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.


Shyamrai Temple, Bishnupur
The Shyamrai Temple dedicated to Radha-Krishna was built by Malla King Raghunath Singha in 1643 AD. This is the best example of the "Pancharatna" type temple i.e. five towers (ratnas) on a sloping roof.

Shyamrai Temple, Bishnupur
On all four sides of the temple there are three arched entrances.

Shyamrai Temple, Bishnupur
Decorative terracotta plaques above the entrance arch, depicting Radha and Krishna

Rasamandala, Shyamrai Temple, Bishnupur
A beautiful "Rasamandala" - Radha and Krishna performing their dance of love (rasa) surounded by the gopis of Vrindavan

Chariot, Shyamrai Temple, Bishnupur
This is believed to be a prototype of the chariot of Jagannath at Puri, that is used for the annual Ratha Yatra

Shyamrai Temple, Bishnupur
Radha, Krishna and Balarama under an Ekratna type (single tower) temple.

Shyamrai Temple, Bishnupur
The Shyamrai Temple is regarded as the best example of Bengal Terracotta art.

Mrinmoyee Temple, Bishnupur
The Mrinmoyee Temple was established in 997 AD by Malla King Jagatmalla. This is the oldest Durga Temple in Bengal. The current structure was built over the older temple. Even now, Durga Puja is celebrated here every year with a lot of pomp.

Radhashyam Temple, Bishnupur
The Radhashyam Temple was built by the Malla King Chaitanya Singha in 1758 AD. It is a Ekratna type i.e. single tower (ratna) temple.

Radhashyam Temple, Bishnupur
This temple is built of laterite stones. The temple has carvings in low relief which are decorated with stucco work.

Rama, Radhashyam Temple, Bishnupur
Probably Rama

Ravana, Radhashyam Temple, Bishnupur
Definitely Ravana.

Lalji Temple, Bishnupur
The Lalji Temple dedicated to Radha-Krishna was built by Bir Singha II of the Malla dynasty in 1658 AD.

Lalji Temple, Bishnupur
This is another Ekratna i.e. single tower temple built of laterite stones, having stucco decorations on low relief carvings.

Lalji Temple, Bishnupur
This is believed to have been the temple kitchen. I could still smell some food :)

Stone Gateway, Bishnupur
The Main Gateway to the erstwhile Royal Palace. Today cattles use this entrance, which is quite fitting, since the Bishnupur Kings are devoted Vaishnavas, and cows are very sacred to them since Lord Krishna was a cowherd during his childhood years.

Stone Gateway, Bishnupur
Soldiers used to stand guard on the elevated platform inside the Main Gateway.

Stone Gateway, Bishnupur
A side-view through the arches on either side of the Main Gateway.

Jor Bangla Temple, Bishnupur
The Jor Bangla Temple (also known as Kesta Rai Temple) was erected by Malla King Raghunath Singha in 1655 AD. The Temple has a unique design. It consists of two Dochala temples (huts with sloping roofs) joined together, with a single pinnacle.

Jor Bangla Temple, Bishnupur
The temple has exquisite terracotta ornamentation and is regarded as one of the finest among the terracotta temples of Bengal.

Jor Bangla Temple, Bishnupur
The third row from the bottom shows the monkey army of Rama, picking up boulders to build the Ram Setu for reaching Lanka.

Jor Bangla Temple, Bishnupur
Elaborately decorated False Doorways

Jor Bangla Temple, Bishnupur
The second row depicts a number of mythical animals and figures. From left to right: 1) Gandaberunda (or Sharabha) 2) Gaja Vyala 3) Purusha-mriga (or Sphinx) 4) Master of Animals

Dasavatar, Jor Bangla Temple, Bishnupur
A panel depicting the Dashavatars (Ten Avatars of Vishnu). There are actually 12 avatars here: Balarama and Chaitanya have been included.

Jor Bangla Temple, Bishnupur
Exquisite terracotta ornamentation.

Jor Bangla Temple, Bishnupur
On the second row you can see the Indian boats of that period. This was just after the advent of the European colonial powers in India. Some temples in Bishnupur depict European soldiers with guns.

Jor Bangla Temple, Bishnupur
Another view.

Rasmancha, Bishnupur
This pyramidal structure is called the Rasmancha. It is the first temple erected by Malla King Bir Hambir in 1600 AD, after having converted to Vaishnavism.

Rasmancha, Bishnupur
The base of the temple is made of laterite stones and upper part is made with bricks. During the annual Ras festival, all the Radha Krishna idols of Bishnupur town used to be brought here and placed inside the garbagriha (sanctum sanctorum). The annual festival was held till 1932.

Rasmancha, Bishnupur
A view through the arches.

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Bibhu Dev Misra

Independent researcher and writer on ancient mysteries, cultural connections, cosmic wisdom, religion and science. Graduate of IIT and IIM with two decades of work experience in different fields

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