The rural landscape of West Bengal is often dotted with centuries-old temples. These temples are noteworthy for their architectural styles, which have set them apart from the temple architecture of the rest of India. The temples of Bengal are devoid of grand scale and ornate sculptures – a stark contrast from its Nagara and Dravida counterparts.
Interestingly enough, Bengal’s temples were built following the model of straw–thatched huts of common people. The carved roofs became a unique feature of Bengal’s temple architecture. Even, in most cases, a temple’s style derived its name from the number of carved roofs. Thus, we come across “do chala” or twin roofed, “char chala” or four roofed, “aatchala” or eight roofed and so on. Later, small towers with conical roofs or “ratna” were added above the carved roofs. The temples were then styled as “pancharatna” (having five small towers), “navaratna” (having nine small towers), and so on and so forth.
The temples in Bengal mainly were decorated with terracotta sculptures on the outer walls. We all know the name of Bishnupur in the Bankura district of West Bengal. Bishnupur hosts a number of splendid terracotta temples.
Bolpur in Birbhum district of West Bengal is mainly renowned as the home of Shantiniketan, built by Rabindranath Tagore. It is also a favourite weekend destination of all Bengalis alike.
However, Bolpur and its adjoining areas have a host of beautiful terracotta temples. In this blog, we will discuss the terracotta temples, which are situated in the vicinity of Bolpur.
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Surul is a small town, located in the Birbhum district of West Bengal. It lies just 5 km away from Bolpur, the home to Shantiniketan which was founded by Rabindranath Tagore.
History of Surul:
During British rule, Surul played an essential role as a trade and commercial centre. East India Company’s John Cheap had established a commercial residency here.
Later, one Srinivas Sarkar took charge of the Zamindari estate, leading to the foundation of Surul Rajbari or Sarkar Bari. The Sarkar Bari helmed many socio-economic developments in the area.
How to reach Surul:
The nearest railway station is Bolpur, which is just 5 km away. On reaching Kolkata, you can take the train to reach Bolpur. Trains ply daily between Kolkata and Bolpur, the distance of which is around 162 km. From Bolpur, hire a car or a ‘toto’/e-rickshaw to reach Surul.
Places to visit in Surul:
1. Surul Rajbari/Sarkar Bari:
The first place of interest in Surul is the pristine white Rajbari or Zamindar palace. Locally, it is called Sarkar Bari or Boro Bari.
The mansion was built in the 1750s. It is still in good condition and holds its 250-year-old Durga Puja every year with much grandeur.
2. Lakshmi Janardan Temple:
This temple lies just beside the Rajbari. It is built in the “Pancha Ratna” style, having five pinnacles.
The temple is in a dilapidated state. However, some of the beautiful terracotta carvings can still be identified. The grandest of the panels depicts Rama battling Ravana. On either side of this panel, two carvings show the courts of Rama and Ravana. Beneath there is a scene depicting Sita in Ashok Vatika being surrounded by the female Rakshasas.
3. Twin Shiva Temple:
In the same complex stand two identical Shiva temples. They are built in Rekha Deul style. As per the foundation stone, the temples date back to 1831.
One of the temples showcases an arch panel of the coronation of Rama–Sita. The other temple has a terracotta carving of Durga slaying Mahisasura. Durga is also accompanied by her children – Ganesha, Lakshmi, Saraswati, and Kartick.
4. Paschim Para Shiva Temples:
A few metres away from Sarkar Bari, there are two more temples within a single complex. Both of them are dedicated to Shiva.
One of the temples is built in the “Aat-Chala” style, having eight sloping roofs. The terracotta works on this temple are in shambles.
The other temple is constructed in the Rekha Deul style. Here, the terracotta works are nicely preserved. The most exciting piece shows Shiva playing Tanpura, and Parvati nursing Ganesha on his side. There are also several terracotta figures such as Kartick, Dashavatar and so on.
Supur is a village, situated in the Birbhum district of West Bengal. It is 6.5 km from Bolpur and lies near Surul.
History of Supur:
As per mythology, Supur was the capital of Raja Surath, the Chitravanshi king of the ancient Vanga Kingdom.
An alternate legend, however, denotes Surath as a zamindar of the area.
How to reach Supur:
Supur can be reached in a similar way as Surul.
