Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bishnupur - Terracotta temples

Vishnupur, West Bengal

Bishnupur (or Vishnupur) was the capital of the Mallabhum kingdom, once the most important Hindu dynasty in Bengal (founded in the 8th century CE and lasting until the early 19th century). Surrounded by old fortifications, the town has more than a dozen terracotta temples. The 16th-century Jor Bangla and stepped Ras Mancha are excellent examples of brick temples of the Bengali style and are covered by ornate terracotta tiles that depict scenes from the Hindu epics. The dhrupad school of music was founded (16–17th cent.) there under royal patronage. The town is also known for its silk and the stylized Bankura horse .

The India-Tourism is describing Vishnupur in the following way.

Terracotta, metalware & temples characterise Vishnupur. The temples are built mostly of brick & at times, of laterite. Clay & laterite are the only building materials available here besides wood and bamboo. The architecture is modelled on the pattern of Bengali huts built of bamboo & mud and roofed with thatch. Vishnupur will remain ever famous for its distinct style of music, i.e. the Vishnupur Gharana, if not anything else.

The name of Jadu Bhatt, the music teacher to Rabindranath Tagore, is remembered with respect to this day. A discerning visitor may find traces of the past splendour and glory thatwas Vishnupur in its superb temples and unique handicrafts.

Ras Mancha
The pyramidal Raasmancha was built in 1600 AD by Bir Hambir. This is one of the earliest existing religious edifice of Bishnupur. It has a typical Bengal 'do-chala' roof over the main sanctum, surrounded by three successive circumbulatory galleries, the arches of which are decorated with terracotta lotus motifs. And there is a spacious pathway on all four sides. During the Malla regime, images from neighbouring temples were brought here at the time of “Raas” festival and displayed at the galleries. This unique structure with such an architectural style is only one of its kind in entire India.

My address for the next two days was the Bishnupur tourist lodge. Located centrally amidst the historical temples of Bishnupur, this is undoubtedly the best place to stay there. The rooms are pretty big, quality of food is very good and it is reasonably priced. The tickets are issued at Raasmancha, with which one is allowed to enter all the main temples.

Our first venture in Bishnupur was to hunt for the handicrafts there. We first went to look for the famous “Dash-avatar Cards”. These are not ordinary paper cards. A paste is prepared from some natural elements like tamarind seed butter and a round piece of cloth is coated with this paste several times to make it stiff. Then natural colours are used to depict the ten (dosh) forms (avatars) of the lord Bishnu. The actual playing cards have 108 pieces and the kings of the sixteenth / seventeenth century used to play with them. This is a very old form of art in Bengal.

But the best was yet to come – it was the conch shell carving. This man, Mr. Gopal Nandi – in his sixties or seventies – got the president’s award long back for his unbelievably beautiful mastery. He showed us one artifact where he had carved the ten avatars of Bishnu on one conch shell. These shells, the raw material, are hard to be found now. So he has turned to other materials as well – the shells of coconut, pumpkin, wood apple etc. It’s really amazing to see how an artist’s improvisation can create real wonders.

Madan Mohan Temple

On our way back, we saw the Madan Mohan temple, the only ancient temple in Bishnupur where the deity is still worshipped. Madan Mohan, another name for lord Bishnu, is the god for every Bishnupurian. In AD 1742 or 1743, the Maratha leader Bhaskar Pundit attacked Bengal with his army, popularly known as “Borgis”. The reigning Malla king of Bishnupur, Gopal Singha, asked his men not to put up any fight as, being disciples of Madan Mohan, they believed in ahimsa and had the faith their lord would save them. At night, there was thunderous sound of shell firing. The people woke up next morning to find that lot of borgis were dead, the rest fled in panic and there was blood stain on the dress of the idol. The attack of these borgis had a tremendous effect on Bengal history and culture as well. The Bengal army had not the strength to fight them and they used to go on rampant looting.

There is a famous lullaby on this :
Khoka ghumolo, para jurolo,
Borgi elo deshe.
Bulbulite dhaan kheyeche
Khajna debo kise ?
Dhaan phurolo, paan phurolo,
Ekhon upaay ki ?
Aar kota din sobur karo
Rosun bunechhi.

A very lame translation can be :
The child has gone to sleep, (so) the locality has calmed down,
The borgis have come to our land (and they have looted all).
The bulbulis (singing birds) have eaten the grains,
(so) How shall I pay the taxes ?
The stock of rice grains is finished, so is that of betel leaves,
What is the way out now ?
Wait for a few more days,
Garlic has been planted. (after harvesting, the taxes will be paid)

Lalji Temple

JorBangla temple

The next destination was the well-known double-roofed JorBangla temple. It was built in 1655 AD and is famous for the terracotta panels. They depict royal lifestyle, battle scenes and stories from the epics. It’s really amazing to find how intricately carved these panels are – it might be a cliché, but words fail to describe them.

Small Gateway

Big Gateway

Radha Shyam Temple

Dal-madol cannon

We saw other temples and monuments nearby, the stone chariot, the gates of the old fort, the Jormandir group of temples and the famous “Dal-madol” cannon. It derives its name from the Sanskrit word “Dal-Mardan” which means dispersing the enemy. It was used by the tutelary deity of the Malla kings, Madanmohan, to disperse the maratha invaders. Although lying exposed to centuries, this wrought iron marvel is yet free from rust.

1 comment:

Ruma Dey Baidya said...

Hi Ujjal ,

Your article is vary short and nice. I also go through your site minutely , Great Stuff. I have already gone to Bishnupur and make a blog also, details in . Please share your views.

Ruma Dey Baidya

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