Bishnupur: The Magnificent Terracotta Town of West Bengal

History Of Bishnupur

The temple town of Bankura district in Bishnupur. Covered with lavish greeneries, rich heritage and culture with tales of brilliant terracotta

architecture.

Previously Bishnupur was mainly ruled by the Malla Kings. Hambir Malla Dev also known as Veer Hambir, was the 49th Malla king of the Malla Dynasty during 1565 CE – 1620 CE. He was also there during the reign of Mughal Emperor, Akbar. When Gambit was introduced by the Bhagavad Gita and its recitation, he was so enthralled, that he converted himself from Saktaism to Vaishnavism.

History Of Bishnupur Terracotta

When you think of Terracotta, what hits your mind first? The terracotta army of Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, China? But, did you know there’s an entire temple complex, consisting of 20 terracotta temples in Bishnupur, West Bengal, India?

Yes, you heard it right, an entire holy city, built of terracotta and the temples were even worshipped at those times.

As West Bengal is in the flood plain region, it was impossible to supply stones. Due to this shortage, during the 16th century, the architects used burnt clay bricks as a substitute, which took shape of a new art form known as “Terracotta. This art form took its highest peak during the 17th century when Raja Jagat Malla of the Malla dynasty arrived in Bishnupur and built numerous temples made of terracotta. The architecture spoke of Krishna Leela, Mansa Debi, the tales of Bhagavad Gita.

Process Of Making Terracotta

The Italian translation of Terracotta is “baked earth”. It is a very exclusive type of rich rust red/orange colored clay. The reason behind this bright color is the iron content is very high in this clay which reacts with oxygen to give different hues like, reds, oranges, yellows, and pinks.

The clay is mainly coarse or porous in type, which is fired until it becomes hard. Architects can keep it glazed or unglazed according to their wish, but mainly one coat of glaze is needed to make it waterproof. The firewood mainly consists of dry leaves, twigs, dry branches of trees which were locally available. The moulded designs were baked in traditional kilns at a temperature ranging from 700°C – 800°C. 

Equality was always a part of their culture and tradition and they treated men and women equally, so men and women both participated in the process, where their role usually was to work on the wheel but was not limited to this. They made various shapes, designs, which were baked and dried in the sun and after that assembled to create those historic temples.

Temples Of The Temple Town

Once you reach Bishnupur, the temple town, is going to surprise you with its astounding number of magnificent medieval temples, which are whispering out their history all around nature. The temples are as follows :

  1. Madanmohan Temple
  2. Sridhara Temple
  3. Madan Gopal Temple
  4. Kalachand Temple
  5. Radhamadhab Temple
  6. Nandalal Temple
  7. Jormandir Temple
  8. Radheshyam Temple
  9. Shyamrai Temple
  10. Nabanarikunja Temple
  11. Rasmancha Temple
  12. Mrinmoyee Temple
  13. Jor Bangla Temple
  14. Gar Darja Temple
  15. Jore Shreni Temple

From ancient times, temples have been both centres for learning of art and culture. From these terracotta temples, you can find traces of classical music, Gandharvas, composite figures of birds, human head, arms, goose, are found carved in the temple walls.

The terracotta art has given a new dimension to the art world, and it’s been continued today as well. Various home decor items are being made using terracotta which is in high demand globally as well.

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