Heritage of Bishnupur

Bishnupur located about 140 km from Kolkata is famous for its beautiful terracotta temples. Bishnupur, the capital of the Hindu Mallabhum kings, was founded in the 8th century AD. The Malla kings ruled the territory till the 18 th century AD. A team of anthropologists of the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI), who are studying this temple town as part of a project of Ministry of Culture, opined that Bishnupur should be looked as a centre of culture, not just as a temple town.

Bishnupur Terracotta temples

Bishnupur gets its name from the Lord Vishnu, the deity of the Malla kings. During the reign of Malla kings, the town developed an exclusive and distinctive form of architecture involving terracotta works.  The Malla kings, who were Vaishnavites, built many terracotta temples for Lord Krishna during the period of 17th and 18th century. The architecture of these temples is a bold mix of Bengali, Islamic, Orissan styles.  Most of the temples are of Eka-Ratna type with a single tower upon a sloping roof and a square cell known as Grabhagriha. There are few temples with multiple towers of Pancha-Ratna types. Built with local laterite and brick, the temples were covered with terracotta tiles depicting scenes from the epic Mahabharata and Ramayana. The most striking temples are the Jor Bangla, Madan Mohan, Ras Mancha and Shyam Rai.

The distinct cultural expression of the Bishnupur is evident from other cultural aspects of the town such as its terracotta art, a distinct musical gharana, handloom balucheri silk sarees, the distinctive art of making playing cards, dokra figurines, conch shell carving  etc.

Bishnupur gharana

The Bishnupur gharana, whose history has been revealed very little, has a prestigious past. It was emerged during the reign of King Raghunath. The Maharaja of Bishnupur was a contemporary of Emperor Aurangzeb and during that time Seni gharana was in full bloom. Due to Islamic fanaticism many musicians moved to the court of the Bishnupur Maharaja who was patron of arts. That time the then renowned Dhrupad singer Ustad Bahadur Khan of Seni gharana, descendant of Tansen, visited Bishnupur and made his gharana popular. This gharana is still an important part of Indian classical music. It had a good deal of influence on many of the songs composed by Rabindra Nath Tagore.

Baluchari sarees

The famous Baluchari sarees made of tussar silk. They depict stories from ancient India including from the Ramayana and Mahabharata on ‘pallu’ as well as borders. Baluchari styles are part of the weaving tradition of Bishnupur.  A major influence of the terracotta temples can be seen in Baluchari sarees. The Baluchari Sari has been granted the status of Geographical Indication (GI) in India.

Bankura horses

The famous product of the terracotta handicrafts is the famous Bankura horse. The potters of Panchmura village near Bishnupur started making of Bankura horses. Their sizes vary from plam-sized to bigger ones with over 1 metre high. The unique style of the horse is its long erect neck, small legs, pointed ears, and small tail. The terracotta arts had ritualistic origins. The Bankura horses were offered to the village deities. Now they are used for decorative purpose also.

Though the terracotta temples represent the unique culture of the Bishnupur, there is a decline of other cultural traditions of Bishnupur. There is a need to document and restore the cultural practices of Bishnupur. The temples of Bishnupur are presently in the UNESCOs tentative list for consideration for nomination as World Heritage Sites.

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