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A Short Tour of Temples of West Bengal, India

Dr. A K Chatterjee is a seasoned writer with more than 330 blogs in English and Bengali and 10 books mostly on travel, trekking and temples.

A DEUL type temple

Ichhai Ghosher Deul

Ichhai Ghosher Deul

Introduction : Temple tour

When your guest is a journalist from Mumbai with a strong interest in history, and he wants to have a taste of Bengal temples in your vicinity, what will you do? You most probably ask for the service of a guide. In my case I myself was the Guide. The reason? Well, I've visited a large number of temples in different districts of West Bengal, and have a little knowledge about these. This naturally makes me fit for the job of a guide.
So, we started with our guest for a small but comprehensive temple tour from Durgapur, an industrial city of the state of West Bengal where I live.

My objective was to show the chap a fairly representative chunk of the beauty of the temples of West Bengal. To fulfill this, I made a plan to include temples with different architectural style and of different era. Obviously, the logistics were kept securely in mind.

So, I've made a plan to start with "Ichhai Ghosher Deul", a DEUL or tall turret-type of temple situated in a village called Gaurangapur in the district of Paschim Bardhaman on the southern bank of the river Ajoy, then proceed towards Kenduli village in the district of Birbhum on the Northern bank of Ajoy by crossing the river by the fair-weather bridge to visit the "Radhavinod temple", then proceed to some other places where we can see different types of temples.

Photos of Deul temple of Ichhai Ghosh

The DEUL temple of Ichhai Ghosh, Gaurangapur

The DEUL temple of Ichhai Ghosh, Gaurangapur

"KIRTIMUKH" -- a face of a demon

"KIRTIMUKH" -- a face of a demon

A dancer

A dancer

Ichhai Ghosher Deul

With this plan in mind, we landed on the Ichhai Ghosh's temple. This Deul type of temple, with a tall turret, stood for hundreds of years near the river Ajoy in a desolate place in the midst of a dense forest, though the forest has been reduced to almost nothing at present by indiscriminate felling of trees.
The 18-metre high turret has some decorations on four sides, the most notable being the "KIRTIMUKHA" ( a huge face of a demon) and some figures of dancers. It is not clear when the temple was established, as there is difference of opinion among different authorities as in 11th century CE, 16th-17th century CE or mid-17th century. Again, there is difference of opinion regaring who established this temple -- Maharani Bishnukumari of the Royal family of Bardhaman, King Chitra sen of Bardhaman, or some unknown descendants of Ichhai Ghosh, a powerful local chieftain.
Originally, this was a temple dedicated to Goddess Bhagawati, but later a big Shiva Lingam made of black stone was placed inside the sanctum.

After visiting this temple, we turned North, and by crossing river Ajoy reached Kenduli village to visit the famous Radhavinod temple.

Photos of RADHA VINOD temple

Radha Vinod temple, Kenduli, Birbhum

Radha Vinod temple, Kenduli, Birbhum

Terracotta decoration of Radha Vinod temple

Terracotta decoration of Radha Vinod temple

MRITYULATA (Chain of Death) panel, Radha Vinod temple

MRITYULATA (Chain of Death) panel, Radha Vinod temple

Visiting Radha Vinod temple, Kenduli, Birbhum district

Radhavinod temple, established in 1683 CE by the Maharani Brajokishori of the Royal Family of Bardhaman and associated with the legend of the famous Sanskrit poet Joydev who authored the famous Sanskrit ballad "Geet Govindam", is a fine example of NABARATNA temple (temple with 9 turrets) with curved roof, with exquisite terracotta decorations on the front side. The most prominent of these decorations are those depicting scenes from the great epic Ramayana ( particularly the battle scenes) and a scene depicting Ravana, while abducting with Sita in his chariot, was being attacked by Suparsho, the nephew of Jatayu, the celestial bird. One particular terracotta design decoration must be mentioned, that is of "Mrityulata" (chain of Death). Here in a vertical row, several figures of different animals and humans are placed in such a way that it seems that every figure is attacking or devouring the figure just below it.

Chandranath Shiva temple, Hetampur

Chandranath Shiva temple, Hetampur

Decoration of Chandranath temple. please look at the European figures.

Decoration of Chandranath temple. please look at the European figures.

Decoration of Chandranath temple : European figures.

Decoration of Chandranath temple : European figures.

