Bishnupur, a sub-divisional town of Bankura district of West Bengal was once the capital of Malla Kings. The Malla dynasty began in 694 A.D with Adi Malla (694-710), the first king. With the accession of the king, Mallabda (a new type of calendar) began. There is a difference of 101 years between Mallabda and Bangabda (the Bengali calendar), the latter started in 593 A.D.
The capital of the earlier Malla kings was at Pradhumnapur, which is close to Joypur. Later the capital was shifted to Bishnupur by 19th Malla King Jagatmalla (994-1007). It was said that Jagatmalla built the Mrinmoyee Temple in 997 A.D in Bishnupur, after shifting the capital. After that six hundred years went by and Malla King Bir Hambir (1565-1620) built the famous Rasmancha in Bishnupur around 1600 A.D. With it began a new chapter in the history of Bishnupur as many new stone and brick temples were built. Another thing which I would like to mention here is most of the temples of Bishnupur – be it of stone or brick – are south facing.
For Rasmancha, I have already written a separate blog post on it. Please go through it more details.
Shyam Rai Temple: Built by the 51st Malla King, Raghunath Singh (1626-1656) in 1643, this pancharatna (five pinnacled) temple is one of the finest brick temples of Bengal. The temple is currently a protected monument under Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI). The temple is famous for its exquisite terracotta panels depicting the contemporary socio economic life of the people, scenes from Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas, Krishnalila, Rashlila and Rasmandal.
This south facing temple is 35 feet in height while in length and breadth it is about 37 feet and had a triple-arched gateway. There are a number of Rashchakras on the walls of this beautiful temple which, not only adds to its beauty but also has an aesthetic appeal.
Panels of Dasavatar can also be seen. The central arch is octagonal. When I visited this temple in 2017, I was enthralled by its artistic beauty and intricate terracotta works.
Jor Bangla Temple: Jor Bangla or Krishna Rai Temple is also a protected monument under ASI. Built by the Raghunath Singh in 1655, this is also a south facing temple like Shyamrai Mandir and the temple is raised on a square shaped platform. The interior of this temple is dominated by a central dome.
This temple is one of the finest specimen of terracotta temples of Bengal and has elaborate terracotta works in both the interior and exterior walls depicting stories from not only Ramayana, Mahabharata and Krishnalila but also stories about socio economic life of the period and hunting scenes. This temple consisted of two Bengali thatched roof-like structures joined together “one acting as a porch, and the other as a shrine.” Here I have to show the ticket at the entry which I have purchased from the ticket counter at Rasmancha. Not less than an hour will be spent here if one has to examine each and every terracotta panel, but as I have to cover the other temples of this area, I had no other option but to bid good bye.
Lalji Temple: Built by 52nd Malla King Bir Singha (1656-1682) in 1658, this ekratna (single pinnacle) temple is one of the finest laterite stone temples of Bishnupur. This temple, like most of the temples of this area, is south facing. Lalji temple is placed upon a raised plinth and has a single sikhara. The temple is about 35 feet in height. One can witness here the impression of frescos. This temple is a protected monument under ASI.
Radheshyam Temple: Protected under ASI, this laterite stone temple was built by 56th Malla King Chaitanya Singh (1748-1801) in 1758. It is slightly different from other ekratna (single pinnacle) temples of Bishnupur. The sikhara of this temple is dome-shaped.
There is a tulsimancha inside the temple complex. Not only the stories from Mahabharata and Puranas, but also different geometrical figures find mention in this ekratna temple. Here the idols of Radha Shyam, Nitai-Gour and Lord Jagannath are worshipped on a daily basis. This south facing temple is about 35 feet height. In all the other temples of Bishnupur, Mallabda is used as the year of foundation but here in this temple Sakabda (1680 Sakabda) is used.
Madan Mohan Temple: This ekratna temple, being one of the finest terracotta temples of the region was built by 53rd Malla King Durjan Singh (1682-1702) in 1694. Here Lord Modan Mohan is worshipped. This 40 feet high brick temple is also south facing and has a triple arched entrance. The terracotta panels depict not only birds and animals motifs but also scenes from Krishnalila and Dasavatar. Rashyatra and Dolyatra are the main festivals here which are celebrated with pomp and gaiety. This temple is currently protected under Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI).
Jor Mandir Group of Temples: This group comprises three ekratna type of temples made of laterite stone built by 55th Malla King Gopal Singha (1712-1748) in the year 1726. All the temples are south facing. The deities of these temples are now placed in nearby Radhyeshyam Temple. Of the three temples, the height of the first and the third is about 40 feet each while that of the middle is comparatively lower, ie 25 feet. All the three temples are constructed on a rasied platform and have a sloping roof. These temples also contains scenes from the Ramayana and Krishnalila.
Gumghar: Built by the 52nd Malla King Bir Singha (1656-1682), this huge reservoir-like deserted structure was called by the locals as Gumghar or torture chamber. Some are of the opinion that the prisoners were confined to this place, while others conclude that it was a granary. Historians think that it was the water tank of the royal household.
Dolmadal Canon: This 12 feet canon made of wrought iron was possibly the largest canon manufactured under the Malla kings. As per the legend during the reign of 55th Malla King Gopal Singha, Lord Madan Mohan was said to have used this Dolmadal canon against Bhaskar Rao, the commander of the Maratha invaders in 1742.
There are other temples and monuments in Bishnupur like Mrinmoyee Temple, Chinnamasta Temple, Nandalal Temple, Kalachand Temple, Radha Madhav Temple, Radhagovinda Temple, Mahapravu Temple, Malleswar, Madangopal Temple, Main and small gateway and Stone Chariot.
Apart from a temple town, Bishnupur is famous for terracotta, conch shell and lanterns. Bishnupur also finds mention in the cultural side as well. Bishnupur gharana, one type of classical music is famous. Baluchuri saree, a special type of saree is acclaimed not only in India but has a huge demand overseas. Here one can witness how a saree has been prepared. If budget permit you can even buy a saree for your near and dear ones.
Bishnupur is about 132 kilmetres from Kolkata. It can be travelled both by car and train. For the best journey, one can board Rupasi Bangla train from Santragachi station and reach Bishnupur by 9;30 am. Bishnupur can be travelled in a single day provided you hire a car; but the journey, I think, will be a little hectic as you will reach Howrah after 9:30 pm. If you want to stay, there are a number of lodges and hotels as per your budget.
(1) Brick Temples of Bengal – David McCutchion;
(2) Bankura Jelar Purakriti – Amiya Kumar Bandopadhyay;
(3) Mandir Nagari Bishnupur – Kanai Lal Ghosh
Date of posting: 23rd August, 2018.