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Temples of Bengal: Material Style and Technological Evolution

Priyanka Mangaonkar

Architect and Researcher


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Art of Bengal, which was mainly religious in nature, was expressed through the medium of temples. Brick temples of Bengal (built between 16th and 19th century) forms one of the most distinctive groups of sacred monuments in India. Due to multiple artistic influences acting upon the region during this period the Brick temples of Bengal show wide range of forms and techniques of construction.  Hence the temples constitute a coherent series in their architecture and sculpture, characteristically expressed in brick and terracotta. The chronological span also significant coinciding with the emergence of the new Bengali culture. “In fact, the Bengali temples may be viewed as one of the most important manifestations of this regions culture, closely associated with contemporary movements in religion, literature and the arts as well as with broader political, social and economic developments.”[i] Due to the political unification and consequent independence of Bengal; a unique Bengali style of monumental architecture was created which was also an expression of the local idioms. “Another important result of this change was the combination of Hindu and Muslim elements as intrinsic part of Bengali culture: thus, Muslim rulers and monumental Islamic architecture, but Hindu revivalism and religious poetry.”[ii]

Art and Architecture of the Temples of Baronagar, Murshidabad

Shyamal Chatterji

Mechanical Engineer and Researcher on Hindu Iconography


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 It was a pleasant morning in February 2010 when we visited the Baronagar temples. A couple of hours of boat-journey along the Ganges brought us from a ‘ghat’ near Hazardurai, Lalbagh to that of Baronagar. After a short climb to the shore, the magnificent sight of neatly kept four-temples complex—famously known as ‘Char Bangla’—came into our view. More were to follow.

Book Review Temple Architecture of Bengal Analysis of stylistic evolution from fifth to nineteenth century a By Sibabrata Halder & Manju Halder

 

Publisher: Urbee PrakashanYear: 2011

Hardcover: XIV+272 pages

Price: INR 2,000.00, $ 75.00 (Foreign)

ISBN: 978-93-80648-08-8

Review by

Tarun Tapas Mukherjee

Editor

 

Temple Architecture of Bengal  Temple architecture of Bengal by Sibabrata Halder and Manju Halder is an interdisciplinary attempt at understanding various forms of architecture that came into being out of various cultural matrices right from the 5th to the 19th century AD. It is very difficult however to cover the areas of such a long period in a single book of 272-odd pages, and a very well-planned methodology is to be adopted for this. That the authors took considerable care regarding the methodology is evident from the Preface, where the authors writes that the book “aims at analyzing stylistic evolution of Bengal’s temple art during last and half millennium”[i]. So readers should not expect a “volume of annotated historical account of the temples in Bengal nor a comprehensive document on architectural analysis of present temples in Bengal”[ii]. Rather the author decided to present “little more clear ideas” about the temples of Bengal from interdisciplinary perspective. I use the word ‘interdisciplinary’ quite consciously because though writing on the topic of architecture, the authors tried to understand the area/s by incorporating the insights from other disciplines. One example of such perspective can be found in the follow excerpt:

The delicate temple structures in their developed forms were not only the homes of deities; they were also carefully planned complex structures which functioned at multidimensional levels—spiritual, mythical and symbolic, as a metaphor… symbolically the temples were believed to represent a form of heaven on this earth and ‘Vastu-Purusha-Mandala’ diagram was most appropriate and compact model for it, representing the structure of the cosmos[iii].

 

Chitrolekha International Magazine on Art and Design, (ISSN 2231—4822), Vol. 2, No. 1, 2012

Special Issue on the Temples of Bengal. Edited by Tarun Tapas Mukherjee & Sreecheta Mukherjee

URL of the Issue: www.chitrolekha.com/v2n1.php

Available at www.chitrolekha.com/V2/n1/14_Book_Review_Temple_Architecture_of-Bengal_Sibabrata_Halder.pdf

Kolkata, India. © www.chitrolekha.com

This approach can also be detected in the arrangement of the topics to reach at better understanding of the complexity and variety of temple architecture. There are six chapters, which have been further divided in various topics. The authors start with metaphysical and theological foundations that justify the aesthetics principles behind the construction of temples in honour of gods and try to connect it with the larger Brahmanical culture emerging as a result of “religious syncretism” between the Aryan and Dravidian cultures in pan-Indian perspective. However, this attempt to understand formation of structure in terms of the ‘Aryan’ values and norms ignores that point that Bengal had already got complex indigenous culture with its own world-view and ethos before the Aryan invasion and the amalgamation and had certain aboriginal views of its own about the place of worship—which was mainly natural in nature, forest, groves, trees etc.; and even they raised structures in the form of mounds and megaliths. The authors have taken note of the impact of geology and climate of the land on the architecture; but it could have better to explore—though a very difficult task, the correlation between the aboriginal forms of structure and ‘Aryan’ forms.

