A day's trip to Bishnupur's terracotta temples and Baluchari sarees

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Photo of A day's trip to Bishnupur's terracotta temples and Baluchari sarees by Ishita Das Sarkar

I have always been intrigued by ancient architecture and historical places. So, on my recent visit to my home-town, Kolkata, when I read about Bishnupur – a place of scattered terracotta temples, I made up my mind to plan a trip there, and having a family who never denied travelling, the trip was planned for the next day. We took our car and drove through Durgapur via the Grand Trunk Road to reach Bishnupur. It took around 4 hrs to reach our destination.

PS: Bishnupur is well connected by roadways and railways. The nearest airport is Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International at a distance of 140km from the town. Also, there are regular trains that commute between Howrah and Bishnupur Railway Station.

About Bishnupur

Bishnupur is a town and municipality in the Bankura District of West Bengal. This small town, flanked by paddy fields, low and high hills, holds significant cultural heritage in its building, crafts, culture, and many more.

This little town was once an eminent part of Mallabhum and served as the capital of the prosperous kingdom of the Malla Dynasty ruled by the Malla Kings. 'Malla' is a Sanskrit word meaning wrestler but there could be some links with the Mal tribes of the area, who had intimate connection with the Bagdis. Adi Malla, the founder of Mallabhum, was also known as Bagdi Raja.

Bishnupur is home to a plethora of brick / terracotta temples built by generations of the Malla kings during their reign from 1590 to 1806 CE. The temples display intricate carvings on the walls that depict scenes from Maharbharata, Ramayana, and Puranas. The temples are mostly dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

Places Covered

The best way to see the terracotta temples is to start early. We covered the following places in Bishnupur.

Jor Bangla Temple: Built in 1655 by King Raghunath Singha Dev, this temple is also known as ‘Kestorai Temple’ and follows the ‘Jora-Bangla’ style of architecture. It includes two Bengal-styled thatched roof-life structures joined together and the joined structure is crowned with a turret.

Jora Bangla Temple

Photo of Jor Bangla Temple, Rajdarbar, Dalmadal Para, Bishnupur, West Bengal, India by Ishita Das Sarkar

Jora BanglaTemple

Photo of Jor Bangla Temple, Rajdarbar, Dalmadal Para, Bishnupur, West Bengal, India by Ishita Das Sarkar

Rasmancha: Built in 1600 C.E., by Mallabhum King Hambir Malla Dev, this monument stands on a raised alter made up of laterite stoned and is crowned by stepped pyramidal structure that is surrounded by smaller Bengali-styled hut-like structures. The lower part consists of open doors that resemble the Islamic architecture. As this monument is not a temple, hence is not home to idols, however, during the ‘Vasinava Ras’ festival (stopped in 1932), all the idols from different temples were brought here for worshiping.

Rasmancha

Photo of Rasmancha, Kalindibandh, Bishnupur, West Bengal, India by Ishita Das Sarkar

Gumgarh: A mystical square structure without any door or window is located on top of a small mound. Not much information is available about its year of construction and purpose. While some believe it to be a prison, others believe it to be a granary. Although it is nothing spectacular, it leaves on open question to its visitors.

Gumghar

Photo of Gumghar, Rajdarbar, Dalmadal Para, Bishnupur, West Bengal, India by Ishita Das Sarkar

Shyam Rai Temple: This temple is also called the ‘Pancha Ratna’ or ‘Paanch chura’ temple owing to its 5 pinnacles. Built by King Raghunath Singha Dev, this temple has triple-arched entrance on all four sides and stands on a low plinth. The ‘Ras Chakra’ or the lovemaking scenes are the explicitly displayed on the terracotta panels of the temple walls.

Shyamrai Temple

Photo of Shyamrai Temple, Rajdarbar, Sankattala, Bishnupur, West Bengal, India by Ishita Das Sarkar

Terracotta art on the walls of Shyamrai Temple

Photo of Shyamrai Temple, Rajdarbar, Sankattala, Bishnupur, West Bengal, India by Ishita Das Sarkar

Radhashyam Temple: Unlike the Shyam Rai Temple, this temple has only one pinnacle. It dates back to 1758 when it was built during the reign of Malla King Chaitanya Singha. The temple is surrounded by high walls and the entrance consists of a triple-domed Islamic Style gate. The walls of the temple adorn lime stone stucco decoration.

