On either side of the meandering road, the monotony of green paddy fields was often broken by the small patches of thick, lush green Saal forests. At places, layered one above another, the profile of granulated Laterite was visible, showing the varied shades of red. Water lilies in blue, pink and white colors carpeted over the green waters of innumerable ponds were adding more hues to the landscape. The entire scenery was so beautiful that we excused the terrible road that had already given us backache.
Within two hours of partially smooth and largely bumpy drive we were in the dry and dusty town of Bishnupur. I was perplexed over the complete absence of exclusivity. Bishnupur was just another small town. It was not what I had expected. But my anxiety disappeared when our taxi arrived at a stately erected pyramidal superstructure.
Located 132 km north-west of Kolkata in West Bengal, Bishnupur is known for architecturally exclusive temples made of terracotta engraved panels. Built by the Vaishnavite rulers of Malla Dynasty between the 17th and 18th centuries, the temples of Bishnupur are of profound distinction and one of the finest examples of architectural exquisiteness. Although the Father Time has acted upon them, their olden glory is still intact, and carelessly suggests the grandeur of bygone era.
Ras Mancha was our first stopover. Made in red brick on an elevated square Laterite plinth, this pyramidal shrine is the manifestation of unique architecture. Decorated with terracotta motifs, its three successive circumambulatory galleries around the sanctum are even more beautiful. Built in the 16th century by Bir Hambir, Ras Mancha was center of activities and the place where the Ras Festival was held until the 19th century. During the festival the idols from all the temples were brought here to be worshiped by the people. Now the Festival is held in a nearby ground and is a sort of a commercial gathering of traders and vendors who come from every corner of the state to sell their products and artifacts.
By then I realized Ras Mancha was just a trailer and, for sure, the town had many more surprises for me. The terracotta town proved me right every time our taxi chugged to a halt. Shyama-Raya Temple was our next stop. This five-spire crown temple made in red brick on a low square plinth is exquisite in terms of high class terracotta ornamentation and extraordinary in its structural configuration and artistic beauty. Its Rasmandala panels aesthetically illustrate the Krishna Lila whereas splendidly crafted other wall panels beautifully narrate the stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Radha Madhava Temple, Keshta-Raya Temple, Radha-Shyama Temple, and Madhan Mohan Temple, all dedicated to Lord Krishna, are equally impressive in terms of architectural style and workmanship. Artfully done walls, pillars and arches of the typical single spire Radha Madhava Temple elaborately portray the stories of Krishna Lila and contemporary life. Only a few furlongs away from Radha Madhava Temple is Jorh Bangala or Keshta-Raya Temple which seems to be a union of the sloping roofs of two temples. Then next, we moved to Radha-Shyama Temple which is highly appreciated for its exquisitely garlanded walls and stucco relief. Anantashayana Vishnu in the inner sanctum wall is what I believe is the main highlight of this Temple. The historic masterpieces are well protected and preserved by the Archaeological Survey of India. There is an entry ticket, which once purchased will be valid for all monuments.
Bishnupur has as many ponds as temples. The Malla Rulers built over seven tanks to protect their forts and ensure year round supply of water in the kingdom. Lal Bandh is one of those seven massive tanks. Legend has it that the Lal Bandh derived its name from Lal Bai, who was drowned by the courtiers of Malla King Raghunath II in Lal Bandh, for they believed she made the king her slave by her charm and convinced him to accept Islam. Lal Bandh is still believed to be haunted by her spirit. However, Lal-Bandh has been a statement to establish the grandeur and prosperity of the glorious rule of the Mallas.
From its ruins and ramparts, it is evident that the Bishnupur Fort would have been a massive structure with strategic arrangements to protect the kingdom from any foreign attack. The remnants of rectangular channel around the Fort and its two massive, Laterite stone gates speak out loud about the thinking put in to check any external infiltration. In name of the Royal Residence there is nothing but desperate ruins. The history of the Malla Rulers, who patronized the famous Bishnupur Gharana of Music, is still glorious and well preserved in a nearby Museum. One can see the carved and beautifully designed Wooden Door of the Raj Badi (Royal Residence), musical instruments, and carefully conserved miscellaneous artifacts.
The temples and monuments are not far away from each other; therefore it won’t take more than a day or two to explore the finely engraved old world on terracotta panels. But to your delight, Bhishnupur is not just about architecture and terracotta temples. It has lot more to offer you – exquisite Baluchari sarees, beautiful Dokra art, terracotta pottery and stunning art work done on bamboo. Bishnupur is a whole world of fine craftsmanship for you to discover!
How to Reach
Kolkata is the nearest airport. By road, Kolkata is 132 km away. Bishnupur is well connected by rail and road. Rupasibangla Express starts at 6:00 am from Howrah and reaches Bishnupur at 9:37 am. Alternatively, you may also choose Purulia Express which departs from Howrah Station at 4:50 pm and reaches Bishnupur at 8:00 pm. There are also direct trains from New Delhi, Puri and Visakhapatanam. The distance between Kolkata and Bishnupur can be covered by 2 hrs 30 minutes. It is also well connected to other cities and towns of West Bengal by rail and road networks.
Where to Stay
There are good budget hotels and lodges for stay. Don’t expect swanky star hotels. What you will get is the comfortable place to stay and nice food to eat. Bishnupur Tourist Lodge (Tel: +91.3244. 252. 013) is the best available option. There are also other hotels such as Hotel Laxami Park, Monalisa Lodge and Hotel Bishnupur which offer comfortable stay options.