Patpur Temple – Bishnupur

The small town of Bishnupur, 120km north-west of Kolkata in West Bengal, contains a dazzling collection of temples with some of the most distinctive and unusual designs in the country. Most of the temples were constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the Malla dynasty ruled this part of Bengal.

The Mallas had been devotees of Shiva, but became Vishnavites under Bir Hambir (1587-1620 CE), who named the town after Vishnu with the ‘V’ changed to a ‘B’ as is often the case with the Bengali language. The last Malla ruler sold his kingdom to the Maharaja of Burdwan in the late 18th century.

Patpur Temple (also known as Kashav Lalji) is the least visited temple in Bishnupur and is often completely omitted from a list of monuments in the temple town. It’s located about 1km east of Lalji Temple, quite detached from all the other temple clusters, and can only be reached on foot as the dirt track is in poor condition.

This laterite south-facing ekaratna temple is believed to have been constructed by King Chaitanya Singha, the 56th Malla ruler, who reigned from 1748-1801 CE. Although there is no foundation stone, it is thought the temple was built circa 1758 CE, about 22 years before Bishnupur came under control of the East India Company.

Originally the temple would have been covered with stucco, the remains of which still survives over quite a large proportion of temple. There’s no evidence that this stucco included any ornamentation, so in terms of decoration nothing has been lost.

There are only two images to be found here, Vishnu standing either side of the entrance to the sanctum, which itself is empty as this is no longer a living temple.

Plan of Patpur Temple, Bishnupur

This type of ratna temple is a good example of experiments in the spatial organisation of temples in order to accommodate mendicants and recluses. Note how there is only one entrance on the north side of the temple, leading to a porch that is completely blocked off from the rest of the temple. This would have been a dark and secluded space, protected from the public’s gaze, used for accommodating wandering ascetic members of the Vaishnava community.

Due to its isolated position on raised ground overlooking agricultural fields, Patpur Temple does offer something different to all the other temples in Bishnupur, with the added bonus that you are likely to have the entire place to yourself. Locals say that at one time this temple was surrounded by water and could only be accessed by boat, but I have failed to find any information to back up that claim.

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