Terracotta or Baked Clay has been in constant use from the pre-historic times, and is considered as among the oldest building materials. The absence of stone or any other building material did not prove to be a deterrent to the architects and artisans of the times. Rather, they baked tales in clay tiles, narrating episodes from mythology and life, breathing life into bricks to give rise to a new form of temple architecture that lead to the construction of terracotta temples that were elaborately and intricately clad in high quality square panels of terracotta reliefs. The use of bricks in construction obviously meant that the routine column-beam style of building, characteristic of most early Islamic structures, could be adopted. In West Bengal and scattered to nearby areas, while terracotta objects have been in regular use from ancient times since the Indus Valley Civilization, exquisite terracotta temples gained popularity during the Hindu Revival period under the Krishna bhakti movement that lasted for three centuries, 16th – 19th century CE. Stone as a building material got replaced mainly because of the easier availability of clay in a state that has an abundance of clayey soil from its many rivers. While West Bengal temples always bring to mind the distinctive ‘chala’ styled roofed structures with beautiful terracotta plaques on walls and pillars, it was not so during the ancient and early medieval times.

  • LALJI TEMPLE, KALNA

Lalji Temple is perhaps the oldest amongst the group of terracotta temples at Kalna, West Bengal. It was made in 1739 by Braja Kishori Devi, wife of Maharaja Jagat Ram. Inside the temple premise, a bright yellow Garuda with chilly green wings faces the main idols of Radha and Krishna. Miniature panels which surround the base of the temple, depict scenes from the Puranas. In front of the temple is a Natmandir or a dancing hall.

Lalji temple has small panels which surround the base of the temple, thereby depict scenes from the Puranas. A dancing hall is located just in front of the temple, named- Natmandir. Open from January to December: The temple is built of bricks, and the walls were covered with terracotta figures. Most of it has worn off with time, but what remains never fails to amaze the viewer. The bizzare feature of this temple is the 25 peaks on the roof. And these type of temples are known as Panchabinsati-Ratna Mandir.

The peculiar feature of this temple is the 25 peaks on the roof, for this reason these type of temples are known as are known as Panchabinsati-Ratna Mandir. Lalji Temple looks very beautiful from a distance.

  • JOR BANGLA TEMPLE, BISHNUPUR

Jor-bangla temple, also called Keshta Rai Temple, has a typical architecture that is found in the southern part of Bengal. The temple was built by Malla King Raghunath Singha in c.1655. The structure resembles two traditional ‘do-chala’ village huts put together side by side. One of them serves as a porch and the other, which is behind the former, serves as a shrine. The curved roof of this pair of huts is surmounted by a ‘char-chala sikhara’. The do-chala (two roofs) style was used by Muslims and exported to other parts of India. The 17th century architecture of Delhi, Lahore, Gulbarg has monuments with this style. By 18th century this style became popular in parts of Rajasthan and can be seen in the palace balconie sand garden pavilions there. The base of the temple is a square of size 11.8m X 11.48m, and the height above the platform is 10.7m. The walls are decorated mostly with terracotta panels describing scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata along with floral and geometrical patterns. In fact, the details are so rich it narrates the whole story visually.

The temple is built on an elevated square base with laterite bricks and ‘Bengal’ style ‘Dochala’ (i.e two hut with sloped roof joined together) structure with exquisite ‘Terracotta’ panels throughout the wall, showing various facts & figures from epics and mythology. The temple is not much big in size but draws attention of numerous visitors due to its exemplary structure & finest ‘Terracotta’ panel art.
The temple is presently maintained by ASI with beautification of temple compound as per their standard. This is one of the finest creation of Malla Kings

  • MADAN MOHAN TEMPLE, BISHNUPUR

Madanmohan temple was built by Malla king Durjan Singha in 1695 AD. It is relatively a bigger Eka-Ratna temple compared to other similar temples in Bishnupur. The temple has a square base of 12.2m X 12.2m and a height of 10.7m above a moderate platform. The roof of the temple is typical Bengali ‘chala’ type surmounted by a single ‘sikhara‘ or tower. The temple is mainly built of earthen bricks on a laterite block platform and the frontal facade of the temple is profusely decorated with rich terracotta plaques depicting mythological stories like ‘Krishna Leela’. Around the innermost sanctuary where the idol is kept, there are covered porches on three sides. Except the rear wall, on each of these three sides there are three arched openings, the main entrance being on the west.               

Madanmohan temple is probably the most famous because of the interesting story involving its deity. The original deity was installed in a village in Bengal. The fame of the deity spread far and wide after the personal visit by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the famous Vaishnava saint. So the Malla king carried the idol to his capital at Vana-Vishnupur and installed him in a terracotta temple built for that purpose. Legend says that the deity Madanmohan himself defended the Malla king in the battle with the ‘bargi’ or Maratha invaders who attacked Bengal. In 1820, the original temple was destructed due to a massive earthquake. After that the present temple was built. The highlight of these temples are impressive scenes from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas carved on the temple walls.

  • SHYAM RAI TEMPLE, BISHNUPUR

Shyam Rai Temple of Bishnupur was built by King Raghunatha Singha in 1643. The architecture of this Temple is unique and is one of the prioritized monuments on Archaeological Survey of India’s list. It has Panch ratna meaning five tower structures. Curved ceiling of the Temple is influenced by Islamic architecture giving it unique blend.

