Terracotta Country

A section of Rajbari grounds at Ambika Kalna
A section of Rajbari grounds at Ambika Kalna

The debate continues till date. Which is the ultimate temple town of Bengal – Bishnupur or Ambika Kalna? Bishnupur is indeed more popular among tourists as it has connecting trains providing the luxury of travelling in AC Chair car and many standard accommodation facilities. Sadly till date, for travelling to Ambika Kalna by train you have mostly unreserved local trains. There is one Intercity express with AC Chair car facility but in reaches it the afternoon and is not ideal for day tour. Lodging facilities are just two or three at the most. Till date, the best way to reach Ambika Kalna is by road. The journey takes about 2.5 to 3 hours and you can cover the city easily in a day trip.

Ambika Kalna showcases all major temple structure of Bengal of Temple
Ambika Kalna showcases all major temple structure of Bengal School of Temples

Bishnupur is way ahead that any temple town when it comes to variety in terracotta art. However, if you consider the variety of temple structures, Ambika Kalna is way ahead. You name a style in Bengal temple structure and this town in the Burdwan district has it to showcase. Also if you are strictly talking about temples with terracotta panels, Bishnupur has only four such temples. Rests of the temples at Bishnupur are made of laterite stones. Whereas in Ambika Kalna the number of “terracotta temples” are more than double than that of Bishnupur.

One of the country home of a landlord which resulted in a writer's fancy
One of the country home of a landlord which resulted in a writer’s fancy

Eminent sports journalist Moti Nandy was also an eminent Bengali novelist who was popular among readers of all ages. His most famous fictional character was the swimmer “Kony” on which even a national award winning film was made.

Yet Moti Nandy did not write any sequel to Kony. Instead, he made of series of novels on another female character named Kalabati. She hailed from a family of ex-zamindars of a settlement named Atghara. Nearby was Bakdighi where another family of ex-zamindar resided. The stories of Kalabati were based on the characters of these two villages. In the first story, Kalabati participates in disguise in an all boys cricket match between the two settlements and wins the match for her team. This was long before the film “Dil Bole Hadippa” featuring Rani Mukherjee starred was released and one wonders if the film was inspired by the story.

Cluster of Temples over Mound of Baru Chandidas, Nanoor
Cluster of Temples over Mound of Boru Chandidas, Nanoor

The town of Nanoor alias Nanur is also known as Chandidas-Nanoor as it was the hometown of the famous 14th century poet Boru Chandidas. Although the name of three other Chandidas comes up from the history, the one associated with Nanoor is the most famous.

The Police station is named as Nanoor too. Chandidas Nanoor is also the head quarter of the Community Development Block of Nanoor which comprises of 24 villages. Apart from the temples at Chandidas Nanoor, some of these villages have age old brick temples of which many have exquisite terracotta work on their walls. Uchkaran is one such village. The villagers of Nanur Block are not well off. Recently many NGOs have been working in this area to promote handicraft made by the villagers.

Terracotta studded Facade of a temple at ilambazar
Terracotta studded Facade of a temple at ilambazar

Temples of Ilambazar

Ilambazar was a prominent trading hub during the 19th century. British had sugarcane manufacturing factory and indigo plantations and the people had enough reason to be prosperous. As mentioned in my earlier blogpost a busy port named Saheb Ghat existed at Birbhum’s Ilambazar, with numerous British and French ships in its vicinity. One John Erskine was the leading sugarcane manufacturer. He also had indigo plantations. Today’s Ilambazar looks like any suburbs of Kolkata. A scenic drive through the Chaupahari Jungle towards South of Bolpur takes you to Illambazar. There are many tribal villages in this jungle. The people of these villages are extremely poor.

Terracotta decorated walls of a Deul temple at Itonda located only 10 km from Shantiniketan
Terracotta decorated walls of a Deul temple at Itonda located only 10 km from Shantiniketan

The Bengalis are a travel loving community. Some never tires to go to the same tourist spot repeatedly over the years , while some tries to find out offbeat spots in remote areas or near their favourite familiar places.

Apart from the famous Di-Pu-Da Circuit (Digha, Puri and Darjeeling), one of the favourite holiday spots of Bengalis is Santiniketan. Not only limited to Bengalis, this University town founded by Nobel Lauarete Rabindranath Tagore is popular to tourists all over the country and from many parts of the world.

However, this blogpost is not about how to spend an usual weekend at Shantiniketan. This is about the Brick temples around them, which is unknown to most of the tourists.

Unique Jora Bangla Durga Temple, Bali Dewanganj, Hooghly
Unique Jora Bangla Durga Temple, Bali Dewanganj, Hooghly

Temple experts, archaeologist and heritage enthusiastic can argue as to which brick temple of Bengal has the most unique terracotta decoration on its wall. However, when it comes to temple structure, the Jora-Bangla Temple of Bali Dewanganj of Hooghly district beats all other regarding uniqueness.

Balidewanganj is a small village near Arambagh of Hooghly district. From Arambagh one has to cross the bridge over river Dwarakeshwar and turn left into Balidewanganj Road. A drive of half an hour takes you to the village.

