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The village of Puthia is located in north-western Bangladesh about 30 km from Rajshahi town. It was the headquarters of a large Hindu zamindari, created under Mughal rule in the early 17th century. In 1744, the zamindari was divided into several branches of which the panch-ani and the char-ani zamindars built extensively in the 18th and 19th centuries. The panch-ani zamindar's palace was built by Rani Hemantakumari Devi in 1895 and has European features. Its symmetrical east and west wings flank a central projected entrance portal with Corinthian columns. A frieze of floral plaster work runs below the cornice and the parapet above is also ornamented and embellished with vase finials. The vast palace grounds, enclosed by a moat, contain other residences and offices and also several temples that together form the largest and best preserved group of terracotta temples in Bangladesh. The Puthia zamindars seem to have been more architecturally experimentative than other Bengali patrons in this period, and have left behind many temples are in a wide variety in architectural styles.

Govinda Temple
The large, two-storeyed, pancharatna Govinda temple to the left of the panch-ani palace is the largest temple in Puthia. It is raised on a high plinth and has triple-arched entrance porches on all four sides. On the upper level are five ratnas or turrets, each a complete shrine with char-chala roofs. The large central turret has triple-arched entrances while the four corner shrines have single-arched entrances. Pancha ratna temples were popular with other patrons such as the Malla rulers of Bishnupur in the 17th century or zamindars in 19th century Medinipur. However, in these temples the turrets are rekha deuls with smooth or ridged turrets, rather than miniature char-chala temples. The ornamentation on this temple is also far more elaborate than in the Bishnupur and Medinipur pancha-ratnas.

Arch Panels
All exterior surfaces of the temple, including the five turrets on the upper storey are completely covered with intricately carved terracotta panels. Arch panels above the main entrance have Ramayana battle scenes in low relief. Surrounding these is a frieze of recessed panels showing musicians and dancers within wide frames of rosettes.

Wall Panels
Large square wall panels containing lotuses and framed by raised bands of medallions and scrollwork run in two rows below the cornice and in four columns along the side walls, where they contain images of dieties such as Siva on Nandi and Mahisamardini.

Corner Panels
At the corners of the temple are horizontal rows of small terracotta panels showing marching warriors, separated by mouldings decorated with scrollwork and petals. Above these and just below the cornice is a triangular panel with large fantastic horses.

Base Frieze
Along the base of the walls is a double frieze in a standardized format: Krishnalila scenes above and social scenes below. Krishnalila panels here include Putana Badh, churning of milk, Bakasura Badh, and the vastraharana scene. The social scenes below show men on horses hunting deer, and zamindars holding court or in palanquins.

Chhoto Anhik Temple
The small ek-bangla Anhik temple behind the palace has very intricate terracotta decoration. It seems to have been built for daily rituals performed by the women of the household. This jewel-like temple has a triple-arched entrance porch leading to a small rectangular shrine. A secondary single-arched entrance on the north leads directly to the sanctum. Finely detailed terracotta decoration covers the triple-arched entrance facade.

Arch Panels
The arch panels (usually reserved for battle scenes) are filled here with small square panels with dancers, each framed within a band of rosettes. A thin band of tendrils (kalpalata) frames the entire composition.

Wall Panels
Large square wall panels surround the entrance: these have very small, recessed bricks with figures in the centre and wide frames of geometric patterns and a border of rosettes. The corner elements have a triple friezes showing dancers and yogis above, and animals and birds below. These are separated by raised horizontal mouldings.

North Arch Panel
The arch panel above the north entrance has a Ramayana battle scene with enlarged images of Ram and Ravan in chariots at the centre, surrounded by warriors. The scene is framed by a double band of scrollwork. Around this is a a frieze of large panels each with a lotus medallion at the recessed centre, framed by rosettes.

Chhoto Siva Temple
Near this is a simple single-entrance charchala Siva temple. It is next to an open field that once had a Durga dalan for the annual Durga Puja festival. Decoration on this temple is sparse: small panels with dancers frame the entrance while a frieze of large wall panels runs below the cornice and along the sides.

Bhubaneswar Siva Temple
At the other end of the palace ground is the large and unusual pancha-ratna Bhubaneswar Siva temple, built in 1823 by Rani Bhuban Mohini Devi. The upper level of this temple is arranged as a pancayatana with a large central shrine four smaller shrines at the corners. These ratnas have star-shaped walls, arched jali windows, sraight cornices with projecting eaves, and sekhari roofs with rows of miniature spires. The cornice of the lower storey is also straight and its projecting eave is suppored by decorative brackets. The temple is raised on a high plinth with a flight of steps leading up to its triple-arched entrance. An open verandah with arched openings runs around the sanctum with mythological scenes from the Ramayana engraved on the sanctum walls, of which only vestiges remain. Next to this is a two-storeyed octagonal rasmancha with arched openings, some stucco decoration, and a carved stone entrance frame. Also in the palace grounds is a monumental but undecorated pyramidal dolmancha, a vast structure in three storeys. The dolmancha and rasmancha became the centrepiece in annual Vaishnava festivals (dol and ras, respectively) when dieties from all temples in Puthia were ceremonially carried, placed, and worshipped in these structures.

Boro Anhik and Chhoto Govinda Temple
A walled complex just outside the ruins of the char-ani palace and kachari has two terracotta temples. The Boro Anhik temple is built in a very unusual, composite style: it has an ek-bangla temple with triple-arched entrance in the centre and attached single-entrance charchala temples on either side.

Boro Anhik Temple: Arch Panels
This temple was also fully terracotta decorated but most of its panels are now lost. To its left is a large charchala Govinda temple with triple-arched entrance. This temple is also in an unusual style, perhaps the only charchala temple in Bengal with a triple-arched entrance porch. Figural panels on both these temples have Krishnalila themes.

Govinda Temple: Arch Panels
In the Govinda temple, the central arch panel has large rasmandal medallions with Radha-Krishna in the centre surrounded by a ring of gopis. The rest of the arch panel is filled by small square panels with dancers and other Krishnalila motifs such as a Jagannath panel. Small rectangular panels with raised borders frame the arch panels: these have deeply recessed figures of dieties on vahanas such as Karthik on his peacock.

Photos and Text © Amit Guha