Editorial, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2016

 Volume 6, Number 2, 2016 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/chitro.v6n2.01

Preservation of traditional arts and crafts has been an intriguing question for people and groups concerned about the rapidly vanishing local traditions in the face of many a factor beyond the control of any singular approach or methods of preservation and revival. Protective approaches can be taken on case-based method having multidimensional remedial, protective and revivalist measures. We propose here one such step, Local Revival—which can support protective initiatives through a visual presentation of the local arts and crafts at different places locally. For instance, for the protection of the terracotta horse of Panchmura of Bankura, West Bengal, local authorities can think of displaying the pictures of the crafts and the famous artisans in institutions like schools, government offices in and around Panchmura. The local population, familiar with the crafts, will come to know its heritage value through a series of visual presentation, which can be just a gallery in the corridor of a building or a road show.

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]

Krishnalila in Terracotta Temples of Bengal

Amit Guha

Independent Researcher

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The brick temples of Bengal are remarkable for the intricately sculpted terracotta panels covering their facades. After an initial period of structural and decorative experimentation in the 17th and 18th centuries, there was some standardization in architecture and embellishment of these temples. However, distinct regional styles remained. From the late 18th century a certain style of richly-decorated temple became common, particularly in the districts of Hugli and Howrah. These temples, usually two-storeyed or atchala and with a triple-arched entrance porch, had carved panels arranged in a fairly well-defined format (Figure 1). Ramayana battle scenes occupied the large panels on the central arch frame with other Ramayana or Krishna stories on the side arches. Running all along the base, including the base of the columns, were two distinctive friezes (Figure 2). Large panels with social, courtly, and hunting scenes ran along the bottom, and above, smaller panels with Krishnalila (stories from Krishna’s life). Isolated rectangular panels on the rest of the facade had figures of dancers, musicians, sages, deities, warriors, and couples, within foliate frames.

Visualizing the Firingee, the Saheb and the Memsaheb on Bengal Temple Terracotta: the Articulation of a ‘Native Gaze’

Satyasikha Chakraborty

PhD Researcher, Rutgers University

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 It is common knowledge that the premises of many South Asian Hindu temples are out of bounds for non-Hindus.  Since it is not always possible to visually distinguish between Hindus and Muslims/Christians of Indian origin, the prohibition is often imposed specifically on non-Indians, especially whites. We can speculate that in popular imagination, white people are perhaps stereotyped as ‘more impure’ due to their different cleaning habits in addition to their consumption of ‘forbidden’ foods like beef and alcohol.  So, in the Jagannath, Lingaraj, Kashi-Vishwanath and several other Hindu temples, foreigners, particularly whites, are debarred from entering.  However, if we come to Bengal, in several far-flung villages, we are confronted with the curious spectacle of white people carved on the terracotta panels of local temples of popular and much revered deities like Shiv and Radha-Gobindo! This brief article seeks to understand the very surprising practice in the early colonial period of inscribing firingees, sahebs and memsahebs on the walls of sacred sites, the ‘abodes of the Gods’, though the actual physical entry into these consecrated spaces was bound by the rules of ritual purification and various categories of the ‘unclean’- non-Hindus, low castes, menstruating women – were forbidden to enter the sanctum sanctorum.

 The walls of the early modern temples of Bengal provided a canvas to the local terracotta artists not only for displaying the iconography of popular deities, mythical and semi-divine figures, but also for visually recording contemporary rural social life. So we see the juxtaposition of the Dasavatar and the vision of Ram battling Ravan with scenes of the local zamindar smoking a hookah and folk musicians entertaining villagers. The carvings of equestrian or rifle-wielding Europeans on the walls of several temples suggest that in the 17th, 18th and 19th century, the presence of Europeans had become an integral part of the visualscape of rural Bengal.

The earliest encounters of Bengal’s rural society with Europeans were probably in the form of Portuguese, colloquially referred to as firingees, who came up the rivers of South Bengal in long narrow boats. Soldiers depicted on temple plaques wearing hats, short coats and breeches and carrying guns have been identified by scholars as Portuguese pirates[i]. Usually these figures appear marching in a very coordinated manner as we see in the lower friezes of the temples of Sukhoria, Baranagar, Bankati, Malancha, Kalikapur, Jhikira and many other villages (Images.1,2,3,4). Very often these figures are shown on dragon boats, which were sometimes flat-bottomed, as in the temples of Bishnupur (Image.5) and Bansberia and at other times crescent-shaped, as in the Purusottampur temple[ii]. The hulls of the water vessels sometimes depict windows through which human heads are visible while the decks are manned by Portuguese soldiers standing with rifles, such as on the temple of Jhikira (Image.6). These torso-less heads could be depictions of native people carried away as slaves by the Portuguese who made great profits from the Oriental slave trade[iii].

As the Portuguese pirates and slave traders started being gradually displaced by British indigo planters, merchants and administrators, these new classes of foreigners also started appearing on the temple walls (Image.7). Certain specific practices of these sahebs captured the imagination of the native population and the local artists. The sahebs are predominantly shown engaged in stereotypical Oriental activities like game hunting (Sukhoria, Malancha. Image.8), riding palanquins, sitting atop an elephant (Malancha. Image.9), smoking hookahs or enjoying a nautch party (Halisahar. Image.10). Sometimes they also appear riding on an open carriage (Bankati.Image.11) or on horseback (Hadol Narayanpur.Image.12) or walking with a dog (Kalikapur. Image.13). Sometimes again, their heads are visible on passenger ships perhaps arriving to or departing from Bengal, as we find in the temples of Atpur, Krishnapur and Kalna. These were probably some of the only instances when the sahebs were visible to the native rural public eye even in the early colonial period when interracial social intermixing was sanctioned in Anglo-Indian society. Again, sometimes the sahebs are simply depicted full length standing frontally in their characteristic attire and staring right back at the viewer, as we see in the temples of Hetampur, Kalikapur and Sukhoria, among others (Images.14,15). Another common depiction in several terracotta temples is that of only the head or bust of a European, often as part of a series of heads or busts.

As the European merchant adventurers were slowly replaced by British administrators, doctors and lawyers, there was a steady stream of white women coming to Bengal, either in the form of wives, sisters and daughters of the sahebs or in the form of husband-hunting spinsters – the objects of much pun and caricature in Anglo-Indian literature. These memsahebs also appear on the temple wall friezes. Usually, as in the temples of Hetampur and Kalikapur, the European women, clad in typical high-waist flouncy gowns and bonnets, are depicted with their male counterparts (Images.16,17). Sometimes they are also depicted standing alone or two European ladies are shown standing side by side (Kalikapur. Image.18). Young European girls staring out of the windows of their grand mansions also caught the fancy of the local folk artists. In the Moukhira temple, we find a white girl curiously peering out of a half-open window and in the Jhikira temple again, we see a pretty European girl playing a violin and staring out of the balcony of her miniature mansion flanked by miniature Corinthian pillars (Image 19).

It is interesting to contextualize Bengal’s rural terracotta artists’ representations of Europeans within the larger framework of visual politics of the early colonial period. Right from the onset of colonial contacts, European artists had started visually documenting the colonized people of Asia, Africa and the Americas. Visual recording and ethno-typing of the ‘exotic’ flora, fauna and human inhabitants of the tropics was an important aspect of Europe’s ‘production of knowledge’ of the ‘other’[iv]. Collectibles and etchings of the ‘bizarre’ Oriental people with their strange costumes had a growing market in 18th C Europe with increasing popular curiosity about the Orient.  Not only were the native people of Bengal visually documented in the ethnographic etchings of Solvyns and Mrs. Belnos, but they were also represented in portraits and landscapes by Zoffany, D’Oyly and other renowned European artists. Additionally, the provincial court painters of Murshidabad were also harnessed into this colonial project of visual documentation and they started producing sets of castes and tribes of the native population and these so called ‘Company paintings’ were carried back to Europe as souvenirs of Oriental people[v].

  The process of ‘othering’ involves reciprocity and so does the process of ‘seeing’[vi].  Just as the Europeans who arrived at a foreign land like Bengal found the native people, their customs and costumes strange and imagined them as an ‘other’, similarly, in the collective minds of the population of rural Bengal too, the firingees, sahebs and memsahebs, with their different clothes and manners must have appeared equally ‘exotic’. Again, just as the Europeans were viewing and visually representing the native people, the Europeans themselves were part of the visible world of the natives. Art historical studies of the colonial period generally focus on the colonizer’s representations of the colonized, that is, on the ‘colonial gaze’ and tend to ignore the reciprocal gaze of the colonized. The representations of Europeans on temple walls by the terracotta artists of rural Bengal remind us that neither the process of viewing nor the process of otherizing/exoticizing is unilinear but both are dialogical and operate in two directions. More significantly, these representations provide the possibility of reading visuals of the colonial period from the vantage point of the colonized and testify to the existence of a ‘native gaze’ that reciprocated the ‘colonial gaze’.

 Just as the ‘colonial gaze’ often homogenized all natives overlooking their regional, linguistic and other identities and individual facial features, all Europeans too must have appeared similar looking in the ‘native gaze’ and hence they were similarly standardized. So, as in the contemporary anthropological visuals of natives produced by Europeans, in the representations of Europeans by native terracotta artists too there was hardly any attempt at individualization. There was almost no engagement with individual faces. Just as the exterior of the native bodies were objectified and made to bear the weight of a group identity in the colonial visuals, in the terracotta panels too certain external signs like a wide-brimmed hat, a short buttoned coat, a dog, a cane, a gun or a chair could be read as signifiers of a European identity. The depictions of Europeans by the terracotta artists were extremely stylized and the same kind of attire, posture and gait were used repeatedly and certain stereotypes, especially the hat and gun were enough to establish European identity.