Places to visit on Supur:
The most significant draw of Supur is the “Jora” or twin Shiva temples in the Lalbazar area.
One of the temples belongs to the 18th century and was built in the Rekha Deul style with ridged turrets. The other temple is a 19th-century ridged Rekha Deul type. Both of them were built within a single enclosure.
The most distinctive terracotta panel on the white-washed temple is the coronation of Rama–Sita.
The other temple is more ornate in terms of terracotta work. The divine figures as well as floral motifs decorate it on all sides.
Recurring themes of terracotta panels on the walls show Sri Chaitanya playing ‘kirtan’ and dancing with his disciples, a five-headed man dancing with others, and a child (presumably Lord Krishna) being bathed by four women.
Another interesting panel depicts Durga with her family. The central panel has Durga along with her daughters Lakshmi and Saraswati. The left panel shows Ganesha with Riddhi and Siddhi, while the right has Kartick with Devsena.
One terracotta work displays a fight between Rama and his sons, Luv and Kush. Two others presumably show Krishna playing the flute and Shiva – Durga.
The lower panels have Vaishnavite themes as well as motifs of soldiers marching.
Itonda is a non-descript village in Birbhum district of West Bengal. It is around 20 km from Bolpur.
How to reach Itonda:
You can reach Itonda in the same way as Surul and Supur.
Places to visit in Itonda:
1. Pancha Ratna Temple:
According to the foundation plaque, it was built by Rasananda Sadhu in 1828 CE. The temple has five towers or ‘ratnas’ and is hence called Pancha Ratna. It was devoted to Shiva.
The temple is ramshackle due to zero maintenance. The terracotta works are crumbling, while vegetation has outgrown the walls. It is pretty disheartening to see such a unique temple in ruins.
A few terracotta panels are somehow still breathing. The archway panel shows court scenes of Rama. Also, there are partly defaced Dashavatar figures. Some panels depict what seem like bearded nobles.
2. Shiva Temple:
Just beside the Pancha Ratna temple, there is another Rekha Deul type of temple. It is a Shiva temple. It was founded by one Gadadhar Pyne in 1815 CE.
3. Sridhar Temple:
A few steps ahead of the Pancha Ratna temple lay the Sridhar Temple. At first sight, it seems to be a decaying Zamindar palace. But, in reality, it is a ‘Dalan’ type of temple built in the double-storied Chandni style. It was built in 1844 CE. Vishnu was worshipped here as the “Shalgram Shila”.
The temple is characterized by Corinthian columns, arched doors, and a flat roof. The interior has brilliant stucco works also.
4. Jor Bangla Kali Temple:
This remarkable temple was built in Jor Bangla style. Experts opine that it was built in the 19th century.
This temple has been renovated nicely. Also, terracotta works found here are top-notch. Panels depict Vishnu’s Dashavatar and Shakti’s Dashmahavidya. Specific terracotta figures are European, while some bearded figures are presumably courtly nobles.
Not only divine and human figures, but floral motifs are also visible on the temple walls.
Important FAQs regarding Bolpur:
How can I reach Bolpur:
Numerous trains daily commute between Bolpur and Kolkata (from Howrah, Sealdah, and Kolkata stations). You can catch 22301 Vande Bharat Express (5-55 AM from Howrah), 13017 Ganadevta Express (6-05 AM from Howrah), 13173 Kanchanjungha Express (6-35 AM from Sealdah), 13161 Tebhaga Express (12-55 PM from Kolkata), and 13053 Kulik Express (8-05 AM from Howrah).
Where can I stay in Bolpur:
Since Shantiniketan is a popular weekend destination, Bolpur has countless hotels and homestays. You can have a comfortable stay at WBTDCL’s Rangobitan and Shantobitan.
What is the best time to visit the Terracotta Temples of Bolpur:
The winter months (November to February) are best for visiting Bolpur. However, avoid the time of Poush Mela in the last week of December as Bolpur experiences a huge rush of tourists. Also, you can visit in the first weeks of March and enjoy the Palash flowers along with the terracotta temples.
What are the other places to visit in and around Bolpur:
Along with the terracotta temples, you can also visit Viswabharati University, Kala Bhavan, Rabindra Bhavan, Chatim Tola, Sriniketan, Sonajhuri Forest, Kopai Riverside, and Kankalitala Temple.