Terracotta art of Bengal : splendorous images from Bishnupur

       The powerful Gupta empire had broken up by the 6th century. The area of Bengal got divided into different small kingdoms.  Vanga, Samatala anf Harikela in the east. In the west the Gauda kings made their capital at Karnasuvarna(near  present day Murshidabad) Though Shashanka, a vassal of the Guptas unified Gaur,Vanga and Samatala and tried for regional power with Harshvardhana after killing off his elder brother Rajyavardhana, he could not sustain for long. The Gauda power ended in Bengal with Shashanka’s death. From 7th century Malla kings ruled  West of Bengal  and parts of present day Jharkhand and were called the Rajas of  Bishnupur. The word Malla means wrestler and the kingdom was called Mallabhum.  Their main legacy are the awesome terracotta temples. From the 7th century till the 19th century, the Bankura district of present day West Bengal is known by the history of these Rajas.  The Palas were another great dynasty to rule Bengal and Bihar, who were patrons of Buddhism. Dharmapala (710-810 A.D) is its most celebrated emperor. The Palas established universities at Nalanda and Vikramshila. However the Chola and Chalukyan invasions ended their rule in the 11th century. The other dynasties to rule ancient Bengal were the Chandra and the Sena dynasty of southern origin. The Devas, another Hindu dynasty like the Senas, ruled after the collapse of the Sena dynasty.

   Coming to the subject at hand, it is reiterated that the temples were mainly the contribution of the Malla dynasty with Bishnupur as their capital. Some images are depicted to simply wonder at the stucco work, the architecture in mainly brick and the terracotta sculpture. The Bankura horse has become synonymous with Bengal. It is made of terracotta. Terracotta is burnt clay. Bengal artists have perfected this art medium and even today jewellery and plaques are produced.

   The temples were made from brick and covered with terracotta tiles which had scenes from the Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata and also everyday life. The temples were built by different Rajas of Bishnupur.  The dynasty was founded by Adi Malla and followed by Jay Malla. Upto the 48th ruler they were independent of foreign powers. Bir Hambir, the 49th ruler was a contemporary of Mughal Emperor Akbar in 16th-17th century and paid an annual amount to the Muslim viceroys of Bengal. He was followed by Raghunath Singha, the title of Singha being given to him by the Nawab of Murshidabad. He made Bishnupur a beautiful  city of palaces and temples. Most of the terracotta temples’ presiding deity is Lord Krishna or Radha-Krishna, the names being indicative. The temple with a single spire are called ekratna, five are called pancharatna.

  Rasmancha was the earliest temple, built by Raja Bir Hambir in the 17th century, surrounded by a passage/corridor with hut shaped turrets. The temple has a pyramid shaped shikhara.

Bishnupur Ras Mancha.jpg

Rasmancha,Bishnupur.

Rangan Datta Wiki – নিজের কাজ কর্তৃক, সিসি বাই-এসএ ৪.০, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51658366

Inside Rashmancha.png

Corridor around Rasmancha, Bishnupur, West Bengal.

Somdeep Gangulee – নিজের কাজ কর্তৃক, সিসি বাই-এসএ ৩.০, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28704137

 

    The Shyamrai temple is a pancharatna temple built in 1643 by Raja Raghunath Singha. The temple has an ocatgonal central shikhara  and the remaining four are square in shape. Lord Krishna’s life is depicted on the ornate carvings. Each side of the temple has three arches.

Shyam Ray Temple in Bishnupur.jpg

Shyamrai temple,Bishnupur, Bankura  West Bengal.

Jonoikobangali – নিজের কাজ কর্তৃক, সিসি বাই-এসএ ৩.০, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14941834

Terracotta work on Shyamrai Temple Bishnupur 8.JPG

Terracotta work on Shyamrai Temple, Bishnupur,West Bengal.

Amartyabag – নিজের কাজ কর্তৃক, সিসি বাই-এসএ ৩.০, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18523365

File:Terracotta work on Shyamrai Temple Bishnupur.JPG

Terracotta work on Shyamrai Temple, Bishnupur,West Bengal.

By Amartyabag (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Jor Mandir complex has three temples built by Raja Krishna Singha in 1726. 

Jor Mandir, Terracotta temple at Bishnupur,Bankura,West Bengal.

Rangan Datta Wiki – নিজের কাজ কর্তৃক, সিসি বাই-এসএ ৪.০, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51658364

Works in the pancharatna temple.jpg

Carvings on temple,Bishnupur,West Bengal.

