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.
Temples of Chandidas-Nanoor
The mound of the ancestral house of Poet Boru Chandidas along with 14 temples standing on it have been renovated and maintained by Archeological Survey of India (ASI). However it also has few takers. Only a handful tourists visit Nanoor, although it is only around 20 kms from Bolpur. Out of the several temples at Nanoor only two have considerable terracotta art left on its wall.
The most famous temple standing on the mound is the Bishalakshmi temple which is locally known as Basuli temple. The poet’s father Bhavanicharan was the priest of this temple. After his demise, Chandidas took over as the priest. Initially the poet was a Shakta and followed Shaktidharma. In due course he became a Vaishanavite. He wrote poems in praise of Krishna and his magnum opus was the book Srikrishna Kirtan.
Although the manuscript was found with its several pages missing (including the beginning and concluding pages), it still had as many as 417 verses. The book is a compilation of lyrics based on life of Radha and Krishna . It highlights many social aspects of 14th century. Boru Chandidas broke age old tradition by openly declaring his love for the low-caste washerwoman Rami. Rami has a melodious singing voice and was a fan of Chandidas’s Poetry. Ultimately Boru Chandidas left his post as priest of the temple and left with Rami.
There is a modern gate in front of the narrow lane which leads to mound of Boru Chandidas. On the top of the gate that epic line by Chandidas is mentioned “Kahe Chandidas Sunoho Manush Bhai , Sabar Upore Manush Satya Tahar upore Nai” (Says Chandidas to his fellow humans that nothing other humanity is above all). Nearby is the pond where Rami used to wash clothes and the poet used to go for fishing.
There is a debate on whether the poet’s residence was actually in Nanoor or at Chaatna, but the popular belief is that of Nanoor. Nothing is visible of the house of Chandidas, except the mound on which the temples stands. Although the mound is said to be of 14th century, the temples are of 17th to 18th century. Two excavations have taken place in the mound, one in 1945-46 by Calcutta University and the other in 1964 by ASI (Eastern Circle).
A flight of stairs from the road takes the visitor to the premises. As mentioned earlier, the main temple at Chandinas Nanoor is the Bishalakshmi temple. The south facing temple is a flat roofed structure with a tower. The tower has five brass made kalash (jars) and a thrishul placed upon it. Constructed on a platform it has an open verandah and a triple arched entrance to a covered verandah. Once this temple had enough ornamental work on it, but years of renovation had robbed it eventually.
After the demise of Chandidas, the temple succumbed beneath the earth with the deity. Later a Tilli family and a Bhattacharya Family of Nanoor recovered the Bishalakshmi idol from the mound. The 10” four handed figurine was made of brass and bronze. On two hands she held a Veena and on other hands a book and an Akshamala (garland of beads). Experts had identified it has a Saraswati Idol as per description in Agni Purana. One gentleman named Umacharan Bhattcharyea was in charge of its worship and a local Zaminder built up this temple in the 17th century.
In its inner sanctum, one can see the deity Bishalakshmi alias Basuli seated on a wooden throne.
Unfortunately this is not the original deity which was worshiped by Boru Chandidas. Like many other priceless prized possession of Birbhum (including Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel medal) the original deity was stolen from the temple in 2001. The one that we see is a mere replica. All remains of the original idol is some of its photographs. I am including a scanned photo of the deity in this post. This appeared in the book “Birbhum Jelar Purakirti” by Deb Kumar Chakrabarty, published in 1972 by the PWD Department of West Bengal. The book is presently out of print. One of my senior friend Devashis Nandy was kind enough to provide me with the scanned version.
On this mound there are fourteen other temples with Shivalingam and a small Durga dalan on its premises. Except for one flat roofed structure and one Charchala temple, all other 13 temples and the Durga dalan stand in front of the Bishalakshmi temple. I am not sure if that flat roofed structure is a temple, as the ASI board says there are only 14 temples apart from the Basuli Temple on the mound. The temples all house Shiva Lingams and were built in the same period of the Bishalakshmi temple.
Out of these only the twin Shiva Aatchala temples have terracotta motifs on its wall. These two structures stand just opposite to the Bishalakshmi temple. On the left side of The twin shiva temple stands four Char Chala Temples having intricate stucco work on them. On the right side of the twin temple lies two Charchala temples on the either side of a Durgadalan. On the back side of the Twin Temples are five Charchala Temples These five temples are plain too, except for two stucco lotus and a stucco Ganesh above the entrance of two temples. The flat roofed structure and the Aatchala Temple stands away from the cluster of the temples near the entrance of the premises.
