Monday, 1 February 2016

Bishnupur ~ Bengal's Terracotta temples and Legend weavers

I am planed to write this long pending travelogue as a new year gift to you all. Last year me, my husband and our extended family, we all went to Bishnupur a tiny hamlet in the Bankura district of West Bengal. Though this place is less well known among tourists but a visit here will definitely leave anyone awestruck. This place is the terracotta marvel of India.Beautiful majestic temples comprising of intricate designs are made from baked clay and stands testimony to the fact that there is much more in India unexplored and unknown.

Bishnupur is easily accessible by road from either Shantiniketan or Kolkata. Since we came to Bishnupur from Shantiniketan, we started early from Shantiniketan and reached Bishnupur in 3 hours or less time.The roads are good and the drive was a pleasure.

Bishnupur has a lot of terracotta temples and each one is a marvel in its own way.Since we did not wanted to miss any of the temples, we took a guide from the Government Guest House in Bishnupur. It is always a good idea to hire a guide since the guides are knowledgeable and can tell you the history and the anecdotes associated with each of the temples.

Our guide first took us to Rasmancha. We bought our tickets from the ticket counter at Rasmancha. As far I can remember per person ticket charge was INR 5 and photography was free of any charges. You need to preserve this ticket to gain entry to all the terracotta temples monitored by ASI. Rasmancha is a beautiful structure with lateral arches supported by pillars.The base of the structure rests on a raised laterite platform.Established in 1600 AD by the Malla King Hambhir, in the earlier era during the Vaishnava Ras festival, all the Radha Krishna idols of Bishnupur town used to be brought here and  worshipped.


The interesting thing about the temple is that it has only a single chamber, the sanctum sanctorum, with an elongated tower, surrounded by hut shaped turrets. A passageway surrounds it and some large cannons found here date back to the Malla period. Words will fall short in describing the utter beauty and class of this terracotta masterpiece.




Rasmancha is the oldest brick temple and the only temple of its kind in the whole world.Sincere efforts has been taken by the government and ASI to protect this immensely significant and cultural masterpiece.We bought a guide book from one of the vendors outside Rasmancha. The small guide book was a treasure trove with loads of information and pictures.

All the terracotta temples in Bishnupur are built by the Malla kings. As the legend goes, a king along with his pregnant queen were on a pilgrimage to South India when midway in Bishnupur the queen started getting labour pains. She delivered a healthy son but unfortunately the queen died. Saddened by grief the king decided to leave the new born son behind to a poor childless brahmin family.

As the child was growing up, he started showing great mastery in education,weaponry and wrestling.However since the child was from a poor family he had to attend the daily chores like bringing water from wells, tending the cattle, looking after crops. One day the brahmin father saw that his son had fallen asleep while he had taken the cattle to graze and a huge snake was guarding the sunlight from falling on the boy's face. The news spread rapidly and it was decided by the village that this boy will ascend the village kingdom once he grows up.

He became the king and renamed the kingdom as Malla (locally means "wrestling"). With his ascend started an era of magnificent terracotta architecture.

From Rasmancha we went to MadanMohan Temple. One of the most beautiful temples is the MadanMohan Temple and it is still function though it also falls under ASI protection.This temple is built on the "ekaratna" (meaning single pinnacle) style. The roof is flat rectangular with lightly pressed corners giving it the typical Bengal thatched roof style. On the roof is a single pinnacle and hence the ekaratna style of architecture.This temple has intricate stories of Puranas and Ramayanas beautifully inscribed on the terracotta tablets. We took plenty of time to marvel at this wonderful "jugalbaandhi" of stone and terracotta. Opposite to the MadanMohan temple is another elongated terracotta structure. It currently houses the temple kitchen.

MadanMohan temple

Part of the MadanMohan Temple

Just outside the MadanMohan Temple in a corner is a peepal tree. Our guide pointed us to a particular part of the trunk which looks like lord Ganesh. Who says nature is not the biggest God?


