Sunday, October 26, 2008


'Art of Grotesque' .... the foliages on left and right sides are dissimilar!
Watch out the difference in layout .... quite interesting !
From small temple at Antpur,Dt. - Hooghly.

Till I did a bit of Internet search for writing on the ‘Art of Grotesque’ in terra cotta temples of Bengal, I did not know about genesis of the word ‘Grotesque’. In art, this is a style that applies mostly to decorative frescoes where human figures, often with distortions and imaginary monsters are displayed with animals, floral patterns in a fanciful and eccentric manner which was first used at the Domus Aurea (Golden House) of Emperor Nero and the Baths of Emperor Titus. This was discovered during excavation of Roman houses during the 15th century. This type of art came to be known as ‘grotteschi’ from the word ‘grottoes’ or underground chambers.

Courtesy :

I visited a couple of Internet sites to view the examples on display. I found strange and uncommon ornamental delicate designs of foliage and flowers, stylised human heads and strange animals, all composed, merged and mixed to create one ‘decorative whole’. I learnt that the principal painter of the
Domus Aurea,Fabullus went for a few hours of work to the ‘Golden House’ each day while the light used to be right ( Pliny in his book ‘Natural history’). Inspired by these designs, Italian Renaissance artists; Raphael and his followers adopted this style in their frescoes . We can see examples in Pinturicchio's cathedral library ceilings at Siena (1502), and Perugino's ceiling of the Cambio in Perugia (about 1500).

Later on, the artistes from the Western world used techniques like separation, mixture, reassembly, duplication, multiplication, elongation, compression, enlargement, miniaturization, reversal, simplification, overcrowding, and fantastic interpretation while creating artwork of this category.

Among the hundreds of terra cotta panels created by Bengal’s artists during 17th to 19th centuries, we find many examples which stand out as our ‘grotesque’ artwork . The battle scenes of ‘Ramayana’ are the best but not the only examples.

Overcrowded and figures formed as "Monkey's and 'Rakhsasa's.
War scene from Ramayana.

Pancha Ratna Temple : Bishnupur.

Blow-up I from the above panel

Blow-up II from the above panel

I post here several photographs to illustrate artwork of the grotesque in Bengal’s temples.I have started with Ramayana battle scenes which have a lot of ingredients of grotesque. They are so. Both the army of ‘monkey’s and the ‘rakshasa’s invited depiction of forms with fantastic interpretation, distortion and overcrowding. Since,Terra cotta artists have used the technique of overcrowding repeatedly, I made an endeavour to identify and present grotesque artwork of other types.In future, I would like to discover the route of the idea of 'Art of Grotesque' from Europe to India.

A man squeezes two lions with his hands
while he tramples and subdues two elephants !

An imagenry winged animal, with curved beaks, a lot of teeth,
tramples elephants , yet strangles another elephant with its tail!
Size of this animal will be at least five times that of an elephant ! !

The above two panels are from Jor-Bangla.

I have two submissions to make to persons who are quite familiar with the terra cotta panels of Bengal's temples. Firstly, I have not used any of the 'social' panels with exaggeration,i.e., I have not used imageries which can be termed as 'caricature'. These panels can be taken up separately in a different article. Secondly,.... and this is a very important and sensitive point too...I have not touched any of the images of Bishnu's 'Dashavatar' where He manifests Himself as half-human-half-animal Being . In the eye of an Westerner , these images may appear to match their criteria of 'Grotesque Art' , but, according to Hindu scripture , these images convey much deeper meaning.

I end with another artwork from the small temple of Antpur , an example of 'Art of grotesque'.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Gorgeous Image of Devi Durga @ Parnasree Club

This year, Ruby and I have done pandal-hopping with discretion.We have found that the best Images and decorations can be enjoyed without queuing up during early morning and post-Dashami visits .

'Natun Dal' created this thatched hut to house Devi Durga ,
amidst a courtyard which looks very very real !

Behala's 'Nutan Dal' ( translated, New Group) literal sense.......a village Zamindar' house-hold with thermocole and brick-and-mortar .The execution is great.The visitor enter a Thakur-dalan( a permanent structure which houses the Idols of various gods , with ample space for devotees.

Two sides of the court-yard. Top : The entrance for the visitors.
Bottom : A temple created for Jagganatha.Wall of the Zamindar's house in the back-ground.

A very common feature of the house-holds of 18th/19th century rich Hindus), a court-yard where Devi Durga is housed under a thatched roof ( pigeons flocking on its roof !) and 2-storied building with real-windows over-looking the courtyard.

The pigeons are real !

The visitor comes across the deserted section of the property which belongs to the younger son of the family, now settled for a city life.In the Thakur-dalan, we could see ten-armed Ganesha idol ( based a South Bengal find), a 'Shiva-linga' and the accompanying bull. In the court-yards, we found a Ratha'(Holy Chariot) and idols of 'Radha-Krishna'. Very very life-like.

Top: Corner created to house a small temple for Radh-Krisna. Bottom : Wonderful craftsmanship in this Radha-Krishna image.

The Organisers have planted weeds on the cornices of the thermocole walls of the younger son's portion of the building to give it a look of being abandoned.

Hats off Rono Banerjee and his team ! See for yourself the proto-type he created for this set-up which fits into a recess between a Corporation Road and an existing building.

