Terracotta in Islamic structures of West Bengal
Terracotta in Islamic structures West Bengal
Terracotta means Burnt Clay, in contrast to Terracruda, which is sun-dried clay.
Due to paucity of stone in Bengal, clay was in use for sculpture & decorations in architecture in Bengal from the ancient times (some evidences are from the Maurya period; around 300 BC). From Gupta period (3rd century AD) this art form flourished and temples & architectural monuments were being decorated with terracotta art work. This went on up to the Pala-Sena period & stopped after Muslim invasion of Bengal in around 1200 AD.
The reappearance of the practice of using terracotta in the decoration of the architectural monuments was seen from the 14th-15th century, in the early Muslim period. Terracotta panels were extensively used on Muslim buildings like mosques & tombs; however, the terracotta panels adorning the Muslim monuments depict designs of abstract, geometric and floral patterns only.Terracotta art work continued to be used on mosques and other Muslim buildings throughout the Iliyas Shahi and Hussain Shahi periods of Bengal history, & was considered a major art form in building ornamentation.
Basically, two types of terracotta art were seen in these structures :
1) Cut-brick (Carved Brick) terracotta , &
2) Terracotta plaques, consisting of Bas Relief type of work.
Evolution of Islamic terracotta in Bengal
The terracotta art form in Islamic structures followed a typical evolutionary pathway in Bengal.
In the first phase we see conservative Islamic style which was basically West Asian (mainly Anatolian or Turkish) style side by side with some pure local style, without any attempt to integration. Examples are found in Adina Mosque (1374 AD) of Pandua, District Malda.
In the later phase, there was integration between the two styles, & we see a hybrid style which is special to Bengal. Examples are seen in the Dakhil Darwaza (15th century AD) & Eklakhi mausoleum (1412 AD) of Pandua, Malda; Chika mosque & Chamkati mosque ( 1475 AD) of Gaud, both in the district Malda.
The terracotta art form in Islamic structures reached its zenith during the reign of Sultan Hussain Shah & his heirs. These can be seen in the Loton mosque (1475 AD), Barosona mosque (1526 AD), Kadam Rasul mosque (1531 AD) of Gaud, district Malda & Kherur mosque (1494 AD) of Murshidabad district.
This tradition continued in later periods also, as found in the Matichur mosque (17th century AD) of Rajnagar, district Birbhum.
As a rule, Islamic art does not allow human or other living creatures as the subject. In lieu of that, terracotta art in Islamic structures includes abstract & geometric forms, chains, floral & vegetative designs, lotus motifs (probably a Hindu influence) & a recurring motif showing lamps hanging in coiled rope or chain.
In many 15th century Islamic structures we see the use of enamel with different colours over terracotta patterns. These can be seen at the Eklakhi mausoleum of Pandua, Gumti Gate & Loton mosque of Gaud.
Terracotta in Islamic structures is the heritage of Bengal. Later, it influenced the Hindu temple terracotta in a big way. In this short paper it is not possible to go into deeper details. I can only hope it raises the interest of some readers for deeper study.