Monday, 12 June 2017


Dharapat is a village in Bishnupur subdivision of Bankura district in the Indian State of West Bengal.  It is 12 Kilometres north of Bishnupur.

Bankura District is considered as a land of temples, mostly belonging to the late mediaeval period especially those which were constructed in the time of the Malla rulers of Bishnupur. The influence of Orissa is very clear on a number of temples in Bankura district. There is number of Rekha Deoul (Linear Temple Structure) in Bankura district. The ( not so famous) temples of Dharapat  is considered to be of pre Muslim time while the other temples are post Muslim time in age.

With the discovery of good number of Jaina images within Bankura District, we may assume that Jainism is more accepted by the people than Bhddhism. In spite of the predominance of Brahmical images, the significance of the impressive array of Jaina sculpture can hardly be overlooked. The find spots of Jaina images show that they are found mostly in the southern part of the district that touches the border of Purulia (Manbhum) discrict.

The Bankura district, like Purulia, was deeply influenced by Jainism in the middle ages. Hinduism later became the dominant religion in Bengal and many of the Jain temples across the state are converted in to Vishnu Temples. The main temple of Dharapat is one of the rare ones where Hindu and Jain have existed side by side for centuries. The deul-style temple was built in between 1694 to 1704 by Raja of Dharapat - King Advish.  It came up in place of a plastered laterite structure that had collapsed. The new temple has four small statues of flying lions on its four sides, a characteristic of Orissa school of architecture.

There are many stone relics in Dharapat Temple walls. One of them is a statue of Pareshnath that has been converted into a Bishnu idol by adding two hands. The change indicates the over powering Hindu influence after the decline of Jainism in the area.

There are three excellent stone idols within the temple enclve- two Jain deities and Vishnu. All three are on the outer walls. The jain daity is naked indicating the influence of Digamber sect. The idol is  Shyama Chand Thakur,  locally known as Nangta Thakur. Barren women  of the locality worship at the temple with the hope of bearing a child.

The massive image of Vishnu is embedded on the eastern wall. There are four smaller images on the four conners two of them are of figures flying over Vishnu’s head while two women are at his feet. One of them is shown playing the veena.  Vishnu holds shankho, chakra, gada and padma in his hands. Around the statue of the naked deity are six smaller images of Hindu gods. There are also two sentinels at the bottom of the wall and two on the top corners.

The abandoned temple of Shyamchand is worth a visit. The main idol was stolen from Garva Griva some years ago. Floral designs adorn the temple walls.

The Archaeological Survey of India has now taken up the upkeep of the temple. We also stop over at a group of 10 abandoned temples with rasmancha in the same village. There are a few more temples in a dilapidated shape in the vicinity.

West Bengal was once house of Jainism from the beginning , till 13th or 14th century. The main reason was nearness of Sammed Shikhar (Pareshnath ) the last resting place of twenty Jain Thithankar, near Dhanbad,  the  highest degree pilgrimage site of all Jain sects. Lord Mahavira visited there many a times and many people followed them including tribes and local common people, many Kings patronized Jainism from their hearts. This happened till 13th century until other faiths were much attacking, later due to many reasons Jainism was abandoned there.

     1. "Bankurer Mandir" by Amiya Kumar Bandopadhya.
     2. "Pashim Banger Sanskriti" by Binoy Ghosh.
     3. "Bengal District Gazetter" Manbhum, 1911.
     4. " Jaina Iconography" By Umakant Premanand Shah.

       Research - Santanu Roy

 Picture Courtesy - Sritam Mukherjee

Monday, 10 April 2017


The influence of Orissa is very clear on a number of temples in Bankura District. There is number of Rekha Temples in Bankura district and they all follow closely the Rekha type of temples in Orissa. Such temples are found in Orissa with a characteristic feature of curvilinear sikhara- a tower like construction formed by the four walls gradually carving inwards from the very beginning and almost meeting at a top known as AMALOKA- SILA. This type of temple called “Rekh Dual”. The brick temple at BAHULARA (The Siddheshwara temple) was typical example of blending between Orissa and Bengal styles of architecture.

Bankura is considered as a land of temples, mostly belonging to a late mediaeval period especially those which were constructed in the time of the Malla rulers of Vishnupur.  The temple which may be brought within the purview to study is “Bahulara” or Bolara temple. Of course, there is a difference of opinion among the scholars regarding the date of the temple. The temple has been visited and studied by a number of scholars in the past.

Bahulara village is accessible both by road and is about 5km from Onda railway station (25 km, from Bishunupur).The Siddheshwara Temple is well known for its unique architectural style and exquisite ornamentation of the temple walls. The temple dedicated to Shiva, located in the village Bhulara, is considered the finest specimen of brick rekha deul temple made in the line of Orissa architecture ascribe to Pala (Medieval) period. Beside a Shiva lingam the temple has images of Ganesha, Jain tirthankar Paarasanath and one of Mahisasurmardini deity.

Situated on the banks of the Dwarakeswar River, “Siddheshwari temple at Bahulara in the Bankura district is probably the finest specimen of brick build rekha deul temple of mediaeval period now standing in Bengal, according to Nalini Kanta Bhattasali. Unfortunately the amalok and kalas at the top had fallan down. In the month of Chaitra the Bahulara Siva Gajan is held spread over three days.  Hundreds of Bhaktas come to the place and do certain types of self-immolation. The area is full of old relics and mounds and there is no doubt that an excavation would even now yield excellent results.

Photograph of  bahulara temple taken by Joseph David Beglar in 1872-73.