However, the stronger portions of the book are the following chapters: “Temple Designs and construction Principles” (Chapter III), “Buddhist Architecture in Pala Era” (IV) and “Pre-Islamic Hindu Temples” (V). Since the authors hail from specialized disciplines, they have been able to analyse the architectural principles in details with diagrams, pictures and even sometimes satellite images. They have also dedicated considerable portions to explaining certain oft-neglected topics like the role of temple craftsmen or sutradhars, building materials (bricks, stone, terracotta, stucco). Quite rich in analysis is Chapter IV, where a holistic approach is taken to unearth the glorious heritage of Buddhist Architecture in Bengal. Discussion of layout plans of Sompura Mahavihara and Jagajjibanpur Buddha Bihara deserves to be mentioned.

Though they have discussed Buddhist architecture in details, they have not covered the Jain tradition with much importance in view of the fact that Jainism was widespread even before Buddhism took its roots and many Jain structures are standing still today with all variety and richness.  In Chapter V the authors discuss certain pre-Islamic structures including some Jain temples but rather in a cursory manner and more space could have been allowed. In the last chapter “Bengali Renaissance Architecture” a very large area has been taken up for analysis and naturally justice cannot be done to the varied and complex forms of architecture that came to be constructed after the Muslim period. But once again, analyses of the architectural principles, especially the layout plans, of the selected temples add value to the book.

The designing and layout of the book is quite good: typography is quite praiseworthy and many large colour photographs in good quality paper compliment the text very well. Having said that, it must be pointed out that there are some typos and sometime some photographs are found wrongly captioned and layout of the photos too could have been more professionally done. It can be hoped that the errors would be rectified in the next edition. Overall, it is a collector’s edition and people interested in the subject would definitely find it worth the price.

 

Notes



[i] Preface, Temple architecture of Bengal by Sibabrata Halder and Manju Halder, pp. VII-VIII.

[ii] Ibid, p. IX

[iii] Ibid, p. VIII

 

 Tarun Tapas Mukherjee is one of the editors of this magazine. He is Assistant Professor in English, Bhatter College, Dantan, Paschim Medinipur, West Bengal. He is interested in E-literature, digital technologies, documentary photography etc. He edits also Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities (www.rupkatha.com). Email: editor@rupkatha.com

Brihadeeswara Temple: “Dakshina Meru”

Sudha Jagannath

Brihannayika Culture Resource, New Delhi


The Brihadeesvara Temple stands as a supreme example of Chola architecture. Built on a scale appropriate enough to house the presiding deity, Sri Brihadeesvara, or the Lord of the Universe, the temple continues to excite wonder at its many unique architectural features and living presence as a centre of Saiva devotion. During the period when Chola power was in the ascendant, (around 850-1350 AD) architecture in the Tamil country went through dramatic changes. Indeed before the time of the most famous Chola king, Rajaraja I, gopurams in temple complexes were not built on a very grand scale. During the reign of Rajaraja I, the temple at Tanjore was built not only as a monument to the sway of Chola power over many southern lands but as a living sign of Saiva concepts and beliefs. It was called ‘Dakdhina Meru’ as a complement to the ‘Uttara Meru’ or the sacred mount of Kailasa, thought of as the spine of the universe. The Dakshina Meru was thought to be a centre of divine power analogous to the northern centre of Sri Kailas. Many inscriptions of Rajaraja I (A D 985-1012) reveal him to be a great warrior and an ardent devotee of Shiva. It is this spirit of ardent devotion that visualizes the entire temple complex itself as a visible symbol of the divine presence. Over the centuries the successive powers of the Nayakas and the Marathas added smaller shrines and other embellishments to the temple complex in a manner that is a tribute to the original founder as well as the spirit of Saivism.

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