By Dyutiman86 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59899301

The Jor Bangla temple was built by Raja Raghunath Singha Dev II in 1655. The temple is admired for its intricate terracotta carvings.

Jor Bangla Temple 2 Bishnupur.JPG

Jor Bangla temple, Bishnupur,West Bengal.

Amartyabag – নিজের কাজ কর্তৃক, সিসি বাই-এসএ ৩.০, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18522459

Jor Bangla Temple Arches Bishnupur.JPG

Temple arches, Jor Bangla, Bishnupur,West Bengal.

Amartyabag – নিজের কাজ কর্তৃক, সিসি বাই-এসএ ৩.০, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18522461

Terracotta work on Jor Bangla temple, Bishnupur 2.JPG

Terracotta work on Jor Bangla temple, Bishnupur,West Bengal.

Amartyabag – নিজের কাজ কর্তৃক, সিসি বাই-এসএ ৩.০, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18522466

Terracotta work on Jor Bangla temple, Bishnupur.JPG

Terracotta work on Jor Bangla temple, Bishnupur,Bankura,West Bengal.

Amartyabag – নিজের কাজ কর্তৃক, সিসি বাই-এসএ ৩.০, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18522464

The Kalachand temple was built in 1656 by Raja Raghunath Singha using laterite.  Laterite is rich in iron and aluminium and the soil type can be used to make brick. Kalachand temple is an ekaratna temple.

Kalachand Temple (side view 2) Arnab Dutta 2011.JPG

Kalachand Temple, Bishnupur, Bankura District, West Bengal.

Jonoikobangali – নিজের কাজ কর্তৃক, সিসি বাই-এসএ ৩.০, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14929614

       Raghunath Singha was followed by Bir Singha Dev. He made many lakes and the temple of Lalji in 1658 A.D. His queen built the Murali Mohan temple in 1665. His son followed after him as ruler who built the Madan Mohan temple in 1694.

    The Lalji temple was built by Raja Bir Singha as an ekratna in 1658 dedicated to Radha-Krishna, on a square plinth with stucco decorations.

Lalji Temple Up Close.jpg

Lalji temple,Bishnupur,Bankura,West Bengal.

By Agniva Das – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21054944

Radha Madhab Temple.jpg

Murali-mohan temple, Bishnupur,Bankura,West Bengal.

SuparnaRoyChowdhury – নিজের কাজ কর্তৃক, সিসি বাই-এসএ ৪.০, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51117741

The Madan-mohan temple was built in 1694 by Raja Durjana Singh Dev. It is an ekratna temple. The carvings on the temple walls have scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas.

 

Madanmohan Temple.jpg

Madan Mohan Mandir (1694 AD), Bishnupur, Bankura , West Bengal.

SuparnaRoyChowdhury – নিজের কাজ কর্তৃক, সিসি বাই-এসএ ৪.০, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51117740

The Radha-gobindo temple was built in 1729 by  Krishna Singha as an ekratna  temple using laterite.

 

Stone Rath at Radha-Gobinda Temple Arnab Dutta 2011.JPG

Radha-Gobindo temple rath,Bishnupur,West Bengal.

Jonoikobangali – নিজের কাজ কর্তৃক, সিসি বাই-এসএ ৩.০, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14933167 

        Gopal Singh Dev ruled during 1730-45, a very pious ruler. Later Chaitanya Singha Dev ruled who was again very pious. He escaped to Kolkata with the idol of Madan Gopal when his cousin Damodar Singh  tried to gain power.

    The Radha-Madhab temple was built in 1737 by the daughter-in-law of Raja Gopal Singha, Churamoni Devi as an ​​ekratna style with brick having  floral and stucco designs.

 

            The Radha-shyam temple was built in 1758 by Raja Chaitanya Singha as an ekratna temple. It has a dome shaped shikhara  and has Puranic stories and floral designs in stucco on the temple walls.

Radhashyam Temple Entry Arch Bishnupur.JPG

Radha-shyam temple entry arch, Bishnupur,Bankura,West Bengal.

Amartyabag – নিজের কাজ কর্তৃক, সিসি বাই-এসএ ৩.০, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18522507

Stucco work on Radhashyam Temple, Bishnupur 2.JPG

Stucco work on Radha-shyam temple,Bishnupur, Bankura, West Bengal.

Amartyabag – নিজের কাজ কর্তৃক, সিসি বাই-এসএ ৩.০, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18522512

 

References :

  • The art of ancient India/Huntington,Susan,New York : Weatherhill,1985.
  • Indian terracotta art/Ganguly,O.C, Bombay : rupa and Co,1959.
  • wikipedia.org

 

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

 

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