The most stylish pandal of our area is by Sruchi sangha. Every year, the Organisers pick up a state of India and bring the ambiance of that state into a few square metres of land. Very popular Puja.... this year, we saw Assam in this pandal.


The whole representation has made endeavour to capture a lot of speed and movement 
in the composition.

Devi Durga @ 66 Pally ,near Badamtala. Click on the image to watch in the larger view 
the symmetry in the composition .
The pandals we had at our own locality created dazzling interior within a moderate budget.Everywhere , there was emphasis on community activities .

A community Puja near the large Parnasree Lake.

A giant-sized hand-'punkha' used in a Puja @ Parnasree

The Puja pandal we visited twice is organised by 'Badamtala Club'.It is rated one of the best in Calcutta .Every evening during Pujas, 15-20,000 persons throng the pandal during the peak hours.

The pandal is created like a haveli with 'Thakur-dalan'. This part of the 'Theme' ,is the same as that of the pandal of 'Nutan Dal'.But , the visuals are totally different .The 'Haveli' is decorated with statues ans plaques , created in soft yellow and green colours, with style borrowed from 'Bat tala' publications of 19th century.

Left Top : A day light photo of the entrance. Left bottom : Ruby in front of a replica of the book by 'SriPantha' on 'Bat-tala' publications. 
Right : The RH panel of the 'Haveli'. Photo taken without flash.

'Sripantha' wrote a book on the history of 'Bat tala' publications . This style was seen not only on prints , but in wood-carvings and lithographs too. 'Bat tala' style was jazzed up and lighting created a nice ambiance. Devi Durga's image was exquisitely created.

One of the Puja organisers noticed that we went back a second time at 10.30 pm . He was very happy and took some of his time from a crowded schedule to chat with me. Before going back to his post,he showed me angles for capturing the Idol's photo from a interesting angle. These photos speak for themselves.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


'....Ya Devi sarbabhuteshu Shaktirupeno sanksthita

Namostasyi Namostasyi Namostasyi Namonamah.......'

-- Two lines from the sanskrit sloka,which is chanted during Durgapuja

Translated in English, this sloka means :

The Goddess who manifests Herself as the Entity of Power,
I salute Her again and again,
I bow in front of Her.

Priest worships the Goddess with a lamp in his hand.
PurvaPally,Rashbehari Ave .

A child's impression of a DurgaPuja pandal, A competion of 'Dhunuci-dance' going on and viewers are in rapt attention !

Ruby and I look forward to these few days of festivity , not because of the revelry and pandal-hopping with the crowd, but because we enjoy to capture the artistry which make some of the pandals and images memorable in our cameras.This is how I have now a large nos of photos in my HDD....not so much in the Internet though.

A great devotee that we are of the Goddess, we have several idols of Durga at our place....from Dokra art to clay model to brass work and ceramic work.

Off late, I am looking for anti-hero image of Mahisasur and do not miss out him during our photo-walks.

Anguish of Mahisasur.PurvaPally,Rashbehari Ave.

Puja of 2008 started with an invitation for Ruby to be a 'distinguished' guest of a local Puja('Amra Kajan'-Airport crossing on Banamali Naskar Road) and the judge of a painting competion of the local children.We covered the local area on foot during our morning walks on two successive mornings.Twice we went out for longer duration and braved the onslaught of throngs of crowd.

Durga with golden colour. Behala Club emphasised the design of baluchari saree. The designs are often from events and scenes from Hindu Mythology.
I should have counted the nos of designs on display !

A clear view of the saree Devi Durga wears... an example of excellent craftsmanship !

Evenings of Sasthi,Saptami and Astami we enjoyed staying at home,watching the TV presentations.We marvelled at the Pandals and creative spirit displayed at Coochbihar, Purulia and Siliguri. I wonder whether we should visit Purulia on one of the Puja days of 2009 .....the silver-clad Durga being the attraction.The Pyramid/Sphinx' pandal at Siliguri is was a pandal in Calcutta decorated with 80,000 pieces of terra cotta tiles and images !

Nearer home , the baluchari saree designs in Behala Club pandal,the 'poto-para' (a lane where the Idol-makers live) ambience of Behala High Scool puja , the neem-timber decoration of Adarsha Pally,the beautiful cave and Ajanta-inspired Durga in Ajeya Sanghati and gorgeous Devi idols at Purba Pally, Parnasree and a rather unknown Puja in Roy Bahadur Street at Behala were remarkable. Remarkable is the sand-made models in another Behala Puja.

Devi Durga , sharaisharyashalini ( gorgeous), Roy Bahadur Road, Behala

I share with the readers photos of some of the pandals, decoration and activities Ruby and I shot during the first few days of this great festivity.

Barisha Club, Behala created a mix of Egyptian ambience with typical 'big-eyes-short-arms' image of Durga, a very pre-valent of style of this area. A bit over-done !

There are disappointments too. 41st Pally of Haridebpur, which has used wooden branches of various sizes and shapes for decoration and a kind of bird's nest for housing the image of Durga was not upto the mark though it attracted a lot of crowd.

Collage of photos taken by Ruby @ 'Potopara' , created near Behala High School.
Young volunteers showed us around with a lot of enthusiasm. At 6.30 am, of Saptami,
we were the among the few visitors in this pandal. Felt no rush.