Terracotta Temples of Bishnupur

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Quick Facts

Heritage MonumentTerracotta Temples of Bishnupur
LocationBishnupur, West Bengal, India
Heritage TypeSacred & Religious Site
Commencement of construction of first monumentEnd of 16th century CE
Completion of construction of last monumentMid of 18th century CE
Architectural TypeTerracotta Temples
Architectural StyleBengal’s Chala, Ratna & Deul styles
Royal PatronageBir Hambir and other Malla Kings
Ruling DynastyMallas of Bengal
Religious AffiliationHinduism
Religious Dedication toLord Vishnu
SpecialtyElaborately decorated terracotta (baked earth) temples, some of the finest in the world
UNESCO World Heritage SiteNo, (In Tentative List)

Your Guide to Bishnupur

About Terracotta Temples of BishnupurPhoto Gallery – Terracotta Temples of Bishnupur
Attractions at BishnupurNear by attractions
Geographical LocationHow to reach Bishnupur
Tourist InformationMaps & Others
Bishnupur – the Temple town of BengalTale of Mallabhum and Malla Rajas

About Terracotta Temples of Bishnupur

  • Bishnupur located in the western part of the state of West Bengal in eastern India, is one of the most popular tourist destinations for the state and is known as ‘Temple Town’. Also known as Rarh Bengal, Bishnupur used to be capital city of Mallabhum state in the past. Bishnupur literally means city of Lord Vishnu. This may be derived from the fact that the kings of Bishnupur were followers of Vaisnavism a major Hindu denomination. The reign of Bir Hambir in the 17th century is considered as the golden age of the Mallas.
  • The surviving brick temples of Bengal were mainly built during a period when the region was witnessing a revival of Hinduism with particular focus on the cult of Krishna. This was after prolonged exposure to Islam. As a result, temples built during the sixteenth century and later absorbed the monumental style of the traditional Muslim building forms and techniques.
  • Local materials, bricks and terracotta, and features like the curved “Bangla” roof blended with the Islamic domes and multi-lobed arches. This distinctive architecture also assimilated styles from the neighbouring regions. The influence of Orissa style of temples arrived in the form of the “Deul”.
  • The diverse influences can earn these temples the label of a “hybrid” form. However, these monuments should be valued for their unique creative attributes. Native builders assimilated and combined different forms to evolve a living tradition during a time when the other regions were witnessing degeneration to a sterile replication.
  • One of the most remarkable features of the history of this monumental architecture in Bengal is the sharp break in tradition that coincided with the Muslim conquest. Architects working for Muslim patrons developed a preference for covering entire wall surface with finely worked terracotta plaques that incorporated traditional decorative motifs such as the lotus. By the end of the 16th century, a uniquely Bengali style of temples architecture and sculpture had established itself as the Hindu artistic expression of the new social, religious and cultural revolution. The wide range of temple styles embraced elements of both change and continuity, typical in the dynamic but traditionally based Bengali society. Furthermore, the temple decoration depicted the aspects of everyday life of the contemporary society, particularly the ambitions of the temple builders. This shows, that temple building was the result of an intense concentration of economic and artistic resources, as well as public means of expressing power.

Return: Guide to Bishnupur

Read here: Tale of Mallabhum and Malla Rajas

Read here: Bishnupur – the Temple town of Bengal

Attractions at Bishnupur


Ras-Mancha, Bishnupur

Built during 1587 CE to 1600 CE by the famous Malla King Bir Hambir, is one of the oldest standing structure of Bishnupur and this temple is considered to be one, which held the terracotta architecture of Bishnupur temples in front of the world.

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Jor Bangla or Kesto Rai:

Jor Bangla, Bishnupur

Built by King Raghunath Singha Dev II in 1655 CE, the quality of craftsmanship seen on this temple makes it one of the finest among the terracotta temples of Bengal.

The temple facing south is raised on a square platform in the form of a pair of hut shaped structures with sloping “Chala” (roof) joined together and surmounted by a Char-chala Shikhara on the top. A small tower adds strength and stability to the twin sloped roofs.

