(The article is part of the series – The Scarlet Temples of Bengal)
It is for sure that the craftsmen and architects of the Malla Kingdom of Bishnupur had done a lot of experiments with their buildings. While most of the early temples of the city were built with marvellous terracotta bricks, the later ones are mostly made of laterite – a stone easily available nearby. The probable reason behind this could be climatic. While the burnt clay bricks were unable to withstand the natural forces, the stone gave the desired durability. Another reason could be the lack of knowledge of stone cutting among the local craftsmen. It is for sure that the Malla kingdom was not very much connected with the rest of the country which allowed them to grow despite political turmoil elsewhere and that could have prevented the art of stone carving from entering this region of Bengal.
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If these temples were rebuilt on the sites of older terracotta ones were if they were new constructions – is a fact not known to the historians. Whatever be the reason, the later temples of Bishnupur are mostly built of stone – a slow revolution on the architecture of the city. The Radhe Shyam Temple is the last among the temples of Bishnupur built during the Malla rule and it was finished in the year 1759 – two years after the first war of independence of India.
Radhe Shyam temple – another temple dedicated to Sri Krishna and Sri Radha surely has the finest carvings on it – through most of the external carvings are gone the internal wall still have the fine stucco carvings. This is another surprising fact. Though the craftsmen adopted the use of stone they were surely not very confident about carving motifs out of those blocks. The entire decoration of the surface of the walls was done on stucco – a mixture of clay and lime.
Built on a square plinth of approximately 11.1 meters, the temple has a height of 10.7 meters. The main sanctum has a curved roof with cross vaults and on top of that is a cylindrical spire in Ek-Ratna style similar to the Madan Mohan Temple. The top has a semi-spherical dome with a pinnacle or Kalasha. It is said that the spire was used to house the deity at the time of festivals so that a large number of people may see the image from a distance.
Like most of the temples of Bishnupur, the Radhe Shyam Temple, too, has three arched gateways on its sides. All gateways have a cusped arch entry, however, unlike the terracotta ones, here the gates are not always corbelled. while the side ones have corbelled walls between the gates, the front side has straight walls with a stone pillar motif at the edge. This is a slight variation from the conventional style of architecture of the region. Among the motifs still preserved, some are remarkable. Ananta Shayana Vishnu (Lord Vishnu in reclining position) is one of the best. Sada-vuja Chaitanya (Six-handed Chaitanya) is also seen here.
Radhe Shyam Temple is situated within a walled premise with a unique gateway structure. While the temple is made of stone, the gate is made of traditional terracotta bricks. The Gateway has two levels with the lower having larger size. A triple-arched gateway with cusped arches acts as the main passage. on top of that, there are two miners with a square base and vaulted roofs. On all sides of the miners, two simple pointed arched gateway is present. The front and the back surface of the gateway has superb terracotta carvings – mostly in the floral pattern.
Being youngest among the group of temples in Bishnupur, Radhe Shyam Temple is most advanced in terms of architecture and sculpture. It is surely one of the best Ek-Ratna temples in the city.
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 of Bengal are extremely Instaworthy. The place has a rich history and architecture – so, for anybody with interest in these – Bishnupur is a must-visit place.