Decoration of Chandranath temple : British emblem

Decoration of Chandranath temple : British emblem

Chandranath Shiva temple, Hetampur

After visiting Radhavinod temple, we proceeded towards Hetampur, a historical village, the once upon a time capital of the Hetampur kingdom. Hetampur boasts of two beautiful Shiva temples, one (Dewanji temple) a REKHDEUL type of temple and the other ( Chandranath temple) an unusual type of temple requiring a detailed description. In addition to these two gems of temples, Hetampur boasts of another architectural marvel, viz. The Hetampur Rajbari (Royal palace), an early 19th century mansion of Gothic style.

Chandranath Shiva temple, built in 1847 CE by Govinda Sundari, sister of Raja Ram Ranjan Chakraborty, houses a white stone-built Shivalingam. It is an octagonal temple (not very common in Bengal) with 8+1 = 9 turrets, thus making it a unique type of NABARATNA temple. In addition, each of the nine turrets bear a human figure, very rarely seen in Hindu temples. But the most striking feature of this temple is the presence of terracotta plaques many of which bear depictions of European men and women, including a bust of "Queen Victoria". Even the emblem of the British Empire is there.

Photos of Dewanji temple, Hetampur

Dewanji temple, Hetampur

Dewanji temple, Hetampur

Terracotta decoration of Dewanji temple

Terracotta decoration of Dewanji temple

Dewanji temple, Hetampur, Birbhum

Dewanji temple, a small 19th century "Rekhdeul" type of temple with a single ridged turret, has some fine terracotta decorations depicting scenes from Ramayana and Krishna Leela (stories of Lord Krishna).

Photos of Ranjan Palace, the Royal Palace of Hetampur

Ranjan Palace, the Royal palace of Hetampur, Birbhum

Ranjan Palace, the Royal palace of Hetampur, Birbhum

Inside Ranjan Palace, the Royal palace of Hetampur, Birbhum

Inside Ranjan Palace, the Royal palace of Hetampur, Birbhum

The main entry gate of Ranjan Palace, the Royal palace of Hetampur, Birbhum

The main entry gate of Ranjan Palace, the Royal palace of Hetampur, Birbhum

Top of a turret of the gate of Ranjan Palace.

Top of a turret of the gate of Ranjan Palace.

Ranjan Palace, the Royal palace of Hetampur

Our next stop was at the Royal Palace.
Hetampur Royal Palace or Rajbari is also called "Ranjan Palace" (as per the name of the king who built it - Ram Ranjan Chakraborty) or "Hazarduari" ('palace with one thousand doors'), though the actual number of doors is said to be 999. This huge Gothic style mansion with huge Corinthian columns, was built in 1805 CE in a twin-palace style. Now the western part houses DAV School and the eastern part a B.Ed. college. The main entry to the palace is through a huge gate. There are some human figures on the top of the gate. Interestingly, same type of figures are present on the turrets of Chandranath Shiva temple.
The beauty of this picturesque mansion attracted big names of the Bengali cinema directors like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Tarun Majumdar, Raja Sen, Sandip Ray and the like to shoot some of their famous movies here.

Photos of Lakshmi Janardan temple, Ghurisha, Birbhum

Lakshmi Janardan temple, Ghurisha

Lakshmi Janardan temple, Ghurisha

Terracotta decoration 1, Lakshmi Janardan temple, Ghurisha

Terracotta decoration 1, Lakshmi Janardan temple, Ghurisha

Terracotta decoration 2, Lakshmi Janardan temple, Ghurisha

Terracotta decoration 2, Lakshmi Janardan temple, Ghurisha

Goddess Durga breastfeeding baby Ganesha; Terracotta decoration, Lakshmi Janardan temple, Ghurisha

Goddess Durga breastfeeding baby Ganesha; Terracotta decoration, Lakshmi Janardan temple, Ghurisha

Lakshmi Janardan temple, Ghurisha, Birbhum

After visiting Hetampur we proceeded towards Ghurisha village on the Panagarh-Moregram highway. Ghurisha boasts of two beautiful temples of different genre. One, the Lakshmi Janardan temple is a NABARATNA temple (temple with nine turrets) with flat roof (please compare it with Radhavinod temple which is a Nabaratna temple with curved roof). It was built in 1739 AD. This temple has extensive beautiful terracotta decorations depicting several mythological and social stories. One particularly beautiful piece of work is that of Goddess Durga breastfeeding her son Lord Ganesha, the Elephant-headed god.

