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.
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.
There are several temples here, but the most famous is the 25 pinnacled Sridhar temples having some of the finest terracotta work on its wall. There are only five 25 pinnacled temple in Bengal, and by style this is totally different from the others. Covered with trees, this temple deserved to undertaken by ASI or State Archeology, simple because of the sheer class of the terracotta works on its wall. The temple was constructed in 1845 by a weaver gentleman named Kanai Rudra.
It is difficult to believe that such a small town has so many temples tucked away in different corners of it. Mind you, it is quite a busy town and not a village like Hadal Naryanpur. The marketplace located on both sides of the Sonamukhi Main Road is lined up with several shops. Other than the Sridhar temple and Swarnamukhi Temple, there other temples are scattered over the place. I spotted as many as four Rasmancha and several flat roofed temples in the area. I made two visits to this town, but I still have reasons to believe that I have not spotted all the temple structures. Maybe in future, if I make a trip to this place I will try to locate many more structures and add them to this travelogue.
My first visit to Sonamukhi was from Bishnupur when I went there with friends for a photography tour coupled with a visit to Hadal Naryanpur as well. At Sonamukhi, it is better to park your car on the main road and a take a walk around as most of the temples are located inside narrow by lanes. Guided by a local gentleman we walked on a busy street with several shops around towards the Chowrasta (crossing of four roads) of Sonamukhi – the place most used for giving a reference to any locality. Just before the Chowrasta, there is an extremely small lane on the left. Our friendly gentleman led us inside this lane. Just a few steps inside this lane and we located the Sridhar temple on our right.
If you want to locate the Sridhar temple on your own, look out for a shop named ‘Ganapati Hardware’ on this road just before the Chowrasta. Just before the shop is the small lane which takes you to the temple. On weekdays, especially on Thursdays you will find lot of peddlers sitting on this small lane selling mushrooms. A map is given here to locate the Sridhar Temple.
From the road you can see the right wall of the temple. Turn right from the small lane and you will hit straight to this wall. On the right of the temple wall is the boundary of another house with an overgrown garden. There is apparently no gap between the boundary and the temple. The gate of the boundary which falls on the lane is locked. It means you cannot see the back wall of the temple. However the wall you are facing has ample terracotta plaques on it of top quality. The minute detailed work will definitely impress you. Unique scenes like Marriage of Lord Shiva, Exchange of child during Lord Krishna’s birth and Bramha – creator of world originating from the naval of Shri Bishnu can be seen adorning the walls of this temple.
On your left, there is a narrow alley, which is the entrance to the front of the temple. We came into a small courtyard which has a well in one of the corners. Opposite to the temple is the two storied house of the present owner – the Ganguly Family. The temple has a triple arched entranced. It has 25 pinnacles all right, but the structure is not huge like the 25 pinnacled temples of Kalna or even of Sukharia. However, it is unique in its own style. The terracotta plaques of the front side are more detailed with more variety. Several shrubs and other undergrowth have grown on the pinnacles of the temple. You cannot see the left wall of the temple as the ugly wall of the house next door blocks it. On the whole this beautiful temple looked like shrinking between so many structures around it.
The temple has terracotta work on its base panel, pillars, arches and facades. Photographs of some unique terracotta work of this temple is mentioned below.
The Temple’s diety is a Shalgram Sila – a black stone which is worshiped as Narayan – an incarnation of Lord Bishnu. The wood work of the door of this temple is also worth watching. Coming out of the temple area we walked straight through the lane looking for the other temples with the help of directions given by Mr. Bhuban Ganguly of the aforementioned Ganguly family. We landed up in another lane and took a left turn. The buildings of the area were of mixed pattern; some of modern structure and some looked built decades ago. There were some scattered brick temples on the way.
Temples in Shyamabazar area
We came into another lane and took a left turn. Strolling down and asking directions to the curious bystanders our next halt was a temple of Goddess Sitala inside yet another lane on our left. This was a Dalan Temple(Flat Roofed) coupled with a Ridged Panch Chura (Five Pinnacled) structure. There were two horse statues on the top of the flat roofed structure. However I suspected them to be of actually being statues of Donkey as Goddess Sitala’s Vahana (Carrier) is a Donkey.
Behind the temple was a 17 pinnacled small Ras-Mancha painted with blue. Comparing with my reference photograph I deduced this to be the Siddeshwar Rasmnacha.
Retracing back we walked into another lane parallel to this one and came besides a yellow coloured house with a peculiar shaped balcony. Just besides this house there was a courtyard where a beautiful flat roofed temple painted in blue was located along with a nondescript Bengal Deul Styled Temple. The two lanes were extremely close. We could even see a potion of the earlier mentioned Sitala Temple from this courtyard. Above the door of courtyard it was mentioned in Bengali that this temple dedicated to Lord Laxminarayan Jiu was renovated in Bengali year 1364, which means almost 53 years ago (Present Bengali year is 1419).
Once again we were back into the main lane. This area is locally known as Shyambazar. We walked on passing by several Aatchala temples and a renovated flat roofed white painted temple of Raghunathjiu on our right until we came to the temple of Swarnamukhi Devi, again on our right on an open area. There was a well here too.
The flat roofed temple had lost its old world charm and was renovated in a modern style with marble flooring. There is a statue of Gaja Lakshmi (Goddess Lakshmi with two elephants) and two lions facing each other. These statues seemed to have made in recent times.
