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Classification of Terracotta Temples

Terracotta temples are usually classified by their superstructures, the two major groups being the sloping roofed or chala styles and the towered or ratna styles. Although this classification has recently been debated, it is still widely used to group the temples. The classification was widely used and refined by David McCutchion, who dedicated much of his life to studying and surveying these temples. The study of terracotta architecture owes much to scholars such as David McCutchion, Tarapada Santra, Amiyakumar Bandyapadhyay and Hitesranjan Sanyal. Much of the research for this website, and particularly for the following essays, is based on books and papers written by them, particularly David McCutchion.

Bangla Temples

Keshta Raya Temple, Bishnupur, 1655

The ek-bangla (or do-chala) structure consists of two sloping roofs with curved edges or cornices meeting at a curved ridge. Internally, there is a single rectangular chamber covered by a vaulted roof. This style imitates single-celled domestic huts in Bengal and was first adopted in Islamic architecture, the earliest example being the 17th century mausoleum of Fateh Khan at Gaur. Although simple in structure, temples of this style are rare. A more preferred variant seems to have been the jor-bangla temple, with two adjacent, connected do-chala temples, with a central upper turret.


The best-preserved group of Bangla temples is at Baronagar near Murshidabad, where Rani Bhabani built many temples in this style, including the char-bangla complex, a group of four ek bangla temples facing each other across a courtyard. A popular variation of this style is the jor-bangla where two such bangla huts are conjoined, one as a porch, and the other as the shrine. Of the few surviving examples of this conjoined style, one of the earliest and yet the most impressive is the Keshtaraya temple, built in Bishnupur in the mid-17th century. This majestic temple is remarkable for the quality and subject-matter of the terracotta panels that cover all visible and surfaces and inside walls of the porch. Baronagar also has a fine example of this style, the Gangesvara temple, which is remarkable for the extent and quality of terracotta art on its facade and on the porch pillars.

Char-chala Temples

Raghavesvara Temple, Diknagar, 1669

In this type of temple, four triangular roofs meet at a point, with the ridges of each chala and also of the cornices curved. The char-chala style is rare except in the districts of Birbhum, Murshidabad, and Nadia. In Nadia it seems to have been the preferred style of the Nadia rajas. Most char-chala temples are relatively small and have a single entrance. Char-chala temples with triple-arched entrance are exceedingly rare.


A well-preserved example of the char-chala temple is the ornate Raghavesvara temple at Diknagar in Nadia. Other examples in Nadia are the Jalesvara temple at Santipur and the temples at Palpara and Sibnibas. The patrons of the several temples at Maluti (now in Jharkhand) also seem to have favoured this style. Other notable examples of the char-chala style are the Raghunatha temple at Ghurisa in Birbhum, and the very ornate Govinda temple in Puthia in Bangldesh (a rare example of a char-chala temple with a triple-arched entrance).

At-chala Temples

Siva Temple, Amadpur, mid-18th century

If the roof of a char-chala temple is truncated and a miniature duplicate char-chala temple is added on it, then it becomes an at-chala temple. Though the char-chala style is rare, the at-chala style is very common, particularly in Hugli and Howrah, where it seems to have been very popular with artisans and patrons in the 18th and 19th centuries. As the architecture of the at-chala temple became common, the decorative arrangements of terracotta panels on the facade also became standardized, allowing artisans to build hundreds of fairly similar at-chala temples in this region. Although the both architecture and decoration of the temples became similar, it was sufficiently complex to allow both patrons and artisans to experiment and innovate.


Many variations of the basic at-chala style were developed. These range from a small squat Bishnupuri type where the roofs are only slightly separated, to a massive type where the temple is placed on a large plinth. The most common type in Howrah and Hugli have triple-arched entrance and fully-decorated facades. Given the popularity of this style through the 18th-20th centuries, fine and fully decorated examples of this style are numerous and widespread across Hugli, Haora, Medinipur, and Bankura districts. Some notable examples of the style are the massive temples at Gurap and Mellock, several ornate temples at Atpur, the Dakshina Kali temple at Malancha, the Raj-Rajesvara temple at Dvarhatta, several temples in Amadpur in Bardhaman, and temples in many villages around Arambagh and Goghat in Hugli. The renowned but significantly renovated pilgrimage temples at Kalighat and Tarakeswar are also in the atchala style.