Unlike the native artists of the ‘Company school’, who sometimes produced portraits of Europeans for a European market, which is for the white gaze itself, the terracotta artists produced carvings of Europeans on temple walls for the native rural popular gaze. So, unlike the ‘Company painters’ who had to meet the standards of Western art and thereby learn the rules of proportion and perspective, the terracotta artists of Bengal did not have to fulfill any foreign parameters of art. They worked in their traditional style and used the same technique to carve out the faces and bodies of gods-goddesses, zamindars, the common people from the scenes of social life as well as the firingees, sahebs and memsahebs. Consequently, in the earlier terracotta temples, such as in Hadal Narayanpur (Image.20), the Europeans and the local rajas looked just the same in face and physique, except that the former wore hats and coats and sometimes carried guns. Similarly, the memsahebs, in their figures and facial features appeared exactly similar to the numerous local women depicted on the panels and the difference was invoked just with the gown and bonnet (Image.21). A rare departure from the traditional flat pattern and stylization of the terracotta carvings can be seen in the Chandranath temple of Hetampur, built in the mid 19th century. The Europeans depicted here bear striking resemblance with contemporary European portraits of lords and ladies, suggesting that the rural terracotta artists were imitating colonial self-representational styles. Also, in these plaques, the sahebs and memsahebs are no longer homogenized and depersonalized but they can be identified with Queen Victoria, Lord Clive, Byron and even Shakespeare[vii]. The East India Company’s coat of arms right at the centre of the main panel suggests an attempt by the terracotta artists to appease the British overlords of their patron rajas/zamindars (Image.22). The artists may have been specifically instructed by their patrons and provided with European models to copy from[viii]. The local rural artists’ imitations of European style must have been welcomed by the zamindars as it offered them the scope to display their European taste and the power and prestige that was gradually becoming associated with it. These temple panels provide instances of colonial interventions in the native popular gaze. The terracotta artists’ imaging of the Europeans was being shaped by European portrayals of themselves and the phenomenon was clearly facilitated by native elite encouragement.

The representations of Europeans by the terracotta artists often embodied the anxieties of Bengal rural society regarding foreign penetration and colonial rule. The depictions of the Europeans, particularly white men, almost always have an element of violence, articulated through the use of the gun, the canon, the cane, the scenes of hunting and fighting, the forceful confinement of natives in the slave ships manned by rifle wielding guards and finally the sexual exploitation of native women. Before the influx of the memsahebs and the colonial cultivation of a social and sexual distance from the empire, European men routinely extracted domestic, sexual and reproductive labor from the native women with whom they cohabited before abandoning them and returning to Europe[ix]. This practice must have generated tensions in the native society and we see this fear captured by the terracotta artists on the temple walls of Hadol Narayanpur, Halisahar, Kamarpukur and Hetampur (Images.23, 24).

The ‘native gaze’ not only personified popular fears and anxieties regarding colonial rule in the figure of the European, but few terracotta temple carvings can also be interpreted as embodying elements of subversion and derision. The representation of life size European terracotta soldiers as dwarpals or guards in the temples of Senhat and Kenduli (Image.25) can be perhaps read as attempts to inverse the colonial power structure and racial hierarchy. The same can be said of the European dwarpals carved on wood in the Durga dalan of Sripur, some of whom resemble knights with shields (Image.26). Again, the excessively coordinated rhythmic marching of the European soldiers with guns depicted on the friezes of the Kalikapur, Malancha and Jhikira temples may be interpreted as a mockery of the colonial disciplinary measures imposed on the empire (Image.27). The depiction of sahebs as drunkards on some terracotta plaques and particularly a panel on the Kalikapur temple depicting a memsaheb accompanied by a donkey could also have satirical implications[x] (Image.28).

 The de-eroticization of the memsahebs in the terracotta plaques is also interesting and may be suggestive of the perception of white women in the gaze of the natives. Feminist art historians have pointed out that colonial visual representations not only exoticized but simultaneously eroticized native women[xi]. The colonial imaging of native women had to meet both ethnographic and voyeuristic interests of a colonial white male gaze[xii]. In native representations too, local women were often sexualized as the ideal spectator was always assumed to be male. So, in the terracotta panels we sometimes find local women made to put up their sexuality for display or sometimes engaged in amorous or sexual acts with either native or European men. However, memsahebs on the terracotta panels are never depicted in compromising postures and their desexualization in the ‘native gaze’ is perhaps symbolic of their sexual non-availability to native men.

The representations of the firingees, sahebs and memsahebs by the terracotta artists of rural Bengal on the local temple walls offer visual testimonies to the presence of a ‘native gaze’ that reciprocated the ‘colonial gaze’ and thereby challenge the normative art historical assumption of colonizing viewing subjects as opposed to colonized viewed objects. The Europeans on the terracotta panels remind us on one hand that even the white viewing subjects were viewed objects and on the other hand, that the colonized people could also be active viewing subjects. The natives of Bengal were viewed, recorded and commoditized by European artists and in turn, the terracotta artists of rural Bengal too actively viewed, documented and objectified on temple walls the foreigners they encountered.

Acknowledgement:  Photographs by Sarbajit Mitra



[i] David McCutchion, ‘The Impact of the Europeans on Temple Art and Architecture in Bengal’, Quest, 1967, No.54, pp.12-18

[ii] Jean Deloche, ‘Boats and Ships in Bengal Terracotta Arts’, in Bulletin de l’Ecole francaise d’Extreme-Orient, Tome 78, 1991, pp.1-49

[iii] Julekha Haque, ‘Mritshilpir Drishtite Europeo Agantuk’, in Paschim Banger Mandir-Terracotta (Temple Terracotta of West Bengal) A Collection of Articles by Binod Bihari Mukhopadhyay, Amiya Kumar Mukhopadhyay, David McCutchion, Tarapada Santra, Hitesh Ranjan Sanyal, Mohit Ray, Julekha Haque. Bangiyo Sahitya Parishad, Kolkata, 2008, pp.92-94

[iv] Kay Dian Kriz, ‘Curiosities, Commodities and Transplanted Bodies in Hans Sloane’s Voyage to…Jamaica’, in Geoff Quilley and Kay Dian Kriz (eds), An Economy of Colour: Visual Culture and the Atlantic World, 1660-1830, Manchester University Press, 2003, pp.85-103

[v] Mildred Archer, Company Drawings in the India Office Library, London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1972, pp.3-7

[vi] John Berger, Ways of Seeing, British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books, 2008, p.9

[vii] Mukul Dey makes this identification, according to Julekha Haque, ‘Mritshilpir Drishtite Europeo Agantuk’, in Paschim Banger Mandir-Terracotta.

[viii] David McCutchion, ‘The Impact of the Europeans on Temple Art and Architecture in Bengal’, Quest.

[ix] Durba Ghosh, Sex and the Family in Colonial India: The Making of Empire, New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp.1-34. Ghosh argues that miscegenation continued even after the large-scale arrival of white women.

[x] Mukul Dey interprets the donkey as an obsequious native, according to David McCutchion, ‘The Impact of the Europeans on Temple Art and Architecture in Bengal’, Quest.

[xi] Ratnabali Chattopadhyay and Tapati Guha Thakurta, ‘The Woman Perceived: The Changing Visual Iconography of the Colonial and Nationalist Period in Bengal’, in Jasodhara Bagchi (ed) Indian Women: Myth and Reality, Hyderabad: Sangam Books, 1995, pp.147-167

[xii] Suryanandini Narain, ‘Photographing the Feminine’, Marg, A Magazine of the Arts, June, 2011


Satyasikha has done her bachelors and masters in History (gold medalist in both BA and MA) from Jadavpur University, India. She is primarily interested in gender history and visual culture of colonial India, particularly Bengal. After completing her MPhil coursework in Women’s Studies, she is about to join the PhD program (in September, 2012) in the History Department at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, USA with an Excellence Fellowship. Email: satyasikha@gmail.com

A Tower of Mystery: Jatar Deul

Rangan Datta

Freelance Writer

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 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.

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.

In Search of the Temples of Daspur

Amitabha Gupta

Independent Researcher and Photographer

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 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.

Representation in Monument Building and Schematic of Terracotta Narratives: Delving into Some Aspects of Gopinath Jor-Bangla Temple, Pabna, Bangladesh

Mrinmoyee Ray

National Museum Institute of History of Art, Conservation and Museology, New Delhi



The Jor-Bangla Gopinath temple (plate 1) is one of the two Jor-Bangla temples in the present Pabna district of Bangladesh. The other Jor-Bangla temple in the district has been converted into a Mazar (tomb of a saint). This functional change of the structure has left it completely devoid of any terracotta plaque. My recent survey suggests that there are ten Jor –Bangla temples presently in Bangladesh. This Gopinath temple in Pabna is the only Jor-Bangla temple that has been declared a protected monument by the Department of Archaeology, Government of the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh. Documentation of this protected monument has been done in mostly descriptive ways by various scholars, which lacks creative interpretations and they are also found mainly in the Bangla texts.

Plate 1: Façade of the Gopinath Jor-Bangla temple
Plate 1: Façade of the Gopinath Jor-Bangla temple

Therefore, the main attempt of the article would be to put forward some interpretation and analysis of the terracotta plaque narrative as a part of documentation and also present the schematic of the terracotta plaques with respect to the architectural design of the temple.

Location and condition

At the southeastern part of Pabna town is the Kala Chand Para and it is here that the Jor-Bangla Gopinath temple is located. Its geo-coordinates are 24°0.090´ N and 89° 14.701´ E. The temple is visible in the Google Earth Image. It measures 7.92 × 7.81 square meters and faces the east. To the south of the temple is the Kana pukur at a distance of about 50 meters. This Jor-Bangla temple stands on a slightly curved platform with blind niches at the bottom and stands on the middle of an open space surrounded by houses all around.

No deity is worshiped at the temple now. Radharaman Saha opines that the statue of Gopinath, from which the temple derives its name, was a dual icon of Radha and Krishna. He further goes on to say that, in the year 1910 the deity of the temple was shifted to the local Kali temple within the Pabna town and since then it has remained there, thereby initiating the abandonment[1]. On the contrary, Najimuddin Ahmed proposes that, “it (Jor-Bangla temple) was defied before it was completed and therefore, always remained an abandoned shrine.”[2]

It is visibly noticeable that high humidity and rain have affected the terracotta plaques resulting in heavy incrustations of salt on their surface. The effect of efflorescence is quite detectable on the bricks and plaques. Moreover, laxity on the part of the authorities to conserve and preserve the ‘protected’ monument has been an additional factor for the bad condition of the temple. In addition, the open space where this temple is located is transformed into a playground in the evening causing further damage to the structure.

Historical background

Sixteenth century onwards Bengal witnessed a revival of temple building activity, and these activities were preconditioned by a combination of factors. Politically, it was a period of conquest of Bengal by Akbar and its further consolidation under Jahangir. Also, the emergence of Gaudiya Vaishnavism as a result of propagation of concept of Bhakti (devotion) to the lord (Krishna) by Chaitanya (1486- 1533) clubbed with a stream of vernacular literature in the form of prose and poetry created the conducive environment for the construction of temples.[3]

Along with the rise in temple building activity there emerged a general tendency towards experimentation with the stylistics in temple design. It is assumed that, for centuries, especially in early medieval period, Nagara style was preferred for construction of a temple. This style was almost abandoned during the period under consideration. In fact during this phase, all those associated with the temple building process including the patrons and artisans choose to make changes by experimentation. Of the many styles that evolved through this process of experimentation were classified mainly as Chala, Ratna, Rekha, flat roofed and octagonal[4] types. The Chala temple type, which was most popular, has been recognized as the replication of the domestic hut. The Jor-Bangla temple type belongs to this Chala variety. The Jor-Bangla Gopinath temple at Pabna is a simple Jor-Bangla temple with the two Do-Chala structures joined together to form the shape of ‘M’ with the first one to the east acting as the Mandapa and the later one to the west is the Garbha Griha (fig 1).  They have a Bangla vault.