The various mounds surrounding the temple at Bahulara have led archeologists to speculate that it was a Buddhist centre at some point of time. The mounds are believed to be Buddhist Chaityas. The remains of Buddhist Bhikhus, after cremation, were thus buried.  Prior to the dominance of Shaivism, the area was influenced by Buddhism and Jainism.  Jainism flourished till around 7th century A.D.

J.D. Beglar observed like this “The object of worship inside is named Siddheswara, being a large lingam apparently in situ. I conclude, therefore, that the temple was originally Shaivic. Besides the lingam there are inside a naked jain standing figure, a ten armed female (Durga) and a Ganeca; the Jain figure is clear proof of the existence of Jain religion in this parts in old times, through I cannot point to the precise temple or spot which was devoted to this sect.”

A few circular brick-basements lying on the southern side of the temple of Bahulara have been identified by Mr. S. K. Saraswati as Stupa-basements.  As suggested by Saraswati, “These brick structures, however, have only their basements preserved.” He Also added “Although the basement of the “pancharatha” type is supposed to the part of the huge structure, it is an illustration of the truth that the brick- made stupas in Bengal have only their basements preserved. The Basement of Buddhist stupas in Bahulara, probably, was much earlier in date than its temple by the side of which it is found.”

References :
1  Iconography of Buddhist and Bhahminical Sculpture by Nalinikanta Bhattasali.
 Bankurer Mandir by Amiya Kumar Bandopadhya.
Pashim Banger Sanskriti by Binoy Ghosh. (Part-1)
4 S.K.Sarasti (1943) “Architecture”, in R.C.Majumder edited “The History of Bengal”, Vol-1,Dhaka.
5 "A Tour Through the Bengal Provinces" by J.D. Beglar

       Research - Santanu Roy
 Picture Courtesy - Sritam Mukherjee

Thursday, 2 March 2017


Before Illambazar became a place of money making of European traders and landed aristocrats by 18th. Century, it was a place of cultural exigency. By 17th Century Vaishnavism became very popular in Illambazar and surrounding. On the other hand some natural resources escalated the commercial situation in Illambazar. The duo played a role in cultural life of Illambazar. On the backdrop many temples were built in this region though we often find similar stories of myths, tales and Hindu deities but structures are divergent. Especially we never had any experience of hexagonal structure which we can find in Illambazar.

The figures we find on that particular temple are Mahishashurmardini Durga. The Clash between Rama and Ravan,  men and women playing different instruments like veena and two stringed instruments.

The most interesting part of this temple is a vertical structure of human and animal. Here we can find different layers of elephant’s tigers, horses and human figures facing downward. Such concept is definitely unique. With respect to the other temples of  Birbhum there is no such figurine. Scholars have worked on it but it is hard to conclude anything. This structure is majorly known as “Mrityulata”, but the explanation behind this is also complex and controversial.

Fortunately we find another example of it on a temple from Gurap, Hughly. This temple is known as Nandalal temple and the figure which is known as Mrityulata shows as a horse devours a hapless animal.  The over sized rider arched over his mount. On the other hand there is another temple from Chandannagar where we can find another example of Mrityulata which is almost damaged but the portion that still remains consists  of  ascending human and animal. Thus it is tusk of historians to rewrite the history in a comparative way so that we could know what lies beneath in past.

The origin of Mrityulata is controversial so its usage. Apart from Illambazar we have another example of Mrityulata in Birbhum. In kenduli, the birthplace of Joydev, there is a spectacular evidence of terracotta art where we have prolonged form of Mrityulata. So there is no doubt that Mrityulata is not unknown to the artisans of this region. We have said earlier that Hooghly is another place where we get to see some glimpses of this style. Thus it would not be wrong to suggest that the notion of Mrityulata had been here for certain time which shaped the minds of artisans and their superiors. But from where did the notion come is still not known.

Apart from Mrityulata we have figures with various musical instruments. Now-a-days we are accustomed with such instruments but it would not be wrong to suggest knowing about the cultural practice of those people. There is another plaque which shows a group of women, standing on a row and playing flutes and drums. One can find some dancing figures also that make sense and indicate to festival and other ceremonies. Wheels, floral designs are very usual features of terracotta temples of Bengal and Illambazar temple is not an exception to it.

This is beyond any doubt that European architecture inspired artisans to portray Indian figures in a different way . Here in Illambazar we have a figure, playing veena : today this veena shows like a gun with a bayonet. We do not know whether this is an architectural mistake, erosion through time or a deliberate portrayal of gun like veena, but it would not be wrong to suggest colonial expansion triggered the minds of artisans. 

There is another temple in the middle township which testifies our explanation of colonial expansion. Though this temple is dedicated to a Hindu God or goddess but there are some figures which indicate the extent of colonial influence. There we have a group of sepoy who are carrying rifles. It is true that along with European merchant’s army troops come here when administration was taken by company in 1786.

Change of administration affected economic life. Illambazar become a commercially viable place . Finally it was culture that moved parallel with money. Lacquer was one of the materials that helped many of the European merchants to make fortune. David Erskine was one of them. Gradually the scenario changed. A riverside settlement become a busy commercial place from an ensemble of small market place and today we have variations of terracotta art (mostly based on out trip to Birbhum, August, 2016).

References :  

 1. Paschimbanger Sanskriti. Binoy Ghosh. Part-1. 8th. edition, Kolkata.
 2. Social mobility in Bengal. Hitesh Ranjan Sanyal. 
 3. Mukul Dey Archives. Chitralekha.

Research -  Sritam Mukherjee.
Pictures - Santanu Roy and Sritam Mukherjee