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.
As you enter the narrow lanes from the main road you will feel you are in another of those non descriptive settlements around Kolkata which you can reach in one hour local train journey from Kolkata. New two to three storied houses can be seen amongst age old mansions. There are narrow Lanes with people passing by along with cycles and bike riders. You enter another lane and can jolly well land in the middle of a herd of cows.
The temples at Ilambazar has some of the finest terracotta work seen in Birbhum. The first temple to visit at Ilambazar is the unique octagonal shaped Gouranga Mahaprabhu Temple. It has a tin roof on it. Maybe the roof was never completed. David J. Mccutchion classifies this temple under the same category of the Octogonal temple at Supur, i.e. Octogonal Ridged Rekha Deul.
It is usually said by the visitors that this temple is in one corner of a bazaar, so you better be early in the morning to get a good look at the structure. Or else you can have your view obstructed by local vendor stalls. However that is the usual mistake in direction given by fellow travelers which misleads people. This is because as soon as you will reach Ilambazar after a 17 km drive from Government Tourist lodge at Bolpur and ask for the market, you will be directed to a narrow lane inside which there is a chaotic market which starts as early as 06:00 in the morning. But unfortunately that is NOT the market of your destination.
Actually the trick is to take a right turn from Ilambazar towards Ghurisha on the Moregram Panagarh Road. Ask anybody for the Hath-tala Mahaprabhu Temple and the locals will direct to a narrow lane on the left of the highway. Drive through it and then you have to go into a narrower lane on the right to reach an open area with a banayan tree in the middle. You have reached Hath-tala market. One may think I am kidding, but if you reach as late as 07:30 in the morning (Yes that is late) you will find the market has extended onto the lane. There will be temporary shops in front of the temple as well.
The Hath-tala Mahaprabhu Temple is located on the right corner of the market. If you have some experience about Terracotta Temples structure, you will look at this beauty and understand that is one of its kinds. It has a Natmandir adjacent to it (actually almost attached to it.). This prevents you to take a proper look at the panel just above the entrance door, forget taking its photograph.
This temple has also been undertaken by West Bengal State Archeology, but just like Supur there is no signboard. The temple is within a wired enclosure, but that has not prevented cattle class and ignorant residents of this settlement to dump garbage inside the enclosure. The Temple has deities of Gour Nitai inside it, so regular worship certainly takes place and locals must be visiting here.
The lower panels of the temples are decaying and are not in a good shape. However some of the upper panels are still in pretty good shape.
At present there are windows made amidst some of these doors in ill taste. They did not originally exist. Since I find no need of multiple windows inside this small temple, I am assuming that these portions were damaged or broken down. Maybe the State Archeology later put the windows up as these portions were beyond repair. However the door facing the road seems to indeed have originally a window at a lower level as evident from a terracotta window frame heavily repaired.
The upper arch panel above this door is that of Goddess Durga and her family. Most of the faces are beyond recognition, but I was interested with the Chalchitra. During Durga Puja, we have seen Chalchitras on the backdrop of the idols painted with various figures. In Terracotta Panels, in case the Chalchitra of Durga is to be designed it is done in the same manner as in real life. An example can be seen in the temple of Bhattabati near Murshidabad. In the Mahaprabhu Temple a wave pattern can be seen on the Chalchitra, which looks like a curtain in a theater show. Also in this Panel, there is a huge Terracotta Lotus which has miraculously survived the sufferings from the hands of fate.
Another prominent panel depicts Brahma’s delusion scenario from Krishna’s Bal Lila (The Play of the Child). The Top portion depicts the four headed Bramha (only three is visible though) hiding the calves and the Shepherd boys inside what looks like a forest . Just below are four identical marionettes of Krishna along with herd of Cow and calves scenario. Brahma had intentionally made the calves and the Shepherd boys vanish and took them to a secured place. Then Krishna himself took the form of the calves and the cowherd boys to provide comfort to the cows and the ailing mothers.
The detail of the figurines is a treat to Terracotta Art lovers. In this panel there are also clay models of some women, one priest with a tilak on forehead, a man with an folded umbrella. I looked with amazement at the details of expressions of these idols as well as their dress. The umbrella was made in details too. They have all survived over 200 years without much care !
