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Updated on August 10, 2008

Story of artisans of a Terracotta temple

This a portion of my blogs @

A lot of it history and a part of it is a tale I am trying to write.While I am no writer, I wanted to go for a scenario building. I came here to publish the 1st part of the tale on request of a friend from hubpages.


A robbery in the Malla kingdom in 16th century changed the face of Bengal's architecture.

Vaishnav guru Srinivas Acharya and two other greats, Narattoma Das and Shyamanand were taking three cartloads of scriptures from Vrindavan to Puri . The writings were priceless.....these carts contained books by great Vaishnavites Sri Jeeva Goswami, Sri Rup Goswami and Raghunath Das among others.The dacoits knew that cartloads of great treasure were being moved from one location to another.They had no other clue.There were only ten foot soldiers 'protecting' these cartloads. The 'treasure' was easily looted during one night when all the travelers were asleep.This happened at Gopalpur village, within the territory of the Malla king.

Srinivas Acharya stayed back in Bengal determined to recover the books .The robbers' allegiance was to the local King Vir Hambir. Srinivas had a face-to-face interaction with his court's religious supremo Vyasacharya where Srinivas Acharya demonstrated his depth of knowledge regarding Vaishnav religion. King became his ardent disciple and the books were restored to Srinivas.

Vaishnav religion had strong impact on cultural life of Bengal. Malla kingdom was free from muslim dominance and became a hub for Vaishnav religion and culture during 16th and 17th centuries.

Shyam-Rai temple was built in 1643 AD ......the first temple with extensive terra cotta work on the interior and exterior walls and in a way pioneering effort by Malla king Raghunath Singha.The names of the King, the Prince and the Architect are found on the temple. But, who created the panels which attract thousands of viewers to Bishnupur ?

This is a question which has ...kind of for quite a long time.Our society gave a lot of recognition to poets and religious leaders of yesteryears. Specially to those who were in Kings' courts . Researchers have spent years on them and volumes of printed words about their creations and their lives are available for the readers interested in the cultural history of India. While a lot have been written about the artwork…. Sculptures, murals and paintings…… of ancient India, the artists have remained faceless. I wonder how they lived, handled their talent and creativity, ego ,jealousy and frustration. Sensitive people they were … how was their love life and family life ? If I were younger , I would have researched on these subjects !

I have gone for a 'scenario building' about the group which could have been engaged by the King to create the panels on the walls of this very special temple. There are discernible variation of the imageries which led me to believe that there were several lead artistes .Very likely, the temple did not have all the panels ready at the time of inauguration and therefore, the later-mounted panels were probably created by later-inducted/promoted artists.

The characters of my group are here :

  1. Visualisers :
  • Manomay Acharya : 56 years old.Strong command on Vaishnav literature. Thorough about writings of Goswamis . His heart and mind develop interpretations of Srimadbhagabat, Krsna the Ujjwalneelmani of VidagdhaMadhav and LalitMadhav and Vaishnavpadabali. As he matured , he grew tolerant of the interpretation of the relationship between Krsna and Radha by Boru Chandidas. King had a lot of trust on his knowledge and sided with him when theoreticians found fault with his interpretations and sometimes stalled the installation.
  • Charandas : 38 years.A 'kathak' of Ramayana and a singer-par-excellence of padabali.He was the research assistant of Manomay Acharya in selecting the imageries of the Krsna-Radha panels of Shyam-Rai and later in other contemporary temples.
  • Rupali : 26 years.Companion of Charandas in his musical soirées.Influenced the imageries of Radha and other Gopis to a large extent.

2. Facilitator :

  • Swarup Bhatta : 42 years.King's representative among the team.Wealthy Vaishnav.He is sharp, well-read and a good 'project manager', having been associated with temple building exercises of Malla kings since long. He was soft-spoken yet sarcastic . His weakness was his dislike for muslims and took a long time to accept Ahmed, a terracotta artist of high quality.

3. The terracotta artists :

  • Ahmed Alam : 32 years old. He has traveled widely in the eastern India , working on masjids and decorating private homes of rich and influential people . He not only had remarkably deft fingers, he had a wide knowledge of soil characteristics of various areas , prepared additives to create superb bonding during drying of terracotta panels, and the firing process. He has a very good grooming , long work experience , ability to take risk and yet deliver big panels , artistically joined . His exclusive firing technique, inherited and improved through experimentation , ensures a durability a few could match in Bengal.

Though a muslim, he was not uncomfortable with creating human forms in panels .He had a troubled childhood .Very self-centered, the only person he was genuinely fond of was his half-brother Kamal . Gradually, his nature changed in the company of his current team. More on these subjects later .

  • Kamal : 21 years. He was a budding talent and an apprentice attached to his half-brother.. Vulnerable because of his attachment to his elder half-brother, he would silently deplore any other artist who would attract admiration and attention of his brother.He was also worried if his brother would share the firing technique , a closely-held expertise within the family, with an outsider.

He would fall in love with Piyali , a local Hindu girl . His pining and the difficult social situation will find expression in several of his work ,creating a problem for his continuing in Bishnupur. He would be compelled to shift to Chandrokona of Midnapore district where a daughter Malla dynasty was the queen and emulated her family' penchant for building terracotta temple for Krsna-Radha.

  • Chandu : 24 years. Dark and handsome, he was the cynosure of his superiors because of his artistic skill and ability .He would develop his own method of expression and story-telling as seen the Ramayana and Krsna panels of Jor-Bangla temple.

Born in a traditional Sutradhar family, he would grow in stature as he would learn to read Padabalis himself and contribute to the temple building teams in Bankura and Midnapore district. He was married when he was 17 years old to a plain-looking girl Phulni .His married life has many stories. As a balanced person , he handled the stress , if any, without any outward manifestation. More stories about his life will follow.

  • Laxman : 26 years. A complex person from Bihar. A good artist , who picked up a lot during his stay in Orissa with his elder cousin. They were part of a group of artists and artisans engaged in renovation of certain sections of a couple of worn-out temples in Orissa. While imageries came to him naturally, he had to adapt the technique of two-dimensional art.While he was very good in panels which had human forms in stand-still posture , he was average in the scenes of battles and hunting .
  • Sketches about other artists will be added, if I decide to write more on this topic.




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    • shyamchat profile image

      shyamchat 6 years ago from Calcutta

      For Mr.Anjan Rai - The only 'Shyam Raya' temple I know about is @ Bishnupur. Well, if there a Krsna temple of the name @ Bhagalpur too, I am not aware of that.

      May be someone who stays @ Bhagalpur or Munger will know such details.

    • profile image

      anjan rai 6 years ago

      is there shyamo rai mandir, in bhagalpur , pls inform

    • profile image

      ANIRBAN KHANRA 7 years ago


    • shyamchat profile image

      shyamchat 8 years ago from Calcutta

      Thanks for appreciating this 'Tale'.

    • profile image

      Marissa 8 years ago

      What a wonderful article.

    • shyamchat profile image

      shyamchat 9 years ago from Calcutta

      Thanks for appreciating this 'Tale'.

      You may pl read the 2nd part of this Tale in or in :

      You will find that I have written a nos of hubs on terra cotta temples of Bengal.If you need Hindu motifs, pl let me know.

    • princess g profile image

      princess g 9 years ago



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