The temple city of Bishnupur in the district of Bankura, West Bengal, is famous for its magnificent ancient terracotta and stone temples. In the medieval period Bishnupur was the seat of Malla dynasty that ruled the territory of Mallabhum over 1100 years till 19th century. The period of Malla ruling earned fame because of its glorious contribution in the fields of art, music, architecture and religious devotion. Bishnupur tells a story intermingling with history and myth. There are innumerable temples scattered all over the town, built between sixteenth to eighteenth-century A.D.; some are brick-built, ornamented with terracotta tiles; some are stone-built with artistic curving; each one depicts the brilliance of artistry. Most of these temples are dedicated to Lord Krishna, the epitome of Vaishnavism. Bir Hambir, the 49th Malla king embraced Vaishnavism from Srinivas Acharya, the torch bearer of Gauriya Vaisnavism, founded by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The ancient temples of Bishnupur not only reflect the religious devotion and prosperity of the Malla kings but also the brilliance of their artistic and aesthetic sensitivity. The temple architecture of Bishnupur shows a unique style originated through the admixture of a number of cultural traditions.
This volume intends to present the historicity and artistic brilliance of this temple city, a glorious cultural centre of medieval Bengal. The visual documentation of the marvels of artistry is an additional treasure for this volume.
Kakali Chakrabarty (b. 1957), former Deputy Director of Anthropological Survey of India is an anthropologist by profession. She was silver medallist from University of Calcutta in her post-graduation examination and awarded with Ph.D from Ranchi University. She has been exposed to varied fields of researches in different parts of India including Andaman Islands. She has published her research findings in several books and in reputed journals. She authored three books and edited a number of volumes. She also contributed effectively to the field of Visual Anthropology and directed and co-directed about twenty ethnographic films. under the auspices of the Anthropological Survey of India. A number of her ethnographic films have been screened in different film festivals including Kolkata International Film Festival, Sambad Film Festival, Goa Short Film Festival, Jeevika Film Festival, and Nila International Folklore Film Festival of India. One of her film has been awarded with 2nd prize in Sambad Film Festival, Jamshedpur.
Presently she is attached with the Calcutta University and the Sanskrit College and University as a guest faculty and an external expert for the museum of the Centre for Adivasi Studies and Museum as well as a member of the board of studies in the Centre for Adivasi Studies in Vidyasagar University, West Bengal. She is the founder President of the South Kolkata Society for Advance Research on Tribal Heritage and Welfare.
Worrel Kumar Bain (b.1991), an anthropologist by profession working as a faculty member in the Department of History and Archaeology, School of Social Sciences, North- Eastern Hill University (NEHU), Meghalaya, India. He is also pursuing his Ph.D. from the Department of Anthropology, Gauhati University, Assam. He was attached with the Anthropological Survey of India under Ministry of Culture, Government of India as a Research Fellow from 2014 to 2018 and organized and developed the permanent exhibition cum museum in the Eastern Regional Centre of the Survey. He was involved in various research projects in different regions of India. He has published valuable research papers in various national and international reputed journals. He has participated and presented papers in several national and international seminars and conferences in India and abroad.
He carried out research among the Hill tribe of Sikkim under the financial support by SAARC. He has produced several ethnographic films as director and co-director. Some of his ethnographic films have been screened in Kolkata International Film Festival, Goa Short Film Festival, Sambad Film Festival. One of his films has been awarded with 2nd prize in Sambad Film Festival, Jamshedpur organized by Tata Steel. He is the founder Secretary of the South Kolkata Society for Advance Research on Tribal Heritage and Welfare.
