Zahida Rehman Jatt, Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Sindh, Jamshoro (Pakistan)
Vol. 5, No. 2, 2015, Download PDF Version
This research study deals with documentation of the use of spaces of the Hindu and Jain temples and Sikh gurudwars in Gujranwala and Narowal districts of Punjab province. These worship places that once served as the religious centers before partition of the subcontinent have now been inhabited by refugee families that came to Pakistan from east Punjab in 1947. The spaces are now been converted into domestic ones and their utilization from places of worship has been altered in order to fulfill the domestic needs. So, this study would highlight how the present inhabitants perceive those spaces and how they deal with them. It will also be explored whether the people have any information of the historical significance and importance of these structures or not and how they treat various sections of these buildings. The paper finally explores how preservation of heritage can contribute to tourism development and boost up the economy of the people.
Keywords: Sacred spaces, Significance, Temples and Gurudwaras, Domestic, Tourism Development
This essay discusses the cultural significance of a lesser known terracotta motif Navanarigunjara in the temples of Bishnupur and relates it to various types of representation of the same motif found in Pata paintings. Moreover, it looks into its origin and evolution and its position in temples.
Satara, 240km South East of Mumbai, is a place with very rich Cultural and Historical background, dating back right from Shivaji Maharaj era to end of Peshwai. Satara has number of religious places around. Some of the temples are 500 to 600 years old. One of such old temple complexes devoted to Lord Shiva is “Shree Kshetra Mahuli”. This is birth place of the famous Chief Justice in Peshwa regime, Mr. Ramshastri Prabhune. He was known for his straightforwardness in giving justice irrespective of who was the accused. He was known for his unbiased opinions. Ram Shastri held office during later part of 18th Century.
Shree Kshetra Mahuli is situated at confluence of rivers Krishna and Venna. Krishna being major river of the two. This place is also called as “Dakshin Kashi”. There are three major temples of Lord Shiva namely, Vishweshwar, Rameshwar and Sangameshwar. There are a few more temples as well but I could not get names and details of these. Vishweshwar side is called “Sangam Mahuli” whereas Rameshwar side is called “Kshtra Mahuli”.
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]
In the middle of the nineteenth century land surveyors stumbled upon a towering brick structure in the midst of the Sundarban. The structure was surrounded with dense forest and was itself covered with thick vegetation. So who constructed the temple in the heart of one of the densest forest in the world? What was the purpose of construction? When was it constructed? Was this part of a remarkable civilization that once flourished in Southern Bengal? Although historians are unable to come up with any concrete conclusion, they have shared their opinions.
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.
My first visit to Daspur was in September 2011. The fact that there are several temples having exquisite terracotta panels on them scattered over such a huge area in the Midnapore district of West Bengal was enough to arouse my interest. Having read some books on Daspur and consulted some knowledgeable friends, I decided to venture the area. As per David McCutchion “Daspur was one of the leading centres of temple building in 19th century”. The Artisans who built up these temples used to describe themselves as Sutradhara Temple Builders. In 1975, backed up by Gurusaday Museusem, Ranen Chattopadhyay made a documentary film on this artistic tradition of Daspur. Once upon a time in the history around 150 Sutradhar families used to stay at Daspur.
Which is the best ‘Temple Town’ of West Bengal? One group of elite travelers will award this title to Kalna; yet others will argue in favour of Bishnupur. I love both .I cannot decide which one can score over the other. Because the Editor has requested me to write about temples of Bankura, I zeroed on the photos of temples of Bishnupur in my HDD… And I decided to showcase Radhe Shyam and Radha Madhab temples—two among the less famous temples of Bishnupur—yet these two offer excellent oeuvre of wall-reliefs. These temples are of ‘Ek-Ratna’ (single spire) construction and made of laterite stone with thick white coating.
We find the finest among the ‘Panch-Ratna’ (five spires), ’Ek-Ratna’ and ‘Jor-Bangla’ temple architecture at Bishnupur. I have visited many sites of terra cotta temples in West Bengal. What appealed to me most is the sense of proportion among the architects of Bisnupur. If I were younger and equipped with a professional degree in Architecture instead of Mechanical Engineering, I would have pursued a project of identifying the dimensional proportions of West Bengal’s temples to arrive at the aesthetics of that of temple architecture!
A robbery in the Malla kingdom in 16th century changed the face of Bengal’s architecture. Vaishnav guru Srinivas Acharya and two other greats, Narattoma Das and Shyamanand were taking three cartloads of scriptures from Vrindavan to Puri . The writings were priceless…these carts contained books by great Vaishnavites Sri Jeeva Goswami, Sri Rup Goswami and Raghunath Das among others. The dacoits knew that cartloads of great treasure were being moved from one location to another. They had no other clue. There were only ten foot soldiers ‘protecting’ these cartloads. The ‘treasure’ was easily looted during one night when all the travelers were asleep. This happened at Gopalpur village, within the territory of the Malla king.
