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Atpur: Radha Govinda Temple
Several terracotta temples were constructed in this town in the late-18th century by the Mitra family who were divans to the Burdwan Raj. The largest and most ornate of these is the Radha-Govinda temple built in 1786 by Krishnaram Mitra. The highlight of this 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 figural panels in this temple makes it one of the finest terracotta temples in Bengal. Just outside the Radha-Govinda compound are several other structures including a wooden Chandi Mandap on the left, a small at-chala temple and ras-mancha in front. To the right are two more at-chala temples with a pancha-ratna dolmancha in between. Another pair small at-chala temples are next to a nearby pond.


Entrance Arch Panels
The panels above the the triple-arched entrance contain densely packed Ramayana scenes. In the midst are Rasamandala medallions: Radha-Krishna surrounded by a ring of gopinis. The Ramayana scenes are not laid out in registers but are filled with warriors surrounding central battle scenes: Rama against Ravana, Rama against Kumbhakarna, Lakshman against Indrajit.


Side Arch Panels
The side entrances to the porch also have arches with elaborate panels. Above the north entrance is another battle scene from the Ramayana. Above the south entrance is a very beautiful image of Kali as a warrior at the centre battling asuras 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 damaged or obscured by moss or salt deposits but what remains is extensive and sophisticated. The upper frieze has Krishnalila and Ramayana scenes. The central row has enlarged panels with social scenes of Indian and European noblemen hunting, and of military, and naval processions. Scenes of Indian nobility show noblemen in processions or entertaining guests with dancing girls and musicians. Leafy swathes and foliate scrolls occupy the lowest row. The Krishna-lila stories are depicted in some detail here but are now damaged.


Base Panels
Social scenes include Europeans (with hats) firing cannon and hunting with dogs, and one of the Ramayana scenes is of Jatayu attempting to swallow Ravana's chariot. A remarkable social panels shows acrobats and rope-walkers with musicians and other performers. Krishnalila scenes elsewhere show scenes from Krishna's childhood: women placing anklets on Krishna's feet, the killing of Bakasura, and Krishna milking a cow. Boyhood scenes show him with Radha and the gopis, and then Krishna and Balarama carrying food on poles across their shoulders. 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. Other scenes include Brahma's submission and Kaliyadaman.


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. Images in the corner panels are many and varied with sets showing a woman in the centre surrounded by dieties, warriors, and dancers. Another group shows a woman and ascetics.


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


Wall Panels
Large ornate wall panels are at the bottom of wall pilasters and 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 an arch. At the base is a frieze of rosettes. One such panel shows Jagaddhatri on her lion vahana. 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. The central arch panel shows Rama and Ravana facing 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. 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