Figure 1: Ground plan of the Jor-Bangla temple
Figure 1: Ground plan of the Jor-Bangla temple

Problem of accuracy in dating

The most accurate method for dating the late medieval Bengal temples is the inscriptional plaques ascribed on the wall of the temple which usually mentions the date, name of the patron and the presiding deity. In case of the Jor-Bangla Gopinath temple here at Pabna, there is no inscriptional plaque to date the monument accurately. Therefore, different scholars have tried to date the temple on the basis of evidence, other than the inscriptional plaque, in an attempt to put this temple in a chronological framework.

Radharaman Saha, in his Pabna Zilar Itihas, has put forward contradictory data regarding the date of the temple. He refereed to Sri Ramkrisna Chattopadhyay in an answer to a question from a reader in Prabasi Patrika (1330 BS) while elaborating upon the date of the temple. Chattopadhyay opined, “It is the popular narrative about this Jor-Bangla temple that a Brahman named Brajamohan Crori (possessor of crore taka) established the idol of Sri Sri RadhaGovinda, by building this temple during the period of Nawab Siraj-ud Daulah.”[5]  In this way, the temple could be dated to 1856-57.

However, Radharaman Saha arguing on the basis of an old document from a person named Bholanath Sanyal and local legends, dated this temple to much earlier than Nawab Siraj. The document dates to 15 Kartik of 1014 BS. He referred to the name of the patron as Brajaballabh, not as Brajamohan. However, there is no reference of the temple or the act of temple building in the document as far as Saha quotes[6]. The authenticity of this document is questionable and verifiable. Radharaman Saha’s argument is also not convincing enough. On the other hand, Abul Kalam Mohammad Zakaria has dated this temple to the mid eighteenth century ACE[7], probably based on the stylistics prevalent in this region during this period.

Both Ratan Lal Chakraboty and Ayesha Begum mention that a tehasildar of the Nawab of Murshidabad named Brajamohan Rai Krorori or Brajaballabh Rai Krorori had constructed this temple[8]. In this context, Radharaman Saha has provided some additional information regarding origin of the title ‘crorori’. He has quoted that,

translate of the Nawob Ebrahim & King Dewan’s Parwana for the English their paying only Rs 3000 yearly for their trade A.H. 1002-3 A.D.1612-22 “To all Mutsudis, Corrowries, Jagirdars, Gomostas, Phousdars, Jimmadars, Cannongos, belonging to the Subaship of Bengal now in the service or that shall be hereafter…[9]

Absence of any authentic record and varying difference and disparities in dating the temple through other sources, under these circumstances, makes it difficult to put this temple into a definitive chronological framework.

However, some important points can be identified from the narration of Saha. They are firstly, the patron, Brajamohan or Brajaballabh was the disciple of goswami family. The goswami title is particularly identified with the Vaishnavite communities. Secondly, the patron was a follower of some group of Vaishnavite lineage and which is very common in Bengal to be a disciple of a Guru on familial basis till today. Thirdly, the patron, moreover, was very wealthy and the sources of his wealth have been controversial. He might have gained his wealth from stealing, or business with Nawab according to the local legends as has been referred by Radharaman Saha. It is evident that the person was not wealthy on the basis of inheritance. And finally, the residing deity of the temple, although not present these days, was that Radha-Krishna.

Figure 2: George Michell classification (source: Brick Temples of Bengal, pp 88)
Figure 2: George Michell classification (source: Brick Temples of Bengal, pp 88)

Architectural components and their thematic distributional co-relation with the terracotta plaques

Two most distinct features of the late medieval Bengal temples are, firstly, the variety of temples types, influenced by both Islamic and indigenous techniques and forms, and secondly the prolific use of terracotta embellishments on the temple surface, particularly on the façade. As the temple has already been identified as a Jor-Bangla temple type, the next obvious step is to try and understand the terracotta plaques on the façade with respect to its architectural components.

The model followed to explain the architectural components is the one that has been used by George Michell[10] (fig 2). He divides the frontal of the temple into many small architectural components that includes corner elements (1), wall panels (2), base friezes (3), cornices (4), entrance frames (5), columns (6), arches (7), and panel above arches (8).

Corner element (1): Two extreme sides of the temple are referred to as the corner elements. It consists of three vertical sections of plane bricks separated by protruding horizontal floral patterned brick. At the top of this division is the triangular corner element. This section has a sculpture of elephant with its trunk raised up and has been created by joining several pieces of plaques together. However, the plaque containing the section of the elephant face is a replaced piece, evident from the freshness of the piece and the notable stylistic variation from the surrounding pieces (plate 2).

Plate 2: Elephant composed of replaced terracotta segment
Plate 2: Elephant composed of replaced terracotta segment

Wall panels (2): Most of the terracotta plaques in this section are missing and the few that left are on the either sides towards the top. They consist of a series of human and animal figures enclosed within rectangular frames. There are a few plaques which depict persons probably belonging to Portuguese community One of them shows a bearded Christian priest wearing a long flowing robe (plate 3). He is shown holding on to a scepter in his right hand and in the other hand he is holding a bunch of palm leaves that are symbolic of Jesus return to Jerusalem after his resurrection.  It symbolizes good over evil.

However, the role of Christianity or trade, or both in the society needs to be studied and analyzed further for they have been placed and represented as important themes. These plaques are strategically placed parallel to the decoration above the arches.

Plate 3: Christian priest (?)
Plate 3: Christian priest (?)

Base frieze (3): The base has further sections because of the presence of three different themes. The lowest level of the base frieze comprises secular scenes. To the extreme left side of the base frieze is a hunting scene where the group is lead by dogs followed by men on horseback; some are even shown on the elephant back. At the end of the trail there are musicians playing the drums. On the extreme right corner base frieze are scenes of a noble man being offered a Hookah by his servant, and in another scene a nobleman is admiring his beloved while the attendant is standing behind them holding a suradani. The lowest section of the base frieze is separated from the rest of the frieze by a band of swans and the section above it depicts religious themes. The swans are presented in different postures. The use of swans at the base for separating the secular from the non -secular or religious is a common characteristic that is found in many of the Jor-Bangla temples.

The use of swan has a special symbolic significance in this section. In Indian literature, swan is often considered as bird with high qualities. It is a bird synonymous to a wandering soul. It is believed to have the qualities of being able to separate milk out of a mixture with water.[11] Thus, the swan is strategically positioned at a place which separates the secular themes from non-secular. The onus therefore lies on to the viewer, to act like swan and differentiate between the secular from the non-secular i.e. non-real from the real. When the decoration is being viewed it is expected that the worshipper transgress the boundary of worldly affairs as depicted by the secular plaques at the bottom of the frieze and enters the world of spiritualism thereby migrating from one zone to another.

Cornices (4): The curved cornice section of the temple is relatively simpler in terms of decoration. It is devoid of any decorative element except the use of the beak-head as an ornamental motif.

Entrance frames (5): Below this section there is a hood mould which acts like a separation between the friezes below the curved cornice and the arches. The decoration below the cornice is that of a floral pattern.

Columns (6): The column section is one of the most exposed areas with respect to both weather and human touch. As most of the ornamental bricks are missing here it is difficult to comment on the theme that was once narrated.

Arches (7): The entrance to the Mandapa has three arched openings. They are drop arches with cusped foliates. This arch runs parallel with another two layers of arch in receding fashion finally corresponding with the segmented section of the columns supporting the arches. The sections above the arches are separated from the sculptures by following a floral decorative panel running on the lines of the cusps.

Plate 4: Decoration over the arches Panels above arches (8): The central theme for decorating
Plate 4: Decoration over the arches
Panels above arches (8): The central theme for decorating

Panels above arches (8): The central theme for decorating the temple is that of the battle between Rama’s and Ravana’s army (plate 4). There are not many terracotta plaques remaining on the left and the central arch. However, when compared to the older images the story of the missing plaques becomes clear. The involvement of each character with the corresponding soldier of the other army becomes more visible (plate 5). Both the parties are shown fighting with bows and arrows, swords and spears. Some plaques over the central arch section are missing and when compared to the images taken by ASI during 1930’s of the same section makes the story of the missing images plaques very clear. Ravana is shown as Dashanan aiming arrow at the army of Rama. The section where Rama should have been present is missing. Only a few monkeys are left and are shown flying.

Plate 5: Individual terracotta plaque
Plate 5: Individual terracotta plaque

Right behind Ravana is Khumbhakarna. Khumbhakarna is represented here much larger in size as compared to the other figures. This has been strictly followed keeping in mind the way he has been described in the scriptures. It shows that the artist is very well conscious of the story and its characterization and tries to abide by it. The artist or the Sutradhar has been able to captivate the force and the valor of the battlefield in his depiction of the battle scene. Kumbhakarna is shown sleeping and his attendants are attempting to wake him up from sleep by tickling him. However, this imagery is visible from the photographs taken by ASI and is unfortunately now missing.

Plate 6: Miss Match terracotta plaque
Plate 6: Miss Match terracotta plaque

Within this same space there are a few plaques which are an absolute miss match with the entire scheme (plate 6). A plaque depicts a group of women lying, which is clearly a replaced plaque. The artists assigned to replace the missing plaque did not hesitate to overlap one figure with   another. Some observations that can be made about these replaced plaques are, firstly, that these replaced plaques do not match at all with the plaques placed initially. Secondly, the artisans who were assigned to replace the missing plaque belonged to some other community of Sutradhar because stylistics of the original plaque is very different from replaced one. The new plaques have much smaller features. The facial appearance, dress, and composition suggest a different school of artistic expression .The original artist assigned to decorate the temple used various types of geometrical pattern as a part of decoration of the costumes. However, the artists commissioned to replace the missing tiles used only circular pattern for decorating the costume of the figures. Thirdly, the later artists were capable of placing more than one figure within a small space. In the original plaques, figures have been positioned liberally within the frame without cramping them. Fourthly, attention towards finer details in costume or expressions is much more vivid in the later plaques.