In the ancient history of Bengal, Bishnupur occupies an important place being the capital of the Malla dynasty, the oldest dynasty beginning in the eighth century A.D. and ruled over 1100 years. The area under the ruling of Malla kings was called Mallabhum, signifying the land of wrestlers (malla=wrestler; bhum=land), perhaps borrowed its name from the indigenous Bagdi community, who happened to be skilled wrestlers in those days. History traces the origin of the Malla dynasty from Adi Malla, a person believed to be of Kshatriya origin but eventually brought up by the Bagdis and thus, took the name of Malla. In 'A Statistical Account of Bengal' (1877), W.W.Hunter traced the chronology of Malla kings from available documents and recorded 122, Bengali era equivalent of A.D. 715 as the date of birth of Adi Malla, who was later crowned as Raghu Nath Singha. From the date of his crowning, a new calendar of the Bishnupur Era (Mallabdo) started. He reigned for 34 years. He was succeeded by his son Jai Malla, crowned in 34 Bishnupur Era and reigned for 30 years, i.e. till 64 Bishnupur Era (pp. 232-233).
Bishnupur was ruled as an independent principality over centuries. Later kings put much emphasis on the fortification and security of the capital town. During the period of Bir Hambir, the 49th king of the Malla dynasty, Bishnupur came into the limelight of greater political scenario beyond Bengal and later became part of the Mughal Empire. Various stories go in the local oral tradition, but historically, it was of great help for the Malla kings that Bishnupur started flourishing in art and culture with the Mughal influence.
Bir Hambir embraced Vaishnavism at a later stage, and he decided to build 108 temples in Bishnupur, dedicated to Lord Krishna, the epitome of Vaishnavism. It is said that he could build only three temples, and of them, the architecture of Ras Mancha is par excellence. It was built in the sixteenth century A.D. with brick, inlayed with terracotta panels. Other temples were built by his successors mostly in a period between the sixteenth and seventeenth-century A.D. and continued till the eighteenth century A.D. Earlier temples were mostly brick-built with brilliant terracotta ornamentation, while later temples are mostly of lateritic stone, locally known as makra stone. Arched doors depict an Islamic influence, and false doors depict Rajasthani Gharana's influence on architecture.
This book is an attempt to present the visual documentation of Bishnupur temples and their brilliant architecture. Bishnupur, being a town of temples, attracts many tourists from Bengal and other states of India and abroad. The main purpose of this book is to bring out a systematic and academic account of temples in a popular way for the use of common people.
The Authors deserve my appreciation for conceptualising the theme and arranging the information in a systematic and meaningful way. I firmly believe that this book will be of great use to the wide spectrum of readers and create interest among the younger generation in our country's history.
Bankura, lies between 22°38'-23°38'N and 86°36'- 87°46'E, is one of the ancient landmasses located in the south western part of the State of West Bengal. It resembles an isosceles triangle with its northern apex at the junction of Burdwan and Purulia districts and has an irregular east-west baseline resting on Midnapur and Hooghly. It is included in the area known as Rarh (or Radh) Bengal. The western portion of the district is characterized by undulating terrain with hills and ridges (uplands), gradually merged with the Bankura-Bishnupur Rarh plains in the north east. Dwarakeswar is the longest one inside the terrain of the rivers flowing through the district, having tributaries, namely Gandheswari, Kukhra and Birai, all small streams with rocky beds. The largest of the tributaries is Gandheswari. Other major rivers are Kansabati and Shilabati, both of which enter the region from Purulia district, run along a short course in the territory and then enter Paschim (west) Medinipur district. The soil is laterite red, and hard beds are covered with scrub jungles and Sal (Shorea robusta) trees. Gradually it gives way to uneven rolling lands. The soil continued to be lateritic. To the east, there is a wide plain of recent alluvium, while metamorphic or gneissose rocks are found to the extreme west (O'Malley, 1908, rep 1995: 9). The name of the district is derived from its chief town, Bankura (the present district head-quarters).
