April 2020

The temples of Bishnupur were built by the Malla kings between 1600 - 1758 AD. The temples are primarily known for their structural variety and exquisite terracotta work. Although terracotta art has a long history in Bengal, it saw a revival under the Mallas. Many temples were also erected using laterite stones with stucco decoration. Interestingly, the Malla kings maintained cordial relations with the Mughal Emperors at Delhi, because of which temple building flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries.

According to legends, the Malla kings trace their ancestry to a King who ruled near Vrindavan in the 7th century AD. This King had embarked on a pilgrimage to the Jagannath temple at Puri, when his wife gave birth to a child. Due to the difficulties of carrying a newborn on a journey, he was left in the house of a forest dweller. The child grew up to become an unmatched wrestler, and was conferred the title "Adimmalla" - meaning the "original wrestler" - by the local king. Eventually he became a chieftain himself, and went on to found the Malla dynasty. After 300 years, the 10th king Jagatmalla shifted the capital of the kingdom to Bishnupur.

Originally, the Malla kings were "Shakta" i.e. worshippers of the Mother Goddess. The first temple established at Bishnupur was the Mrinmoyee Temple in 997 AD, which still has a clay idol of the goddess Durga. This is regarded as the oldest Durga Temple in Bengal. In the early 17th century, King Bir Hambir converted to Vaishnavism. This started a long tradition of building temples dedicated to Krishna and Radha in Bishnupur. Some of these temples are today regarded as the pinnacles of Bengal Terracotta art.

Teotihuacan is a fascinating Mesoamerican archaeological site, located roughly 40 kms from Mexico city. The name Teotihuacan means "The Place where Men became Gods" or "The Place where Gods were born". The name was given to the city by the Aztecs when they discovered it centuries after it had been abandoned at around 550 CE.

The origins of Teotihuacan are lost in remote antiquity. Scholars believe that the city was established at around 100 BCE, but it could be far older than that. The city was destroyed and burned down in 550 CE, possibly due to a volcanic eruption, and by the time the Aztecs found it the city was already in ruins. The ethnicity of the inhabitants of Teotihuacan are not known.

I had visited Teotihuacan in 2009, in course of a long journey through some of the most fascinating archaeological sites of Mexico. Teotihuacan was probably the most intriguing and spectacular of all the places I had seen in Mexico. Its vast dimensions and grand layout speaks of a time long past, when the ancients modeled their cities and palaces following the map of the heavens.