Wednesday, April 7, 2010

West Bengal terracotta temple architecture

Although there is plenty of evidence of human settlement in Bengal from prehistoric times but there are regrettable dearth of evidence. This is because of the soil structure of Bengal. The community being spread on the alluvial plain of the mighty rivers of Ganges , Brahmaputra the whole region is susceptible to flood and its resulting unsettling geographical pattern. The only somewhat undulated regions being the western Chota Nagpur and the Himalayan ridges of east and the north. This soil structure is reflected in the building material chosen by the Bengali temple designers. Mainly the terra cotta temples with elaborate surface decorations and lettering written in nagari alphabets.

The roof structure also has been the effect of the heavy rainfall that the Ganges river delta and the Terai experiences throughout the monsoon, it has been curved effectively in most cases to get rid of the huge amount of water as soon as possible and thereby increasing the life time of the structure.

The architectural evidence generally has been from the Gupta Empire period onwards. There has been recent discoveries of terra cotta plaques from the times of Chandraketugarh and Mahasthangarh throwing additional light on the architectural styles of Sunga and Gupta periods. Apart from the Palavi and Phamsana influence on the architectural style it is also closely connected to the Bhanja style of temples from Mayurbhanj district of Orrisa. But the temples of south Bengal is a distinction due to its roofing style so unique and closely related to the paddy roofed traditional building style of rural Bengal. Bishnupur in the southern district Bankura of West Bengal has a remarkable set of such temples which being built from the Malla dynasty are examples of this style. Most of these temples are covered on the outer surface with terra cotta reliefs which contains plenty of secular materials making these important to reconstruct the social structure from these times.

The temple structures contain gabled roofs which are colloquially called the chala, For example a gabled roof with an eight sided pyramid structured roof with be called "ath chala" or literally the eight faces of the roof. And frequently there is more than one tower in the temple building. These are built of laterite and brick bringing them at the mercy of severe weather conditions of southern Bengal. Dakshineswar Kali Temple is one example of the Bhanja style while the additional small temples of Shiva along the river bank are example of southern Bengal roof style though in much smaller dimension.
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