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 our 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

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