Ek-ratna Temples

Madan Mohan Temple, Bishnupur, 1694

The pinnacled or ratna design is significantly different from the chala or sloping roofed styles. Although the base structure is the same (rectangular box with curved cornice) the roof is completely transformed, becoming flattened and surmounted by one or more pinnacles called churas or ratnas. The origins of this style are uncertain as there are both Hindu and Islamic precedents of structures with one or more turrets. Islamic tombs with domes or pavilions at multiple levels are common as on Sher Shah's tomb at Sasaram and Akbar's elaborate tomb at Sikandra, while the practice of decorating the towers of Hindu temples with miniature shrines is ancient and common throughout north and south India, for example at Khajuraho. The simplest version of the ratna style is the single-towered or ek ratna.


Ek Ratna temples were a particular favourite of the Malla rulers of Western Bengal, who built many such temples at their caputal in Bishnupur, although most are largely unadorned and built of laterite rather than brick. An exception is the temple seen in this picture, the lavishly decorated Madan Mohan temple, whose large and very ornate terracotta panels are unusual, although Islamic precedents can be found as in the Kadam Rasul mosque in Gaur. In a slightly different style (with octagonal chala turrets) are the ek-ratna temples at Guptipara and Bansberia, both remarkable for the extent, quality and content of their terracotta decoration.

Pancha-ratna Temples

Gokulchand Temple, Gokulnagar, 1639

In the five-towered (pancha-ratna) style the superstructure consists of a large central tower and four smaller towers at the corners. This layout (particularly the construction of the turrets as small temples) almost certainly references the auspicious panchayatana temple style of northern India (e.g. Khajuraho and Deogarh) where the main temple is surrounded by four subordinate temples at four corners of the plinth. The Malla kings built some impressive early examples of pancharatna temples such as the Shyamaraya temple at Bishnupur and the monumental Gokulchand temple at Gokulnagar.


Alhough some of the finest pancha ratna temples are from 17th century Bishnupur, the style was adopted by smaller landlords and merchants in the 19th century, particularly in Medinipur and Bankura district, where there are some important examples such as the Gopinath temple at Radhakantapur (Medinipur), the Radha-Govinda temple at Chechua-Gobindanagar (Medinipur), and the Radhakanta temple at Akui (Bankura). There are some notable examples outside these districts as well, such as the Govinda temple at Puthia (Bangladesh) and the Gopinath temple at Dasghara (Hugli).

Nava-ratna Temples

Sridhara Temple, Bishnupur, 19th c

The next level of elaboration after the pancharatna is the nine-towered (navaratna) temple which is essentially a pancharatna with an extra storey. Though complex, this became popular amongst merchants and small zamindars in and around Bishnupur, and in the nearby districts of Hugli and Medinipur. The large number of pinnacles give smaller temples in this style an exaggerated grandeur that was clearly a source of prestige to patrons. Temples with even more complex superstructures were built by increasing the number of levels and adding more turrets at each level. The most elaborate pinnacled style is the twenty-five-spired temple which was patronized by the powerful zamindars of Bardhaman who built three such massive and elaborate temples at Kalna. Recent research on ratna temples has shown that ratnas were not merely decorative but also used in daily rituals. Dieties were taken upto the central tower, so that the worshippers gathered on the temple grounds could view them.


The greatest nava-ratna temple is the massive and richly decorated early 18th c Kantaji temple at Kantanagar temple in Dinajpur. Nearly all other nava-ratna temples are from the 19th century or later, including the renowned modern temples of Dakshineswar and Talpukur near Kolkata. Other notable examples of navaratna temples are the Radha-binod temple in Kenduli (Birbhum), the temples at Joypur (Bankura), the Sridhara temple in Bishnupur, the Santinatha Siva temple in Chandrakona (Medinipur), and the temples at Dubrajpur in Birbhum.


Pre-Islamic Deul, Satdeulia, 11th century

The earliest temples in Bengal are deuls, a name given to a Hindu temple style that evolved and became standardized in north India, Orissa, and the Deccan between the 6th and the 10th centuries. The particular type of deul that is common in Bengal is called rekha deul (an Orissan nomenclature), and is characterised by a square sanctum, vertical projections (rekha) on the walls, a curvilinear tower (sikhara), chaitya (mesh) decoration on the facade (on both walls and tower), and surmounted by a large amalaka and kalasa finial. Few of these early Bengali deul temples remain, but among them the brick-built examples are of significant complexity and size. When the rekha style reappeared during the 16th-19th century Hindu revival, it was completely transformed by Islamic constructional features such as internal domes, arches, and terracotta decoration on the facade. Such temples, particularly in a substyle characterized by ridged rather than smooth tower, were built in considerable numbers in the 19th century although they were mostly much smaller than the pre-Islamic deuls. Rehka deuls both in the rigded and smooth styles can also be seen as turrets of ratna temples, especially the central towers of pancharatna and navaratna temples.


