Terracotta art of Bengal : depictions from the Ramayana

    The temples of Bengal (undivided) are well known for the intricate terracotta work and carvings. The themes depicted are many. Among them the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are also seen at many places. Scenes and characters from the epics are sculpted.

         Showcased below is a a terracotta creation from a temple at Surul, a village in Birbhum, West Bengal  adjacent to Visva-Bharati University, founded by Rabindranath Tagore. Depicted below are scenes from the epic Ramayana. The battle between Lord Rama and Ravana at Lanka has been sculpted above the arch.

File:Surul 2.JPG

Terracotta carving of Ramayana, Surul , Birbhum, West Bengal.

Pic source : wikitravel.org

      The Ramayana was composed by Sage Valmiki (5th century B.C to 1st century B.C , ie. more than 2500 years ago. It is the story of Lord Rama, an avatar of Lord Vishnu of Hinduism. It has over 24,000 verses spanning 5 chapters and is the longest epic poem of Hinduism. Rama is the prince of Ayodhya , eldest son of King Dasaratha. Rama is to succeed him but King Dasaratha’s second wife Kaikeyi wants her son Bharata to be on the throne. She schemes against Rama and sends him along with his wife Sita into exile for 14 years. During this time Sita is kidnapped by demon king Ravana of Lanka. However with the help of his brother Lakhsmana , who accompanies him on his exile and the monkey general Hanuman, an ardent devotee of Lord Rama, Sita is rescued after a fierce battle. After the exile they come back to Ayodhya and Lord Rama is crowned king. They have two sons Lava and Kusha. However Sita is accused of being unfaithful and asked to prove her chastity. She prays to Mother Earth and vanishes for ever but is immortalised; as per the epic. Ramayana is very popular and  Rama and Sita are thought of as  ideals and their victory is taken as the victory of good over evil. There are many sub-stories which teach valuable moral lessons. The great epic has been depicted in art since ancient times. There are miniature paintings, sculpture, modern paintings, translations in many languages, versions in other Asian countries, songs, films and television serials about the epic, given its timelessness and popularity.  Thus the terracotta  temples in Bengal (undivided) are no exception and could not escape the magic of this epic story.

 

Sage Valmiki, painting, unknown artist.

By …, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1058109

File:Print Ramayana - Pages 49 and 50.jpg

Scene of the battle at Lanka between Rama with his forces and Ravana, print, British Library, London.

      See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

         The Kanta Nagar temple at Dinajpur in Bangladesh was built by Maharaja Pran Nath, started in 1704 and completed by his son Maharaja Ramnath by 1722. It is a magnificent edifice with fine terracotta carvings. The epics are depicted on the temple, some characters can be seen on the pillars too !

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Kantanagar temple, Dinajpur,Bangladesh.

By Kazi Rashed Abdallah – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51935398

Detailing of terracotta on the Kantanagar temple's wall 02.jpg

Detailing of terracotta, Kantanagar temple,Bangladesh.

By Tanhaaa7 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51471853

Kantaji Temple Dinajpur Bangladesh (20).JPG

Terracotta, Kantajiu temple, Kantanagar, Bangladesh.

By Shahnoor Habib Munmun (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Kan-terra-cota-19.jpg

Kantanji’s Temple, Dinajpur, Bangladesh.

By Omar Shehab (omarshehab) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2595736

      The Radhabinod temple at Jayadev Kenduli, a village in Birbhum district of West Bengal depicts scenes from the  epic Ramayana. It is a navaratna temple, one having nine spires. Jaydev Kenduli was believed to be the birthplace of Jayadeva, the composer of Gita-Govinda from the 12th century, a classic Sanskrit work on Radha-Krishna and the gopis of Vrindavan. The gopis were the other cowherd girls who loved Lord Krishna. The land of Birbhum has been known as the land of red mud.

 The Radhabinod temple was built by Maharaja Kirtichand of Bardhaman in the 17th century.  The Ramayana scenes at the temple depicts the battle between the demons and the monkey army or vanar-sena.

Radhabinod Temple at Jaydev Kenduli, Birbhum,West Bengal.

By Chandan Guha – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6080659

Ramayana scene at Radhabinod temple, Jaydev Kenduli, Birbhum, West Bengal.

By Chandan Guha – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6080705

 

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

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