Tuesday, 23 April 2019

T is for...Terracotta...Tradition ...n ...Temples...



Take a listen to Tahsan and The Sufis – a band from Bangladesh, absolutely terrific velvety voice! Tahsan is an actor in addition to being a singer, he also sings solo.  



Next there’s The Trap  also from Bangladesh with their title Thikana (Address) which gives its name to the album –  the other tracks aren’t too bad either, and Tumi nei (You aren’t there) also fits the letter of the day. 


A young duo from Kolkata, Taalpatar Shepai, with the fun track Ami shudhu khujechi amay (I’ve only searched for myself) -



And finally, this medley which is a Tribute to Tagore - I can't let T-day pass without mentioning this towering personality - so. Young artistes covering his songs with modern music arrangements but treating the original with due respect. Great job. Though Tagore isn't just about music and lyrics, he was one guy who was elbow deep in every possible creative pie and changed all the recipes forever in Bengal.





Terracotta...Temples...Textiles 




If you scoot off from Kolkata roughly in the northwestern direction you’ll reach Bishnupur after about 150 kms. On its own, its nothing extraordinary - a regular small town scattered on the red soils of the Bankura district. Till you get to the temples, that is.


The story goes that a forest-dwelling, tribal woman found a newborn baby and his dead mother one morning when she went to collect firewood. Turned out the mother was a noblewoman who had fallen behind her entourage because of the onset of labour and died shortly after giving birth. The woman brought the baby home, called him Raghunath, and he grew up to be one of those hunky, six-pack rippling wrestler types who could kill tigers with bare hands and tame elephants with a glance…you get the picture. He was titled locally as Adimalla, which roughly means the Original Wrestler and he evolved into  the 1st Malla king, the founder of a dynasty which came to rule Bishnupur for many long centuries. The kingdom was known as Mallabhum (the land of Mallas). While the legend may or may not be based on truth, the dynasty indubitably dates back to a remote time just before 700 CE.   


Bishnupur is famed today for three things – the Bishnupur Gharana (= tradition/school) of classical Hindustani music, the Baluchari saree, and the terracotta temples built over half a century by various Malla rulers. The profusion and the workmanship of the temples especially testify to the opulence of the Mallabhum capital during in mid-17th century, and to the sophistication of its clay artisans and builders.


Incidentally, because Bengal was geographically a delta region and it did not have any locally available stone, unlike other parts of India, the tradition of stone temples never existed in Bengal. Instead the plentifully available clay was scooped and baked into terracotta panels and bricks to be used as building materials. And not just building materials but also as a medium for art, contemporary terracotta art from the Bishnupur/Bankura area and Bengal generally is famed across India.


Bir Hambir, the 49th ruler of the Malla dynasty, was originally a pretty dodgy king and a tyrant. But he turned over a new leaf after he was converted to Vaishnavism by a disciple of Sri Chaitanya and a renowned scholar, Srinivas. Vaishnavism, as you know, is the cult of Hinduism that worships Vishnu in his many avatars – especially Krishna. Once converted, Hambir went on to introduce the worship of Krishna and built the Ras Mancha in Bishnupur, where all the deities from the surrounding temples were gathered during the time of the Ras festival.

Ras Mancha


Hambir’s son Raghunath was given the title of Singha (Lion) by the Mughal Subahdar (governor) Shah Suja  at some astonishing feat of bravery. Raghunath built several temples and during his time Bishnupur became renowned as a centre of music and Sanskrit scholarship. From 1622 till about 1702, many Vaishnav temples were built, as also large tanks called bandhs. Not just the king was involved but some of their consorts also erected temples to Krishna. During this time the capital was fortified also, though the fort is mostly in ruins, some canons remain there as proof of the power and breadth of the Malla dynasty. From the early 18th century the kingdom faced hard times as the Marathas attacked the delta regions from the west. By early 19th Mallabhum came under EIC rule and subsequently became part of the Raj.

Corridor detail Ras Mancha


There are in total around thirty temples in Bishnupur, mostly in a good state of preservation. These are quite magnificent in their architecture and particularly so in the exquisite artistry of the terracotta panels used in the buildings.  They depict mythological scenes from the epics – Mahabharata, Ramayana and Krishna-lila, and also vegetal and geometric, repetitive patterns. 

The panels also contain scenes of ordinary, day-to-day life – such as bullock carts on their way to the market, a bride in a palanquin being taken to her marital home, or nobles out hunting. Warfare is a commonly depicted subject and gives an idea of the kind of weaponry that was common in those times. Similarly, images of divine musicians (Gandharvas) making music are also commonly found and indicate the panoply of musical instruments in classical Indian music of the era. 

Many of these motifs have found their way into the borders and the pallav of Baluchari sarees, which is the other speciality of Bishnupur. Contemporary handloom weavers use the temple motifs as inspiration for weaving silk sarees even today.


Jor Mondir built 1726.
Most of the temples are built in a style that echoes the typical curvy-roofed thatched cottage of Bengal, the style known as Bangla that has given English  the word bungalow. The roof may slope on two sides or four sides and can be topped by another similar curved roof in parallel, or by one or multiple shikhars –  spire type, small, squat round towers with pointy finials. All in all they are quite groovy to look at – take a peek. 

Nandalal Mondir (temple)



Panel detail



On the way to Jor Mondir Sreni




Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2019 

15 comments:

  1. You are right about Tahsan's voice. Rich, dark, melting chocolate...
    How I would love to see those temples. The architecture is incredible. How many modern buildings would survive as well? And how many would we want to preserve?

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    1. Ooh I'd want to preserve all old buildings every brick and stone every mark of the chisel, uber crazy about them. Not so much about the skyscrapers...though I guess they too will be much admired in 300-400 years, if they survive...

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  2. I have not heard about these temples, but terracotta architecture looks lovely, and now I have a new item on my "places to visit" list... :D

    The Multicolored Diary

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    1. It truly is a lovely artform...and I think it's unique to Bengal.

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  3. How fascinating. I love reading the history of other places, particularly places with a looong history (here in Oz we are really quite a young country).

    Visiting from A-Z
    AJ Blythe

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    1. India as a whole is seriously ancient so plenty of material as far as the A-Z goes :)

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  4. Terracotta is so unique. The concentration of temples there would take a while to explore. Quite lovely.

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    1. Yeah, definitely not a day trip kind of destination.

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  5. Oh what gorgeous temples. I don't know that I've ever seen terracotta artwork panels before other than painted, but wow!

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    1. The intricacy of the work is quite amazing. I don't think terracotta work like this exists outside of Bengal.

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  6. The bricks made during slave times in the U. S. sometimes have the marks of hands or fingers in them. I imagine some of those bricks must also have the prints of the makers still there after all these centuries.

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    1. That is an utterly fascinating thought. The hand of the past reaching out and touching the present, wow!

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  7. How lovely to have mythological and domestic scenes inscribed onto these beautiful terracotta tiles ..

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    1. A lot of stuff can be inferred from the scenes of daily life - the type of transportation, crops, food habits, musical instruments, what all was in use at that time. So they are kind of a historical archive too.

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  8. Beautiful temples, and I love colorful sarees!

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