AISHEE is a not-for-profit organization based in Kolkata, India. We are actively engaged in the documentation, preservation, and conservation of terracotta temples of Bengal. These temples, mostly built between the late 17th and late 19th centuries, are a testament to the engineering and artistic skill and ingenuity of rural Bengali architects and craftsmen. Not only are they artistic treasures, they are also visual archives of the society and religion of that time. The terracotta panels that cover the facades of these temples give us a tantalising glimpse into the past: through images of zamindars, warriors, Europeans, holy men, animals, hunts, river-boats, battle-ships, and military processions.
Hundreds of terracotta temples were built in the villages of late-medieval Bengal. Many are now ruined or altogether lost, others are in a dilapidated state. But many still survive, some with fine terracotta artwork intact. Protection of built heritage means prolonging the life of monuments without modifying the original art and architecture. Many professionals and skilled craftsmen are required for this interdisciplinary task that encompasses both restoration and conservation. AISHEE's projects engage art-historians, engineers, and conservationists along with local councils, panchayats, and resident families to document, restore, and protect individual temples. To join Aishee please write to us at: AISHEE, 202A Picnic Garden Road, Kolkata 700039
At the national level, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) protects many of the important terracotta temples including the magnificent groups of monuments at Kalna, Baronagar, and Bishnupur. The West Bengal State Archaeology Department also protects and maintains several temples throughout the region. But hundreds of temples and mosques remain unprotected and crumbling, many of them in remote villages. It is not possible to protect these wonderful monuments without increasing awareness about them and without local and global participation in their restoration and preservation.
The porous and brittle nature of brick compared to stone results in relatively rapid deterioration of terracotta buildings. Human factors also add challenges, including attempts to restore or renovate these temples often by obliterating original features. Amongst the many temples that are at risk are the atchala temples at Jagatballabhpur (above) and Kotalpur (left) both in the Hugli district. Both temples, built by local zamindars in the late 18th century, are now overgrown, their rich terracotta panels crumbling and the entire structures in danger of collapsing. The temples have arch panels with panoramic battle scenes and scrollwork and base panels filled with social and mythological scenes. Similar temples at Bainchigram, Harirampur, Dalalpara, Bahirgarh, and many other villages also need attention.
|Photos and Text © Amit Guha|