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Shyamrai Temple or Pancha Ratna:

Shyam Rai Pancha Ratna, Bishnupur

Built by Malla Raja Raghunath Singha in 1643 CE, this temple is the best example of the Pancha Ratna (five pinnacle) type on a curved Bengal Chala (roof). It stands on a low square plinth and approached by triple arched entrance on all the four sides.

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Madan Mohan Temple:

Madan Mohan, Bishnupur

Built in 1694 CE by King Durjana Singh Deva, in the Eka-Ratna (Single Pinnacle) style and is considered to be one of the best examples of Eka-Ratna style temple in Bishnupur.

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Radha Shyam Temple:

Radha Shyam, Bishnupur

Built in 1758 CE by Chaitanya Singha in Eka-Ratna (Single Pinnacle) style.

This Eka-Ratna south facing laterite temple is built in a square plan and stands within a large courtyard enclosed by a high boundary wall. The Shikhara or the Ratna of this temple is dome shaped and slightly different from other Eka-Ratna temples at Bishnupur.

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Lalji Temple:

Lalji, Bishnupur

Built in 1658 CE by Bir Singha II in Eka-Ratna (single pinnacle) style.

The temple is built on a square raised plinth, consisting of ornamental stucco decorations on low relief carvings and is enclosed by boundary walls. Inscriptions on the southern façade states that this temple was dedicated to Radha and Krishna.

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Jor Mandir (Three Temples):

Jor Mandir, Bishnupur

Built by Malla King Krishna (Gopal) Singha in 1726 CE, this is a complex of three Eka-Ratna (single pinnacle) variety of temples of laterite.

All the temples are built on a raised platform, square in shape and surmounted by a single Shikhara (pinnacle) on the sloping roof. Of the three temples the central one is elaborately ornamented with stucco work, depicting scenes mostly from Ramayana and Krishna-Lila.

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Nandalal, Bishnupur

Another Ek-Ratna (single pinnacle) temple build in 17th Century consisting of a square ground plan and a single ridged tower resting on a curved roof. Very little motif work can be seen on the lower part of the temple, though the temple has a well maintained lawn as part of it.

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Radha Gobinda Temple:

Radha Gobinda, Bishnupur

Built by Krishna Singh, son of Gopal Singha around 1729 CE in Ek-Ratna (single pinnacle) style with laterite. The shrine of the temple is a pair of Radha and Govind and inside the complex, by the side of the main temple there is small terracotta chariot in the form of a miniature temple, which comes as an added attraction for the temple.

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Radha Madhab Temple:

Radha Madhab, Bishnupur

Built in 1737 CE by Churamoni Devi, the daughter-in-law of Mallaraj Gopal Singh, this an Ek-Ratna (single pinnacle) style temple with brick and has bas relief carvings. The temple has unique Do Chala Mandap structure with ten columns on its western side.

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Kala Chand Temple:

Kala Chand, Bishnupur

Built in 1656 CE by Malla King Raghunath Singha in Eka-Ratna (single pinnacle) style with laterite stone. The temple stands on a square platform and the shrine is surmounted by a Shikhara on a sloping roof. The frontal façade contains bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Krsihna-Lila, Puranas and contemporary life.

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Mrinmayee Temple:

Mrinmayee Temple, Bishnupur

Originally built by Jagat Malla in 997 CE. The Durga puja (worship ceremony) takes place for 15 days and all the other temples in Bishnupur does not start the puja until the cannon has been fired from the temple.

Gumghar, Bishnupur
A window or door less square structure located atop a small mound. Not sure the purpose for which it was built, but speculation has that it was either used as a prison or as a granary.