Radhashyam Temple (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Photo of Radhashyam Temple, Rajdarbar, Dalmadal Para, Bishnupur, West Bengal, India by Ishita Das Sarkar

Entrance of the Radhashyam Temple (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Photo of Radhashyam Temple, Rajdarbar, Dalmadal Para, Bishnupur, West Bengal, India by Ishita Das Sarkar

Radha Laljiu Temple: It is believed that this temple was built 100 years earlier than the Radhashyam Temple. This temple also displays a single-pinnacled structure similar to that of the Radhashyam Temple.

Radha Laljiu Temple

Photo of Lalji Temple, Rajdarbar Road, Rajdarbar, Baburdanga, Bishnupur, West Bengal, India by Ishita Das Sarkar

Madan Mohan Temple: Built by Malla King Durja Singha in the year 1694, this temple adorns the finest terracotta art in Bishnupur. Located at a slight distance from the other structures, this singled-pinnacle temple is still an active temple dedicated to Lord Madan Mohan, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

Madan Mohan Temple

Photo of Madan Mohan Temple, Baburdanga, Bishnupur, West Bengal, India by Ishita Das Sarkar

Madan Mohan Temple

Photo of Madan Mohan Temple, Baburdanga, Bishnupur, West Bengal, India by Ishita Das Sarkar

Dal Madal Cannon: This historic cannon is also one of the prime tourist attractions in Bishnupur. Built in 1742, this cannon weighs 112 quintal and measures 3.8m with a diameter of 30cm. Legend has it that this cannon was constructed to drive away the Marathas from Bishnupur.

Dal Madal Cannon

Photo of Dalmadal Cannon, Chinnamasta Road, Dalmadal Para, Bishnupur, West Bengal, India by Ishita Das Sarkar

Chinnamasta Temple: Next to the cannon lies this temple dedicated to Goddess Kali. The ancient temple has seen series of restoration and transformation.

Chinnamasta Temple (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Photo of Chinnamasta Mandir, Dalmadal Para, Bishnupur, West Bengal, India by Ishita Das Sarkar

Other places to visit include the following:

• Mrinmoyee Temple

• Stone Chariot

• Nandalal Temple

• Radha Madhav Temple

• Radha Binod Temple

• Bishnupur Fort

• Kalachand Temple

• Raj Bari

• Gardarja

• Big Stone Gateway

• Small Stone Gatway

• Lal Bandh

• Cluster of Jor Mandir Temples

Shopping

Terracotta Toys: Bishnupur is not only famous for its terracotta temples, but also for its clay horses and toys. Several interior décor items such as the famous Bishnupur horse, idols of gods and goddesses, clay wind-chimes, flower pots, etc. are available at all small and big stores alongside the road.

Terracotta Art Work

Photo of Jor Mandir Temples, Dalmadal Para, Bishnupur, West Bengal, India by Ishita Das Sarkar

Wooden Art Work

Photo of Jor Mandir Temples, Dalmadal Para, Bishnupur, West Bengal, India by Ishita Das Sarkar

Baluchari Sarees: Not only for the famous terracotta temples and the ancient cannon, Bishnupur is also popular for its Baluchari sarees all over the world. These sarees are hand-woven using richly dyed silk and contains intricate motifs of Indian mythology woven on its ‘pallu’ or ‘aanchol’. The weaving of a single saree takes at least a week owing to its intensive labor and artisanship.

Baluchari Saree

Photo of A day's trip to Bishnupur's terracotta temples and Baluchari sarees by Ishita Das Sarkar

Folk Song

Apart from the enchanting terracotta temples, another interesting highlight of this trip was interacting with a folk singer named Shri. Kshitij Chandra Das. He sits in front of the Jor Bangla temple everyday and sings tales of Radha-Krishna in Bengali folk songs. The genre of his folk songs is called the Krishna Tatta.

Image from a blog by Kaveri Mayra

Photo of A day's trip to Bishnupur's terracotta temples and Baluchari sarees by Ishita Das Sarkar

Swinging in the cradle of Bengal's cultural and architectural heritage left me spellbound. I was fortunate enough to witness the beauty and artisanship of these terracotta temples before time takes a toll on these ancient monuments. They have defeated the rage of centuries and are still standing and telling a silent story of Bengal's history with pride.

Do give these temples a visit to bask in the glory of West Bengal!!

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