Plate 7: Garuda at the entrance to the Garbha Griha
Plate 7: Garuda at the entrance to the
Garbha Griha

Garbha Griha:  The Garbha Griha is single arched entrance with foliated cusps. The gap between the Mandapa and Garbha Griha of the door has been covered by using squinches. This technique of narrowing of the gaps is, however, not used in the later Jor-Bangla temples, thereby reverting back to the use of trabeated technique of filling the gap. The decoration around the arched entrance is the only place where the plaque depicts through the anionic representation of Vishnu in the form of Garuda, the Vahana (mount) of Vishnu. This particular feature might hint towards the Vaisnav affiliation of the temple. Below the arches are two pilasters on either side projecting from the wall. The spandrel section of the arch is filled with 8 Garudas each on either side above the arch in kneeling position with folded hands as a mark of respect towards the presiding deity (plate 7). There is a purna kalasha over the keystone. Apart from the Garuda, the other decorative motives that have been used are fully blossomed lotus and geometrical patterns. The arched entrance is enclosed within a framed boundary with three parallel bands of laterally placed ornamented bricks. Inside the Garbha Griha there are three niches on the wall that faces the visitors. One general feature that is noticed in most of the Jor-Bangla temples is that there is usually another door (plate 8) on any one side of the Garbha Griha along with the main door from where the deity is visible. The purpose of this additional door is for the priest to enter the Garbha Griha. Even in this temple such an additional door is present on the south side-wall of the Garbha Griha.

Plate 8: Side entrance to the Garbha Griha
Plate 8: Side entrance to the Garbha Griha

Temple building as a representation of power and schematic planning of the terracotta narratives

Use of terracotta plaques on temples is a very common style in Early Historic and Early Medieval Bengal. Terracotta ornamentation with non-figurative plaques is also common in medieval mosques. However, it is on the late medieval temples of Bengal, we come to find a certain kind of narrative building through these plaques. This new style of story telling that emerges by the 16th century ACE was visibly different from the style of the preceding periods.

The purpose of using these plaques on the surface was not ornamental alone. The patrons who constructed these temples were rich Zamindars or rulers of princely states, some specific professional communities and caste groups. The purpose of temple building activity was not religious alone.  These particular acts of temple building, and the monuments themselves were modalities and spaces of representing their power, and sometimes, the patrons’ new found desires to emulate through contemporary social hierarchy. According to George Michell, these temples were ‘public means of expressing power.[12]

I have already mentioned in the earlier section that the patron of the temple had earned the title – croropati (a man possessing wealth equivalent to the value of one crore taka or 10 million taka). It is also evident from the reference and narration of Radharaman Saha[13] that the patron earned his wealth quickly, not on inheritance basis like the landlords in Nawabi regime. Temple building might act in two different ways. Firstly, it could be perceived and interpreted as struggle for the power and identity in contemporary society. The activity of the construction of the temple was a symbol and evidence of the secured wealth and thus the temple became the embodiment of the new power and search for authority and social recognition. And secondly, by representing himself as a pious and religious person, by being the devotee of Radha-Krishna, he sought a familiar way of validating his wealth and the search for recognition and identity in the contemporary social order.

This idea of power and its portrayal were reflected upon the terracotta plaques displayed by the artists on instructions from the patrons. The worshipers coming to the temple were compelled to view the façade decoration from both long and short distance perspectives. The long distance perspective puts before the viewer the overall theme of the decoration. The viewer can view it either from down above or from center to the periphery, or the other way around. Therefore, the most significant or crucial scenes of the theme are placed right at the center i.e. above the arches, which falls at the eye level of the spectator when seen from a distance. The finer details are meant for close viewing which includes the textures on the clothes, the facial expressions, or the body postures.

With regard to the Jor-Bangla Gopinath temple at Pabna the schematic decoration of the temple can be divided horizontally into three main sections (fig 3). The base frieze (2) comprises of first two section of the division and includes secular scenes from everyday life at the bottom topped by a row of swans. The rest of the temple comes under the third section. In this section all the decoration is religious. The central theme is of the battle scene between Rama and Ravana’s army at Lanka. On close observation it seems that the artisans had a plan before them for depicting the story of Ramayana. From individual plaques, to decoration over the arches, to the overall narrative on the façade, the same line of arrangement is noticed. The movement of the sculptural plaques is always from the sides to the center. The members of Ravana’s army are always placed on the right and that of Rama’ army on the left and are shown moving towards the center. The only exception is the arch above the entrance of the Garbha Griha that has the presence of anionic representation of Vishnu in the form of Garuda.

Figure 3: Division of space for the schematic of the terracotta narrative themes
Figure 3: Division of space for the schematic of the terracotta narrative themes


It must be noted that the stories depicted on most of the late medieval Bengal temples did not follow the original Sanskrit scriptures. In fact, they were rewritten from the original scriptures by writers in Bengali language. Thus, the story reflected above the arches at the entrance to the Mandapa is not Valmiki’s Ramayana, instead based on the poet Krittivasa’s Bengali version of the Ramayana, written around the latter half of 15th century ACE. His work gathered immense popularity among the terracotta artisans working on temples. Zulekha Haque writes that poet Kritivasa’s version was publicly recited at village gatherings. This form was known as Panchali kavya[14]. She is also of the view that during this period most of the population was illiterate and for them it was not possible to read the scriptures. Therefore, the façade ornamentation on the temples acted as visual imagery of the most popular religious texts on the life of Krishna, Ramayana, and Mahabharata of the contemporary Bengal[15].  According to Tarapada Satra, Rama was seen as an incarnation of lord Vishnu and that the Bengalis did not differentiate between Vishnu, Rama or Krishna, the latter two being two different incarnations of lord Vishnu. He further goes on to say that irrespective of a Shaiva, Shakta or Vaishnav god as the presiding deity of the temple, themes of Ramayana, Mahabharata or Krishnalila were freely depicted by the artists for decorating the temples[16].

After discussing terracotta plaques with reference to the architectural elements and the schematic planning of the narratives on the temple façade, it can be said with fair amount of clarity that there actually went a very detailed planning into the themes that were chosen and how they were to be placed. From each individual plaque, to sections within each architectural element, to the overall façade, every inch of this visual imagery, had a meaning to be conveyed. Such planning thereby changed both the purpose and meaning of the temple. The structure bore two functions now. Firstly, it acted as a place of worship and secondly, a visual canvas for representing power and construction of identity. This functional duality thereby poses some questions before us, whose answers are required to help us place the temple within the society and its relation to the society. Details of the second dimension of the late Medieval temples within the context of social and economic history have been ignored by most of the scholars.

We need to go beyond the normalized notion of viewing late Medieval temples as the representation of creativity. It is time to transgress the boundaries of conventional scholarship of mesmerized appreciation. What we need, is to delve into the social history of the Late Medieval temples, or the Jor-Bangla Temples. Gopinath Temple of Pabna hints at the intricate relationship between society and culture. I will try to address the social dimension in my next paper.



List of plates

Plate 1: Façade of Gopinath Jor-Bangla temple

Plate 2: Elephant composed of replaced terracotta segment

Plate 3: Christian priest (?)

Plate 4: Decoration over the arches

Plate 5: Individual terracotta plaque

Plate 6: Miss Match terracotta plaque

Plate 7: Garuda at the entrance to the Garbha Griha

Plate 8: Side entrance to the Garbha Griha


List of figures

Figure 1: Ground plan of the Jor-Bangla temple

Figure 2: George Michell classification (source: Brick Temples of Bengal, pp 88)

Figure 3: Division of space for the schematic of the terracotta narrative themes



For this article I would like to acknowledge the great help that I received from the many people I met at Pabna for my first trip with regard to with my research work on the Jor-Bangla temples. I would particularly like to thank Sayeed Hasan Dara, Zakir Hussain, Gopal Sanyal, Joy Moitro and Russel Mustafizur Rahman. I am also grateful to Prashanta Mridha for painstakingly accompanying me to the site and wait the long hours for me to finish my work. Deepak Kar has helped me with the drawings. I thank him. I am also deeply indebted to Swadhin Sen for reading several drafts of this article and giving his valuable inputs. I would also like to thank my children for the silent help and support they constantly gave me to successfully complete his article. Finally I would like to thank my father to whom I owe the most.



[1]  Radharaman Saha , Pabna Zilar Itihas, ( Kolkata: Deys Publishing , p. 136.)

[2] N. Ahmed, Discover the Monuments of Bangladesh, (Dhaka : U.P.L. , p. 102  )

[3]  George Michell, Brick Temples of Bengal, ( New Jersey : Princeton University Press,  pp. 4-9)

[4] David McCutchion , Late Medieval Temples of Bengal,(Kolkata : The Asiatic Society, p. 3)

[5] Radharaman Saha, Ibid., p. 195

[6] Ibid. pp. 195-96

[7] A) Protected Monuments and Mounds in Bangladesh,( Dhaka : Department of Archaeology and Museums, p. 22)

B)  A.K. Mohammad .Jakaria, Bangladesher Prachin Kirti, pp. 151-152.

[8]A) Ratan Lal Chakroborty , Bangladesher Mondir, (Dhaka : Bangla Academy ,p. 77)

B) Ayesha  Begum, Bangladesh Asiatic Society Journal,(Dhaka : University Grants Commission,  p.1)

[9] Stuwart’s History of Bengal appendix viii, cited in Radharaman Saha’s   Pabna Jelar Itihas                    pp  195

[10] George Michell, Brick Temples of Bengal, ( New Jersey : Princeton University Press, p 88)

[11] Jean Philippe Vogel,   The Goose in Indian Literature and Art, (Leiden: E.J. Brill Publication, pp 6)

[12] George Michell , Brick Temples of  Bengal, ( New Jersey : Princeton University Press ,pp 7

[13] Radharaman Saha, Pabna Zilar Itihas, ( Kolkata: Deys Publishing,  p.195-96)

[14] Ibid, pp 172

[15] Ibid, pp 171

[16] Tarapada Satra, Paschimbanger Mandir Terracotta,(Kolkata : bangiya Shahitya Parishad, pp 66)


Ahmed, N. Discover the Monuments of Bangladesh. Dhaka: U.P.L., 1984.

Begum, Ayesha. “Pabnar Jor-Bangla Mondir.” Bangladesh Asiatic Society Journal (1997): 1-16.

Begum, Dr.Ayesha. Pabnar Oitihashik Imarat. Dhaka: University Grants Commision of

Bangladesh, 2002.

