BISHNUPUR, a sleepy backwater town 150km northwest of Kolkata, is a famous centre of Bengali learning, renowned above all for its exquisite terracotta temples. It was the capital of the Malla rajas, under whose patronage one of India’s greatest schools of music developed. Largely beyond the sphere of Muslim influence in Bengal, Bishnupur’s long tradition of temple-building had its roots in the basic form of the domestic hut. Translated into temple architecture, built of brick (as stone was rarely available) and faced with finely carved terracotta decoration often depicting scenes from the Ramayana, the temples combine striking simplicity of form with vibrant texture.
Several temples lie scattered in a wide area around Bishnupur. Raas Mancha, built in 1587 by Bir Hambir in a unique pyramidal style, is used to display the images of Krishna and Radha during the annual Raas festival. Nearby, the well-preserved Shyamarai, built in 1643, is a particularly fine example of terracotta art, while the smaller Jorbangla has fine detail. The unassuming tenth-century Mrinmoyee temple encloses the auspicious nababriksha, nine trees growing as one. To the north of town and dating from 1694, the Madan Mohan, with its domed central tower and scenes from the life of Krishna, is one of the largest.