Out of the North Facing twin temples at Nanoor, the one to the right of the viewer has most of its terracotta panels in a damaged state. The arch panel above the entrance showcases several small terracotta shiva temples with shiva lingams in somewhat clustered manner. There are two giant lotus and an extremely decorative Mangal Ghot. In terracotta temples Mangal Ghots representing metal or earthen vases are often used as a sign of good omen. There are numerous small terracotta figurines in this temples, which are sadly beyond recognition by the vagaries of time. Just above the arch panel there is a curved arch showing faces of Makar on its each end. Apart from these there are several floral motifs on the walls of the temple.
The terracotta panels of the second Aatchala temple on the left side to the viewer are in a relatively better shape. Like the other temple the central arch panel also showcases several shiva temples with shiva lingams, but not in a clustered manner. The miniature temples have been positioned on the wall with enough space between them. There are several Lotus in the arch panel too. Like the other temple, there is presence of curved arch just above the arch panel. However there are two curved arches here instead of one. The Wall Panels above it shows several figurines in terracotta in a good state.
The Central wall panels showcases Durga as Mahishashurmardini posture with Laksmi, Saraswati, Kartick and Ganesh. Apart from some damage to the Durga figurine, other five terracotta figures look good. Similar to what I have seen in Balidewanganj, Lakhsmi and are in dancing posture here and not on their Vahanas. Kartick and Ganesh are on their Vahanas – Peacock and Mouse respectively. Other panels displayed several scenes from Krishna Lila, Vishnu on Garura, Soldier on Horseback and many others. There are beautiful floral motifs too with scenes from Krishnalila in the base panels of this temple.
The four charchala temples besides the Aatchala structures have quite a bit stucco work left on them. There is no terracotta work here. Except one central panel in each temple, almost all other panels showcases floral motif. The fresco figurines compared to the floral motifs were somewhat crude. I have not seen much brick temples in Bengal with so much stucco work left in them. The Floral motifs included different flowers, creepers, flowering plants in vase as well as Purna Kumbha Motifs. Also the stucco made Pillars at the entrance are worth mentioning.
Apart from visiting Nanoor for its temples as a tourist and lover of heritage, this can actually be a pilgrimage for any Bengali or anybody interested in Bengali literature. It all began here, in this small village where sitting besides a small pond a small time priest wrote one of the most significant work in Bengali Literature.
Temples of Uchkaran
Uchkaran is only 5 km from Nanoor. As one comes back from the mound of Chandidas to the Nanoor Chandidas Road and drive westwards towards Dadhia, just after crossing the Nanoor B.D.O. office a road on the right takes to visit to Uchkaran.
Uchkaran has a cluster of four Char chala shiva temples standing on a single platform adorned with intricate terracotta work on their walls. The temples were founded by one Harendra Nath Sarkhel in 1768. Recently they have been renovated and underatken by the State Archaeology department. Other important temple in the village is that of the Flat roofed Chandroy Temple – also built in 1768. This also has been undertaken by State Archaeology.
Uchkaran is bit like Itonda, although people are more interactive here and voluntarily talks to you. If you do not have your own conveyance, to communicate inside the village the only options are “Vyano” – cycle vans which runs on petrol. At the entrance of the village, there is a food joint whose owner was known to our driver. Like Itonda, I guess the villagers rarely see a car inside the village.
As per my knowledge, I knew no terracotta work existed on the walls of the flat roofed Chand Roy Temple. All it had was a decorated wooden gate with some beautiful wood carving. So I was a bit surprised when the owner of the food joint said to me that decoration were falling apart from Chand Roy temple. Since we had reached the village by a car and I had a camera, he took me like many others to be a reporter. He requested me to report to the authorities about the temple and do something about it. I was not sure what decorations he was talking about and decided to comment only after visiting the temple.
Our first destination was the four Charchala temples. Going through several narrow by lanes we finally reached the cluster of temples. Some Muslim gentlemen guided me to the temples. As they were proudly showing me the proud possession of their village, in the background I could hear the Azaan of a mosque nearby. This could have been a beautiful scene of communal harmony and I wished if someone could have captured it as a movie.
The two corner temples only have their arch panels above the single entrance intact. However, the two central temples have many wall panels intact along with the arch panel. All arch panels showcases battlefields scenario, three of those are from Ramayana. Unlike other terracotta panels, here the Demon Asuras gets quite a bit of prominence. Although the temples were undertaken by State Archaeology, yet I could not see any signboard here.