Chakraborty, Ratan Lal. Bangladesher Mandir. Dhaka: Bangla Academy, 1987.

Gill, Sandrine. “Kantanagar Temple(North East Bengal):A Carefully Planned Iconographic

Universe?” Proceedings of the 19th Meeting of the European Association of South Asian Archaeology. Ed. Pierfrancesco Callieri and Luca Colliva. Ravenna: Archaeopress,Oxford, 2007. 111-121.

J.McCutchion, David. Late Medieval Temples Of Bengal. Calcutta: The Asiatic Society, 1972.

Michell, George, ed. Brick Temples of Bengal. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1983.

—. “The Revival of Hindu Temple Architecture in Bengal in The Late -Sixteenth Century.” Journal

of Bengal Art (1997): 195-210.

Saha, Radharaman. Pabna Jelar Itihas. Ed. Kamal Choudhuri. Kolkata: Dey’s Publishing, 2004.

Talukdar, Abdul Mannam. “Pabnar Purakirti: Golpe Itihase.” Centenary Brochure of Pabna

Municipality. Ed. Saiyyad L Haq. Pabna: Pabna Municipality, 1 July 1976.

Vogel, Jean Philippe. The Goose in Indian Literarture. Leiden: E.J. Brill Publication, 1962.


Mrinmoyee Ray was born in Delhi in 1980. She completed her masters in history from Delhi University. Presently she is doing her doctoral research on Jor-Bangla temple architecture of Bengal (West Bengal and Bangladesh). Her research is based on field work and detail documentation of late medieval temples in Bengal. She is primarily interested in research fields on critical studies in art history, architecture, field methods in art history, and related fields. Email: mrinray@yahoo.com

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/n1/12_Gopinath_Jor_Bangla_Temple_Pabna_Bangladesh.pdf,  Kolkata, India. © www.chitrolekha.com



Terracotta Temples of Bishnupur: Transformation through Time and Technology

Priyanka Mangaonkar

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Clay can be considered as one of the oldest building materials in the history of man after stone. Clay was and is being used for all conceivable purposes due to its abundance and universal supply. The discovery of baking clay provided the permanence to the clay objects. This baked clay is called as Terracotta. All over the world, across the ages people have transformed this heavy, dark and formless material into a lighter building material. They created their living spaces and they adapted their architectural and constructive answers according to the behavior and properties of the soil.

The use of Terracotta as a material evolved from making objects of daily needs like vessels, pottery, toys, seals etc in ancient times to its use in temples in the 15th-16th century AD in West Bengal. Until this period Stone was the main material used for building temples. This was due to unavailability of the stone and availability of good alluvial soil, and the need to create pseudo effect, e.g. in West Bengal terracotta was used to depict stone carvings and sometimes to resemble the articulation on wooden door. In the same period, from 15th to early 20th century terracotta was used as cheaper and easily available option for marble in some parts of Europe.

Terracotta as a material till now has taken different influences to reach the urban scale. From a material predominantly used for household and domestic use, it has been slowly shifting to building and construction industry. Nowadays with the help of technology terracotta has been experimented to its fullest considering its qualities and has been used in construction in certain parts of India. This paper attempts to understand one stage of its transformation where terracotta was explored and modified according to the need of that time in West Bengal.


Historical Backgorund of temple architecture of Bengal

In Bengal art sometimes was expressed mainly through the medium of temples. Brick temples of Bengal were built between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. These temples form one of the most distinctive groups of sacred monuments in India. Due to the multiple artistic influences acting upon the region, Bengali temples show a wide range of forms and techniques. “The Bengali temples nevertheless constitute a coherent series in both their architecture and sculpture, characteristically expressed in brick and terracotta.”[i] The geographical distribution of the temples is majorly confined to the alluvial delta of Ganges River, which explains the popularity of clay as material for all conceivable purposes. “Hence, Bengali temples can be viewed as important manifestation of this region’s culture, closely associated with contemporary movements in religion, literature, arts as well as political, social and economic development.”[ii]

The map above (Fig.1) shows the different regions of Bankura district. Out of all the regions Bishnupur flourished as a great monumental expression of Hindu terracotta art in Bengal. Temple facades in Bishnupur are majorly covered with figurative sculptures, often on four sides and sometimes even extending in the interior.

Bishnupur literally means city of lord Vishnu. This may be derived from the fact that the kings of Bishnupur were followers of Vaisnavism. “During the 15th and 16th centuries, Bengal underwent a profound political, social, religious and cultural revolution, the chief result of which was the formation of a distinct regional identity.”[iii]  Mallabhoom being politically stable could concentrate on developing a social system based on Hindu (Vaisnava) philosophy. The Malla kings have invited higher castes and Brahmins to Bishnupur. Their presence was necessary to support such wide spread religious activity. Besides this, Malla kings had brought in numbers of selected master craftsmen, best weavers, expert masons, skilled potters etc to the city to provide for the best of amenities. Trade had assumed an important occupation. Bishnupur had several specialized markets. Because of all these a wide range of excellence in craft tradition had been achieved in Bishnupur.[iv] Over a period of time Bishnupur town has evolved incorporating various social concepts, planning philosophies, strategic decisions which were deeply rooted in Bengali traditions.

The few temples preserved in Bengal built before 14th century indicates that Bengali architecture was closely associated with contemporary traditions that flourished throughout northern and eastern India. The history of religious architecture in Bengal can be divided into three periods:

1) Early Hindu (up to the end of 12th century)

2) Sultanate period (14th to early 16th century)

3) Hindu revival (16th to 19th century) [v]

In primitive stage that is during early Hindu period, it takes the character of Mayuryan and Pre-Mayuryan art of India. In this early stage, the terracottas consist of stray cult pieces of small sizes.  In later stages 14th—16th centuries, terracotta plaques appeared with new designs which were different from the primitive illustration of the same theme. In the next stage terracottas appeared in larger sizes and related to architectural structures, as decorations of the facades of the temples. Popularization of Sanskrit scriptures in Bengali translation, have built up the Hindu revival which gave rise to most popular cults like Krishna, Kali, Durga.  These were the main inspiration behind the revival of Hindu art and architecture. Almost all the richly decorated temples of 16th century which still exist are mainly Radha-Krishna temples. These temples have terracotta decoration which is of Vaishnava origin. Compared to the brick structures, the result is not just constructional but also decorative.

These temples have elaborate representation of themes which are borrowed from the Puranas.  Hence these temple decorations were also acting as a medium to educate common people about our culture and traditions. Most of the decorations are typically Gupta in style. “Largeness of conception, the dramatic vigor, and the liveliness of the pictures depicted on bricks and plaques stand for the vividness of wall paintings and frescoes, the dearth of which is compensated by these pictures on bricks and plaques”.[vi]

One of the most remarkable features of the history of this monumental architecture in Bengal is the sharp break in tradition that coincided with the Muslim conquest. Architects working for Muslim patrons developed a preference for covering entire wall surface with finely worked terracotta plaques that incorporated traditional decorative motifs such as the lotus. By the end of the 16th century, a uniquely Bengali style of temples architecture and sculpture had established itself as the Hindu artistic expression of the new social, religious and cultural revolution.[vii] The wide range of temple styles embraced elements of both change and continuity, typical in the dynamic but traditionally based Bengali society. Furthermore, the temple decoration depicted the aspects of everyday life of the contemporary society, particularly the ambitions of the temple builders. This shows that temple building was the result of an intense concentration of economic and artistic resources, as well as public means of expressing power.

The temple builders

The plaques of terracotta give us a glimpse of the early culture of the people of the Bengal which is not available in Bengal literature. This proves that this plastic art supports the literary art of Bengal. In Bengal only two caste forms can be traced – the Acharyas and Sutradharas. The role of the Acharyas and Sutradharas indicates an age old relationship of working together that existed in India. These terracotta reliefs are noteworthy contribution of these artists. These artists derived their inspiration not only from the standard rules and regulations of the Shilpa Sashtras, but also from the keen observations of the daily lives of the people around. In course of time Sutradharas became capable of using materials like stone, ivory, metal etc. and became skilful artists. They accordingly developed into four different directions namely – Kastha (wood), Mrttika (clay), Chitra (painting), Pasan (stone) and divided themselves into several regional groups. The Sutradharas worked as a group and each consisting of several families and having their hereditary knowledge used to live and work under Acharyas who were responsible for planning and supervision. These teams used to travel from one place to another. The heads of these groups had readymade master plans of temples of varied size and shapes and they use to carry these plans with them. Then according to donor’s choice and even details regarding arrangements of terracotta bricks, according to the theme and pattern used to be completed and necessary instructions were issued by the leader before the commencement of the construction. [viii]

‘As the majority of Bengalis during this period were illiterate, terracotta artists had little opportunity to acquaint themselves with the Sanskrit Puranas, epics, and other source books of mythologies. For these artists’ knowledge of the epics and myths was mainly derived from the works of local Bengali poets particularly in the form of popular dramas and songs. These poets translated and retold the stories for the benefit of villagers and also introduced new episodes and their own interpretation in it without any hesitation. This brought atmosphere of contemporary society in their stories and poetries bringing their works nearer to the hearts of Bengalis and profoundly influenced the artists who decorated the temples of the period.’ [ix] For example, the influence on contemporary society is seen in Mangal Kavyas as well as in the portrayals of the marriage of Shiva and Parvati in temple art. In the depiction of this popular scene, temple artists didn’t follow the standard iconographic texts but preferred to represent Parvati as a small girl, and Shiva as a half naked old man. While describing the marriages between the poor and homeless Shiva and the beautiful Parvati, poet drew upon scenes of ordinary Bengali life in which girls of tender age were sometimes given in marriage to old men. In their descriptions of such scenes poets did not hesitate to emphasize the pain and regret of the young girl. And this was true in 18th and 19th century when marriage between old men and young girls was a common practice.  Hence this way the different epics of Puranas were recited by storytellers at village gatherings and undoubtedly influenced terracotta artists of that time.


Temple planning[x]

The overall form and arrangement is different from the other Indian temple typologies. The popular sequence of Bhogmandapa, Natmandapa, Garbhagriha is absent here. There are limited number of architectural elements used in temple plan – square, rectangular, octagonal chambers and long rectangular corridors and porches. These spaces are vaulted or domed and are limited in size. Walls are generally slender in size (75cm to 125 cm) except certain exceptions like massive brickwork at Kodla (almost 3m thick) which is obvious imitation of stonework. The axiality present in the other Indian typologies towards certain preferred direction is quite subdued. Characteristic of Bengali brick architecture is the pointed vault on the rectangular plan with curved base and spine, producing the interior of a Bangla roof form.

