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The village of Ajuria is on the Palashpai canal, about 8 km south of Daspur and 2 km east of Ghatal-Panskura road. In the 19th century, Ajuria, like other nearby villages, became wealthy from textile and bell-metal manufacture and trade, and a number of temples were sponsored here. The finest of these is the navaratna Lakshmi-Janardan temple and the adjacent rasmancha, built by the Charan family in 1871. Though now ruined, overgrown, and neglected, this temple is one of the best examples of the architectural and sculptural style that the Daspur sutradharas developed in the 19th century: characterized by ridged-rekha turrets, rounded terracotta figures the facade, and arch columns composed of cylindrical, engaged columnettes (called kalagachheya by the sutradharas).

Lakshmi Janardan Temple
The temple is in need of conservation. Several Krishnalila and Ramayana panels on the facade are missing and the large rasmandala on the central arch panel are damaged. Several panels are missing from the frieze below the cornice and along the side walls. Four large terracotta figures inside the porch are exquisitely modeled but blackened and broken. The main sanctum is currently unused and the deity is in the upper shrine where it is worshipped daily. Although upper stories of most ratna temples are unused today, in the past they were used to house the deity during festivals so that a gathered Vaishnava congregation could view and worship them from below. This temple is a rare example where the deity is resident in the upper storey. An octagonal rasmancha in the courtyard of the temple has arched openings flanked by large terracotta figures of maidens. These figures are exceedingly well-crafted but they are neglected, and this structure also needs conservation.

Arch Panels
The panels above the entrance arches of the temple have horizontal registers containing Ramayana and Krishnalila scenes. On the left arch can be seen Krishna slaying demons sent by Kamsa before confronting Kamsa himself. Above this is the Mathura-gaman scene, with women fainting and throwing themselves in front of his chariot. Just above the left and right arch finials are large ornamental motifs composed of flowers and vegetal scrolls. Above the central arch finial is the mouth of a lion and above it a damaged rasamandala. The central arch registers show the Ramayana battle scene, Kamale-Kamini, an arrow being pulled out of Lakshman by vanaras, and attempts to wake a sleeping Kumbhakarna being by beating drums and trampling by an elephant. Scenes above the right arch include Jatayu attacking Ravana's chariot, Rama's coronation, and the Nauka-bilaas scene. A double frieze of figure panels below the cornice and the single column along the sides are damaged and obscured by plants. These show dieties, including a dasavatara series on the left wall. Figural panels also surround and divide the arch panels with women musicians and dancers.

Inside the Porch
Inside the porch there is extensive stucco ornamentation above the sanctum entrance and in arched pediments on the sides. Flanking the entrance are large terracotta dvarpalaka figures with carefully-modeled jata and moustache, holding a rudraksha and leaning towards the entrance. The modeling of the hands, face, and waistband is excellent. On the sides are figures of women, one holding a fly-whisk over her shoulder, the other standing at a half-open window. The modeling of the faces and the hairstyles is again of a very high quality.

Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma
On the north wall of the upper shrine, almost hidden from view, are three stucco figures of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. These figures are remarkable for their condition and artistic quality. Each diety is placed within a niche, flanked by round, classical pillars and vase-shaped capitals. Almost every aspect of the figures are noteworthy, but particularly interesting are the orientation and naturalism of Brahma's four heads and the fan (kocha) of his Bengali dhuti, Vishnu's crown and decorated seat, and Shiva's paunch, his jata (reminiscent of the dvarapalaka below), the way he folds his legs and Nandi curled up at his feet. The figures are modeled almost entirely in the round, each seated on a projecting polygonal platform with their vahanas below. And this being a Vishnu temple, the image of Vishnu is at the centre and slightly raised above the others.

Many terracotta temples are accompanied by a rasmancha where the dieties were placed and worshipped during the annual ras festival. The rasmancha of this temple is an octagonal structure raised on a high plinth. It is built in a style that became standardized in the 19th century and is common throughout Medinipur. The style is characterized by large terracotta figures on the corners and a nava-ratna superstructure with vase-shaped turrets, called rasunchura by the Daspur sutradhars. Although this rasmancha follows the standard architectural style of Medinipur rasmanchas, it is exceptional in the quality of its ornamentation. Its slightly protruding cornice has below it a series of interlocking, continuous vegetal motifs. On each side is a high entrance arch with stucco decoration in the arch panel: different patterns are used in each arch finial and surrounding vegetal scrollwork. The arch panels are framed by figure panels: Krishna and gopis alternating along the top and a variety of unusual figures below.

The arched entrances are flanked by large terracotta figures of maidens playing musical instruments (except at the back where the figures are of a hideous woman and a woman blowing a horn, the wall panels above this are also grotesque). All the figures are remarkable for their beauty, their excellent modeling and natural expressions and postures. Note the finely depicted folds in their various dresses, their varied hairstyles, and the expressions on their faces, some looking straight at the viewer while others look away.

Temples Nearby
Just outside the Lakshmi Janardana complex are two small single-entrance at-chala temples with dvarapalakas, probably also built by the Charan family. A short distance from this is a deul temple (largely renovated) with a triple-arched pirha entrance porch. This has some similarities with the Lakshmi Janardan (kalagachheya pillars, wall panels, and arch-finials). Notice the geometrical motifs on the arch panels and the Kamale-kamini on the central arch, and the dasavatara wall panels. Further along the main road, next to a school is a small deul-style temple next to an atchala temple. The Sitala temple in another part of the village was documented in good condition by Sri Tarapada Santra but is now overgrown and part of the facade has fallen away. The few remaining terracotta panels (showing amongst other things, Krishna killing Bakasura and Balarama and Jagannatha) point to fine workmanship, and possibly an early 19th century date. The Manasa temple near Hatpukur was built by the Sai family in 1870. This temple has some terracotta panels on the facade (not artistic). It has been significantly renovated and whitewashed.

Photos and Text © Amit Guha