According to the Bengal District Gazetteers, Bankura by O'Malley (ibid:1), the name Bankura might have been a corrupted form of 'Bankunda' signifying five water tanks, the mention of which was found in the 15th century Sanskrit verse by Edu Misra, where it was stated that Sriharsa, the great poet and ascetic of Bharadwaja gotra lived in Kanka in Bankunda to the west of Burdwan. He (ibid) reported that in the old official records, the name Bakoonda was found and as late as 1863 the town had been referred to as 'Bancoorah' or 'Bacoondah'. Two other versions were also recorded: in one version, the name of the town had been derived from its founder chieftain named Banku Rai, while in another, the town was so named after Bir Bankura, who, being one of the twenty-two sons of Bir Hambir, the most famous of Malla kings, succeeded this part of the property (taraf) from his father. All three propositions by O'Malley was negated by Amiya Kumar Banerji in his West Bengal District Gazetteers, Bankuda, published in 1968. He (Banerji, 1968:1) cited Rennell's map of 'The provinces of Bengal situated on the west of Hooghly River' published on October 14, 1779, where 'Bancoorah' was mentioned as a small village. The name Bakoonda was also found in contemporaneous official records. He noted that the subsequent reference of the name Bankura was found in an official letter from the collector of Burdwan addressed to the President of Board of Revenue dated February 16, 1794, where the place was mentioned as 'Bhakoorah of Bishenpore'. He (ibid) opined that 'Bishenpore' must be derived from 'Vishnupur', the seat of the Malla dynasty. The name 'Bishenpore' continued till 1834 A.D., and between 1834 and 1855 A.D. the name of the district changed from 'Bishenpore' to 'Bankuda'. According to him (ibid: 4), the most plausible explanation of the name 'Bankuda' might be found in the widespread practice of 'Dharma cult' in the Rarh region- the object of veneration being commonly known by the name 'Bankura Ray'. However, the district was spelt differently as 'Bancoorah', 'Bankoorah' or 'Bankurah' at different times.
The earliest reference to the country, to which present day Bankura formed a part, is found in the Jaina Acharanga Sutra (ibid: 59). The Sutra tradition, according to some scholars, dates back to 6th or 5th century B.C., i.e. approximately the period of Vardhamana Mahavira and some parts of it is assumed to be written around 3rd century B.C. According to the first book of the Jain scriptures the country was pathless and rugged, the terrain was heavily forested (ibid).
Historically, this area had been ruled by the dynasties of Guptas, Palas and Senas in different time periods. Besides, several expeditions made by the Odishan King and invasions by the Khilji, Turki, Marathas resulted in shifting of political scenario from time to time. But the history of Bankura prior to the British rule went with the rise and fall of the rajas of Bishnupur, said to be one of the oldest dynasties of Bengal. The West Bengal District Gazetteer, Bankura of 1968 (Banerji: 67-8) noted that some evidences are extant that would tend to prove that in 10th, 11th and 12th centuries there were some independent and semi-independent principalities emerged in the Dwarakeswar and Kangsabati river valleys with more or less stable polities. These principalities might not have been prosperous enough to attach the notice of the neighbouring powers nor perhaps were they powerful enough to challenge the might of the others. Protected and isolated by different terrain and deep forests, they, nevertheless, thrives in their own small way and developed distinct characteristics of their own. Along the Dwarakeswar River course, there still exist some dilapidated structures at Sonatpal, Bahulara and Dihar which the archaeologists ascribe to the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries A.D. Besides these extant edifices, there is unmistakable evidence of large shrines once standing at Te-deuli, Dharapat, Rautara which were constructed probably between the 10th and the 16th century A.D.
Bankura serves as a landmark of history for its temples and their architectural excellence. Banerji (1968: 68) observed that in mediaeval Bengal, local chiefs, rajas of independent and autonomous principalities as well as prosperous traders were the chief patrons for temple building. It can safely assume that the people who commissioned and maintained such big and ornate temples might have enjoyed within their respective domains some sort of political and administrative stability without which such ambitious and protracted ventures could not have been undertaken. This observation had been supplemented because many of the shrines were built with lateritic stone, which was not locally available and might have been quarried and transported from distant places involving not only huge expenses but also considerable time. A stable polity can only encourage such prolonged efforts. Trade and commerce too could not have flourished; there not been some political stability and security.
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