The earliest example of the early rekha deul style is the 9th century stone Siddheswara temple at Barakar in Bardhaman. Later (11th century) examples of massive brick-built deuls can be found at Satdeulia (Bardhaman), Bahulara (Bankura), and Jatar Deul (24 Parganas). The examples from the Hindu revival period can be grouped into deuls with smooth towers as the Siva temples Rajnagar (Medinipur) and Krishna and Balarama temples at Bishnupur. Small rekha temples with ridged towers were built in large numbers in 19th century Bardhaman and Birbhum. Terracotta decorated and well-preserved examples are the Pratapesvara temple at Kalna, a Siva temple at Ilambazar, and several examples at Mankar in Bardhaman. A few large deuls were also built in the 19th century as at Debipur in Bardhaman.

Octagonal Temples

Temple in Marketplace, Ilambazar, 19th century

Although octagonal temples are rare, there are sufficient numbers to warrant separate discussion. Several richly decorated octagonal temples with rekha deul superstructure were built in the mid-19th century in the Bardhaman-Birbhum area. This is one example (amongst many) of a specific late-medieval Bengali architectural substyle becoming popular for a brief period in a certain region. Less decorated examples with chala and duplicated-chala superstructures also exist, but ratna superstructures are not usually seen. For rasmanchas, however, octagonal plan with ratna superstructure is the most common style. Another octagonal style specific to a single patron (Rani Bhabani) consists of large open temples with inverted lotus-dome.


The best examples of richly decorated octagonal rekha deuls are at Sribati, Ilambazar, and Supur. Naldanga in Bangladesh has several examples of the large octagonal stucco-and-terracotta-decorated style typical of that region. The Chandranatha Siva temple in Hetampur is an unusual example of an octagonal temple with a navaratna superstructure. This temple is also unusual for the style and subject-matter of sculpture on its walls. The best example of the special octagonal temple style patronized by Rani Bhabani is the Bhavanisvara temple at Baranagar in Murshidabad but examples also exist elsewhere in her domains such as at Pabna.

Flat Roofed Temples

Rupesvara Temple, Kalna, 1765

The flat-roofed temple style became common from the 19th century onwards, and particularly in Medinipur district. Such temples (probably inspired by Islamic palace architecture) lack a superstructure, but otherwise adopt the standard features of late-medieval temples of Bengal, such as cusped triple-arched entrances, octagonal or clustered-pilastered pillars, terracotta decorated facades, and often, internal domes or vaults. The Medinipur sutradharas differentiate between large flat-roofed temples (often used for annual Durga puja celebrations) which they called dalan, and smaller flat-roofed temples, which they called chandni. Towards the late 19th century, European influences became common: such as a balcony on the roof (often with large stucco figures), and entrance stairs with rampant lions. Most zamindar palaces also included a stucco-decorated flat-roofed temple, the Durgadalan, used specifically for annual pujas, and sometimes of impressive proportions. The basic flat-roofed temple is occasionally given an upper story, often ornamental, but sometimes full-fledged deul, pancha-ratna, or nava-ratna upper temples.


Flat-roofed temples in the traditional terracotta-decorated style are rare. The Rupesvara temple within the Kalna temple complex and the Raghunatha temple of the Nayak family at Bahadurpur in Bardhaman are good examples of the style. Dalan temples with modern pillars and stucco decoration are common in Medinpur, especially at Chandrakona and Ghatal, but several examples also exist at Mankar near Bardhaman town. Additional superstructures can be seen at Perua (ek-bangla tower), Anandamayi Kali temple at Krishnanagar (char-chala upper temple), and at Jadabbati in Haora (nava-ratna tower).

Grouped Temples

108 Siva Temples, Kalna, 1809

Temples of identical style and size are often grouped together, arranged in a recognized geometrical pattern. The most common layout is twelve atchala Siva temples arranged in two separate sets of six temples and placed along a straight line, often along a river bank (called baro- or dvadasa-siva temple). Two identical temples (also usually atchala and dedicated to Siva) placed side by side, is called Jora Siva temple and is very common. Some temple complexes have four temples (often of different designs) facing inward onto a courtyard. The panchayatana arrangement of a large temple with four smaller temples at the corners of the plinth or courtyard, common in northern India (e.g. at Khajuraho) is rare in Bengal. And the most elaborate grouping that exists is of a hundred-and-eight Siva temples arranged geometrically.