Photos of Raghunath Shiva temple, Ghurisha

Raghunath Shiva temple, Ghurisha

Raghunath Shiva temple, Ghurisha

Terracotta decorations, Raghunath Shiva temple, Ghurisha

Terracotta decorations, Raghunath Shiva temple, Ghurisha

NABANARIKUNJARA  in terracotta; Raghunath Shiva temple, Ghurisha

NABANARIKUNJARA in terracotta; Raghunath Shiva temple, Ghurisha

RASMANDAL  in terracotta; Raghunath Shiva temple, Ghurisha

RASMANDAL in terracotta; Raghunath Shiva temple, Ghurisha

GAJENDRA MOKSHA  in terracotta; Raghunath Shiva temple, Ghurisha

GAJENDRA MOKSHA in terracotta; Raghunath Shiva temple, Ghurisha

KOKAMUKHI KALI  in terracotta; Raghunath Shiva temple, Ghurisha

KOKAMUKHI KALI in terracotta; Raghunath Shiva temple, Ghurisha

Raghunath Shiva temple, Ghurisha

The other temple, named Raghunath Shiva temple, is a CHARCHALA type of temple (temple with four slanting roofs) built in 1633 CE. It also has exquisite terracotta decorations depicting scenes from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, Krishnaleela, various gods and goddesses and mythological characters. One particularly interesting depiction is that of the goddess KOKAMUKHI Kali (Kali with jackal's head). Three other notable depictions are NABANARKUNJA (a figure of an elephant made by clever placing of nine ladies) RASMNDAL (a circular depiction of dancers surrounding the central figure of Lord Krishna or of Lord Krishna along with his divine consort Radharani) and GAJENDRA MOKSHA (Lord Vishnu giving salvation to the elephant king).This is a State Archeology Department protected temple.

Photos of Gauranga Mahaprabhu temple, Illambazar

Gauranga Mahaprabhu temple, Illambazar

Gauranga Mahaprabhu temple, Illambazar

Terracotta decoration 1, Gauranga Mahaprabhu temple, Illambazar

Terracotta decoration 1, Gauranga Mahaprabhu temple, Illambazar

False door in terracotta, Gauranga Mahaprabhu temple, Illambazar

False door in terracotta, Gauranga Mahaprabhu temple, Illambazar

Goddess Durga in terracotta, Gauranga Mahaprabhu temple, Illambazar

Goddess Durga in terracotta, Gauranga Mahaprabhu temple, Illambazar

Battle between Lord Rama and Ravana : tale from Ramayana in terracotta, Gauranga Mahaprabhu temple, Illambazar

Battle between Lord Rama and Ravana : tale from Ramayana in terracotta, Gauranga Mahaprabhu temple, Illambazar

Gauranga Mahaprabhu temple, Illambazar, Birbhum

After visiting Ghurisha we proceeded towards Illambazar, an ancient market-town famous for trading in Lac. Here, inside the market there is an octagonal temple built in 19th century dedicated to Lord Gauranga Mahaprabhu. This temple, called "Haat-talaa Gauranga Mahaprabhu temple" has a tin - roof which is unusual. The noted English expert on temples David J. McCutchion who documented Bengal temples in the 19th century described this temple as a "Ridged Rekha Deul" type. So, probably the turret-like roof was destroyed some time along the years and later replaced by the present tin roof. This is also a State Archeology Department protected temple.
The terracotta decoration of this temple is excellent, with notable depictions of Krishna Leela, Ramayana, Goddess Durga and many other mythological figures. Social scenes depicting boats, rows of musket-bearing soldiers, men and women from various strata of the society etc are also seen.

So, this was our short but enthralling tour of some notable temples of this part of West Bengal.

Temple tour : Conclusion

To summarize, today we've seen different types of temples -- "Deul" (Ichha Ghosh's Deul), "Rekh Deul" (Dewanji), "Nabaratna" with curved roof (Radhavinod), "Nabaratna" with straight roof (Lakshmi Narayan temple, Ghurisha), "Charchala" (Raghunath Shiva temple), octagonal temple (Mahapravbhu), special type of temple (Chandranath Shiva) etc.
We've also seen various types of terracotta decorations. So, as a whole, it was a very satisfying experience for all, especially for our journalist guest.

Places covered:
1. Gaurangapur, Paschim Bardhaman district.
2. Kenduli, Birbhum district.
3. Hetampur, Birbhum district.
4. Ghurisha, Birbhum district.
5. Illambazar, Birbhum district.

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