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Atpur: Radha Govinda Temple
Several terracotta temples were constructed in this town (located about 50 km north-west of Kolkata) in the late-18th century by the Mitra zamindars who were associated with the zamindars of Burdwan. The temples belong to a style that became standardized in Hooghly and Howrah in the 18th century. The largest and most ornate of the temples at Atpur is the Radha-Govinda temple built in 1786 by Krishnaram Mitra, Dewan of the Burdwan Raj.


Entrance Porch
This highlight of the Radha Govinda temple is a large char-chala entrance porch whose walls are covered with terracotta panels that are richly carved with unusually vibrant scenes.


Triple-arched entrance
The extent, variety, quality, and preservation of figurative panels in this temple places this amongst the outstanding and most visited terracotta temples in Bengal. Just outside the Radha-Govinda compound are several other structures including a wooden Chandi Mandap on the left, and a small at-chala temple and ras-mancha in front, while to the right are two more at-chala temples with a pancha-ratna dolmancha in between. Another pair small at-chala temples are located next to a nearby pond.


Central Arch Panel
The central arch above the the main entrance shows the Ramayana battle scene with the central figures Rama and Ravana (right, with ten heads) at the top. Below this are Rasamandala medallions of Radha-Krishna surrounded by a ring of gopinis. Unusually the scenes are not laid out in registers but dense and chaotic with warriors and scenes of battle including Kumbhakarna (bottom, right) devouring enemies.


North Entrance Arch
The secondary or side entrances to the porch also have arches with elaborate panels. Above the north entrance is another chaotic battle scene from the Ramayana.


South Entrance Arch
Above the south entrance is a very beautiful image of Kali as a warrior at the centre and warriors on horses, camels, and on foot around her.


Base Frieze
Three rows of carved panels run along the base of the walls of both the porch and the temple. Many of these panels are badly damaged or obscured by moss or salt deposits but what remains is spectacular in its artistry and storytelling. The upper frieze has Krishnalila and Ramayana scenes. The central row has enlarged panels with "social" scenes of Indian and European noblemen engaged in hunting, military, and naval processions. Leafy swathes and foliate scrolls occupy the lowest row. The Krishna-lila stories are depicted in some detail here but are now damaged. Scenes here include Brahma's submission (left), and Kaliyadaman (right). Social scenes include Europeans (with hats) hunting, and a the Ramayana scene of Jatayu attempting to swallow Ravana's chariot.


Base Panels: Acrobats
One of the social panels shows acrobats and rope-walkers with musicians and other performers.


Base Panels: Bakasura
Krishnalila scenes elsewhere show Krishna's childhood exploits including women placing anklets on Krishna's feet, the killing of Bakasura, and milking of a cow.


Base Panels: Krisha with gopis
Boyhood scenes show him with Radha and the gopis, and then Krishna and Balarama carrying food on poles across their shoulders. The social scenes here show Europeans with a cannon and hunting with dogs.


Base Panels: Aghasura
Later scenes show the killing of Aghasura and other demons, and a scene with Krishna and Radha seated in a chamber and surrounded by gopis. Elsewhere are a panel with Kali and then noblemen with attendant women, dancing girls, and musicians.


Corner Elements
The corners of the porch and the temple have five rows of panels separated by decorated horizontal mouldings. Each row in turn has five vertical plaques containing figures standing in ridged rekha pavilions. A vertical band of three-dimensional sculpture showing a series of superimposed warriors on horses (called mrityulata) is set at the corner at 45 degrees, so that it is visible from either side.


Corner Panels: Women
Images in the corner panels are many and varied with sets showing a woman in the centre surrounded by dieties, warriors, and dancers.


Corner Panels: Ascetics
Another group shows a woman and ascetics.


Left Column
The two free-standing columns at the centre of the porch entrance are covered with panels on their 12-sided shafts and bases. The central panel on the left column shows Mahishamardhini with Ganesa and Lakshmi on the left and Saraswati and Karthik on the right.


Right Column
The right column panel shows Rama and Sita enthroned and attended by Lakshmana and others.


Wall Panels
These panels are unique to this temple and are located at the bottom of pilasters on the wall just above the base friezes. Square panels show dieties carved in deep relief. They are framed by a pattern of criss-cross petals and covered by a decorative arch. At the base is a frieze of rosettes. This panel shows Jagaddhatri on her lion vahana.


Siva on Nandi
Another panel shows Siva on Nandi surrounded by attendants. Other such panels show the vastraharana and other scenes from the Krishnalila.


Kashinatha-Siva Temple
Just outside the walled-compound of the Radha Govinda temple are several smaller temples. In a small field on the right are two at-chala temples with a pancha-ratna Dol Mancha in between. Of these, the Kasinatha temple built in 1773 is with a triple-arched entrance and figural decoration on the facade. The decoration is similar to the Radha-Govinda temple but many of the terracotta panels, particularly on the base, are now missing.


Arch Panel
The panel above the central arch shows the Ramayana battle scene. In the Ramayana scene, Rama and Ravana face each other at the top right, standing on makara-shaped vehicles. Around and below them are monkeys and raksashas in battle including Kumbhakarna (enlarged, bottom right). The scenes here are in well-defined registers. Immediately above the arch is a row of miniature rekha shrines with ascetics seated below Sivalingas.


Atchala Siva Temple
The at-chala temple next to Kasinatha-Siva is a simpler structure with a single-arch entrance. There is no figural terracotta on this temple but the vegetal and scroll ornament is surprisingly well-preserved.


Base Panels: Vegetal motifs
The base frieze consists of complex floral patterns in two rows of plaques.


Rasmancha
In the field in front of the Radha-Govinda complex is another at-chala temple and a nava-ratna octagonal rasmancha, raised on a high platform. The rasmancha has a straight-edged cornice above which are eight turrets, themselves are octagonal with double-towers. A similar but much-enlarged turret is at the centre.. There are stucco carvings of peacocks on the towers (corner turrets) and sides (central turret). At the corners of the rasmancha, between the arched entrances are nude figures of women in various poses, a clear influence of European art.



Photos and Text © Amit Guha