About five kilometres from Shantiniketan in Bolpur subdivision of Birbhum district of West Bengal, you will come across a village named Surul. The village comprises of a number of richly decorated terracotta temples mostly dedicated to Lord Shiva. Here apart from an aatchala (eight roofed) temple and a pancha ratna (five pinnacled) temple there are about four deuls out of which three are renovated but without losing its exquisite terracotta ornamentation.
Two deuls along with a pancha ratna temple situated in the same compound belong to the Sarkars who were the zamindars of this area. Here you will also come across the big mansion of the Sarkar where Durga Puja is still held inside the thakurdalan.
The beautiful pancha ratna temple belonging to the Sarkars is dedicated to Lakshmi-Janardan. The front portion contains richly decorarted terracotta panels depicting stories from the Ramayana. The side portions of the temple have been repaired but the terracotta panels remain intact. It is difficult to ascertain the exact date when the temple was founded from the foundation stone as the same was damaged; but according to the locals it was more than two hundred years old. The temple has a triple-arched entrance. The front pillars also has terracotta works though some have been destroyed.
The Lakshmi-Janardan temple has three terracotta panels in three rows in the front entrance all describing stories from the Ramayana. The central panel just above the entrance shows the battle between Rama and Ravana.
The middle row in the left panel depicts the coronation of Rama. Just above this row one will witness the great sage Valmiki along with other sages attending “the horse sacrifice of Rama”. The arched roof of the temple also portrays stories from Krishnalila. There are two jumping lions on both the corners of the temple.
Within the same compound of the pancha ratna temple there stands two deuls – one in the east and the other in the west – dedicated to Lord Shiva belonging to the Sarkars.
According to the foundation stone the temples are founded in 1753 according to the Saka era, which after converting to Gregorian calendar comes to 1831 A.D. Daily worship is performed here.
Though the deuls have got a fresh coat of paint, but still then the terracotta panels remain intact. Both the deuls have exquisite terracotta works specially above the entrance. The panel on the eastern deul shows Debi Durga along with her children though some of the decorations got damaged.
The panel on the western side depicts Hanuman and Jambuban standing on either side along with other warriors. It also shows laides in western attire possibly due to European influence. Apart from this other mythological stories are also portrayed through the terracotta panels.
Just a few minutes walk from Sarkar Bari, you will come across a place called Paschim Para where in an open field there is a deul rich in terracotta and an aatchala (eight roofed) temple. As per the foundation plaque the deul was founded in 1783 Sakabda and as per Gregorian calendar it comes to 1861. The deul is in a raised platform.
In the front panel just above the entrance Ram and Sita are sitting on the throne.
Just above it is Lord Shiva with a veena (musical instrument) in his hand and by his side is Parbati who is affectionately holding Lord Ganesh. The panels are very much intact.
Apart from this the panel depicts other the social life prevalent during those days (mid 19th century). There are also images of mythological figures and Dasavatar. The pictures of the above two terracotta panels along with the deul finds mention in David McCutchion’s book “Brick Temples of Bengal.”
Just diagonally opposite to the deul is an aatchala temple also on a raised platform. I have been told that Lord Shiva is worshipped here. But when I visited the temple on one afternoon, it was closed.
This temple like Lakshmi-Janardan temple has a triple-arched entrance with three terracotta panels. The central panel has floral motifs including that of lotus and geometric patterns. It has also an image of Lord Ganesh. Unlike the other temples, this temple is not properly maintained and some decoration has been destroyed. There is no foundation stone and, as such, the exact date cannot be ascertained. According to David McCutchion this temple is of “later Bishnupur type – porch on triple entrance.” Previously there were five steps in the flight of stairs that leads to the temple; but now only three remains. May be the other two steps have gone underground.
To reach the temple from Bolpur station, take any auto or toto and get down at Sriniketan bus stop. It will roughly take 15 miniutes. Take the left hand side lane and walk for about ten minutes and you will reach Surul.
(i) Brick Temples of Bengal – David McCutchion;
(ii) Birbhum Jelar Purakriti – Debkumar Chakraborty.
Date of posting: 31st December, 2018.