The other two large prominent panels are of that of Ras Chakra and battle between Ram and Ravana. The additional ornamental panels of Raschakra have been long destroyed and have been replaced by plain ordinary tiles.
Of the other panels, notable were Bhagirath bringing Ganga to Earth surrounded by idols of prominent Hindu Gods, Shiva and Durga on a Bullock, Durga with Ganesh in her laps, Krishna and Rukmini playing dice and many others. The most interesting thing was presence of Roman (non fluted) Corinthian Columns and shuttered windows.
Some of the vertical friezes (locally known as “Mrittu Lata”) between the walls seems to have been renovated in recent times by the State Archeology department. One frieze has a unique sequence of Tigers, Dogs, Men, horses, lions, Men (repeated) and elephants. There were small wall panels after these vertical friezes.
Almost all of the lower panels have lost their identity. Out of the better lower panels I observed Marching English soldiers marching just like that of temple of Supur. Also like Supur, there was a thin small panel showcasing only similar faces within round frames. I found one panel showcasing an armed Soldier in front of a rather disproportionate house with a boat sailing in front of him. There was another panel of sailboats which have eroded significantly. Viewing sailboats in the temple panels of Illambazar reminds of its once status of a port town.
I do not know exactly when the State Archaeology took over this temple. However, a marble slab at the entrance announces proudly that just 15 years ago the floor of temple was renovated in the memory of one Anila Bala Gharai residing at Khayerbuni village.
From the Mahaprabhu Temple, you need to walk diagonally opposite through the market and walk into a lane. Here are some newly constructed house on its both sides. Passing by a road perpendicular to the one you were walking on, you will land at Bamunpara alias Brahmanpara. There are three temples in this locality of Ilambazar.
The first temple is the Deul of Bhairavnath Shiva, which falls on your left. Established in 1846 by one Bhairav Chattopadhyay, this temple does not have any terracotta motifs on it. Raised on a platform, the temple has a cover over the verandah in its front, which is definitely a contemporary structure. It seems regular worship takes place here.
Walking further down the road, the traveler encounters a dilapidated huge mansion on the right. It does not look like a Zamindar house, but like a large old residential house which has been abandoned for years. This is the local Bandopadhyay family’s house, which seems to be abandoned for years. Like a contrast on the backside of this dilapidated huge mansion is the beautiful terracotta decorated Lakshmi Janardan temple. To access it, one can take a short cut through the abandoned mansion or walk further and turn right besides a yellow coloured flat roofed temple with a courtyard. The Temple is just beyond this flat roofed structure.
The 70 feet high Pancha Ratna Lakshmi Janardan temple was founded in 1846 (1253 Bengali Year as seen in the foundation stone) by one Kshudiram Bandopadhyay. The south facing temple stands on a platform with an open verandah in front. It has a triple arched entrance with an inner verandah. The temple has two floors and there is a small staircase from its inner sanctum (garbhagriha) to the top floor. The deity is a Narayan Salgram Shila. Salgram or Shaligarm Shilas are natural black stone which are aniconic representation of Vishnu. The deity is kept upstairs in the night and is brought downstairs in the morning for worship.
There is no terracotta work on the base panels or any on the pillars. That has been compensated with the presence of exquisite detailed terracotta work with diverse themes on the three arch panels above the entrance and the semicircular top panel above them. The vertical wall panels have terracotta works which includes Dasavatar motifs and verticals friezes of Man, horse, lion and elephant. The semicircular top arch panel on the steal the show. It has motif of nobleman and woman carried in palanquin, Vaishnav dancers dancing with Chaitanyadev and Nityananda. The minute details of the arch panel is amazing and can be compared to that of the Lakhsmi Janardan Temple of Debipur, Burdwan.
On the central arch panel just above the entrance there is a beautiful Raschakra motif surrounded by several Krishnalila scenario on the top sub panel. The lower sub panels also showcases several scenes from Krishna Lila. These included Kalia-Daman, Goshtho Lila, lifting of Giri Gobardhan mountain, Nouka Vihar and rare scenario like Krishna painting Radha’s Feet. There is presence of shuttered windows as seen at the earlier Mahaprabhu temple. Umbrellas are present in some woman’s hand.