The temple stands on a low square plinth with a char chala roof surmounted by ratnas or gems at each corner. While the towers in the corners are square-shaped, the central tower is octagonal in shape and they rest on a sloping roof in ‘Pida’ order. Each of the four sides of the temple greets us with triple multi-cusped arched gateways, leading to the sanctum around which runs a well paved circumambulatory path. The curved cornice and eaves, derived from the thatched bamboo hut, so characteristic of Bengal, are special features of the temple, as of the others in Bishnupur. Hence, arches have been used to span spaces and support the weight above.

This temple, with its superior figurines and floral motifs, was the first of its kind in Bengal. Its exterior and interior walls and ceiling are emblazoned with a profusion of stunning terracotta sculptures portraying Krishna Leela, episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and the socio-economic and political life of the people of the times. Particularly brilliant is the rasa mandala which embodies the convergence of artistic and structural knowledge

  • LAKSHMAN TEMPLE, SIRPUR

Laxman Temple in Sirpur, dating back to 625-650 AD, is one of the most famous structures in the city. It is believed to be one of the best examples of brick temples in India and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The intricate carvings on the exterior of the temple make it special. These designs include Lord Vishnu, Krishna Leela symbols, Vaishnava Dwarpal, and pictures bearing resemblance to the famous erotic work as in the Khajuraho Temple. The mandapa which originally bore stone pillars is now in ruins. The garbhagriya entrance along with the tower and door carvings of are reasonably intact enough to be studied. Above the sanctum door’s lintel are carvings show a reclining Vishnu on Sesha (Anantasayana Vishnu) and a panel on Krishna from Bhagavata Purana. Around the door are bands of carvings which show the ten avatars of Vishnu along with daily life and couples in various stages of courtship and mithuna. The temple stands on a stone jagati platform (about 40’x80′) with wide enough space for circumambulation. The temple itself is built of brick except for the carved frame around the grabha-griya (sanctum) made of stone. The sanctum opens to the east. In front of the sanctum is the outline of an antarala (vestibule), and an oblong mandapa (ceremonial community hall). The hall shows stub places for pillars, all now lost to history. Except for the sanctum and the tower, much is in ruins. The sanctum stone frame outside is a 22×22 feet square, inside it is about 10×10 feet square. The sanctum walls are plain like typical Hindu temples. The original statue of sanctum is missing. The site management has installed several small statues for visitors from what was found in the ruins pile. 

  • NEBIYA KHERA TEMPLE, BHADWARA

Nebhiya Khera Temple or the Brick Temple Complex (9th-10th century CE) is built in panchayatana style with a central shrine and four subsidiary shrines. However not all the subsidiary shrines are at the corners. Three subsidiary shrine are built at the corner but one is built in line with the northern wall of the central shrine. Central shrine is a fine example of Latina shikhara of Nagar temple style. A small antarala preceded the garbha-griha.

Sanctum has a barrel like roof while the shikhara above the sanctum rises above the base in curvilinear fashion. Bhadra-niches are provided all external walls however all are empty at present. The front portion of the antarala seems to have been renovated in recent times. Ganga and Yamuna are present at the bottom of antarala doorjambs. An image of Lakshmi is present at lalata-bimba, center of lintel. Nava-griha (nine planets) are present on the architrave above the door lintel.

A Shivalinga is placed inside the sanctum. There is a panel on the inner west wall of the sanctum however the images are much worn out due to excessive usage of vermilion and other ointment like material. It appears that one image could be of Kartikeya and another might be of Veerbhadra.

The four subsidiary shrines are almost same in style and construction. All are without roof. The entrance is triangular in shape. All these shrines are empty at present.

  • INDRALATH TEMPLE, RANIPUR, JHARIAL

The Somavanshi Keshari kings built many temples in Ranipur-Jharial that can be dated back to the 9th/10th century AD, some Historians assign the date of the structures to 8th century A.D.

Indralath temple of Ranipur-Jharial is one of the tallest ancient brick temples in the country. Height of this temple is 80 feet including the platform that is made off sandstone. While the ancient pinnacle of this temple is destroyed, the temple is more or less intact. The innermost sanctum of this temple houses a recently installed Linga. Besides, it has also the images of Lord Vishnu, Kartikeya, Uma-Maheshwara, and Narasingha. The Chausathi Yogini shrine houses idols of 64 deities and a Bramha temple. The Someswar Mahadev temple bears immense historical value. Besides, the large Yantras, carved on the rock.

This temple is dedicated to Shiva and was believed  that Indra first worshipped lord Shiva here and erected a temple.

This is an intact brick temple whose Jagamohana and other structures are destroyed. Only the vimana which is of Rekha deula order is existing. The innermost sanctum houses a recent installed Linga, along with old images of Vishnu, Kartikeya and Uma-Maheshwara. The old Shivalinga is displaced to outside by some attack, which proves the existing Shivalinga placed outside the temple (made of sandstone).

The temple is maintained by Archaeological Survey of India. Being a brick temple, the time built can be traced to the early 7th century. Images of Nrisimha, Vishnu along with Ganesh, Kartikeya clearly proves that it was a centre for Harihara worship. Every year Shivaratri and other festivals related to Shiva and Vishnu are organised. Daily worship is done by some local priest

Text:  PALLAB BOSE.

 

PALLAB BOSE is a Career Coach, Motivational Speaker, Soft Skills Trainer, professional Show Director & Show Anchor. He regularly writes articles and blogs on Soft skills, Motivation, Careers, Fashion, Beauty & Lifestyle, Bollywood & Hollywood Movies, Travel, Culture, Tourism etc.

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