The train reached Bishnupur Station at around 9:30. It’s a small yet peaceful train station. We decided to go to the Government Tourist Lodge before starting our journey through the history – firstly these lodges serve good hygienic breakfast and second, we were hoping to get some information about the places not to miss.
Both our purposes were served and when we finally set our feet out it was 10:30. The first on our list was the magnificent Rasmancha. The beauty of Rasmancha is truly majestic. Its pyramidal structure is something I have seen nowhere.
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What we found that most of the temples of Bishnupur were located in clusters. The Shyam Rai Temple, Kesto Rai Temple, Radheshyam Temple and Lalji Temple are located in close proximity and form a cluster. This definitely is the most architecturally rich cluster of temples in Bishnupur. The Famous Jorbangla Temple (Kesto Rai). Pancharatna Temple (Shyam Rai Temple) and two glorious Ek-Ratna Temples are located in the area. The Radheshyam Temple is the most recent among the temples of Bishnupur. It took almost two hours to see and photograph all the temples. Almost all other significant temples were located in a separate cluster southwards except the gigantic Madan Mohan Temple – so we decided to head North.
On our way was the ruined gate of Bishnupur Fort. Bishnupur was fortified by King Bir Singha who also excavated five huge lakes in the town as a source of drinking water. The Fort was a big winner during the initial Maratha attack but has now been completely destroyed. The only part that is still visible are the two gates of the fort. Just like the red terracotta temples of Bishnupur, its laterite fort gates too are the magnificent pieces of architecture. The Gate has a large terrace for accommodating a large group of soldiers and also a secret chamber in the upper floor from where surprise attacks were conducted.
Another small, yet fascinating piece fell on our way – its the Stone Ratha or the Stone Chariot. Stone Chariots are not unknown in India and can be found at Mahabalipuram, Hampi, Konark and many places. The Laterite chariot of Bishnupur is built in the form of an Ek-Ratna temple being situated on a larger platform. A few local kids soon appeared in the joy of being photographed.
The Madan Mohan Temple is located in a completely isolated place towards the North of Bishnupur. We took a cycle rickshaw which took us there and waited to take us back. The Madan Mohan Temple is the biggest temple of Bishnupur and surely the most beautiful. Such a huge structure was made entirely of burnt brick. The Scarlet colour of Madan Mohan Temple is breathtaking. It was time for heading towards the South where another cluster of Ek-Ratnas was waiting for us.
It was late afternoon and we decided to have lunch again at the Govt. Tourist Lodge before heading towards the southern cluster of temples. The southern cluster has a group of Ek-Ratnas all built with laterite. The Kalachand Temple, Jor Mandir Temple Complex, Radha Govinda Temple all are located in a cluster on the banks of Lal-bandh. The Chhinnamasta Temple – though not built in Bishnupuri Style of Architecture – is the most used temple here but can be skipped because of its Architectural unimportance.
Around this cluster of temples lies another significant piece of history – The Dalmadal Canon. The canon came to fame during the first Maratha Raid of Bengal. King Gopal Singha, who was a weak administrator was unable to fight back to the strong Maratha army. When the Maratha army led by Bhaskar Rao attacked Bishnupur, the king in place of fighting, retreated and asked his citizens to pray to ‘Madan Mohan’ for help. It is believed that ‘Madan Mohan’ (an avatar of Vishnu) came to their rescue and himself fired the Dalmadal Canon. The Marathas retreated back – the actual reason for that was a strong resistance from the Malla soldiers despite having a leader and a strong fortification of the city. The city was later occupied and destroyed by the Marathas.
By the time our quest for the scarlet temples of Bishnupur ended, the sun has started to recede and it was time for some shopping. It has to be remembered that Bishnupur has a worldwide fame for its handicrafts and arts.
The terracotta dols and horse of Bishnupur has become a trademark for Bengali handicrafts. On the terracotta market near the Rasmancha, amazing artefacts made with clay and burnt were is display. The traditional Bishnupuri Horse is surely the most sought-after item among those. The Horse is so famous that All India Handicrafts have chosen this horse as there logo. It is believed that sacrifices of horses were common in the Rarh part of Bengal or Mallabhum and naturally, wooden and terracotta horses were worshipped and used for almost all rituals. This perhaps is the reason behind the growth of this handicraft in the region, however, a region so influence with indigenous Santhal cultures worshipping a foreign animal imported by Muslims is something very unusual.
Other than the terracotta artefacts Bishnupur, the Bishnupuri Tussar Silk is another famous item. The Sari made with this type of silk is renowned and praised all over the world. I bought a few terracotta musicians to make a group and a few Saris for my mother and we headed towards the railway station for our return journey.
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.