The arch panel to the right of the viewer is interesting. Occupying a major portion of the panel is that of Durga as Mahishashur Mardini (Slayer of Demon Mahishashur) along with her family members. There are other figures too like Shiva and Durga on a bull, but the Mahishashur Mardini panel is imposing enough to overshadow the others.
The semi-circular chalchitra above Durga has a pattern of a curtain in a theater show similar to the one seen in the Mahaprabhu Temple. More interestingly there is a portion of a window shutter just below the chalchitra, as if ready to pulled down to cover the idol. Kartick and Ganesh are bit far away from the Durga idol and inside separate frames. Laxmi and Saraswati are close to the Goddess.
The arch panel to the left of the viewer showcases enthronement of Rama, a Yajna being performed by Rishis and the battle of Ramayana. Like Mahaprabhu Temple, there is presence of Roman (non fluted) Corinthian Columns here. The Temple is in relatively good condition and a marble plaque says that it was renovated in 2006.
The Bandopdopdhay mansion is in all ruins and there is nothing much interesting inside except deathly silence and some goats grazing in the premises. Moving back to the main road walking straight the visitor will come across the east facing Deul temple of Rameshwar Shiva to the left. This temple was founded by one Ramdhan Chattopadhyay during the first half of 19th century. There is yet another Mahishashur Mardini panel on the Northern wall of the temple and a huge Jagadhhatri Panel on the southern wall.
The Mahishashur Mardini Panel is large too, with Shiva accompanied by Nandi and Bhringi above it. However the face of Durga is defaced, which is a pity as rest of the idol remains intact. The enormous Jagadhhatri idol sitting on a lotus above two lions has its face intact though. Above Jagadhhatri, there is a panel showing Krishna along with Gopinis.
The arch panel above the door shows enthronement of Ram along with Sita . However, the details of dress materials are worth mentioning. The umbrella looks similar to the type as seen in other temples of Ilambazar and Birbhum. This may have been influenced from the umbrellas of European ladies . At the bottom of each side of the arch panel, there is a figure of a European playing drum.
The base panels are in decaying state. Out of those worth mentioning is a panel showcasing the Goddess as Chinna Masta (When she cuts her own head). Other instances of European can be seen as native servant serving sleeping “Sahibs”, Soldiers marching and many others. Top wall panels include Krishna Lila scenarios like Goshtha Lila, lifting of Giri Gobardhan and others. One interesting wall panel is that of a European cleaning his own gun. llambazar also has several flat roofed temple scattered around, some ruined and some in better state.
While in Ilambazar, spare some thoughts for the legendary painter Shri Mukul Chandra Dey, who first photographed the temples of Ilambazar in the 1940s. In those days neither locating the temples were easy nor was taking their detailed photographs. Shri Mukul Chandra Dey was very innovative too as he had a makeshift traveling studio inside a bullock cart!
Temples of Ghurisha
From Ilambazar main crossing, one has to turn right towards west and drive through the Moregram Panagarh road for around 7 km. From the main road one has to turn left to enter the village and reach the temples. The people of the village are very friendly and they enthusiastically guides visitors to the temples.
Ghurisha was once a great centre of Nyaya Shastra and other Sanskrit learning. Nyaya Shashtra alias Nyaya Philosophy is one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy—mainly the school of logic.
The first temple which a visitor usually visits in this village is the Charchala temple of Raghunathjee. Founded by Late Raghunath Bhattacharya in 1633 (1040 as per Bengali Calender), this temple was dedicated to Lord Rama. The east facing temple is considered to be one of the earliest brick built temple of Birbhum. It is said that once it housed a golden image of Rama, which was purloined by the Maratha raiders during the middle of eighteenth century. One gentleman named Rammoy Panchatirtha renovated the temple as a Shiva Temple in 1964 as is evident from some lines written in Sanskrita in a plaque on the western wall of the temple.