The central arch panel of the first temple from the right (to the viewer) showcases Rama and Lakshmana fighting Ravana’s brother Kumbhakarna who is busy devouring monkeys. Besides Rama, other than Hanuman and Jambuban, one can also see Ravana’s traitor brother Bibhisan. Many Monkey warriors can be seen fightings with the demons. The figurines have been made in details with quite lot of dynamism.
The second temple from the right of viewer shows in its central arch panel the familiar scenario of the battle between Rama and Ravana. Here Ram is together with Lakshman on a symbolic chariots which displays only wheel and Makar head. Surprisingly a figure larger than that of Ram and Lakshman is also standing beside them and shooting arrows. This looks very much like Bhibisan too, going with the theme of the temple decoration.
Accompanying Ravan are several musicians and a warrior on an elephant. Two of Ravan’s head can be seen lying on the chariot with arrows struck on them. Overall, it was an impressive display of the battle. The existing small wall panels it show several scenes from Ramayana like Rama’s enthronmement , Rama blessing Hanuman, Sita blessing Hanuman, Laksmnan cutting nose of Surpanakha and many others. One corner panel shows Goddess Ganga on Makar. The most interesting two panels were that of Bengali bride and groom playing a game of dice..
The third temple has the best collection of terracotta panels. Besides its central arch panel above the entrance, a significant number of wall panels have survived the clutches of time.
The Central Arch Panel has some remarkable and rare motifs. From the left (to the viewer) one can see two form of Goddess Kali. The first one is the Shamsan Kali , who is seen dancing wearing only a skull garland and a decorative head gear over a dead body’s head. A vulture is seen at the bottom. The second one is Dakhsina Kali, who is seen dancing vigorously and as expected Shiva is seen at her feet. One of the hand and her protruding tongue is in damaged condition. The figurine of Dakhshina Kali is well dressed. There are numerous example of Kali in well dressed manner and in Saree in many Terracotta motifs.
Apart from the Kali figurines, the arch panel shows two instances of Goddess Durga as Singhabahini (Riding a lion) attacking demons. Her Lion looks a bit like horse, similar to the pattern of lion seen in many traditional houses Durga idols. In one instance she is an attacking demons riding on elephants. In other instance she is seen pulling a demon from horseback by hair. This is similar to the Chandi Panel at Itonda’s Jor Bangla Temple, but here the gorgeous dress of Durga and her horse like lion distinguishes her from Chandi. Also there are several Yoginis seen attacking Demons. Some wild animal which looks like fox can be seen devouring on dead bodies along with a vulture.
This Central Arch Panel of the third temple at Uchkaran sets an example of showcasing the Woman Power as described in Hindu Scriptures. I am not sure if any Terracotta panel of a similar nature exists in any other temple of Bengal.
Coming to other wall panels, the top panels showcases scenarios from Krishna with Radha and Gopinis. The Wall panels to the left of the viewer showcases Sage Narada with a Veena on hand sitting on Dhenki, Vishnu on Garuda in his Khagendra posture and a Four Headed Brahma is sitting on swan. This is a rare occasion where I could see all four heads of Brahma. In villages of Bengal and Assam a Dhenki was operated mainly by women to produce rice from paddy. As per the holy scripts of Hindu Religion, the Dhenki of Sage Narada was magical and he could fly on that. I am not sure why he chooses Dhenki out of the all things to travel.
In the wall panel to the right of viewer, the prominent panels are that of a Harihar ( a Combination of Shiva and Vishnu) and Shadabhuja Gouranga (Combination of Rama, Chaitanya and Krishna). There is Balaram figurine with a mace and a plough, but its face has been damaged beyond recognition.
Finally the fourth and the last Charchala Temple showcases a rare panel of Lakshman fighting against Ravana’s Son Indrajit alias Meghnad. The figures have been crafted with superior skills and they depicts immense dynamism. There are several members from monkey army attacking with tree branches while the Lankan Soldiers are attacking with swords, bow and arrow.
Only the last temple has a foundation stone which says it was build in 1175 (Bengali calender) , which as I mentioned in the beginning is 1768.
The flat roofed Chand Roy temple is just a short distance from the four temples within an enclosure located amidst cluster of many houses. Entering through a green colored gate with the name “Sri Sri Chand Roy Thakur” on it, I reached the Chand Roy Temple. Founded also in 1768 by Hridayaram Sou who wrote one of many Dharma Mangal scriptures , this was the temple of the famous Dharma Thakur named Chand Roy.