Dalmadal, Bishnupur Dalmadal, Bishnupur

A mammoth cannon was built by Raja Gopal Singh around 1742 CE to fight the Maratha invasion. Dalmadal means ‘destruction of enemy’. The cannon made of 63 iron plates measures about 3.8 m in length and has a barrel of 28.5 cms. Due to the lack of easy availability of pure iron, it is believed that charcoal was used to melt enormous amounts of iron in order to construct the cannon. Moreover, due to its massive weight, big wheels and elephants were used to carry the canon to the battleground.

Read about the Tale of Dalmadal or Dalmardan
Chinnamasta Temple:

Chinnamasta Temple, Bishnupur Chinnamasta Temple, Bishnupur

In the land of Vaishnavs, this living temple is dedicated to goddess Kali and is regularly visited and worshiped by locals and tourist alike.
Stone Gateways:

Stone Gateway - Large, Bishnupur Stone Gateway - Small, Bishnupur

Beyond the cluster of “Jor Bangla”, “Radha Shyam” and “Lalji” temples are the “Large” and “Small” gates which are the remains of the fortifications of Bishnupur. Also known as “Patthar Darwaza” or “Stone Gateway” this fine arched gateway built by Malla King Birsingha in the second half of 17th century CE, was the northern entrance to the ancient fort of Bishnupur. It had double storied galleries’ flanking the central passage for accommodation of troops and there were also arrow slits for the archer and the gunman.

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Stone Chariot:

Stone Chariot, Bishnupur

Dated to 17th century CE, this small double storied structure stands on a low laterite plinth originally with three stone wheels on each side. The lower storey resembles the arched pavilion of Rasmancha, whereas the upper storey with Shikara resembles an Eka-Ratna temple. Now standing in dilapidated condition with no maintenance, the stone chariot is unique in representing typical Bishnupur temple style in miniature form with all finer detail.
Madangopal: Now in dilapated condition
Sridhar Temple of Bose Family:

This is the only one Naba Ratna temple (Nine Pinnacle) Temple at Bishnupur and built much later in the 19th century. Located in Bose Para near to the Madan Gopal temple, this triple arched gateway structure facing east has no connection with the Malla Kings. This is the ‘youngest’ of the brick temples of Bishnupur, thus its terracotta sculpture styles are a bit different. Particular sculpture to check out are the huge terracotta in the central panel depicting Krishnalila and the Rama Sita on throne on the left-hand panel.
Bishnupur Museum or Aacharya Yogesh Chandra Purakirti Bhawan is a place of interest for those interested in history and archaeology.

Bishnupur MuseumBishnupur Museum

Please scroll down to checkout other nearby attractions.

Return: Guide to Bishnupur

Geographical Location:

District: Bankura
State: West Bengal

Terracotta Temples of Bishnupur, are scattered around the small town of Bishnupur, in the Bankura district of the Indian state of West Bengal and is around 132 km north-west of the Indian Metropolis Kolkata (Calcutta).

In ancient times, Bishnupur was ruled under the Gupta period by local Hindu kings who paid tribute to Samudra Gupta. The Malla kingdoms setup around 7th century CE, shifted their capital to Bishnupur under Jagat Malla 300 years later. The waning powers of the Mallas were again resurrected under Veer Hambir in the early 17th Century. The patronage of Malla kings Veer Hambir and his successors Raja Raghunath Singha Dev and Bir Singha Dev, made Bishnupur one of the principal centres of culture in Bengal. Most of the exquisite terracotta temples for which town is justly famous for, were built during this period.

Apart from the unique architecture of the period, Bishnupur is also famous for its terracotta craft, the Bankura horse and the world famous Baluchari sarees made of Tussar silk. The Royal patronage also gave rise to Bishnupur Gharana (school) of Hindustani classical music and the Bishnupur school of painting.

Coordinates: 23°06′79″N, 87°31′65″E
Elevation: 59 m (193.57 ft)
Pin/Post/Zip Code: 722122
Telephone Code: ISD 91; STD 03244
Nearest big town: Kharagpur

How to reach Bishnupur:

  • By Road: Bishnupur can be easily reached by road from Kolkata, Jamshedpur or Ranchi, each of which are between 140 and 250 km. It can also be reached from other popular tourist spot like Shantiketan and Murshidabad.
  • By Air: Nearest International airports are at Kolkata and Ranchi.
  • By Rail: Bishnupur railway station is at Bishnupur town and is connected to most of the Megacities of India.

