples among the terracotta temples of Bishnupur. Built to pay homage to Lord Krishna, the temple is built on a raised platform and has a single shikhara. The temple does indeed have an expansive boundary, and it often draws visitors as they arrive at Bishnupur.
Shyam Rai Temple
The Shyam Rai temple built by the Mallu king Raghunath Singha in the 16th century is noted for its elaborate terracotta ornamentations. The square sanctum s surrounded by a porch and a pathway. There are five shikaras; the central is octagonal. The intricate carvings are a sight to see and they narrate everyday life in addition to mythological legends.
Radha Shyam Temple
The Radha Shyam temple, built in the 17th century, is again an Ekratna temple and is enclosed in a garden with a high boundary wall. The Ratna is dome-shaped, and hence it is slightly different from the other square shikaras that I saw. The temple is a living temple, and images from other dilapidated temples are also housed here.
Built-in the 17th century, the double-storied structure with three wheels on each side. The lower storey resembles the arches of Rasmancha, whereas the upper level resembles an Ekratna temple. The stone chariot is a unique representation of typical terracotta temples of Bishnupur style with all the finer details.
However, the time has made its mark felt on it too, and now to stands forgotten and forlorn.
Standing forlorn and aloof is the Nandalal temple. There is not much which I could understand from the temple itself; however, later readings accounts, I came to know that this a part of seven Ekratna temples built in the surrounding area. However, I could only realize that there is this one to see. Maybe some other day I would see the remaining. For those who are venturing, make an effort to see the remaining six Ekratna temples too, some of them being unique to terracotta temples of Bishnupur.
Dalmadal Canon and Devi Chinnamasta Temple
There is this massive canon in a secluded corner of Bishnupur town known as Daldamal canon. Legend has it that when the Marathas attacked Bishnupur in 1742, Lord Madan Mohan himself had lifted this canon and charged at the intruders and fired the canon. It is to be understood that the canon is around 12.5 feet and would weigh a tonne easily.
Nearby is the unique temple of Goddess Chinnamasta ( a form of Kali ). The idol is so enthralling to see that I was truly mesmerized to see it. One of the ten mahavidyas, the goddess, is truly fearsome to look at, as she stands with blood spurting out of the severed head, which has been decapitated by herself. The public worship of the goddess is not very popular. She is associated with a deep sense of tantric mediation and has a particular following in Indian and Nepal.
Terracotta, a fine art form
Terracotta is one of the oldest and most influential art forms in India as well as globally. In India, once can see its presence in TamilNadu and Kerala in Agraharam where the roof tiles were built. The Aiyanar community in Tamil Nadu were masters of terracotta craft.
Coming upwards, Gujrat boasted of spectacular hand-painted terracotta artefacts and statues. Haryana was all about terracotta in day to day usage items, while the Jabua and Bastra tribes in Madhya Pradesh are famous for their terracotta pottery.
In Bengal view paucity of stones in large quantity, it is the terracotta known as Baked Earth which was used in most of the architecture construction in the early days The alluvial soil of the Ganges basin was perfect for this work and what we see all over Bengal is a testimony to the skill of the artisans of the yester-years.
Look closely at the walls and arches of the terracotta temples of Bishnupur I have described above, and I guarantee you would be amazed to see the skill level reached and the finesse with which these temples were carved and made. There is a story in each panel on each wall. The history of our great scriptures have been depicted on the terracotta temples of Bishnupur, but we need to have that fine eye and gaze to unravel the story that they portray.
How to reach Bishnupur
As Bishnupur can be categorised as a one day tour from Kolkata. The best bet would be the train and road. In case one is travelling by train, one has to depart from Howrah station and, about three and half hours later, will find himself at Bishnupur. After that, use the local auto rickshaw to travel between all the temples.
In case one is travelling by road, one has to take the route via Arambagh and then Joypur forest to reach Bishnupur after a travelling time of around three hours.
Where to stay
There are stay options in Bishnupur, just don’t look for fancy stuff, and one should be fine. Just take a guide who will show you around or better still compile a list of temples that you wish to see and strike a deal with the autorickshaw to take you to all these places. Bishnupur is a perfect destination for a one day tour from Kolkata.
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There are many home decor and art forms which have become famous both in India as well as globally. Prominent among these are the terracotta horses from Bankura-Bishnupur. I loved seeing them , with their elegant stance tall and regal with minimal basic designs. They increase the cultural aesthetics of any home where they are installed.
It was an eye opener to visit the Terracotta temples at Bishnupur. This visit has made to look into the possibility of visiting other similar terracotta temples in Bengal . A project which i shall definitely be embarking upon and subsequent blog posts would be coming up. After all to travel and see History is also a finer aspect of travelling.