The pillars used in these temples with triple arches were essentially based on pillars built in stone during Pala-Sena period. When used in brick temples, some changes were introduced in these pillars. Since the pillars used on the facades of these temples became main feature, and were decorated with terracotta panels of smaller sizes, the square bases and square capitals were changed to octagonal and the shaft became multifaceted.  (Fig.2) The shafts were further divided by two to five mouldings into smaller parts to afford decoration by the terracotta panels. Stone doorways of the earlier elaborate design were not used in these temples but there patterns were copied.  The walls of these temples were generally flat and any articulation was provided by the framing of the panels on the wall.

Style and ornamentation

Sculptures on the temple façade of Bengal are carefully organized with respect to their architectural setting. Islamic builders imitated the earlier patterns carved in stone and also introduced a great variety of strip motifs. Also there is more preference for large scale figurative art, than the earlier nonfigurative themes. One significant omission on any late medieval temples is the use of the glazed tiles which were so frequently used on the Islamic structures of the Sultanate period in the late 15th century.  Generally facades of these temples were divided into panels by vertical, horizontal and curved bands. (Fig. 3, 4) On certain temples like Keshta- Raya temples, Kala-Chand temple these panels are uniformly distributed over the facades, gently growing over the entrance. Sculptural characteristic of these temples are not only crowded compositions within individual panels but also on overall facades of the temple.

Compositions above the arches, friezes and panels have a distinct rhythmic effect created by frequent repetition of identical panels. In case of Keshta-Raya temple, above the regular square panels depicting Ramayana and Krishnalila episodes is a system of beam like elements suggesting a corbelled timber construction. In Madan-Mohana temple, façade derives its essential rhythm from the manipulation of the bands framing panels in which active dramatic scenes take place. (Fig. 5) The description of the sculptures in these different parts indicates the development of decorative elements from simple vegetal ornamentation to figurative schemes till later period.

Some of the Nineteenth century Bankura temples show clear European influence in their articulation. These panels have large scale composition in high relief above their triple arched porches. (Fig.6)



Material and construction technique

The temples of Bengal form one of the most distinctive groups of sacred monuments in India, Incorporating a wide range of forms and techniques that testify to the multiple artistic influences acting upon the region. The terracotta here expresses a faithful picture of the lives of the people through a dynamic natural quality of technique. During this period for the first time local building forms were translated into permanent materials.  Hut shapes were recreated in brick vaulting, together with curved cornices and terracotta façade decoration. Typical Islamic techniques of arches, vaults and domes construction were used to create this type of architecture, and the material adopted was brick which was locally available. The Bengali temples constitute a coherent series in both their architecture and sculpture, characteristically expressed in brick and terracotta.  Even though stone was mainly used for construction till this period, there are rarely any stone temples in this province due to scarcity of stone. Very rarely temples were built or even faced with stone. (Fig.7) These temples are found majorly in southwestern periphery of Bengal where coarse grained laterite is available. Throughout the rest of Bengal, temples are almost invariably built of bricks. Also yellow sandstone is available in northern Burdwan and adjacent Purulia. Except these places throughout the rest of the Bengal, temples are invariably built of bricks. The early brick temples of Gupta, Pala and Sena period used stone as door jambs, lintels and pillars. But brick temples of Bengal have wooden doors which are decorated with terracotta depicting human and animal figure compositions as well as floral and geometrical designs in panels.

Studying from the numerous ruined temples it can observed that the brick core of the temples generally consist of well laid horizontal brick courses. Vaults and domes are also created with bricks laid as stretchers. In arches, bricks are cut to form tapering voussoirs. (Fig.15)  Curved layers of brickwork are employed to create vaults as well as swelling contours of temple cornices and roofs. Sometimes bricks are laid diagonally to decorate supporting arches and pendentives. In 18th and 19th century many temple facades were plaster coated in combination with terracotta sculptures.


Fired Bricks were laid in mortar composed of powdered brick and lime. Lime was obtained by processing snail’s shells. Fine but very hard pankha plaster was used to coat roofs, vaults and walls of temples. The surface skin of the terracotta plaques is carefully knitted into the brick core of the building. (Fig.8, 9, 10, 11)



Non-standardization in construction[xi]

Well fired brick is the basic building material for temple making in Bengal. Brick sizes vary, not only from region to region and from century to century but also within the same building. Following drawing will help to understand how different sizes of bricks were used to get required effect or to create pseudo effect of stone construction. (Figs.13, 14) Bricks are generally laid as stretchers, with half bricks to fill the gaps and avoid successive vertical joints. (Fig.12) Surface brickwork when covered with terracotta sculptures organized into overall façade schemes, displays considerable skill of the craftsman. Different shapes of bricks are used such as long thin bricks laid edgewise as framing bands, triangular bricks as filling pieces and flat plaques coordinated in large scale sculptural compositions, these all carefully interlock.


(Dimensions shown are indicative to show non-standardization of bricks.)


Deterioration of temples

These temple builders were active up to the middle of the 19th century and numerous temples of different sizes and shapes were built with excellent terracotta work till this period. From the early 19th century, Western influence on styles and themes and features became stronger and due to several socio-economic factors the quality and quantity of temple building as well as of terracotta work rapidly declined. Architects and artisans, who were dependant on local patronage found themselves without work and were forced to turn to other crafts such as wood carving, scroll painting and had to give up their own craft. The others who were less ambitious and more home loving were turned, neglected group of society and were known as chutar or wood carvers. By the middle of nineteenth century, terracotta sculptures were being replaced by stuccowork but art stayed until 1930s. Further in twentieth century, temple building continued in traditional and neo-classical style, by adopting modern building materials like steel, concrete replacing brick and terracotta. Today these brick temples are frequently disfigured or even concealed by ugly concrete additions and new concrete temples coming up everywhere.


Modern terracotta

From the above study we can say that terracotta as a material tried to fulfill the need of that time. It was modified, explored to its fullest during 15th – 19th century in West Bengal. Nowadays with the help of technology terracotta is been explored as a structural material and it’s no more a material only for Surface embellishment. At every stage of its transformation this material tried to fulfill the need of time and human need to explore, evolve and grow with time and technology.

We can also say that over a period of time Terracotta has been transformed over following parameters:





By exploring the properties of clay with the help of technology.


About terracotta hollow blocks

In India solid bricks are so extensively used in construction. But they have certain disadvantages like:

These are more expensive to lay,

Heat insulation property is poor,

Water absorption is high,

Consumes more energy and soil and due to this depleting topsoil.

These problems have been overcome by using perforated bricks with 50 to 60 per cent perforations. These perforations act as a sound and heat insulators. Also due to better manufacturing techniques water absorption is low. They effectively save clay, dry faster and require less fuel for burning as compared to solid bricks. Also these large size bricks help increase the mason’s output.  Below are certain images showing how these terracotta clay hollow blocks have been explored in architecture as well as in interiors mostly in Southern part of India.

Product range of clay hollow blocks



Exploration in interiors


End Notes

[i] (Ed.) Michell, George, Brick Temples of Bengal – from the Archives of David McCutchion, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1983, page no. 3.

[ii] ibid

[iii] Michell ,George. Opsit, page no. 3

[iv] Above paragraph is based on understanding from (Ed.) Michell, George, Brick Temples of Bengal – from the Archives of David McCutchion, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1983,

[v] (Ed.) Michell, George. Brick Temples of Bengal – from the Archives of David McCutchion, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1983, page no. 15.

[vi] Datta, Bimal. Bengal Temples, Munshiram Manoharlal pub. Pvt. Ltd, page no. 46

[vii] Opsit, page no. 6

[viii] Understanding for Temple builders is based on (Ed.) Michell, George. Brick Temples of Bengal – from the Archives of David McCutchion, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1983,

[ix] Haque, Zulekha in George Michell’s Brick Temple of Bengal – From the Archives of David McCutchion, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1983

[x] Understanding for temple planning is based on Khare, Ajay. Temple Architecture of Eastern India, Shubhi Pub. Gurgaon, page no. 186-190.

[xi] Understanding for Non standardization in construction is based on (Ed.) Michell, George. Brick Temples of Bengal – from the Archives of David McCutchion, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1983.


Bibliographic references:

Michell, George (Ed.). Brick Temples of Bengal – from the Archives of David McCutchion, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1983.

Khare, Ajay, Temple Architecture of Eastern India, Shubhi publications, Gurgaon, 2005.

Dasgupta, Pradosh, Temple Terracotta of Bengal, Crafts Museum, New Delhi, 1971.

Dey, Mukul, Birbhum Temples, Lalit Kala Academi, new Delhi, 1959



Mr. Chittranjan Dasgupta, Bishnupur (West Bengal), 3rd March 2010

Prof. Shoumik Nandi Mujumdar, Shantiniketan (West Bengal), 4th March 2010

Dr.  Sanjoy Kumar Mallik, Shantiniketan (West Bengal), 4thMarch 2010


Illustration Credits

Figure 1: http://www.calcuttaweb.com/maps/bankura.shtml, 20th June, 11.30am

Figure 2 – figure 15: self taken and self drawn.

Figure 16: From presentation done by VanReeth, Rudy, at TERI workshop on Energy Efficiency Improvements in Indian Brick industry, at New Delhi on 20th Dec 2009

Figure 17: Self taken

Figure 18: From presentation done by VanReeth, Rudy, at TERI workshop on Energy Efficiency Improvements in Indian Brick industry, at New Delhi on 20th Dec 2009

Figure 19-20: From presentation done by K, Remesh, at TERI workshop on Energy Efficiency Improvements in Indian Brick industry, at New Delhi on 20th Dec 2009

Figure 21-23: From presentation done by K, Remesh, at TERI workshop on Energy Efficiency Improvements in Indian Brick industry, at New Delhi on 20th Dec 2009

Figure 24, 25: From presentation done by K, Remesh, at TERI workshop on Energy Efficiency Improvements in Indian Brick industry, at New Delhi on 20th Dec 2009

Figure 26, 27: self taken

Figure 28: : From presentation done by VanReeth, Rudy, at TERI workshop on Energy Efficiency Improvements in Indian Brick industry, at New Delhi on 20th Dec 2009

Figure 29, 30: From presentation done by K, Remesh, at TERI workshop on Energy Efficiency Improvements in Indian Brick industry, at New Delhi on 20th Dec 2009


Priyanka Mangaonkar is an architect with a Masters in Interior Architecture and Design, with specialization in Craft and Technology from Centre for Environmental planning and Technology, Ahmedabad. She has Worked as a project coordinator with Centre for Sustainable Environment and Energy (CSEE), Ahmedabad for a project titled ‘Energy efficiency improvements in Indian brick Industry’ for promoting energy efficiency in the Indian brick sector with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).


