(The article is part of the series – The Scarlet Temples of Bengal)
‘Pancha Ratna’ – in Bengali means Five Star. Though Pancha Ratna is a style of building in vernacular Bengali architecture, these buildings are so amazing that they deserve a ‘five-star’ tag.
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Shyam Rai Temple of Bishnupur, the oldest temple built in this style, is also one of the best examples of Pancha Ratna Style of architecture. Built in 1643, the Shyam Rai Temple is also one of the earliest temples of Bishnupur. Built by Malla ruler Raghunath Singha, the building is an exquisite example of medieval Bengali art & architecture. Built entirely with clay bricks and clad in burnt clay(terracotta) tiles, Shaym Rai Temple is a marvel both in terms of its design and construction.
Like most of the temples in Bishnupur, this temple is also dedicated to Lord Sri Krishna and Sri Radha. The name Shyam (Krishna) – Rai (Radha) has been derived from the colloquial names of the Hindu Lord and his lovers.
The temple is square in plan with a dimension of 11.4 meters each side. Each of the sides has three arched gateways in the centre and elaborate terracotta carvings on the entire surface. The roof of the building is flat curved ‘Chala’ type – a unique feature of Bengali Architecture. Above the roof rises five beautiful pinnacles – giving the name Pancha Ratna. While Rasmancha, the only temple built before the Shyam Rai temple, has a very high plinth (It can also be found in temples built later), this temple has a very low plinth.
The four towers on each corner of the building are also square in plan. The corner towers have a lined sloping roof (a close variation of the ‘Deul’ type of roofs). On each direction of the corner towers, an arched window is created and the surface of the tower is also decorated with intricately decorated terracotta tiles. The central tower, the highest and the grandest is octagonal. The central tower is also different in terms of its roof. While the corner towers had single roofs, the central tower has a double roof built in two levels. This is very similar to the ‘8 Chala’ or 8 sided roofing in Bengal. Also, unlike the corner towers, the central tower has a smooth dome at the peak. The doom was also built of brick. The top of the central tower is 10.7 meters high from the base.
The entire surface of the building, exterior and interior, has fabulous terracotta panels clad on its surface. The panels depict various stories from the life of Sri Krishna and also stories from Indian Epic Ramayana & Mahabharata. The most surprising of these panels is the ‘Rasamandala’ or ‘Rasachakra’. The panel has two circular rows depicting various moods of Sri Krishna during his famous ‘Krishna Leela’. The five pinnacled Shyam Rai Temple is surely a marvellous piece of architecture hidden in the city of Bishnupur.
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.