Bishnupur was ruled under the Gupta period by local Hindu kings who paid tribute to Samudra Gupta. Following a long period of obscurity, where the land oscillated between being a minor independent principality and a vassal state. The land is also called Mallabhum after the Malla rulers of this place. The Malla rulers were Vaishnavites and built the famous terracotta temples during the 17th and 18th century at this place. The legends of Bipodtarini Devi are associated with Malla Kings of Bishnupur.
Bishnupur (the distance from Kolkata is 132 km), now the headquarters of the subdivision of the same name in Bankura district, is a seat of crafts and culture.
For almost a thousand years it was the capital of the Malla kings of Mallabhum, of which Bankura was a part, till their power waned during the times when Mughal Empire weakened under the last monarchs of the dynasty.
The patronage of Malla king Veer Hambir and his successors Raja Raghunath Singha Dev and Bir Singha Dev made Bishnupur one of the principal centres of culture in Bengal. Most of the exquisite terracotta temples for which town is justly famous were built during this period.
Mrinmoyee temple of kings is treated as a valuable historic place.
Apart from the unique architecture of the period, Bishnupur is also famous for its terracotta craft and its own Baluchari sarees made of tussar silk.
Royal patronage also gave rise to Bishnupur Gharana (school) of Hindustani classical music in late 18th-century and the Bishnupur school of painting.
Since 1997, the temples of Bishnupur is on UNESCO World Heritage Site’s Tentative list.
City of terracotta has to have souvenirs that you can carry back as a memory with you. While I would have liked a miniature temple to carry back with me, the artists do not seem to be thinking in that direction. But you can buy a lot of terracotta jewelry that includes neckpieces, earrings, and chains with terracotta beads. You can buy other things like small statues of deities and of common people performing regular day-to-day activities. Every terracotta region has a distinct color and style associated with it. The color of terracotta is orange-red and it has a bright shiny surface. Items made of coconut shell and palm wood are also popular.
You might have heard of Baluchari Sari’s, where the stories of Ramayan and Mahabharata are woven into the silk. This is one of the centers for this art form. The designs they say are inspired by the designs on the walls of terracotta temples. The whole process is still manual. And is done at small units that produce about 2-3 Sari’s a week. Now I always knew about Baluchari. But the boards on the streets said Baluchari and Swarnachari and I was curious to find out about this new version of the better-known Baluchari. After talking to a couple of artisans I figured out that if the weave is done using silk thread it is called Baluchari and if it is done using gold thread, it is called Swarnachari.
Going with the trend, they have started weaving similar motifs for salwar – kameez as well on an experimental basis. The fabric remains silk or Tussar silk. I wish they could weave the same stuff in cotton, which would make it wearable on a more regular basis.
This is a type of tribal art with brass metal and normally crafted by the nomadic tribes. They are now more or less settled in certain areas of Bengal and MP. The difference between the brass from other art centers like Moradabad in UP is that the art pieces are ornamented with thin brass wires, which are twisted and turned to carve out various shapes that you recognize giving a very rustic look and feel to the artifacts. The casting though is done using the lost wax method, which is the oldest way of metal casting. The actual center of making this is located 25 km’s from the town. But you can buy most of what is made there in the town.
Conch Shell Artifacts
The Conch shell, the thought of it always reminds one of the mornings Puja at temples that begin by blowing the conch. And then the ancient battles that also were announced using it. But in this town, artists do much more than that with conch shells. They carve them carefully, giving their plain shiny surfaces, the designs that make them look precious, literally. A well-carved conch shell can cost you a lot.
The Bankura horse is the most famous art piece of this region. With its sharp long ears, it stands out and is almost like the signature of this region and its art. You would see this horse not only in brass but also in miniature to giant sizes in terracotta in almost every street in the town. These horses are always there in pairs; made in pairs and sold in pairs. You can get this horse pair in brass, in terracotta, and on the conch shell.