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Maluti, an "Endangered Heritage of the World”

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.

Introduction : Maluti, a "Temple-village"

Maluti is a fantastic place to see, & is a perfect example of how we neglect our heritage. A village situated in the Indian state of Jharkhand, is only 18 km from Rampurhat, an important town & railway station in the Birbhum district of West Bengal. Maluti is extremely rich in history & architecture apart from being an important centre for "Shakti" (Mother God) worship, but it is surprisingly sparsely visited by tourists.

The temple of Goddess Moulikha, the Guardian Goddess of the area

The temple of Goddess Moulikha, the Guardian Goddess of the area

Some temples of Maluti.

Some temples of Maluti.

Broken parts of old temples; Maluti

Broken parts of old temples; Maluti

Excellent stone ("Phoolpathar") bas-relief work in some temples; Maluti

Excellent stone ("Phoolpathar") bas-relief work in some temples; Maluti

Maluti : History

Maluti has a long history. Even some pre-historic stone tools found in the river bed of Chila which flows by the village confirm that Maluti used to be inhabited by our pre-historic forefathers, though the area was never excavated.

Maluti came into limelight in the 16th century as the capital of the kingdom of King Baj Basanta, which was a tax-free (NANKAR) kingdom. It is said that Baj Basanta , originally a poor village boy, got his kingdom as a gift from Sultan Alauddin Hussain Shah of Gaur (1495–1525) as a token of gratitude when Basanta managed to capture the escaped pet hawk ("Baj" in Bengali) of the Sultan & gave it back to him.

King Baj Basanta & his descendants were all very pious, & they constructed a large number of temples in the village (originally said to be 108 of those), thus making Maluti a temple village.

Some temples of Maluti

Some temples of Maluti

A dilapidated temple; Maluti

A dilapidated temple; Maluti

Goddess Maulikha of Maluti

Maluti is well known for the temple of Goddess Maulikha (or Mauliksha). The word Mauliskha comes from two words — mauli (head) and iksha (to view).

Around 1857, Swami Bamdev (or Bamakhyapa), one of Bengal’s greatest spiritual leaders stayed here at the temple of Goddess Maulikha before he migrated to Tarapith a few miles away. It is said that Swami Bamdev considered Goddess Maulikha as the elder sister of the Goddess Tara of Tarapith & used to call Goddess Maulikha as “Baro Maa” (Elder Mother). But now Tarapith has flourished as a pilgrim centre, while Maluti is almost totally neglected.

The temple of Goddess Maulikha, Maluti

The temple of Goddess Maulikha, Maluti

Main entrance; the temple of Goddess Maulikha, Maluti

Main entrance; the temple of Goddess Maulikha, Maluti

The temple of Goddess Maulikha, Maluti 2

The temple of Goddess Maulikha, Maluti 2

The temple of Goddess Tara; Tarapith, Birbhum, West Bengal 1

The temple of Goddess Tara; Tarapith, Birbhum, West Bengal 1

The temple of Goddess Tara; Tarapith, Birbhum, West Bengal

The temple of Goddess Tara; Tarapith, Birbhum, West Bengal

The "Samadhi Mandir" (mausoleum) of the saint Bamakhyapa at Tarapith

The "Samadhi Mandir" (mausoleum) of the saint Bamakhyapa at Tarapith

Maluti - an “ Endangered Heritage of the World”

Maluti was a part of Birbhum district of Bengal till 1855, but after 1855 it became a part of Santhal Pargana, Bihar. It is now in the district of Dumka, Jharkhand. In 1981, Jharkhand government has given the village the status of historically important “Temple Village”. Later ASI has taken up the care of the temples.

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In 2010, Maluti is included in the “ Endangered Heritage of the World” - list by the Global Heritage Fund of USA.

Temples of Maluti, the "Temple-village"

The importance of Maluti today is for being a “temple village”. The temples can be grouped into two distinctly separate groups :

A) The temple complex of Goddess Maulikha which is just outside the village; &

B) The temples inside the village proper.

The temple complex of Goddess Maulikha

This complex is situated just outside the village & is surrounded by a wall.

Inside, there are 4 temples :

1) The main temple of the Goddess, which is a Dochala or Ek Bangla type with triple entrance. The temple now is coated with white colour. Inside, there is the idol of the Goddess (The deity does not have a body, only a red-coloured head sculpted out of laterite stone fixed on the temple wall). There is a Nat Mandir in front of the temple.

2) A tall Charchala type temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. There are some terracotta decorations on the front façade of this temple.

3) Two other smaller temples, one of which is dedicated to Swami Bamdev, & is said to house his trident.

There is a big Neem (Margosa) tree at one corner with some broken stone idols at its base.

