Chandidas-Nanoor Temple Complex

Chandidas-Nanoor Temple Complex

The small town of Nanoor (Nanur) 19km east of Bolpur is also known as Chandidas-Nanoor for its close association with the famous 14th century medieval poet Dwija Chandidas.

Confusingly, it is thought there were at least three poets associated with the name of Chandidas. They were identified as ‘Baru’, ‘Dwija’ and ‘Din’. Baru Chandidas possibly belonged to Chhatna in Bankura district, and composed the Shreekrishna Kirtana Kabya,  a pastoral Vaishnava drama in verse considered a significant work in the history of Bengali literature. Not much is known about Din Chandidas, except that he also composed on the life of Krishna. It is believed Dwija Chandidas belonged to Nanoor, and composed lyrically rich creations initiating the finest traditions of Bengali padavali (gathering of songs). The Nanoor area is full of folk-myths about Chandidas – the story of his love for a washer woman, the story of his religious devotion and music, and the story of his death.

Situated in the very heart of the town is a large mound known as Chandidas Bhita, adjacent to which is a cluster of fifteen temples of various styles, only two have terracotta art left on their walls.

Basuli (Bishalakshmi) Temple

This is the main temple at Chandinas Nanoor, south-facing and flat-roofed with a single tower. At the front is a triple arched entrance leading to a covered verandah before the sanctum. It is thought this temple was once more decorative, but repeated renovation efforts have removed any detailed ornamentation.

It is believed that Dwijo Chandidas was a worshipper of Basuli, and an earlier temple dedicated to the goddess was built at Nanoor. According to legend, Dwijo Chandidas was brutally killed by Muslim soldiers who also destroyed the Basuli temple in Nanoor. Over the next 300 years the temple site became lost, until local people started excavating a mound in the early 18th century. Amazingly, the Basuli image was recovered which inspired a local zamindar, Ramjeevan Roy, to build a new temple of Basuli in the memory of Dwijo Chandidas. Over time more temples were built here, resulting in the small complex of fifteen temples that we see today. Sadly, the original Basuli idol which was placed in the new temple has stolen in 2001 and has never been recovered.

Twin Atchala Temples

Opposite the Basuli Temple are two north-facing Atchala Temples, the only temples to have any significant terrcotta ornamentation. The smaller of the two depicts a number of Shiva lingas and temples, below two large giant lotuses. There are numerous terracotta figurines on the front elevation, but they are weathered beyond recognition.

The terracotta panels on the larger Atchala temple are in better shape, and better defined with plaster in-fill. The motifs are similar, and with much more weathered terracotta surrounding it I think this may be the result of some newer panels being inserted.

Four Stucco Chachala Temples

Between the Basuli temple and the twin Atchala temples are a row of four chachala temples. The absence of any terracotta work here is made up for by the surprising amount of stucco remaining, so often much of this outer temple shell has weathered away on temples in West Bengal. Here we have floral motifs, flowers, potted plants, and creepers.

Five plain Chachala Temples

Behind the twin atchala temples area further five chachala temples. These are almost completely pain aside from two stucco lotus and a stucco Ganesh above the entrance of two temples.

Other Temples

A flat roofed structure and the atchala Temple stand away from the main cluster to the north-west.

The Nanoor Mound (Chandidas Bhita)

One of the most noticeable features of this site is the large mound immediately to the south of the temple complex, which may well have continued north to the area that was excavated by the locals in the early 18th century.

Locals (who call it Chandidas Bhita) believe this is the site of Dwijo Chandidas’s house, but the entire mound has not been subjected to any large scale systematic excavation. Some smaller scale excavations have taken place by the University of Calcutta (1945-1946) and the Archaeological Survey of India (1963-1964). Both excavations confirmed the presence of material culture dating as far back as the 14th century, but nothing to closely associate the mound specifically with Dwijo Chandidas. As an archaeologist that doesn’t surprise me, but “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, as we always say in the trenches :-).

Neither historians nor archaeologists have managed to conclusively prove that Nanoor was the home of the poet Dwijo Chandidas, so the jury is still out of that question. What is without doubt however, is how rich the historical site of Nanoor is, and what potential for new discoveries are waiting for us in that large unexcavated mound.

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