Next we went to "Garh Darja" or the small gateway of Bishnupur. And adjacent to it is the "Pathar Darja" (Stone door) or the main gateway of Bishnupur. The Pathar Darja is built of laterite stone and is a two storied gateway towards the northern entrance of the royal kingdom. Though dilapidated it still proudly displays it importance during the Malla regime.

Pathar Darja

Next was the "Jor Bangla" (Joined) temple. As the name suggests the structure of the temple looks like as if two huts are joined together.Personally for me , I liked it the most out of all the Bishnupur temples.The temple facing south is raised on a square platform in the form of a pair of hut shaped structures with sloping roofs joined together and surmounted by charchala shikara on the top. Both the interior and exterior walls and ceiling of the temple depict exquisite and elaborate terracotta ornamentation. These terracotta panels narrate scenes from the epics, krishna-lila,hunting scenes, various other depictions of contemporary social life.

Jor Bangla Temple

Nine Gopis forming an elephant

Dragon in Indian temple

King's Jester

Depictions from daily life

Just next to the Jor Bangla Temple is the Radhashyam Temple. This Ek – ratna (Single Pinnacled) temple is built of laterite stone and contains lime stone stucco decoration. The temple is enclosed with high walls and is entrance consists of a triple domed Islamic style gateway. The temple dating back to 1758 was constructed by the Malla King Chaitanya Singha.This temple has an interesting addition a "tulsi mancha"  which is essentially a raised structure on which tulsi plant is planted and worshipped by Hindus.

RadhyaSham Temple

Entrance to RadhaShyam Temple

We also went inside the Mrinmoyee Temple. The temple priest was very kind and on knowing we are from Bangalore and have come such a long distance allowed us a quick puja even when the temple was about to close. Since photography was not permitted inside the temple premise so we do not have any photos of Mrinmoyee Temple.There are shops inside the temple complex selling terracotta horses, dokra items and other handicrafts.

Our guide next took us to another very beautiful temple known as the "Panch Ratna Temple" ( Five jewels where each pinnacle of the temple represents a jewel). This temple is also popularly called the Temple of Shyam Rai, named after the ruler who built this temple.
Approached by triple arched entrance on all the four sides the Shyamrai Temple contains terracotta on all its four sides including the inner walls and the pinnacles. The Ras Chakra and love making scenes of Radha and Krishna are the most sort after terracotta panels of the Shyamrai Temple.

Paanch Ratna Temple

Ras Chakra

Paanch Ratna Temple

Just round the corner is the "Gum Ghar" or the "Room of no return". It is speculated that the king used to execute criminals in the Gumghar.

We also saw the cluster of seven laterite ekaratna temple the most notable was the Nandalal Temple.

From here a little away is the Chinnamasta Temple. It is a functional temple and one of the very popular temples of Bishnupur. Close to the temple is the famous canon called the "Dalmadol" canon. The 1742 built cannon weighs 112 quintal and measures 3.8 meter with a diameter of 30 cm.

Legend has it that when the Marathas (Bargis) attacked Bishnupur in 1742 Lord Madan Mohan himself fired the gun to drive them away.

There are a few emporiums here selling the famous Baluchuri sarees. The sarees are famous because weavers weave intricate patterns and stories from the Puranas on the pallu of the sarees. Terracotta idols and handicrafts can also be seen and bought from here.

Shops selling Terracotta

We also visited the Bishnupur Museum which houses interesting artifacts and some award winning terracotta structures made by the experienced artisans.Since photography was not allowed inside so we simply feasted our eyes happily on them.

Bishnupur is not a place that can be well covered in a day. One must soak oneself atleast for a day in the wonderfully amazing terracotta architecture. It really saddened us that a lot many temples have fallen prey to the vagaries of time and are in ruins.Still thankfully the government and ASI have taken notice of this wonderful heritage and are now trying to save as much possible. Terracotta temples found in Bishnupur are one of a type and only found in this tiny part of the world.We are on a very thin string,if we loose these temples we will loose a big part of architecture and heritage that can never be recreated again.


  1. such a lovely post, thanks it certainly helped me plan my trip to Bishnupur. Happy travelling :)

    1. Thank you so much and wising happy travels to both of you :)


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