Terracotta Craft of Panchmura: Problems and Possibilities

Dr. Milan Kanti Satpathi

Assistant Professor, Balarampur College, Purulia, West Bengal

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Bengali people—as mentioned by renowned Bengali linguist Acharya Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay in his book Bangalir Sanskriti (The Culture of Bengal)—evolved as an amalgamation of the Austric, the Dravidian and the mixed Aryans from north India. Naturally the character of this mixed culture is still prevalent in the contemporary mainstream culture of Bengal. In enriching the collective Bengali culture the rural folk elements play an essential role, and the tradition is to be traced back to its ancient Austric roots. In the later stages what we have as urban life is actually a larger extension of this rural tradition.

Contacts with north and south India and connection with the rich culture of Nabadweep helped Bishnupur in becoming a famous town of art and culture during the medieval period. The art and crafts of Bishnupur spread to the rural and muffasil areas of Bengal in the 18th century and afterwards. The crafts based on natural products like wood, cane, bamboo, bricks and stones are still to be found scattered in different parts of Bengal. Among those many art and crafts terracotta craft emerged as one of the most significant artistic practice and Bishnupur became the main centre for this because of the patronage of the Malla kings. The fame of terracotta horse, elephant, cat, monkey, Manasachali, images of Sankirtaniyas (a singing pose of the Vaishnav cult), Ramayana, Mahabharata and other mythological engravings, leaves, creepers, household items of Panchmura village of Bankura has spread from the local through national to international level.

The people who once started the terracotta carvings on temple-wall-panels gradually scattered to various parts of southern Bengal like the villages of Bardhaman, Hooghly, Nadia etc. Only the ‘Kumbhakar’ community of Panchmura is still struggling to keep this craft tradition alive with their sincere effort and dedication. This present centre of terracotta consists of 60-61 families of Panchmura. Some of these craft-persons have extended this traditional practice to the villages like Bibarda, Chhilumpur, Joykrishnapur, Sandra, Ruisar etc.

According to the tribal census, as we find in the book of Hindu Samajer Garan (the structure of Hindu society) by Nirmal Kumar Basu, the social position of the potters in the first three decades (1901-1931) of the 20th century remained as follows:

Potter’s census

Year 1901 1911 1921 1931
Total population 195533 278206 284514 289654
Earning people x 92659 75326 53506
Rate of income x 33.32% 26.48% 18.47%
Rate of literacy 6.56% 8.04% 10.18% 9.66%
Involved in own business    75.16% 73.80% 61.69% 58.87%
Involved in agriculture 16.60% 13.40% 19.69% 19.89%
Involved in industry x 78.14% 64.5% 65.66%
Involved in professions for the middleclass (lawyers, doctors, Govt. servants etc.) x 0.857% 1.288%  

From conversations with the old people of Panchmura it is evident that a massive diversion took place in occupational field after the independence as many people wanted to take up other profitable jobs leaving their own traditional profession. The potters of Panchmura fall in the category of OBC (Other Backward Classes). 10-12 families of this potter’s society are inconceivably poor. Many of them do not possess the BPL (below Poverty Line) cards, nor do they avail of the facility of health cards. They complained that ailing craft-persons or their families do not get adequate treatment for their health problems, nor do they can get sufficient attention from the governments.

Before a thorough discussion on the crisis and potentialities of the potters and potteries let us have a glance at numerous facets of the contemporary practice of Panchmura terracotta crafts.


A lump of clay is formed from alluvial soil with a little amount of sand and fresh water from pond (no tap or tube well water). The lump thus gets ready to be pressed in dice or put on a wheel to produce several items like elephant, horse, Manasa Jhar, the idols of gods and goddesses with hands with utmost care or simply joining one part with another. Generally the articles like dashabatar taas, conch shell, astray, agarbatti stand, home decorative items, tiles, panels are developed with hands or dices. We also find the monkeys and cats sculpted under the African and South Indian tribal art category. In the cottage industry fairs in metropolitan cities we often notice use of metal in following the African tribal art. But with an inborn skill the Panchmura potters can apply all these intricacies to the mere earthenware. The styles reflected in the handicrafts made of wood, stone, feather, animal fleece etc., exhibited in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Kanyakumari, Pondicherry, the tribal art gallery of North India and the exhibitions organized by the small scale cottage industries are to be found partly reflected in the terracotta tribal art of Panchmura. Here lies an instance of a terracotta craft influenced by the Keralian art category.

As per the report of the terracotta artist Taraknath Kumbhakar, an effort was taken to modernize terracotta craft by introducing some modifications in style with the help of some trainee artisans from Ahmadabad (Gujarat). The motifs of gamchha (a wiping cloth), curtain, herbs, leaves and creepers were introduced to create a new trend to make the wall panels and frescoes. But this was much laborious and also lacked suitable patrons too. The craft persons hence intensified on creating household items besides working on the themes taken from Ramayana, Mahabharata, other mythological stories, Sri Chaitanya, nature, non Aryan deities with other human and animal figurines.

At first a special slip of bamboo, known as “kabari’ or ‘chiaria’ or ‘uncha’ is used to smooth the surface of raw craft. Mostly this kind of work is done with hands—the dice is less utilized in this matter because dice prevents innovative creativity. A period of minimum 7-10 days is required to dry the objects properly. The Panchmura potters never use any artificial colour. Instead a special coloured soil is used, which is brought from the villages like Jambedia, Natungram and Nakaijuri of Dharai river side. For the high prices of coal dry leaves, sticks, wood are chosen rather to bake these clay crafts. Sometimes the use of kills and metal wires are essential to attribute a firm structure and beauty to the items like ‘Manasachali’, monkey and cat that fall under the tribal art category, Sankirtanya (dancing and singing poses of the Vaishnavs) forms of Sri Chaitanya tradition, idols of women with water pot, earrings and some more articles.


The initiatives taken from Government and other organizations for pottery

The scope of this terracotta art form got a shot when late Sri Rasbihari Kumbhakar got the President’s Award in 1969. As a result of this some initiatives were taken then for the revival of Panchmura crafts:

i.             A training centre was established in 1970/71 by the Central Government of India, which unfortunately continued only for two years. The aim of this project was to encourage the people—not only the potters but the people from other occupations as well. It did not work due to the lack of personal enthusiasm and a crisis of proper remuneration for the trainers.

ii.            The ‘Panchmura Potters’ Society’ was set up in around 2005-2006.  The aim was to properly organize the craft production and providing a suitable marketing opportunity by the Society. The endeavor of the society for purchasing soil is laudable. It charges the same amount if somebody works more. The fund for the Society is inadequate. Naturally the supervision of preservation and marketing of the crafts gets neglected. The society cannot help the marginal craft-persons.  Yet it carries the expenditures regarding the arrangements for transportations of the artisans to Kolkata, Delhi and other areas of the state.


iii.            Kharagpur IIT set up a huge furnace spending an amount of Rs. 1000000. But it still remains unused because traditional fuel consumption costs only Rs. 400 to bake the clay crafts where as the furnace will cost Rs.1000 for the same task. For their inability bear this huge cost the furnace remains abandoned. But everybody, however, received a potter’s wheel from the IIT initiative only for Rs. 400 while the actual price of such wheel is Rs. 2200. This Rs. 400 has been collected by the Society to build a special fund for them.

iv.             KBIC (Khadi rural bank) under certain conditions has lent the willing artisans Rs. 1 lakh each. They have received Rs. 55,000 from that amount Many of them told of the subsidy of Rs. 37000 and the security of Rs. 2000. They have to pay Rs. 1400 as interest per annum. The people with mediocre income can’t even spend whole amount of this money for their craft. They are forced to spend some amount on higher education of their children and other essential activities of the family.

v.            ICCI of Machantala, Bankura branch helped in getting health cards. Everybody got the card, but it was never renewed though everybody spent Rs. 200 for this.

vi.            Many have travelled outside Bengal with an honour of trainer. Baul Das Kumbhakar has visited Nainital, Chhattisgarh; Taraknath Kumbhakar visited Allahabad, Mysore as well. They received good dealings from the Government officers. They even earned Rs. 20000 monthly or a sum of Rs. 400/500 on daily basis. They witnessed a massive enthusiasm among the trainee artisans outside Bengal.

vii.            Many have participated and been awarded in handicraft competitions organized by small scale cottage industries of district, state and central levels. Here follows a list of these artisans.


Age (appro.)

Year of award

Award level

Pashupati Kumbhakar




Dhirendranath Kumbhakar






Jayanti Kumbhakar



District and State

Taraknath Kumbhakar




Buddhadeb Kumbhakar



District and State

Baidyanath Kumbhakar



District and State

Bauldas Kumbhakar


1997-98, 1999-2000

District and State level, Chhattisgarh, Moscow, Honolulu

Biswanath Kumbhakar



District and State

Chandidas Kumbhakar




Narugopal Kumbhakar




Kanchan Kumbhakar


1997-98, 2001-02, 2010-11

District, State, State

Brajanath Kumbhakar




Kartik Kumbhakar




Bhutnath Kumbhakar


2001-02, 2002-03

District, State

viii.            Foreign Tour: Bauldas Kumbhakar was one of those 10 artisans who were sent to Honolulu for a trip of 40 days in October 2004 by Craft Council of West Bengal. He crafted a sculpture for a museum of ‘Academy of Arts’ there. He went to Moscow in 2006 to participate in a trade fair as a representative of an Indian craft artisan. But many of craft-persons don’t get this opportunity, or many, like Taraknath Kumbhakarn can’t go abroad (America) in spite of getting offer.

ix.            Pension: Artisans who are recorded above 60 years in the certificates awarded by the state and central governments, get a cheque of Rs. 1000 monthly. A few people like Jayanti Kumbhakar and Pashupati Kumbhakar can avail of this facility; but according to them, this is a paltry amount in respect of the present market. The people who even don’t get this little amount could not draw any response from the department of small scale cottage industry after repeated appeals and applications.

x.            Marketing: The department of cottage and small scale industry has partly arranged for the marketing process so that artisans can avail of the opportunity of selling their products in districts, subdivisions, metropolitan cities like Kolkata, Delhi etc. But still for them it is inadequate.