The worship of Dharma is well known in Birbhum. Dharma is described to be superior even to Brahma, Bishnu and Shiva. He is a local God and Buddhist Dharma has no relation to him whatever. Dharma is popular among Non-Brahmins like Fisherman, Weavers. As Gajan festival is related to Shiva, there is a Gajan Festival related to Dharma too known as “Dharma Thakurer Gajan”. The deity has no specific idol, so black stone pieces and even images of tortoise are worshipped as “Dharma Thakur”.
Dharma is associated with female deities like Kali and Chandi. I could not help wondering since the construction year of the Charchala temples coincides with the Chand Roy temple, whether the panel showcasing “Woman Power” is influenced by Dharma Thakur.
There was no signboard showing that the temple is under protection of State Archeology. The temple looked like a very ordinary flat roofed temple. I could see no terracotta work and it was a renovated structure like the Bisalakshmi Temple of Nanoor. There was an open verandah here too, which led through a triple arched entrance into a closed verandah. The temple was renovated in 1880 by one Lausen Debangshi.
Standing in front of the temple, I was at a loss. I was still wondering what did that shop owner said about decorations being falling down. There were many people of the villages there, who cordially invited us to see their deity. I alighted on the verandah and as I proceeded to the entrance, I immediately understood what the shop keeper was talking about.
I have seen several decorated wooden doors and many other form of woodwork in my pursuit of Terracotta Temples in West Bengal, but I have never seen such a decorated wooden door frame. Both the outer frame of the door was decorated with various motifs. The inner frame was decorated with floral motifs , while the outer frame was decorated with scenarios from life of Krishna, Dasavatar, scenarios from Ramayana and social scenarios. The door also had floral decoration.
The door has been painted in recent times with blue and green, but the problem was that the wood was decaying. I could see woodwork decaying off in several places of the door, especially in the lower portion of the door. Also holes were visible in several parts of the door and it was clearly understood that mere painting of the door will not help decaying. The wood was in rotten condition and though it is inside closed verandah, in rainy seasons it must get soaked to some extent. That would hasten the decay.
To preserve the unique wooden door frame of Chand Roy Temple, use of Wood preservatives is required. Though the temple is under State Archaeology, I have severe doubts whether any such action has been taken.
I looked in awe at the woodwork. The details of the chariots, bullock carts, human figurines were done in minute detail. The most impressive was a miniature Rasmandal and the corner of the door. Wood had started decaying besides it too.
We had some refreshment in the previously mentioned shop owner’s joint while returning back. He again asked me to do something about the decaying condition of the temple. I told him all I could do is to highlight the plight of the temple’s decorative door in my blog. He seemed impressed about it and said writing has great power.
I do not know how long the exquisite artwork on the door frame of Chand Roy Temple would survive. I have no idea whether the State Archaeology is doing any work in wood preservatives to save the decaying decorative door. But when I write this blog and share these pictures to the world, I feel I have done some justice to the hope that shop owner of Uchkaran had bestowed on me.
This reminds of that old lady of Daspur who asked me “Ei je Devatar Mondirer Eto Chobi Tulcho, Devata ke ki debe?” ( “You are taking so many photographs of the temple of God, what you will you give him (God)”). I could not reply her, but I knew the answer. Everything in this world needs Branding to get recognition. The God’s Abode are no exception.
There are several other brick temples which can be accessed from Shantiniketan, though all destinations are not within 30 km. Hetampur near Dubrajpur has some exquisite terracotta temples and is only 40 km from Bolpur. Ganpur/Gonpur near Mallarpur have quite a number of Terracotta temples and are only 66 kms from Bolpur. There are several such heritage destinations around Bolpur, waiting for the interested tourist to discover them.
Visiting Nanoor and Uchkaran 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. Other than Uchkaran there are several other villages within a radius of 20 km from Nanoor showcasing Temples with exquisite terracotta work like Charkalgram, Jalandi on one side or Jubutia, Brahmandihi on the other side towards Kirnahar. Radha Binode Jee Temple of Jalandi has a decorated wooden door frame like Chand Ray Temple. Interested visitors can couple some of these places in their tour
Bolpur Railway Station to Chandidas Nanoor – 21.3 km
Chandidas Nanoor Nanoor to Uchkaran – 4.2 km
Like the previous temple tours near Shantiniketan this should also take 4 to 5 hours. If you include any other places near Nanoor (which I mentioned) in your trip add minimum 2 hour extra. Details of train and local eateries has been given in the blog post on Surul, Supur and Itonda.
1. Argha Guha who accompanied me to Nanoor and Uchkaran
2. Banani Bhattacharya, who deciphered many of the terracotta panels
1.Birbhum Bibaran, Third Volume Edited By Maharajkumar Mahima Niranjan Chakraborty, Prakash Bhumi, 2009 (Reprint)
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