Jora- Bangla Temple explained

The Chala or Bangla type roof of a temple is derived from covers of thatched hut in rural Bengal. Such temples have two sloping roofs.  A Simple Do-Chala Temple roof sometimes looks like an inverted boat. A Char Chala Temple structure has four sloping roofs.

The roof of a Jora-Bangla temple is actually two Do-Chala Temple roof constructed side by side. Sometimes it looks like two inverted boat side by side.  In some instances, a tower is raised between these two roofs as a crowning element.

Fortfied Residence of Niranjan Bhadra's Family, Kotulpur
Fortfied Residence of Niranjan Bhadra’s Family, Kotulpur

After our memorable trip to Joypur & Gokulnagar, we went to visit our third destination of the day – Kotulpur.

The metal road lined with trees in front of the Gokulchand Temple took us to another part of the highway bypassing Salda village. You need to turn right and drive straight to Kotulpur. It takes around half an hour to reach the place.  Kotulpur is quite a big locality.

Bell Metal Chariot outside Sudhakrishna Bhadra Residence
Bell Metal Chariot outside Sudhakrishna Bhadra Residence

On the main road there is a small statue of Khudiram Bose – one of the youngest revolutionaries in the Indian independence movement. We took the lane just besides it. It was a very narrow lane with random houses of odd shapes and sizes around. Soon we came to a pond on our right. On its opposite side we could see four Deul structured temple inside an enclosure. It was well past two and the Sun was falling on our face.Crossing the pond, we hit another lane, this one much wider than the other. We turned right and stopped in front of the gate. There were two compounds here, both belonging to the Bhadra family of Kotulpur. Outside the first compound stood a Bell Metaled Ratha ( Chariot) with plenty of used mineral bottles dumped under it. It was a sorry sight.

Huge Terracotta Figures in Duttapara Temple, Joypur
Huge Terracotta Figures in Duttapara Temple, Joypur, Bankura

Joypur and Gokulnagar are two history enriched localities within close proximity of the popular tourist destination Bishnupur. However, due to lack of propaganda, you would find a few takers. Driving through the Joypur Reserve Forest near the State Highway 2, Joypur village is only 18 kms from Bishnupur.  Close To Joypur is Gokulnagar.

Joypur has two Nabaratna (Nine Pinnacled) terracotta temples at Depara and Duttapara. The local zamindar family of Dutta & De were prominent cloth merchants in the past. Gokulnagar is another two km in the interior of Joypur. Here is the Pancharatna (Five Pinnacled) Temple of Gokulchand inside a fortified enclosure. The temple is made of laterite stone.

Further driving down the highway for around 16 km, you may also reach another temple town of the yesteryear – Kotulpur. Kotulpur has several temples. The most significant are the structures inside a fortified enclosure at Bhadrapara, of which Pancha Ratna Sridhar temple and the “Giri Gobardhan” style temple are worth mentioning. The fortified residence of the Bhadra family is worth viewing too.

Lord Shiva's Marraige, Sridhar Temple, Sonamukhi
Lord Shiva’s Marraige, Sridhar Temple, Sonamukhi

Sonamukhi is a busy little settlement of Bankura District. Situated between Bankura town and Burdwan, Sonamukhi is very close to Bishnupur too (34 kms). It falls on the way to Hadal Narayanpur from Bishnupur or Bankura.

Early History

Stone Idol of Swarnamukhi Devi
Stone Idol of Swarnamukhi Devi

Sonamukhi is named after local deity Swarnamukhi Devi, whose stone idol is still worshipped here. During the raids of the trusted general of General Suliamann Karrani – Kalapahar, the idol was damaged to some extent. However, it is said that during raids in Bengal by the Maratha Bargees, Maratha leader Bhaskar Pandit had worshiped this idol.

During East India Company’s rule the place was a hotspot for Silk, Cotton Garments and Indigo trading. Sonamukhi is referred as a village of weavers in some Bengali books published in 17th century. After 1813, there was remarkable increase of export of raw silk from Bengal, when Sonamukhi played a prominent role. There was a factory here under John Cheap of East India Company, whose annual provision of silk on average was over 600 mounds.

Gaja Lakshmi on the walls of Rasmancha, Hadal-Narayanpur
Gaja Lakshmi on the walls of Rasmancha, Hadal-Narayanpur

Among various villages in Bankura District, the twin village of Hadal-Naryanpur is very renowned because of its historical background and terracotta temples. Although it is only 60 km from Bankura town, which is below two hours hours drive, the village is surprisingly not a popular tourist spot.

Hadal-Narayanpur can be also reached from Bishnupur (48 km) and Burdwan (54 km) almost in the same time interval. There is a railhead and a bus stop at Dhagaria which is 5km from the village.

The village is situated on the banks of Bodai river. Hadal and Naryanpur are situated side by side and belongs to the same mouja; hence referred as the joint name : Hadal-Naranpur. It is said that the village was first established by one “Murokata” Chakraborty, who literally cut down trees to start up the village.