(The article is part of the series – The Scarlet Temples of Bengal)
Rasmancha is the most amazing one among the terracotta temples in Bengal not just for its use but also because of its shape. The pyramidal shape of the roof of the temple is unique for the entire country and it can proudly call itself as Bengal’s own Pyramid.
Rasmancha is an architectural marvel. The square shaped building is erected on a 30 meters wide square plinth which rises 1.5 meters above the ground. The temple structure is also square and measures 24.5 meters each side. The topmost point of the roof is 9.2 meters high (close to a three-storied building) and it rises gradually.
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The corbelled brick roof of this scale was surely a very ambitious project for the architects of that time and they have successfully accomplished it. Despite being constructed with brunt clay brick (Terracotta) with weak mud & lime mortar, the building has withheld all natural forces for more than four hundred years.
Between 1587 & 1600 CE, Rasmancha was constructed under Malla king Bir Hambir’s supervision. The purpose of the temple is also unique. The Malla rulers were ardent followers of Vaishnavite Hinduism and naturally, Sri Krishna was their principal deity. ‘Ras Utsav’ which marks the pious occasion of Sri Krishna’s meeting with his ‘Gopis’ and especially ‘Sri Radha’ was a biggest annual festival in the Malla Kingdom. Every year, on the full moon of Bengali month of ‘Karthik’, Ras Utsav was celebrated there and on that occasion, the Rasmancha was used as the place of worship.
The huge temple has three rows of galleries from its outer circumference and those galleries were used to place all the images of gods & goddesses, so that general public may see. All those images were worshipped by the royal priests and were exhibited to the general citizens of the kingdom for the entire duration of Ras Utsav. This is a unique concept and nowhere in the country, such practices were followed – this certainly makes Rasmancha a very unique piece of architecture.
The gigantic roof structure was surely required to mark the importance of the building and increase its visibility from a distance. The shape of a pyramid was derived from the constraints in available material and resources and also to make it the highest temple in the vicinity. The architects had found a superb way to deal with the restrictions. The building was divided into 100 smaller square grids(10 grids on each side). The 16 grids in the centre (4 grids on each side) were enclosed and converted into a sanctum – Sri Krishna & Sri Radha were worshipped here during the festival. The rest of the outer grids were kept open creating the galleries.
The outermost gallery has a different roof treatment with turrets shaped like Hut (Bangla style of a roof) are places which creates a magnificent effect on the roof. All the surfaces of the temple are covered with terracotta tiles and mainly three types of images are crafted on those – dancing men, dancing women and lotus. The reason for that is most probably to give it a theme of the ‘Raas Leela’ of Sri Krishna. The external arches are cusped to make it interesting though the internal arches are plain.
The Ras Utsav celebration used to happen in Rasmancha till 1932 when it was shifted to a fairground. Though the biggest Ras Utsav of the state is now celebrated at Mayapur, Bishnupur still celebrates its own festival with equal pride and honour.
Bishnupur is a well-managed place and all the temples of the area are very well maintained. It can be reached from Kolkata by train – it takes only about three hours. There are good bus connectivity also and if you are in a large group hiring a car can also be a good option.
The entire city of Bishnupur takes about a day and a return train in the evening can be a taken though there are plenty of good places to spend the night which includes the State Government tourist lodge. Inside the city – walking is the best option while paddle rickshaws & three wheeler autos are also available.
The scarlet red buildings are extremely Instaworthy. The place has a rich history and architecture – so, for anybody with interest in these – Bishnupur is a must-visit place.