Main temple of Goddess Maulikha

Main temple of Goddess Maulikha

Side view of the temple of Goddess Maulikha; note the "Dochala" (Double roofed) structure

Side view of the temple of Goddess Maulikha; note the "Dochala" (Double roofed) structure

Goddess Maulikha

Goddess Maulikha

"Charchala" type of Shiva temple; Maulikha temple complex, Maluti

"Charchala" type of Shiva temple; Maulikha temple complex, Maluti

Broken idols at the base of the Neem tree;  Maulikha temple complex, Maluti

Broken idols at the base of the Neem tree; Maulikha temple complex, Maluti

The temples inside the village, Maluti

The whole village is dotted with temples. But a grand view jumps to the visitor at a particular area where 72 temples are located in around a radius of 350 metres!

It is simply stupefying. Temples, almost all Charchala type with single entrance of Bengal style, are standing there in several clusters.

Some of the temples have Pirha-type design at the top.

There are examples of places with more than this number of temples at one place (eg. Kalna or Nababhat of Barddhaman district where one can see 109 temples at one place), but the grandeur is definitely more here. Temples of different sizes & of different colours, with or without fine decorations, solitary or in clusters, stand there in grand silence. The scene is really awe inspiring.

Some of the temples show signs of decay & neglect, but many are in good shape. ASI is definitely doing some good job here.

The temples mostly contain Shiva Lingams. Some seem abandoned. Some are plain without decorations, some are with terracotta decorations on the front façade.

Two "Charchala" (4-roofed) type temples; Maluti

Two "Charchala" (4-roofed) type temples; Maluti

Another "Charchala" type temple; Maluti

Another "Charchala" type temple; Maluti

3 "Charchala" temples, Maluti

3 "Charchala" temples, Maluti

2 more "Charchala" type temples, Maluti

2 more "Charchala" type temples, Maluti

The temple complex of 109 Shiva temples in Kalna, Purva Bardhaman district, West Bengal

The temple complex of 109 Shiva temples in Kalna, Purva Bardhaman district, West Bengal

Temple decorations in Maluti : an overview

Some of the temples in Maluti show signs of decay & neglect, but many are in good shape. ASI is definitely doing some good jobs here.

The temples mostly contain Shiva Lingams. Some seem abandoned.

Some are plain without decorations, but some are with intricate bas-relief decorations on the front façade which though look like terracotta, are actually of a type of soft stone available locally called "Phool Pathar" or "Giri Pathar".

Same type of stone decorations are used in the temples of Ganpur of Birbhum district of West Bengal.

The "Phool Pathar" plaques display (in bas-relief) scenes from Hindu epics & mythology, mainly scenes from the Ramayana but other pictures like those of different goids and goddesses like Durga, Kartikeya, Ganesha, Saraswati etc, Dashavatars (Ten Incarnations of Lord Vishnu) & scenes from Krishna’s life (Krishna Leela) are also seen.

Ramayana 1 : the battle of Rama with Ravana

Ramayana 1 : the battle of Rama with Ravana

Ramayana 2 : Sita and Laxmana

Ramayana 2 : Sita and Laxmana

Ramayana 3 : Lord Rama killing Maricha, the demon in the guise of a golden deer

Ramayana 3 : Lord Rama killing Maricha, the demon in the guise of a golden deer

Ramayana 4 : "Sita Haran" (Ravana eloping with Sita)

Ramayana 4 : "Sita Haran" (Ravana eloping with Sita)

Ramayana 5 : Another panel showing the battle between Rama and Ravana

Ramayana 5 : Another panel showing the battle between Rama and Ravana

Mahishasuramardini : Goiddess Durga killing Mahishasura, the demon

Mahishasuramardini : Goiddess Durga killing Mahishasura, the demon

Lord Ganesha

Lord Ganesha

Lord Kartikeya on his peacock

Lord Kartikeya on his peacock

Goddess Saraswati with Veena in hand

Goddess Saraswati with Veena in hand

Matsya and Kurma Avatars of Lord Vishnu

Matsya and Kurma Avatars of Lord Vishnu

Varaha Avatar

Varaha Avatar

Krishna Leela 1 : Bakasura Badh (Killing of Bakasura by Lord Krishna)

Krishna Leela 1 : Bakasura Badh (Killing of Bakasura by Lord Krishna)

Krishna Leela 2 : Vastra Haran

Krishna Leela 2 : Vastra Haran

Social and decorative scenes in the temple decorations in Maluti

Though the bulk of the "Phool Pathar" decorations constitutes scenes from the Ramayana, gods and goddesses, Avatars of Lord Vishnu and Krishna Leela , there are many social scenes like Palanquin, soldiers with muskets, horse-riders, elephant-riders etc. and some decorative floral and geometric patterns.

Here is a look into these.

Soldiers with muskets

Soldiers with muskets

A guard with a musket

A guard with a musket

Elephant riders

Elephant riders

Horse riders

Horse riders

Palanquin

Palanquin

Geometric design

Geometric design

Floral design

Floral design

Conclusion

Maluti can be reached from Rampurhat town by hired car/trekker. Rampurhat is well connected with Kolkata by road & rail.

Maluti, with its beautiful temples, awaits for visitors. It really deserves much more attention than it is getting now.

© 2012 Dr A K Chatterjee

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