Monday, January 25, 2010



This blog is being written based on an idea that came to my mind during an early morning 'chat' with Amit Guha on 25/01/2010, my young friend from London. He is an enthusiast about terra cotta temples of Bengal. We were talking about motifs and icons when I told him about not so many 'Dasa MahaVidya' images being seen in our terra cotta temples.

Later during the evening, I searched 'Dasa MahaVidya' in the internet and found a lot of material regarding the tantric side of 'Dasa MahaVidya', the 'Yantras' et all. One can do one's own search and read whatever s/he likes. I have the simple story here for Amit and a few terra cotta panels.

The story I read as a child is this : Sati, daughter of Daksha the king, married Shiva against her father's will. To humiliate the couple, Daksha organised a very large gathering around a religious pyre ("Yagna') . Here, the rich and famous of that era were invited , but for Shiva and Sati.

Sati was keen to be present at this 'Yagna' ,even though she was not invited . Shiva vehemently opposed her decision. The quarrel reached its peak when Sati transformed herself into multiple ( ten) appearances. Shiva was thus subdued and allowed Sati to join her father's 'Yagna'. This led to a tragedy as Sati committed suicide after being insulted by her father in front of distinguished guests. Shiva came to tremendous grief , stormed into the gathering and ransacked the place by ' Tandava'. The ten manifestations of Sati are called 'Dasa MahaVidya'...ten ' supreme' knowledge or revelations.

The ten manifestations are linked with 9 planets and 'Lagna' by tantric devotees. They vary from fierce to benign . Tantric scripture have paean devoted to each of these ten 'Maha Vidya's. I shall post three from my collection of photos here:

Left to right : Top row - Matangi (Planet Sun), Shoroshee (Planet Mercury) and Kamala (Planet Venus). Middle row - Bagala (Planet Mars), Tara (Planet Jupiter) and very likely Barahi ( a Matrika, not one of the 'Maha Vidyas'). Bottom row - Kali (Planet Saturn ), Durga and Chhinnamasta (Planet Rahu ).

'Shoroshee' rests on a lotus rising from the navel of Shiva.Lotus in her upper left hand , blessing in her lower right hand, she is a beautiful woman .

'Dhumavati' (Planet Ketu ) is the only manifestation who is a widow. She is old,ugly with her breasts hanging out and she has fumes all around , being fanned and spread by a 'kulo', a flat contraption used for segregating grains. She rides a chariot pulled by a crow.

Friday, January 1, 2010



Winter season is the time for us go out in the district and take photographs of terra cotta temples. For quite a while , I had the intention to go Birbhum district for photography. The temples of Birbhum district, I read, are different from the ones we find in Hooghly and Bankura districts. I saw excellent b/w photographs of the panels from Ilambazar temples in a book written by late Mukul De. December 2009 brought the 1st opportunity for a visit to this district.

We had a guest from NY University , a young Israeli guy who is a classmate of my elder
son Sujash. He came for a tour of India and Thailand , centered around the marriage ceremony of Sujash.When I suggested a visit to Shantiniketan and villages of West bengal during his return leg of journey back to the USA through Calcutta, he readily jumped into the offer.

Ruby , Aviv and I started @ 6.20 am on 30/12/2009 from Calcutta and reached Ilambazar by 9.30 am, comfortably with a break for breakfast @ Shaktigarh. To reach the temples, we had to negotiate through a narrow lane and a crowded bazaar

The 1st temple we visited has idols of Gour (Chaitanya Dev and) - Nitai.It is of octagonal shape,terra cotta work all over,quite unique in nature.There are lots of motifs which have quite an Islamic appearance. It has lost its roof, now protected by corrugated sheets . The walk-around, very low in Bengal's standard has just a two rods barrier. However, this protection is effective, since, a good nos of panels are near-intact, except for the ravages of time and weather.It has interesting panels , both mythological and social.Photography, with clothes hung near one face, merchandise all around and shade of corrugated roof affecting the view of the top-side of the panels.

The other temple @ Ilambazar is of Shiva..... is quite a rather small 'Rekha' temple. A very neatly kept temple, very likely maintained by a wealthy family whose dwelling is just adjacent to this temple.It has interesting panels , more on which on other blogs.

Like the temples of Birbhum, this temple has many motifs of 'Shakti' - the female Divine Power. Here is an example :

We liked this temple a lot . The temples we came across in village Surul were small too, well kept and with interesting panels.

First - a few lines on how to locate and reach Surul. Surul village comes on your right as you approach Bolpur along the road to Shantiniketan from Ilambazar.You will cross an Engineering College and then Kharimati Hotel. You start asking for the village right after the Hotel and within a minute , you will reach the lane on your RH going inside the village.2 minutes into this road and on the right is a motorable but narrow lane going upto a cluster of two temples.The one for Shiva has good amount of terra cotta panels.The road takes a RH turn adjacent to a 'Durga bari' where there is cluster of 3 neat temples with good terra cotta work.

For more details on locations of the towns/villages,you can view :

Largest of the Surul temples.The arches have scenes from Ramayana.

Very well-planed terra cotta work.The central panel has Ram-Ravana war. The ones on LH and RH shows coronation of Ram and Sita in Ayodhya palace and Ravana in his court and Sita in captivity respectively.More details later.

Before closing, I shall add that visit to Shantiniketan, specially the Fair ( 'Pous Mela') was quite disappointing.

NOTE 1 - Several photos in this blog are shot by my wife Ruby, whose album has been of immense help to me.
NOTE 2 - Sri Satyasri Ukil , grandson of Sri Mukul Dey, who among other remarkable deeds, built an extensively researched album on terra cotta temples of Birbhum district, wrote :
'Hello Good to see your recent blog on Illumbazar and Surul. The pic attached depicts a temple which you have visited at Illumbazar...for last sixty years, at least, it has a corrugated roof...! You wrote: "It has lost its roof, now protected by corrugated sheets".

This photograph was taken by Mukul Dey in c. 1948-49. May
use it on your blog if you so feel...'

I am thankful to Sri Ukil and I have inserted the 60 years old photo of the hexagonal temple of Ilambazar in my blog.