Radha Binod Temple – Joydev Kenduli

Located 27km west of Bolpur on the banks of the river Ajay in West Bengal, the impressive Radha Binod Temple of Joydev Kenduli doesn’t appear to have received much coverage on the internet or in the various books I have in my library at home. This strikes me as a little surprising as it is home to some impressive terracotta work dating a little earlier than many examples in the surrounding area.

Built in the Navaratna (nine pinnacled) style of architecture, the temple was commissioned by Kirtichand Bahadur the king of Bardhaman, and completed in 1683 CE. Almost all the terracotta decoration is restricted to the front elevation with a triple arched entrance. Above each of the arches is the most impressive ornamentation.

The panels above the left arch depicts various incarnations of Vishnu (Varaha, Narasimha, Matsa, Kurma etc), alongside images of Shiva, Indra, Agni, Yama, and many more.

The panels above the main central arch depict a familiar scene with Rama and Ravana in battle, below which is the Vanara Senas (Monkey Army) procession for building the Setu (bridge).

Above the right arch are panels depicting a huge mythical bird trying to engulf the chariot of Ravana. I believe this depicts the demon bird Suparsha, mentioned in the “Krittibasi Ramayana.” This is a motif quite commonly found on terracotta temples in West Bengal.

Below these panels above all three arches are miniature horn blowers.

The other notable terracotta work are the mrityulatas that project out from the corners of the temple wall. My first encounter with these was at the Hath-tala Gauranga Mahaprabhu Temple in Illambazar (a description about mrityulata is in that blog post), but here they are much larger and bolder, as indeed the whole temple is.

Unfortunately only about 30% of this decoration has survived the last 350 years, and there doesn’t appear to have been any attempt to replace them.

Joydev Kenduli is believed to be the birthplace of the famous court poet of Raja Lakshman Sen, Joydev Mishra, who composed the sanskrit poem Geet Govinda in the 12th Century CE. This is however hotly debated as some believe he was born in the village of Kenduli Sasan in Odisha, and indeed much about his works and life appear to have been recorded in Odisha.

The Radha Binod Temple is said to have been built over Joydev’s original home by Kirtichand Bahadur of Bardhaman, there is even a small inner chamber on the western side that is said to be where he was born. Due to my usual sensitivities regarding photographing temples with visiting devotees, I did not take a closer look.

Joydev Kenduli is also famous for an annual mela (fair) that is organised every year in the memory of Joydev Mishra. From January 14th-16th the town is flooded with Bauls, a group of mystic minstrels, who are the bearers of a unique musical tradition. Identified by their saffron attire and distinctive musical instrument, the Ektara, they have the proud distinction of being included in the list of “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. The Baul community earn their livelihood by singing. The most interesting characteristic of their songs is that they convey profound philosophical view points of life using simple expressions.

The date of the fair is no coincidence, as it falls on Makar Sankranti which is closely associated with the poet Joydev. The story goes that in order to bathe in the Ganges, Joydev had to walk more than 30km from his village at Kenduli. Lord Vishnu took pity on the poet, and asked the Holy Ganges to infest her holiness into the river Ajay at Kenduli on the day of Makar Sankranti. It is believed that on this holy day the Ganges starts flowing backwards to river Ajay.

The Radha Binod temple does of course play a central role in the Jaydev Kenduli Baul Mela, a fair that predates the temple by a number of centuries. The temple is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, and receives a constant stream of devotees throughout the day. The priest here was extremely friendly, and keen to appear in almost every photograph I tried to take !

Visiting this temple could be clubbed together with the terracotta temples of Ichhapur, the temple of Ichai Ghosh (Gourangapur), the terracotta temples of Bankati, and the Hath-tala Gauranga Mahaprabhu Temple (Illambazar). This would give you a nice ~40km circular route taking in a number of varied sites.

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