In spite of the initiatives mentioned above by the governments and various organizations, problems the artisans are facing are manifold and gradually crippling the art and artisans:

  1. For the entire process of production, from soil collection to final formation, total help from the family members is indispensible. But many of the family members are lacking interest in helping the main artist for their lack of passion for this art. This impels many of the craft artisans to give up their traditional practice of pottery.
  2. The daily income of the poorest craft-persons of the community is around Rs. 80/100 in average and the comparatively wealthier artisans earn Rs. 300/400 daily on average. It is difficult with such a poor income to maintain their life properly and maintain their children’s education. Hence many of them are being compelled to give up this job and take up other occupations for better living. Artisan, Gopal Kumbhakar regrets—“an average income of Rs. 100 daily would have been adequate to remain interested in the craft. But even this is at times irregular.“
  3. They don’t have proper place for maintaining and preserving the craft items from weather. Many of them keep their crafts left out in open verandah of their houses due to the lack of suitable space. Naturally shortage of space is quite responsible for lesser production of this craft. The richer people who have their own houses with adequate space for preservation though are relieved a little bit from these usual hazards. Still they feel uneasy and face dilemma in dealing with outsiders—where to offer them seat and entertain them. It has been mentioned earlier that Panchmura Potters’ Society does not possess any preservation room of their own.
  4. Many of the artisans are not able to buy colored soils as those are not available in Panchmura proper. The Society holds no responsibility on purchasing this soil. There is also emerging a growing crisis of wood, leaves etc. which are generally used as fuel.
  5. Inadequacy of capital and steady indifference of the governments are gradually pushing the poor and marginal artisans to extinction. The demand of the craft as artistic specimens, puja equipments, household items, and ornamenting devices doesn’t last for the entire year. In spite of a greater sale in occasions like Dasahara, Ambubachi, Daak Sangkranti, Makhan Sangkranti, Makar Sangkranti, Charak-Chaitra Sangkranti, lack of selling opportunities in other times leaves frustrated with their profession.
  6. Dearth of proper marketing strategy is evident. Though some of the artists send their crafts to Kolkata-Delhi through their personal endeavor, most of the people only opt for the local markets of Bishnupur, Bankura, Durgapur, Medinipur etc.  Some of the businessmen from Kolkata come with their own interest to buy these crafts. But there is no opportunity of selling from the Society at all. Consequently the crafts men cannot market their products properly and despite the assurance from government no marketing centre has been still set up.
  7. The people who are engaged in their traditional art of craft making are not familiar with the modern forms of terracotta like tiles, panels and frescoes. Naturally they are lagging behind the modern standard and naturally they are being deprived of the financial opportunities. Lack of suitable training and modernization of the art is a great for them.
  8. The West Bengal Government said many a time to develop Panchmura as a local tourist centre. But most unfortunately nothing has been done yet.
  9. Many of the aged artisans like Gopal Kumbhakar rues while working — “working all the time is not enjoyable. It is irritating.” The reason is that with financial problems there are physical problems too. Many of them feel that the portion from the waist to the feet is getting numb. Gradually they fall prey to many diseases and they cannot get proper treatment. This is also engendering the artists and the art.
  10. In the recent globalised market the demand for clay craft has also declined. Many of the artists are using artificial colour to coat the items though no one of them is from Panchmura. They have no formal training for colouring and it is expensive too. Consequently the art is diverting from its origin, which is an alarming sign for the art.
  11. Many of the artisans have been awarded in subdivision, district, state and central levels. But only the people above 60 years get the regular monthly pension of Rs. 1000. But others are still deprived of this honorary remuneration. They lead their life in uncertainty and wait for government or non-Government aids.
  12. Newer generation is losing interest in this laborious craft. Many of them want their children to be educated and seek new profession. Artist Bauldas  Kumbhakar asserts with a sigh, “We don’t want our children to do this job.” Those who are engaged in higher studies or any kind of Govt. service are least interested in this craft.
  13. This craft couldn’t cross the boundary of the potters’ traditional inheritance. The people of other occupations were not at all interested in the training organized in the 70s. A tradition of almost 100 years is shrinking slowly but surely. A less dignity as an artist, inability to adapt new technology and methods to grapple with a soaring competitive market, uncertainty steadily driving the practice towards a total decay.  Many of the people who live below poverty line (line—financial standard set by the central government) have left this craft and opted for low occupations like attending to shops, collecting dry sticks and leaves as fuel and other general works. With the collective effort of the Society this has been prevented though in a little measure.
  14. The people who posses their own farming land, are to some extent self sufficient and have their well constructed houses too. Many of them have participated in several crafts fairs in several parts of India. But they are very few in number. Many of them said that annual tours every year can enrich their power of innovation. But it remains unfulfilled due to the lack of sufficient fund of the Society, dearth of Government aid etc. Many haven’t even crossed Panchmura in their whole lifetime.
  15. Just as many of them have no home for themselves, they don’t get adequate food. Naturally they can’t afford any technological facilities like internet, email etc. except the mobile phone which is even rare to many of them. The lack of facility of using these communicative systems they have remained miles behind modern marketing strategies.
  16. A sunny atmosphere and a moderate temperature are considered to be the best suitable situation for this craft production. The month of ‘Ashwin’ (October-November) is regarded as the most appropriate time for this craft cultivation. Only in the month of ‘Baisakh’ (April-May) the wheel is kept stopped. It is a belief among the local people that lord Shiva appears this time through this wheel. The work commences again paying homage to the local deity on an odd numbered Saturday. Though many put forward a scientific reason that terrible heat, on one hand, can develop crack among the pottery items during this time, on the other hand, the people get easily exhausted struggling with the unbearable heat of this month.
  17. Artisans who have participated in small and cottage industry fairs in several provincial states have witnessed a considerable enthusiasm among the buyers and appreciators. But unwillingly they had to hike the craft prices to cover up the expenses to make up their food, lodging and transportation costs. Here follows a chart that shows differences between the local prices of the crafts and the prices outside Bengal.
Products Local price Other states
Giant horse Rs. 600 a pair Rs. 800—Rs.1000
Manasa Jhar Rs. 500—Rs. 600 Rs. 1000—Rs. 1200
Women’s water pot Rs. 250—Rs. 260 Rs.350—Rs.400
The tribal art monkey, cat Rs. 80—Rs. 100 Rs.150—Rs.200
Small horse, doll,astray,flower vase, agarbatti stand Rs. 2—Rs. 10 Rs. 20—Rs. 30
Board with inlay works Rs. 5000 Rs. 6000—Rs. 7000
Palanquin, house boat, articles for Jhulan festival Rs. 4500-Rs. 5000 Rs. 6000—Rs. 7000


The craftsmen feel helpless in this regard and this discriminate policy creates a great hindrance in generating demand and a proper marketing procedure.



In the persisting crisis, uncertainty, obstacles and lack of enthusiasm I asked them whether the new generation will feel at all interested to continue the tradition or how they will plan to keep this inherited art alive. The aged people replied—“We want our children to work with terracotta”. Sri Gopal Kumbhakar (whose son is an M.A. in history remarks), told me, ‘I’ll continue my job even if my children secure other occupations, for I am an artist and the wheel is my life. Even if I can make only moderate amount out of this craft, I won’t like to give it up totally.”

The artists who are associated with this craft from their very childhood to the very old age are eager to bring their children’s attention to this and keep the huge possibilities of this craft alive. From conversations with people of all categories ranging from men to women of different ages it is clear that:

  1. The village can be regarded as a model village of terracotta art centring round these 60-61 potter families residing in this area.
  2. The Government proposal to turn up the village to a tourist centre is to be accomplished soon. The eagerness of the craft production is proportionately related to the opportunities of craft selling.
  3. The artists inflicted with extreme poverty have to be extensively taken care of. Some steps are to be followed for this are—
  • Providing bank loan facilities in low interest,
  • Health insurance,
  • Creating a suitable atmosphere for their children’s education,
  • Housing plan construction under Indira Housing scheme,
  • Creating suitable craft preservation centre,
  • Guidelines for proper marketing procedures.
  1. To expand the whole feature of this traditional art the artists have to be promoted not only in subdivisions, districts, Kolkata and Delhi, but also sponsored to join the small and cottage industry fairs held in several provinces. They should be encouraged to tie up cultural bond with each other.
  2. A proper training centre is to be set up, where the people of other occupations too will show their interest for this craft cultivation. Extensive workshops should be arranged with these artisans. It is to be taken care that these artists are receiving adequate honour as trainers within and outside this state.
  3. They have to be encouraged to follow the modern arts besides the traditional ones. They have to be trained to create hollow terracotta bricks, make items for interior and exterior decorations so that other avenues may open for them.
  4. Plans and programmes have to be undertaken to make sure that inborn talents of the artisans are protected and promoted. This is not possible just with the help of only Panchmura Mritshilpi Samiti.
  5. They have to be secured financially so that they don’t live with constant crisis anxiety. Many have asserted that a steady income of average Rs. 100 daily can inspire this craft production. So the governments should make sure that this minimum expectation can be covered up. It is to be assured that all the old people from all categories can avail of the facility of the pension scheme.
  6. Terracotta craft is a family production. All members of a family—from a child to an old person, participate in this act.  Naturally with field surveys and collaborative projects from several organizations can protect craft persons from a total indifference and bring prosperity to the overall craft production.
  7. It is also to be ensured that they can sell their products in state and other provincial cottage industry fairs in local prices. With the help of the government the terracotta craft can find a thriving market all over India.
  8. The attempts taken by Kharagpur IIT are worth appreciating. The steps have to be taken to pick it up again in a way so that a vast amount of crafts can be produced spending a lesser amount of fuel at low price.
  9. If terracotta craft practice can be spread as an additional source of an extra income among people of other professions, it will attract the new generations from different communities. Otherwise, a time will come when the old artisans will no longer be there and this rich traditional craft of Panchmura will gradually be extinct just as the highly advanced terracotta temple art.
  10. It is heard that the famous film director Mrinal Sen one did a documentary on the Panchmura artisans in the 80s. But unfortunately the people of Pachmura never had the luck of watching it.  Had there been any conscious attempt at making people of various quarters aware of the problems and prospects of this craft through the film, this craft could have been much benefited.





  • Picture 1: Courtesy and Copyright—Sambit Chatterjee (sambitntour@yahoo.co.in)
  • Pictures 2, 3, 6, 9, 14: Courtesy and Copyright—Partha Pratim Saha
  • Pictures 5,7,15: Courtesy and Copyright—Sarah Kousik
  • Pictures 18: Courtesy and Copyright—Major General H. G. Mukhopadhyay



Dr. Milan Kanti Satpathi is Assistant Professor, Balarampur College, Purulia, West Bengal.