Terracotta art of Bengal : some flora depictions

 

     Nature has always inspired man and his creations. He has embellished them by things he has seen around him. Flora like flowers,trees,foliage,fruits,lotuses,creepers,honeysuckles and fauna like elephants,horses,camels,bulls,birds like swans,parrots have all been depicted in scenes and decoration on religious shrines, temples and other monuments across India, over centuries.  Sculpture depictions on religious monuments using flora and fauna was as per the relevance of the subject and artistic convention of the time and region. In Buddhist art the bodhi tree, the jambu tree ,the sala and the asoka tree are very significant as they are part of Lord Buddha’s life. He was born in a sala grove under an asoka tree, mostly meditated under jambu trees and attained enlightenment under a bodhi tree. Trees, flowers et al. were used decoratively to enhance the sculptural composition for  a more splendid effect. Palm trees, kalpavrikhshas, some fruit trees like sita-phal (custard apple), coconut,mango and banana have all been used as motifs. Kalpavriksha (wish-fulfilling divine tree)with rectangular fruits is found at Aihole and another one at Ellora datable to 10th century. Floral depictions use the roundel  frequently in sculptural art which has a common motif . The roundel could have another decorative motif within. A naga is depicted inside the roundel on ceiling sculpture of 8th century Alampur temples in Telangana in South India. Lotus is the national flower of India and is the most popular motif. It is associated with poornaghata or pot of plenty. Plenty includes health, wealth and a long life. Lotus represents abundance, purity and fullness of life. Sculptors used various motifs from nature to decorate pillars,ceilings,borders,facades and pilasters.The creeper,honeysuckle,scrolls have all been used as motifs.

     The terracotta temples at Bengal have also used the floral motif to heighten the impact and decoration of the plaques and sculptures. Floral medallions and designs surround many creations and themes. Floral borders depict the mastery of the craftsman, as one can see from the examples below which serve as illustrations. Islamic influence on the designs can be felt at some places.

   The depictions below are of a twin temple at Baidyapur, Bardhaman district of West Bengal. Probably built around 1550 by Shubhananda Pal, the temple is a classic example of rekha deul architecture The temples are connected by a corridor. This type of temple is called a jora-deul. The floral motifs are prominent and striking; sculpted  centuries ago !

Twin temples, Baidyapur, Bardhaman,West Bengal.

By Sujay25 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51806013

Floral motifs at twin temples at Baidyapur, Bardhaman, West Bengal.

By Indrajit Das – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51789270

Vegetal designs at twin temples at Baidyapur, Bardhaman, West Bengal.

By Indrajit Das – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51789275

         The Lalji temple has 25 spires and is a Panchavimshati-Ratna. It was built by Braja Kishori Devi, the wife of Maharaja Jagat Ram in 1739. Built of bricks, and the walls are covered with terracotta figures. The panels depict ornate floral designs. One can also see the seamless motifs in vegetal patterns.

Lalji Temple - Kalna - Inner Panel - 11.jpg

Lalji Temple, Kalna, Bardhaman, West Bengal.

By Sumit Surai – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51950563

Lalji Temple - Kalna - Inner Panel - 7.jpg

Lalji Temple, Kalna, Bardhaman, West Bengal.

By Sumit Surai – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51950067

Lalji Temple - Kalna - Outer Panel - 13.jpg

Lalji Temple, Kalna, Bardhaman, West Bengal.

By Sumit Surai – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51951738

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. The seamless designs and the floral patterns are awe-inspiring to the onlooker.

 

Shyamrai temple, Bishnupur,Bankura,West Bengal.

By Jonoikobangali (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Motifs at Shyamrai Temple, Bishnupur, Bankura,West Bengal.

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

Motifs on pillar, Shyamrai Temple Bishnupur, Bankura,West Bengal.

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

Jor Bangla Temple (arches) Arnab Dutta 2011.JPG

Floral medallions, below arches at Jor Bangla temple, Bishnupur,Bankura, West Bengal.

By Jonoikobangali – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14932883

Terracotta Lotus Medallion - South Wall - Palpara Temple - Nadia 2013-10-20 3700.JPG

Terracotta Lotus Medallion, Palpara Temple,Nadia,West Bengal. 

By Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35082415

 

 

References :

  • Terracotta art of Bengal/Biswas,S.S,Delhi : Agam Kala Prakashan,1981.
  • Indian terracotta art/Ganguly,O.C, Bombay : rupa and Co,1959.
  • wikipedia.org

 

 

Posted by:

Soma Ghosh

© author

 

 

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