On the cultural map History & Culture

Preserving Bishnupur’s heritage

The Rashmancha, a historical brick building, in Bishnupur.  

Anthropologists tracing and documenting the cultural history of the temple town of Bishnupur in West Bengal’s Bankura district have found a new dimension to its cultural heritage presenting a unique amalgam of the Kalinga school and the prevalent Bengal architecture.

This unique cultural expression is evident not in the only famous temples of Bishnupur but also in the other material and cultural aspects of the town such as its terracotta art, a distinct musical gharana, the distinctive art of making playing cards, articles of conch cells, bell metal ( dokra) craft and also in the stone carvings.

Bishnupur, the capital of the Hindu Mallabhum kings was founded in the eighth century AD and continued till the late medieval period. The study of the temple town, located about 140 km from Kolkata, by anthropologists of the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI) is part of the project of Ministry of Culture aimed at cultural mapping of India.

“Little has been revealed about the Bishnupur gharana of music which emerged during the reign of King Raghunath when the then renowned musician of the Seni gharana, Ustad Bahadur Khan visited Bishnupur; with him started this rich g harana of Music. This g harana is still an important part of Indian classical music,” Worrel Kumar Bain, research scholar AnSI told The Hindu.

Researchers have also traced the evolution of the characteristic terracotta art which had ritualistic origins. “It was the Kumbhakar or potters of Panchmura village, 16 miles away from Bishnupur town, who started to make the famous Bankura horse. Earlier these horses were offered to the village deities but now are used for decorative purposes and can be found all across the world,” Mr Bain said.

There is also a unique history to the Dashabatar tash — a set of playing cards depicting the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu). The game played with this particular deck of cards started 400 years ago in the court of King Bir Hambir.

Though the temples, which are considered monumental expressions of terracotta art in Bengal, are still popular, an overall decline in other cultural practices is clearly visible, researchers said.

While there are small settlements and villages still practising the terracotta artform and others producing conch shell and bell metal articles, there is only a single family that makes the Dashabatar cards, Mr Bain said. Kakali Chakrabarty, Head of the Eastern Regional Centre of the AnSI sad there was a need to look at Bishnupur as centre of culture, not only as a temple town.

“It is necessary to document and restore the cultural traditions of Bishnupur as most of these are on a decline. These traditions flourished with the patronage of Malla kings and efforts are needed to ensure that these continue to thrive here,” Ms. Chakraborty said.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 7:23:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/preserving-bishnupurs-heritage/article7950314.ece

Next Story