Twelve-at-chala Siva temples along a riverbank are fairly common. Famous examples are at Dakshinesvar and Talpukur (attached to the large navaratna temples there), but baro-siva temples also exist independently, as at Konnagar. Twelve temples (2 pancha-ratna, 10 at-chala) are also attached to the twenty-five ratna Anandabhairavi temple at Sukharia. Group of four facing inward onto a courtyard can be seen at Baronagar and at Guptipara. The panchayatana arrangement can be seen at Panchthupi in Bardhaman. There are two instances of one-hundred-and-eight temples both in Bardhaman district and built by the Bardhaman rajas: at Kalna they are placed in two concentric circles, and at Nababhat in Bardhaman town, they are in a large rectangle.

Temple Porches

Gopalbari with charchala porch, Kalna, 1766

Most Hindu temples have a porch adjacent to the sanctum where worshippers may gather to view the diety (darsana) or receive blessed food (prasada). In the Orissan tradition a pyramidal or pirha porch called jagamohana is attached to the rekha deul. This arrangement can be seen in several laterite and brick temples in Medinipur and Bankura. In standardised chala and ratna architecture of 18th-19th century Bengal, however, the porch and the sanctum are usually placed within the same building. But there are many instances where separate (often richly decorated) porches are added to the front. These porches are themselves in bangla, chala, or dalan styles, and are usually smaller than the main temple. Some porch combinations are more common than others such as at Medinipur where there are many instances of a rekha-deul with a char-chala porch. Besides attached mandapas, temple complexes sometimes contain subsidiary mandapas such as bhogamandapa, natamandapa, and sometimes a ceremonial nahabatkhana. Some complexes also contain elaborate gateways with attached porches.


There are some unusual instances of porches that are larger than the main temple, such as the Raghunatha temple at Chandrakona (pirha porch attached to rekha deul) and the Nandadulal temple at Chandannagar (massive ek-bangla porch attached to a small dalan temple). Other notable temples with richly decorated porches are the Krishna temple at Baidyapur (rekha porch attached to rekha deul), the Lakshmi Janardan temple at Debipur (ek-bangla porch attached to rekha deul), Siva temple at Kasimbazar-Byaspur (ek-bangla porch attached to inverted-lotus-domed temple), the Radha-Govinda temple at Atpur (char-chala porch attached to an at-chala temple), the Krishnachandra temple at Kalna, and the Radha-Govinda temple at Loada (low-pyramidal porch attached to a deul temple). Examples of separate, subsidiary porches within temple complexes are: the bhogamandapa of the Madana Mohana temple at Bishnupur, ek-bangla gateway of the Radha Madhava temple at Bishnupur, and the flat roofed nahabatkhana at the Brindabanchandra complex at Guptipara.

Subsidiary Structures

Rasmancha, Narajol Rajbari, 19th century

The term mancha is used to denote subsidiary structures located outside the main temple, and built (mostly in the 18th-19th centuries) specficially for use in certain Krishna festivals when idols were (are) ceremonially moved from the main temple to the mancha so that the gathered devotees can see them. The two most common types of manchas are rasmanchas and dolmanchas, used respectively in the ras and doljatra festivals. Both structures have high plinths and are open on all sides, but the dolmancha is usually stands on four columns or wall sections, while the rasmancha is usually octagonal with arched openings and large terracotta figures flanking each entrance. Dolmanchas are usually char-chala or pancharatna, while rasmanchas are usually straight-edged and pinnacled, eight turrets surrounding a large central turret being the most common style. In Medinipur, a special type of turret was developed for rasmanchas, with a bulging vase-like base capped by an inverted flower. The daspur sutradharas called this rasunchura. While manchas are usually smaller than the main temple, an unusual, large pyramidal architectural style was used in some cases, particularly where the rasmancha or dolmancha served as the site where idols from various temples in the vicinity congregated on festival days as at Puthia and Bishnupur.


Notable examples of terracotta decorated dolmanchas are in the palace-complex at Bainchigram (ridged rekha), near the Nandadulal temple at Gurap (ridged rekha), near the Damodara temple of Ray family (at-chala), at Talchinan (pancha-ratna). There are very large pyramidal dolmanchas at Rajshahi (three terraces) and Pabna (two terraces). Ornate rasmanchas are particularly common in Medinipur with examples at Saulan and Alangiri (navaratna with rasunchura turrets). A notable example outside Medinipur is the rasmancha of Bara-taraf at Hadal-Narayanpur (seventeen-pinnacled). Examples of large rasmanchas are at Narajol (twenty-five pinnacled and in three tiers) and the famous rasmancha of the Malla rajas at Bishnupur (pyramidal).

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