There are many terracotta temples in Bankura district specially in Bishnupur. In fact when we speak of such temples, the first name that comes to our mind is about the temples which have intricate terracotta decoration built by the Malla kings in Bishnupur.
But apart from Bishnupur there are other places also where we can spot beautiful temples. One such area is Sonamukhi which is a municipal town.
Out of the five panchabingswati ratna or 25 pinnacled temples of West Bengal Sridhar Temple (1845) is one which is situated in Sonamukhi. The other three in Kalna (Purba Barddhaman) namely Lalji Temple (1739), Krishnachandra Temple (1751) and Gopalji Temple (1766) and another in Sukharia (Hooghly) by the name of Ananda-Bhairavi Temple (1813). All the temples apart except Sridhar Temple are three-storied structure while one in Sonamukhi is a double-storied one. As far as 25 pinnacled temples are concerned, they are comparatively large structures and the spire are arranged in 12+8+4+1 except Sridhar Temple. In the first place there are three spires on each side and, therefore it comes to twelve followed by two spires on each side in the second step which comes to eight which is again followed by one spire on each side in the third thereby coming to four followed by the central spire.
But as far as Sridhar Temple of Sonamukhi is concerned there is a slight deviation from the other four panchabingswati ratna temples. Not only it is a double storied structure but also the spires are arranged in 12+12+1 format. In the first place there are three spires on each side which comes to twelve and the same thing is there in the second one also followed by the central spire. This temple is also the last of such type of unique temples to be built in Bengal.
The west-facing Sridhar Temple has exquisite terracotta decorations on all the four sides depicting stories not only from Ramayana, Mahabharata, Krishnalila and Puran but also pictures from social life as well as images of birds and animals. This temple has rich terracotta works at the base, pillars, facades and even on the arches. The terracotta figurines are lively and has more or less retained their form. This temple is not an ASI protected monument like the other three such temples in Kalna.
All the four sides of this mandir has excellent terracotta works. But one can photograph only the western and the southern side of the temple as the other two sides creates obstruction – one being the boundary wall of another house. There is in fact no gap in between as the wall of another house blocks it.
According to pratistha lipi or foundation plaque this temple was built in 1252 Bangabda by Hari Sutradhar which, according to Gregorian calendar comes to 1845. Inside the temple sanctum Sridhar salagram sila is worshipped on a daily basis.
Shrubs have grown on the pinnacles of this temple and it needs to be cleaned at regular intervals to save this unique piece of architecture. The temple is close to the main road. There is a small lane on the left and after going a few steps you can easily spot the spire of the temple.
Apart from Sridhar Temple another temple which deserves mention is the temple of Swarnamukhi or Subarnamukhi. The brick-built flat-roofed dalan temple has undergone renovation in recent times.The temple is close to Sridhar Temple and is situated in the middle of the town. I am pretty lucky to find the temple open in the afternoon and click the image of the goddess. Inside the temple there is the idol of the goddess smeared in vermillion. There is a popular saying that the place got its name from the name of the goddess. It is also said that during the raids by the Maratha bargees, Maratha leader Bhaskar Pandit worshiped this idol.
I spot one temple dedicated to Sitala (photo right) unique in the sense that it is a dalan (flat roofed) temple with a ridged pancha ratna structure. The temple looks quite old. As the temple was closed at the time of my visit I could not go inside the temple and hence could not click the image of the idol. Likewise I also do not find any foundation stone from where I can get to know the age of the temple. This temple is one of the unique type of architecture I have ever seen. Just behind the temple there is a seventeen pinnacled Siddheswar Rasmancha. The mancha has got a fresh coat of paint and looks yellow in colour.
From the crossing one has to go towards Sonamukhi main road towards Barddhaman. You have to search for Bazarpara and then Gopalbed. Get down there and walk for a few minutes towards the left and you will come across two temples – an east-facing brick-built ridged rekha deul temple dedicated to Lord Shiva built in 1835 and another west-facing brick-built Giri Gobardhan Temple just opposite to the deul.
My next destination is at a place called Babupara where I spotted a number of rasmanchas – a total of five in number having different types. At a place called Babupara I spotted a seventeen pinnacled rasmancha (picture left) which has received a fresh coat of paint. Just opposite to it I spotted a ruined flat-roofed structure. Speaking to the local people I came to know that it is an abandoned Mangalchandi Temple (picture middle). A five minute walk from there took me to another temple – Radha Gobinda Temple (picture right) which is renovated but I could not take photograph of the deities as the temple was closed at the time of my visit.
A little away from Babupara I spotted two unique rasmanchas standing side by side each on a higher pedestal and both have unique architecture. The one at the left is a nabaratna (nine pinnacled) “with baroque vase turrets” while the other on the right is a saptadasratna (seventeen pinnacled) “with rekha turrets”. Isn’t it interesting?
How to go there:
- One can board the Bankura Damodar Railway (BDR) (South Eastern railway) from Masagram station in Howrah-Barddhaman chord line and get down at Sonamukhi. From there one take a toto or an auto to reach the chowmatha.
- Take the morning Rupasi-Bangla from Satragachi station and get down at Bishnupur at 9:30 am. Take a car from there and it will take roughly 1hour 30 minutes to reach Sonamukhi.
- Take any morning local train from Howrah and reach Barddhaman. You can either hire a car from there or you may take any bus going to Sonamukhi and get down at Sonamukhi crossing.
- If you have your own car or if you hire a car from Kolkata, take the route to Bardddhaman via Palsit Toll plaza and take Ahilyabai Holkar Road, and cross the Damodar River and go straight until you reach Sonamukhi town.
It can be a single-day trip provided if it well-planned and if you go by car. But it will be rather hectic. The best time to visit is from November to early March. Take lunch either at Barddhaman or at Sonamukhi. Don’t forget to carry water with you.
Date of posting: 13th December, 2022.