Tour Info:

Timing: Open from Sunrise to Sunset except the three ticketed temples which are open from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm
Best time to travel: October to March
Weather: Yearly; Current
Languages spoken: Bengali and a bit of English & Hindi

Journey & Photography notes:

If you’re staying a day or two at Bishnupur, then it is best to hop from one temple to another by walking or taking a cycle rickshaw. Else you may move around in a car or ToTo (electric rickshaw) too but still may need to walk to temples to easily access them. Tickets are required for three temples – Rashmancha, Jor Bangla and Shyamrai. Same tickets allow a single entrance each to all 3 temples during the same day. You may need to remove your shoes before entering the actual temple complex. Photography is allowed without any extra charges for still photographs, however you’ve to buy separate ticket to take video. As with any architectural sites, the best photographs can be taken during morning or evening sunlight. Some of the temples like Rasmancha are illuminated during the weekends.

The temple hoping can be done in two sessions – whether in a single day or two days, as per your plan of stay in Bishnupur. If you are staying at “Bishnupur Tourist Lodge” of West Bengal tourism, then start the first session with “Rashmancha” (stone throw from the lodge) followed by a quick walk or rickshaw ride to “Shyamrai”, “Gumghar”, “Mrinmoyee”, “Radheshyam”, “Jor Bangla”, “Lalji”, “Large Gate”, “Small Gate”, “Stone Chariot” ending with “Madan Mohan”. The last one is at a bit distance, so hoping on to some form of vehicle would make sense. In the second session start with “Kalachand” (farthest) and then start coming back by visiting through “Radha Madhab”, “Radha Gobinda”, “Nandalal”, “Jor Mandir”, “Chinnamasta” and ending with “Dalmadal”.

Our suggestion:

For Quick Trip: Make a quick tour from Kolkata or Ranchi or Jamshedpur by car or train for a day tour of Bishnupur and return by night.

For Comfort Tour: Travel by air to Kolkata or Ranchi and then hire a car to Bishnupur or take a direct train to Bishnupur. Stay over at Bishnupur for 2 full days at least. Experience a cycle rickshaw ride to hop around the famous temples in Bishnupur town (alternatively you can continue to use a car to move around). If time permits, then visit the nearby places of interest like Bahulara, Gokulnagar, Dihar or any others mentioned in this article, by your own or hired vehicle.

For Budget Tour: Travel by train to Bishnupur and stay over at Bishnupur for 2 full days at least. Enjoy a leisure walk around the famous terracotta temples. You’ll have to hire a car if you want to visit places of interest like Bahulara, Gokulnagar or Dihar, as each of them are too far and remote to be traveled by auto-rickshaw. Of these Gokulchand Temple, Gokulnagar is the best but by far the most remote.

For Circuit Tour: You can plan different circuit tours to cover Bishnupur along with other places of historical interest in Bengal. Apart from the nearby attractions at Bahulara, Gokulnagar, Dihar, Panchmura, Jairambati & Kamarpukur, you can also plan to include Shantineketan and/or Murshidabad as part of an entire week’s itinerary. West Bengal tourism sometime conducts 2 nights 3 days Bishnupur tour along with Mukutmanipur, Jairambati and Kamarpukur by AC coaches starting from Kolkata.

For a travelogue of our own tour of Bishnupur, please read here.

Return: Guide to Bishnupur

Near by attractions:

Siddheshwara temple – Bahulara, Bankura:

Siddheswara Temple, Bahulara

Considered to be the finest specimen of a brick built Rekha Deul temple of medieval period now standing in Bengal and probably the last standing architectural monument from the great Pala dynasty of Bengal.