Srinivas Acharya stayed back in Bengal determined to recover the books .The robbers’ allegiance was to the local King Vir Hambir. Srinivas had a face-to-face interaction with his court’s religious supremo Vyasacharya where Srinivas Acharya demonstrated his depth of knowledge regarding Vaishnav religion. King became his ardent disciple and the books were restored to Srinivas.
Vaishnav religion had strong impact on cultural life of Bengal. Malla kingdom was free from Muslim dominance and became a hub for Vaishnav religion and culture during 16th to 18th centuries.
According to books and articles I read on temples of Bishnupur, the first ‘Pancha-Ratna’ temple built during 1639 AD did not survive. The next one to be built was ‘Shyama Raya’ temple – one of the finest in Bengal. Close to it came up ‘Jor-Bangla’ temple, Radhe Shyam temple and Lalji temple during the course of time. Radhe Shyam temple, opposite the new Lalji temple, was built by Malla king Chaitanya Singha in 1759 AD. This can be called the ‘youngest’ among the temples which were built during the heyday of Malla kingdom. ‘Radha Madhab’ temple was built by Srimani Devi, one of the consorts of King Vir Singha in 1737 AD. This temple is the 1st one a tourist comes across as s/he enters the ASI Complex , south of Lalbandh.
‘Radhe Shyam’ temple and ‘Radha Madhab’ temple
‘Radhe Shyam’ temple is ‘Ek-Ratna’ – single spire temple with a square base measuring 11.1 m and 10.7 m in height. The spire is cylindrical, with semi-spherical dome. The idea of installing a spire on top of the temple, according to some writers, came from the then prevailing Muslim architecture. The deity used to be placed in the spire during festival days so that a large crowd of devotees can view the idol from a distance. The work on this temple is most elaborate and aesthetically pleasing among the laterite temples I have come across.
Entrances to the sanctum for devotees as well as for services have three arches. The arches on the front side has lost most of the wall-reliefs. Ditto on the arches on the service side of the temple. Two rows of wall-reliefs set inside alcoves, each on right and left flanks of the front face, go up to the top. Two rows of alcoves connect these two verticals and offer the best of the oeuvre. Here, the wall-reliefs are based on Ramayana and ‘Dashavatar’ (Ten incarnations) of Vishnu.
The walls inside have excellent wall-reliefs too – much bigger size than the ones on the outside. Among them, ‘Ananta-sayane Vishnu’ (Vishnu resting on Ananta) is very well-known. A favourite of mine too. I also like the ‘Sharho-bhuja Chaitanya’ (Chaitanya Dev with six hands) and a panel on ‘Krsna Leela’. We find ‘Sharho-bhuja Chaitanya’ wall-relief in many temples including Madan Mohan temple of Vishnupur and ‘Ananta vasudev’ temple at Bansberia, Hooghly.
‘Radha Madhab‘ temple too is ‘Ek-Ratna’ – single spire temple with a square base measuring 11.1 m and 9.2 m in height. The spire is hexagonal, with ‘rekha’-styled dome. We can visualize the beauty of the temple when it was new – the ‘do-chala’ (two slanting roves) three-arched entrance adding to the same. Both the front and the service side of the temple have three arches. Arches, pillars and inside walls were quite artfully done – quite apparent from the 3rd photo here.
Sadly, a lot of the wall-reliefs are damaged. The white coat has suffered erosion because of weather and human touch. Some of the details still are quite attractive, though the laterite has been exposed. We find an ‘Ananta-sayane Vishnu’ (Vishnu resting on Ananta) here too, which was definitely as grand as the one in ‘Radhe Shyam’ temple. Time has ravaged this wall-relief – I feel sad when I see the blow-up on my computer screen. Wall-reliefs in the alcoves are quite skillfully done, very appealing to the discerning traveler. We find scenes from Ramayana, Krishnaleela, social scenes and various motifs on the pillars and arches of the temple. ASI tries to maintain green surroundings.
The readers of Chitrolekha International Magazine who want to view more photos of these temples and/or other terra cotta temples of Bishnupur may please visit my blogs in
Shyamal Chatterji is an Engineer by profession from IIT, Kharagpur (Mechanical Engineering, 1968). Presently, he is retired from professional life. He is now working on Iconography of terra cotta temples of Bengal. He is also associated with PANIIT and actively supports the IITians for ITI Project. His works can be viewed in: http://przmm.blogspot.com, http://tctob.blogspot.com & http://hubpages.com/shyamchat.
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