On this wall one can see the foundation stone too, which has been painted distastefully in white making the writing almost illegible. Taking a close up photo and tweaking it through imaging software, I could someway manage to read a phrase in the first line as Shakabda 1555. Shakabda is another calendar followed in old Sanskrit and Bangla manuscripts. Some foundation stone has their dates in Shakabda. Just add 78 to the Shakabda year to get its English version.
The Temple has been constructed on an elevated platform with open verandah on four sides. A flight of stairs on eastern side allows the visitor to climb up this platform. The temple has two doors, one on the eastern side and the other on the northern wall. There was supposed to be a marble plaque with four lines inscribed on it on the floor outside the eastern entrance.The first line was “Raghuttamacharyea Vichitra Mandiram”. However, I could not locate any such inscription on the floor.
On the top of the temple, there are three stucco kalasas (Jar) and lotuses placed above each other. Above these there is a Trishula (Trident). I guess this Trishula was a latter addition when the temple had Shiva as its deity.
The terracotta plaques of this temple are quite large, which is reminiscent of terracotta panels of temples at Bishnupur. On the eastern side arch panel above the entrance one can see a fairly large Shiva figurine riding on a bull. To the right (of the viewer) of this idol is a four headed Brahma on his Swan and to the left (of viewer) is a severely damaged Vishnu on Garuda. Diagonally below Brahma is a motif of Chinnamasta which is difficult to identify without viewing through a zoom lens. Diagonally below the Vishnu statue is an enormous Kali. I have not seen much idol of Goddess Kali in terracotta as detailed and as dynamic as compared to this.
Some archaeologist and iconography specialist friends of mine have opined this figurine as Chamunda and not Kali. Chamunda is closely associated with Kali and is one of the Sapta Matrikas Huge flares of fire is coming out from the face of the Goodess as she is seen here dancing above a dead body wearing a skull garland. One can see a fire burning and a fox in the scenario. Chamunda in Terracotta is a rare scenario.
The other prominent wall panels of eastern side shows Dasamahavidya Motifs, Dasavatar Motifs, Shiva and Parvati riding a bull, Sarawswati and Lakshmi. The individual wall panels are large and detailed. Following are some examples.
Northern side of the temple showcases the battle between Rama and Ravana with their soldiers on the arch panel above entrance. Other prominent wall panels shows battle between Karna and Arjun, Gajendra Mokhsha Motif, Bishnu in Ananta Shayan Posture, Ras Mandala and scenarios from Krishna Lila. Out of these Gajendra Mokhsha motif is a rare scenario in terracotta. It is a scenario from Bhagabat Purana where Vishnu comes down to earth to protect Gajendra, the elephant (who was king Indradyumna in his past life) from the clutches of Makara, the Crocodile in order to give him Mokhsha.
The base panels of the temple are in decaying state and only few battle scenarios exists. Unlike most of the temples of Birbhum, there are no European figures in this temple.
Moving away from the Charchala temple, the second worth mentioning structure of Ghurisha is the 1739 built Navaratna Gopal – Lakshmi – Janardan temple. This is also an east facing temple. The condition of the temple is much better than that of the Raghunathjee Temple. It seems the temple has seen renovation work in recent times from a marble plaque on the walls of the temple. It is mentioned on that plaque one Kalyani Nag from Bahadurpur (Burdwan) did the renovation work of the temple for keeping the memories of her family members alive. No year is mentioned but it seems that the renovation work is hardly a year or two old. The temple was originally founded by Kshetranath Dutta, a Gandha Banik who traded in Lac with English Merchants of Illambazar.
The renovation work has been restricted to the walls and the floor of the temple. The pinnacles and the roof did not seem to have seen any repair work. However, they were devoid of any trees or undergrowth.
The structure stands on a raised platform with an open verandah. The temple has a triple arched entrance to a closed verandah before the entrance door to the Garbhagriha alias inner sanctum. The temple also has an adjacent raised platform which seems to be a contemporary structure.
The terracotta panels of the Nabaratna temple is in excellent condition with intrinsic details. The central arch panel depict Shri Chaitanya and Nityananda Mahaprabhu singing and dancing with other Vaishnavites. Just below this there is a woman sitting on a throne surrounded by other women in a respectful manner. By all probabilities this may be Radha. Similar theme of Radha is visible on other temples. I have seen one at Dewanji Shiva temple at Hetmapur, but this one beats the others with its details, especially of the dresses.