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24 km from Bishnupur
Gokulchand Temple, Gokulnagar: 

Gokulchand Temple, Gokulnagar

In the land of terracotta temples, the Gokulchand Temple at Gokulnagar is a rare stone temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is probably one of the grandest stone temple in the region. It is a Pancha Ratna (five pinnacle) temple flanked by a Nat-Mandir.

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20 km from Bishnupur
Saileswar & Sareswar temples, Dihar

Saileswar & Sareswar temples, Dihar

Much older than the temples at Bishnupur, the twin temples of Sareswar and Saileswar were built by the Malla King Pritvi Malla, in 1346 CE.

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10 km from Bishnupur

Bankura Horse

Panchmura is a village 22 km from Bishnupur and is a hub of Terracotta artisans famous for the making of Terracotta Bankura Horse and numerous other work of art made out of terracotta.

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22 km from Bishnupur
Jairambati & Kamarpukur:

Jairambati and Kamarpukur (at a distance of 3 km from each other), are birthplaces of Sri Ma Saradamoni and Sri Ramakrishna Pramahansa respectively.

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45 km from Bishnupur

About 83 km from Bishnupur, by the side of the river Kangsabati. The main attraction is the dam across the river and the hilly landscape.
83 km from Bishnupur
Susunia Hills:

Susunia Hill a popular rock climbing centre also known for it’s holy spring, flora and archaeological and fossil site, is about 63 km from Bishnupur. Fossil remains of Asiatic lion, giraffe, hyena and other animal species have been discovered from areas around. The so claimed ‘oldest’ rock inscription of West Bengal is also located here. 
63 km from Bishnupur

Return: Guide to Bishnupur

Bishnupur Map

Circuit Map: Bishnupur – Santineketan – Murshidabad

Bishnupur Shantiniketan Murshidabad circuit map

Local cuisine:

Bankura is famous for it’s various preparation of Posto or Poppy-seeds or Khas-Khas. The popularity of Alu-posto (a semi dry preparation of poppy seeds with potato) or Jhinge Posto (again a preparation of poppy seed with ridge gourd) or postor vada (poppy seed made into a ball and deep fried) is well known in a Bengali household and posto dishes probably can contest to be among the top ten most popular Bengali dishes, which is a lot to say. Any of the above is preferred to be had with rice or as an add on to rice-dal (lentil soup) combo. Hence any of the restaurants or households in the Bankura district serving Bengali dishes is expected to have any of the above in their menu.

Every area of Bengal have their own special sweet and Bankura is no exception. Mecha Sandesh of Beliatore and Pera from Chatna are two of the most popular sweets from Bankura.

Art, Craft & Festivals:

Major Cultural Festival: Bishnupur Utsav – a recent addition, is held immediately after the Bishnupur Mela in late December. It is a classical music and dance festival in recognition of the ‘Bishnupur Gharana’ in music. A school of music, called the Bishnupur or Vishnupur Gharana, was established here in 1370 CE and flourished under the patronage of the Malla kings. The school hit its peak in the 16th and 17th centuries. This style of music is rooted in the Dhrupad style of Hindustani classical music, one of the two forms of Indian classical music. The gharana is still being kept alive in local academies of music. Pakhwaj, Sitar, Esraj comprise the main instruments. Bengali Ragpradhan is one of the classical items of this gharana.

Major Religious Festival: The Bishnupur Mela (fair) is held every year around the last week week of December – normally 23rd December to 27th December. The exact location of the fair varies but mostly near the Rashmancha but sometime near Madanmohan Temple too. This fair stretches over four days and people from all the nearby villages come together to celebrate the end of the agricultural season.

