West Bengal is of course well known for its terracotta temples, anyone wishing to see a few examples is likely to head for temple towns such as Bishnupur or Kalna. For me however, I was keen for my road trip to take in a few of the lesser-known locations as well, sites that are perhaps in danger of disappearing completely over the next few decades.
This was a trip I intended to make in early 2021, but we can all guess why that didn’t happen. The enforced break from my annual two month visit to India did at least give me more time to research and plan my next trip, especially in seeking out some wonderful terracotta temple architecture in some quite remote West Bengal villages.
Located 40km north-west of Kolkata in the Jangipara block of the Hooghly district, the Rajrajeshwar Temple at Kotalpur was my first encounter with a Bengal terracotta temple. I was to become very familiar with them over the subsequent three weeks !
My first two impressions on seeing this quite large aatchala temple for the first time were :
a) Just how detailed and intricate the terracotta artwork is, it’s a profusion on imagery that is quite difficult to take in and dissect at first.
b) What an awful state this temple is in. Although I believe it is under the protection of the State Archaeology authorities, I couldn’t see any evidence that this temple was being maintained at all. It is overgrown with trees, roots having penetrated into the structure to the extent that some quite large cracks have now formed. The entire platform is covered with vegetation rendering it near impossible to enter, plus of course there is always the risk of snakes as a result.
So what I was faced with was an utterly beautiful terracotta adorned temple, but one that has been completely abandoned by the village for whatever reason. Unknown to me at the time, this was to be quite a common theme during my West Bengal road trip.
Despite all this clear decay, the front decorated elevation of the temple is remarkably mostly intact, although goodness knows for how much longer.
The central panel above the triple arched entrance showcases terracotta panels depicting the scenes from the Ramayana War, with Rama and Lakshman fighting against the ten headed Ravana and an oversized Kumbhakarna.
The panel above the third (right) arched entrance contains quite an unusual scene, possibly unique. It depicts two vultures feasting on a human corpse, and indeed there are quite a few other examples of vultures all over the terracotta work.
This is of course a little perplexing, as vultures are considered a symbol of bad luck and misfortune for Hindus. Quite why they appear here in this obscure remote village is a mystery that I doubt anyone will be able to solve.
The panels adorning the base of the temple also contain some quite elaborate images, including ships, boats, royal processions and scenes from the life of Krishna.
Unfortunately no inscribed foundation plaque has been found here associated with the temple, so we don’t know exactly when it was built or who was the patron. Based on the architecture and imagery depicted, it is thought the temple construction occurred sometime in the late 17th century.
Before leaving the temple I did tentatively take a peek inside the sanctum to find one large seated deity, although I am struggling to come to a conclusive identification. This is clearly something that has been placed here extremely recently.
Close by is a modern temple housing a door that is said to have come from Rajrajeshwar Temple. I include a photograph of it here, although I feel it doesn’t have any significant age to it. I have subsequently come to discover that Kotalpur once had two terracotta temples, but one was pulled down to build this new temple in its place. This now destroyed temple was constructed in 1774, so perhaps the door came from that temple instead.
Rajrajeshwar Temple in Kotalpur gave me my first experience of Bengal’s terracotta temples, and left me both excited and disappointed in equal measure. It’s abundantly clear that this State has a wealth of amazing architectural treasures, but just how long many of them will survive is questionable. As I was to discover over the subsequent few weeks, my experience at Kotalpur was not an isolated case.
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Categories: India, Rajrajeshwar Temple - Kotalpur, Uncategorized, West Bengal
It’s a pity that such a heritage is being allowed to destroyed even under the “protection” of the ASI.
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Outstanding Kevin. Kudos to you
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Thank you !
Unfortunately the we the Indians .. who actually belong to the creator’s country are so unwilling to even raise this issue to ASI or similar authorities ..Pity .
Thank you so very much Mr. Kevin for at least highlighting this particular poor state of the temple by travelling probably thousands of kms.
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Thank you. Just trying to do my little bit to find and document the current state of these sites