The arch panel located right to the viewer has an exquisite motif of Shodashi alias Tripurasundari, one of the ten Goddesses comprising Dasa Mahavidya. This is perhaps the most perfect depiction of Tripurasundari in any Terracotta temples of Bengal. The Goddess is in meditation posture, sitting on a lotus which generates from the naval of Shiva. Shiva is lying on a bed which actually looks like a huge throne. This throne is held by Brahma , Bishnu and three other forms of Shiva – Rudra, Ishana and Sadashiva. The Godesses does not hold anything in her hand at present, but the closed fist of each arm depict that originally there might have been the traditional objects (five arrows of flowers, a sugarcane as a bow, a noose and a goad ) held by Tripursundari.
The arch panel located to the left of the viewer has only half of the portion intact. Apart from several motifs of Radha Krishna, there is large idol of a lady sitting with young Ganesh on her lap. This should be Durga as Ganesh Janani, but the terracotta model looks more like an ordinary woman than the divine way the goddess is represented. I have seen similar panel at Radha Gobinda temple at Atpur, Hooghly but there the Goddess was well decorated with jeweleries. May be the artisan wanted to depict the Goddess inside any woman. Like all 18th to 19th century temples, the terracotta figurines of the Nabaratna temple were more like static dolls and western influence looked prominent.
Above the arch panels there is a vertical panel showcasing Rama and Sita seated on throne surrounded by several subjects and saints. Other wall panels show European woman in their traditional attire, Hindu Gods like Ganesh, Goddesses like Chinnamasta, Dasavatar scenarios, social scenarios like men smoking hookah, soldiers and many others. Another significant panel is on the right hand top corner ( to the viewer) a large sized figurine of Goddess Kali. This is almost as same size as the one seen in Raghunathjee temple, but this one is in a better condition. However, I preferred the one in Raghunathjee temple as it was more dynamic.
In this temple, many of the base panels is in recognizable state. Like the Mahaprabhu temple, there is many ships at the base panel. One panel shows Srimanta Merchant’s famous Kamale Kamini scenario from Mangalkavyas. Another shows a warship carrying English soldiers.
The deity of the temple is Salagram Sila, Gopaljee, Tripurasundari, Mangalchandi and Ganesha. Originally all the towers had chakra, but now only three is left with them.
Like Supur, Surul and Itonda, a visit to the terracotta temples Illambazar and Ghurisha can be completed in a half day tour from Shantiniketan or a full day tour from Kolkata.
You can add Radhabinod Temple of Joydev Kenduli to your list too. From Ghurisha Joydev Kenduli is only 15 kms. To get information about Joydev Kenduli , please read my blog of Joydev Kenduli Fair.
Visiting Ilambazar and Ghurisha in a day
You will need to hire a car from Bolpur to visit these two places. You can do it as an extension of your trip to Shantiniketan, or do it as a single day trip from Kolkata. However, I would suggest doing this tour solely as an extension of your tour to Shantiniketan if you wish to reach Hathtala Market of Ilambazar early in the morning
Distance: Bolpur Railway Station to Ilambazar Hathtala – 18.3 km Ilambazar Hathtala To Ghurisha Panchayat Office – 8.3 km Ghurisha to Bolpur Railway Station – 26.4 km
Like the previous tour this should also take 4 to 5 hours. If you include Joydev Kenduli in your trip add another 1 hour. Details of train and local eateries has been given in the previous blog post on Surul, Supur and Itonda.
Special Thanks 1. Argha Guha who acoompanied me to Ilambazar and Ghurisha 2. Banani Bhattacharya, who deciphered me some terracotta panels References 1.Temple Art of Mediaeval Bengal by Nihar Ghosh, Shilalipi, January 2006 2.Temples of Birbhum by Sukhamay Bandopadhyay, BRB Publications, 1984 3. Brick Temples of Bengal – From the Archives of David Mccutchion by George Mitchell, Princeton University Press, 1992