Art & Craft:

  • Bankura horse or the Terracotta horse, which also used to be the logo of All India Handicrafts, is produced in Panchmura village (22 km from Bishnupur) and is the most popular item and most demanded craft from Bankura. The art has been praised for “its elegant stance and unique abstraction of basic values.” Originally used for village rituals, it now adorns drawing rooms across the world as symbols of Indian folk-art. 
    • Bankura Horse
    • In the Rarh region of Bengal where Dharmathakur is worshipped, there is no end to the symbolic use of terracotta and wooden horses. Symbolic sacrifice of horses for fulfillment of wishes is common for many village gods and goddesses, but an assembly of terracotta horses of various shapes and sizes representing sacrifice on wish fulfillment is perhaps peculiar to Dharmathakur.
    • Different parts of the hollow terracotta horses are turned out in separate parts, on the potter’s wheel. The four legs, the full neck in two parts and the face (seven pieces in all) are turned out separately on the wheel and then joined together. Additional clay is used for making up defects that may remain in the shape of the body. The leaf-like ears and the tails are done in moulds and are later inserted in grooves left on the body. The clay figures are then allowed to dry in the sun. After a little drying in the sun, holes are made on appropriate parts of the body in order that the inner and the outer surfaces of the body are equally dried. Cracks may develop in the body because of unequal drying of the inner and the outer portions. The dehydration is slowly done in the normal temperature of a closed room for about six or seven days. Then they are brought out of the room and heated in the sun. Finally they are burnt.
    • The terracotta horses of Bankura are turned out in two different colours. The normal terracotta red color is obtained by letting out the smoke through the vents of the kiln after firing, and the black colour is obtained by sealing the vents and not letting out the smoke.
    • Apart from the Bankura horse, other animal figurines, terracotta pottery and even terracotta jewellery are popular. In recent years Terracotta tiles are also produced by these artisans, which is finding increasing popularity in interior and exterior decoration of public building, drawing rooms, shops, pavilions etc.
    • Bankura horse has been granted the  Geographical indication (GI) status.
  • Baluchari Sari of Bishnupur are considered to be one of the most exquisite silk sarees (garment worn by women from India and Bangladesh) in India and are created by craftsmen of this place. This particular type of sari originated in Bengal and is known for depictions of mythological scenes on the pallu of the sari. The silk strands are dyed separately and then put into a loom. One sari may have an entire episode from the Mahabharata woven into its border and Pallu. It would take two craftsmen to work for almost a week to produce one sari. The main material used is silk and the sari is polished after weaving.
    • In the history of textile in Bengal, Baluchari or Baluchuri came much after Maslin. Two hundred years ago, the weaving of Baluchari sarees used to be practiced in a small village called Baluchar in Murshidabad district, from where it got the name Baluchari, but later the industry moved to Bishnupur village in Bankura district. The Baluchari Sari has been granted the Geographical indication (GI) status.
  • Brass & Bell metal and Dokra crafts are also popular crafts from Bishnupur. Brass metal craft, a migration craft in the late medieval period emerged as the second largest industry of undivided Bengal in the Late nineteenth Century. The craft had its origin in “Dhalbhum” of “Singhbhum” area and has entered Bengal through Purulia-Bankura-Midnapur trail which was the exit route of metal to the copper port of “Tamralipta”. The utensils made of copper-based alloys had its early growth in the western part of Bengal. The Dokra Kamars of Bengal migrated from Chatishgarh. The proximity of this region to the copper source and easier trade-link with market transformed their migratory character to settle in groups in different parts of Bengal. But the craft did not expand and remained in the periphery of artisan activities. Now days the brass & bell metal utensils are used only during festivities thus resulting in lower market demand compared to earlier years. Many of the world’s famous statues have been made through this process. The earliest bronze figure of dancing girl which was probably crafted between 3rd century BCE and 2nd century BCE and unearthed in the buried city of MOHEN-JO-DORO, shows the high degree of skill attained in this art. In Bengal the crafts are now practiced chiefly in Bikna, Kenjakura, and Bishnupur areas of Bankura district. In recent years, Dokra crafts find great demand for its puerile simplicity enchanting folk motifs and forceful form Dokra horses, elephants, peacock, gods and goddesses, lamp caskets etc are highly appreciated.
    • Bishnupur town and around

External Links & References

Tour Packages: West Bengal Tourism

Reference Links:



Reference Books:

  • Architecture in India by Marilia Albanese


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