However the vermillion smeared stone idol of Swarnamukhi Devi is of ancient origin. Also in the temple you can find stone idols of Tirthankar beside the idol of Devi. These are also severely smeared with vermillion and it is almost impossible to understand their details until you go very close to them and scrutinize. Several clay horses and elephant, typical of Bankura are placed besides these idols.
Temples at Gopalbed Area
From The Chowrasta if you take a right turn keeping Ganapati Hardware to your left, you will come to the Sonamukhi Main Road. This is the way to Burdwan. Taking a left turn from the Chowrasta takes you to Bankura town. Mr. Bhuban Ganguly of The aforementioned Ganguly family told us to look for a Giri Gobardhan styled Temple near Cinemahall or Goplabed (pronounced as Gopalberr).
I looked in vain to locate any Cinema Hall on the main road. We parked the car at one corner of the main road and went to venture. It turned out that there was no Cinema Hall in the road, but a locality called Cinematal Bazarpara (maybe there was a cinema hall here once upon a time)! It was relieving to know that we are actually standing at Gopalbed locality.
Sure enough at Gopalbed a small lane on our left led to us to a field. On one side there was the typical Giri Gobardhan styled west facing temple (1835 built) with some male figures on its wall. On the other end of this ground was a Deul styled temple with almost no terracotta works its wall.
However it was a flat roofed structure on this field which attracted me the most. I have not read about this structure in any of the books, including that of David McCutchion’s book published from Asiatic Society. So I went near and looked at this structure with curiosity.
In all probability this used to be a flat roofed temple as evident from the decorated “Chura”(Spire) which shows a figure praying with folded hands. The Flat roofed structure was sitting on a platform. Its roof had collapsed. Once there was an enclosure on the four sides of the temple. Now the walls have disappeared, only the pillar remains. However, whatever stucco decoration remained on the walls, the pillars and the “Chura” was impressive enough. There was no “Prathishtalipi” or any foundation stone on the temple.
Temples at Babupara
Coming back to the Sonamukhi Main Road we retraced our steps and entered another small lane located on the backside of the Giri Gobardhan temple. This road was supposed to lead towards Babupara, where a beautiful flat roofed temple of Mangalchandi along with a Rasmancha existed. Taking a right turn from the lane followed by a left turn, we walked straight to reach the Rasmancha on our right.
On the way we passed an elevated concrete structure with an enclosure on our left having several clay horses inside it under a tree. There was a foundation stone on which it was written in Bengali, that one Kalidasi Pal built up a horse statue in memory of her mother in the Bengali year 1398 (21 years ago). There were several Bankura styled burnt clay horses in that enclosure under that tree. This is a very common sight in Villages and towns of Bankura district. People built up such elevated area in the memory of their loved ones, generally under a tree and put up horse statues. This place is considered to be holy (locally known as ‘Devatar Than’ alias the place of Gods) and people put up more horse statues as and when their wishes made to God are fulfilled. However, you generally do not see a foundation stone or a enclosure in such places.
The 17 pinnacled white Rasmancha with red coloured doors was as expected, but I was disappointed with The Mangalchandi flat roofed temple opposite to it. It was practically run down covered with undergrowth. There was little fresco work visible on it. Consulting the photograph which I had on this temple, I was wondering whether it was taken very long ago. There was an on huge old mansion on the left this temple and an old run down Deul on its right.
I was still dwindling about the present structure of the temple, when I met a local gentleman. Looking at my photographs, he declared that the run down structure was indeed the Manglachandi temple, but the photograph with me was that of Radha Gobinda temple, which is nearby and is very much in proper shape.
We took the extension of the road and walked for 5 minutes besides to a pond to reach the temple. The temple was inside an enclosure where a local schoolmaster was giving lesson to the students. This was indeed the structure was per the photograph, only instead of white it was painted in a combination of light green, yellow and clay colours. The temple had a triple entrance in the front. Each large Pillar was a combination of multiple small pillars. The walls had beautiful stucco floral design on them. The teacher informed me that the temple has been repainted recently.
We retraced back to the Babupara Rasmancha. There is a road besides the old mansion opposite to the Rasmancha. If you walk straight through that road you get to see one run down flat roofed temple on your right followed by two more structures side of side on the middle of the road. One of them is a seventeen pinnacled Rasmancha very similar to the Siddheshwar Rasmancha which I have previously mentioned. There was no name or date mentioned. The Dolmancha had no date too but it had a foundation stone on it. It said that this Dolmancha of Gopintah Thakur was built by Goloknath Bandopadhyay in memory of one Nabakumar.
Further down this lane is the ashram of Manohar Das Babaji – a renowned saint in this locality. The lane ultimately takes you to the main road to Bishnupur. Turning left you will reach the previously discussed Chowrasta (crossing of four roads). You can visit Sonamukhi from Burdwan, but it is always better to visit Sonamukhi from Bishnupur, coupled with a tour to Hadal Naryanpur. From Burdwan, the road to Sonamukhi is one of the worst I have seen till date. The car sways like a boat on rough seas and it was only some distance from Sonamukhi town that the road condition improves.
1. Bankura Jelar Purakirti (Bengali) by Amiyakumar Bandopadhyay
2. Temple Art of Late Mediaeval Bengal by Nihar Ghosh
3. Changing Profile of the Frontier Bengal, 1751-1833 by Binod Sankar Das
4. Late Mediaeval Temples of Bengal by David McCutchion