Bishnupur (or Vishnupur) in the Bankura district of West Bengalis like a breath of fresh air after Kolkata’s heat and dust. The verdant fields you traverse to get to this town, just 151 km away, serve as a harbinger of the surprise that is Bishnupur. This town of terracotta temples and man-made lakes echoes with the history of the Malla rulers who made it their 16th century capital.
Since Bishnupur had no stone for construction, the Malla kings built terracotta temples to celebrate their love for Krishna, the Blue God. These temples have elaborate architecture that merges hybrid styles. Filigreed terracotta tiles carve out stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Some of the temples you must visit are the Shyam Ray Temple, the twin shrines of Jorbangla, the Radhey Shyam Temple, the Sarbamangala and Chinnamasta. The Rass Mancha, built like a step-pyramid, is Bishnupur’s most famous temple dedicated to Vishnu.
Another attraction is the embellished Dol Madol cannon, constructed in 1742 by Raja Gopal Singh to keep the Maratha troops at bay. Visit the Jogesh Chandra Archaeological Centre to see Malla-dynasty relics. The Mallas also built huge ‘Bandhs’ or embankments and artificial lakes to beautify their capital and to serve as a protective moat to repel their enemies. These shimmering lakes - the Lalbandh, Krishnabandh and the Jamuna Bandh amongst others - cool the town considerably.
Besides temples, Bishnupur is known for its pottery, especially the lovable terracotta horse called Bankura who is the mascot of Bankura handicraft. Baluchari and tussar silk sarees, bell metal and shell handicraft and the quaint circular playing cards called ganijifa, are other specialties of Bishnupur that you might want to shop for.
Fairs & Festival
In the month of August, Bishnupur resounds with the mesmerizing lilt of the snake charmer’s pipes. The annual festival of Jhapan is celebrated with snake shows and snake fights, to revere Goddess Manasa, the dominant deity of the snake-worship cult. The weeklong Bishnupur Mela brings the entire town alive with a cultural retrospective towards the end of December.
Terracotta WorkThe most famous art form of Bishnupur is its terracotta work. The exquisite craftsmanship of the terracotta artisans is evident in the Madanmohana Temple and the Shyam Rai Temple. The temple walls are richly decorated with the carvings of different aspects of Krishna`s life-playing with Radha and the other milkmaids, incarnations of Vishnu, etc.
One of the most expensive saris in India called the Baluchari saris are created by craftsmen of this place. The silk strands are dyed separately and then put into a loom. Designs are woven with the help of a series of punch cards that are hung from the top of the loom. These punch cards are rectangular pieces of cardboard with hundreds of holes punched according to the design.
The colored strands pass through these holes and fall into place very precisely on the loom. One sari may have an entire episode from the Mahabharata woven into its border and pallu.