A small town by the name of Bishnupur in the Bankura District of the Indian state of West Bengal is a cultural hub with a rich historical legacy that can be traced back to 700 CE. Having been ruled by the Hindu kings of the Malla dynasty, Bishnupur derived its name from the Hindu God Vishnu around 1000 CE. From the outside, Bishnupur seems like a nondescript hamlet flanked by low hills. It is only when you take a tour of the town and its surroundings that you realize its rich heritage of architectural terracotta and remarkable artistic bequest. Located about 140 kilometers away from Kolkata, the City of Joy, Bishnupur is a must-visit in the eastern part of India and makes for the perfect weekend getaway. Here is a list of the places and experiences that you must not miss out on during your trip to Bishnupur.
The beautiful Rasmancha is emblematic of Bishnupur and is the oldest brick temple there. Commissioned by the Malla King Vir Hambir in 1600, the Rasmancha was built to house the figurines of Lord Krishna present in the region and thereby facilitate mass worship during the Hindu Festival of Rash. The Rasmancha has a unique structure - several hut-shaped turrets surround a pyramidal tower which stands on a laterite plinth. The interior has a labyrinth of archways leading to three circular galleries. And the beauty of this majestic structure is truly enhanced by the splendid terracotta work all over.
A number of the terracotta plaques depict various tales from the two Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. If you are keen on getting a sense of these stories rooted in Indian culture and a better understanding of the history of Bishnupur, I suggest you hire a West Bengal tourist guide for your tour.
The Jorebangla Temple is a gorgeous structure built in the classic Bengali Chala style of architecture. Constructed in 1655, during the rule of King Raghunath Singh, the Jorebangla Temple has two thatched brick huts joined together and crowned by a tower. While one hut serves as the porch of the temple, the other hut serves as the shrine. What makes the temple unique is its carved ceiling, which is symbolic of Islamic influence. The temple is renowned for the ornate terracotta work narrating tales from mythologies and different walks of life.
Arguably the finest terracotta temple in Bishnupur, the Madan Mohan Temple was built by Malla King Durjanana Singh Dev in 1694. The temple was built in the ekaratna (single tower) style of architecture and has a square roof accentuated by curved cornices and tipped by a pinnacle. The stunning terracotta tiles that embellish the pillars, walls and portico of the temple bring alive various mythological tales with their sheer intricacy!
The Shyam Rai Temple in the northern part of Bishnupur is located only two kilometers away from the Jorebangla Temple and is famed for its roof architecture. Built by King Raghubir Singh in the 17th century, the Pancha Ratna (five-towered) temple is one of its kind in Bishnupur. The wonderful terracotta work on the walls of the temple narrates stories from the life of Lord Krishna. If you feel like resting your legs while touring the town, the garden surrounding the Shyam Rai Temple is the perfect place to be.
This is a museum associated with art and archaeology in Bishnupur. The archaeological gallery at the museum exhibits tools, metal ornaments, terracotta sculptures, coins and other artefacts from the initial days of Bishnupur. Look out for the section of the museum that showcases various musical instruments and memorabilia related to the Bishnupur Gharana, a style of Dhrupad which is the oldest genre of Indian classical music. The museum remains open for visitors from 10 AM to 5 PM.
A two-hour drive away from Bishnupur, the Susunia Hill is located at an impressive height of 1442 feet and is a part of the Eastern Ghats mountain range. Every inch of the hill is covered by beautiful shrubs, lofty trees and precious medicinal plants. The hill is also home to a minutely carved monolithic structure called the Narasimha Stone and what’s most fascinating is the freshwater spring that shoots out of it! The Susunia Hill is a somewhat virgin territory. So, if you want to get away from the din of the touristy Bishnupur, trekking up the Susunia Hill can be a great way to unwind. You can explore the hill anytime between 6 AM and 6 PM.
Panchmura is a small village located at a distance of 22 kilometers from Bishnupur and is home to over 270 terracotta artists. The terracotta artifacts built by the craftsmen of Panchmura not just travel far and wide in India but are also exported to different corners of the world. The artists open up their homes to impart an understanding of the process of creation of terracotta designs to the visitors. The terracotta products of Panchmura received the Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2018.
The most convenient way of traveling to Bishnupur is by train. Trains depart for Bishnupur regularly from the Howrah Junction Railway Station just outside of Kolkata. Try to opt for an early morning train like the Rupasi Bangla Express or the Aranyak Express so that you reach Bishnupur well before noon and have the rest of the day to explore the town. The West Bengal State Transport runs a bus service from Kolkata’s Esplanade bus depot to Bishnupur. You can also hire a private cab for the same. Bishnupur is a four-hour drive away from Kolkata.
Not a lot people know about the terracotta town of Bishnupur yet and that’s a shame really. With its artistic and archaeological abundance, Bishnupur deserves to be on your list of must-visit places in eastern India. If you are anywhere near and have a weekend to spare, don’t think twice about visiting West Bengal’s temple town, Bishnupur.
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