Looking For A Short Winter Break From Kolkata? Keep Reading

Looking For A Short Winter Break From Kolkata? Keep Reading
Terracotta figurines: If you're looking for a Bishnupur souvenir, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Check out Bishnupur during the Christmas week

Uttara Gangopadhyay
December 15 , 2019
09 Min Read

At first glance, Bishnupur, about 140km by road from Kolkata, is similar to any Indian town: modern, crowded, wayward traffic. But look around you and soon you will discover hints of a glorious past. Temples, art and craft, textile, music and more, which once flourished here under the patronage of the Malla rulers.

Even though there is no recorded account, local tales link the lineage of the erstwhile Malla rulers to an unnamed royal prince and his wife from Rajasthan. Apparently, while on their way to Puri in Odisha, the woman gave birth to a son in a forest here and died. The prince not knowing what to do with the baby left him there and went his way. The baby was found by a tribal woman and nurtured, and later she put him under the care of a local priest. The child was named Raghunath and was later installed as a king following several incidents that indicated his royal virtues. As he was an excellent wrestler, the dynasty founded by him in the late seventh century came to be known as Malla. King Jagat Malla shifted the capital from Pradyumnapur to Bishnupur in the 14th century. It was in the 17th century, during the rule of Bir Hambir, who converted to Vaishnavism, Bishnupur began to make its mark as a centre of temple building.


Interestingly, there are more temples built of laterite stones than terracotta in Bishnupur even though it is the latter, by virtue of its intricately carved tiles and panels, which have made the town famous.

A dancing figure carved on the walls of an old temple in Bishnupur

Notable features of the temples include the style of the roof (‘chala’) and the number of turret-like structures (‘ratna’) on them, terracotta tiles describing tales from the life of Krishna, from the epics and other religious texts as well as pictures of then contemporary lives, including royal processions, royal hunts, boats and boating, etc., and stucco work on some of the laterite temples. 

It is not possible to see all the temples in a day. Even if you focus on a few temples, progress is likely to be slow if you plan to study the carved panels and photograph them. Most of the temples are under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and have ticketed entries. So, it is best to start with the Ras Mancha, from where you can buy a ticket for all the ASI temples. 

Although the concept of Ras Mancha is prevalent across Bengal, the one at Bishnupur has no parallel due to its unique architecture. Built of laterite, the main structure is situated on a square platform. There is a small shrine at the centre from which three corridors with vaulted galleries spread out. From the outside, the roof rises in a pyramidal structure. Like elsewhere in Bengal, idols of Krishna from neighbouring temples used to be brought here during the festival. No matter where the audience stood on the corridors, they were able to see the idols. The ASI dates the Ras Mancha to 1600.

A side view of the gorgeous Ras Mancha

The Dalmadal cannon is a popular attraction here. Made of wrought iron, it is linked to a legend which says the presiding deity of the town, Madanmohan, fired the cannon to protect the citizens from the attacking Marathas. According to the ASI, the cannon is datable to the 18th century and is inscribed with Persian words.

The plain-looking Mrinmoyee temple, dedicated to goddess Durga, dating back to late 10th century, is probably the oldest among the existing temples. Some of the popular terracotta temples are Shyamrai (built in 1643), Jor Bangla (1655), and Madanmohan (1694). Malleswar (1622; the only temple dedicated to Shiva among all the Krishna temples), Kalachand (1656) and Radheshyam (1758) are some of the popular laterite temples. If you want to see more, travel a little off centre to the Jormandir temple complex, where lie three laterite temples built in 1726.

<blockquote class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned data-instgrm-permalink="https://www.instagram.com/p/B5pnWj9pmlE/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" data-instgrm-version="12" style=" background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:540px; min-width:326px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% - 2px); width:calc(100% - 2px);"><div style="padding:16px;"> <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B5pnWj9pmlE/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" style=" background:#FFFFFF; line-height:0; padding:0 0; text-align:center; text-decoration:none; width:100%;" target="_blank"> <div style=" display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;"> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; width: 40px;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center;"> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 100px;"></div> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 60px;"></div></div></div><div style="padding: 19% 0;"></div> <div style="display:block; height:50px; margin:0 auto 12px; width:50px;"><svg width="50px" height="50px" viewBox="0 0 60 60" version="1.1" xmlns="https://www.w3.org/2000/svg" xmlns:xlink="https://www.w3.org/1999/xlink"><g stroke="none" stroke-width="1" fill="none" fill-rule="evenodd"><g transform="translate(-511.000000, -20.000000)" fill="#000000"><g><path d="M556.869,30.41 C554.814,30.41 553.148,32.076 553.148,34.131 C553.148,36.186 554.814,37.852 556.869,37.852 C558.924,37.852 560.59,36.186 560.59,34.131 C560.59,32.076 558.924,30.41 556.869,30.41 M541,60.657 C535.114,60.657 530.342,55.887 530.342,50 C530.342,44.114 535.114,39.342 541,39.342 C546.887,39.342 551.658,44.114 551.658,50 C551.658,55.887 546.887,60.657 541,60.657 M541,33.886 C532.1,33.886 524.886,41.1 524.886,50 C524.886,58.899 532.1,66.113 541,66.113 C549.9,66.113 557.115,58.899 557.115,50 C557.115,41.1 549.9,33.886 541,33.886 M565.378,62.101 C565.244,65.022 564.756,66.606 564.346,67.663 C563.803,69.06 563.154,70.057 562.106,71.106 C561.058,72.155 560.06,72.803 558.662,73.347 C557.607,73.757 556.021,74.244 553.102,74.378 C549.944,74.521 548.997,74.552 541,74.552 C533.003,74.552 532.056,74.521 528.898,74.378 C525.979,74.244 524.393,73.757 523.338,73.347 C521.94,72.803 520.942,72.155 519.894,71.106 C518.846,70.057 518.197,69.06 517.654,67.663 C517.244,66.606 516.755,65.022 516.623,62.101 C516.479,58.943 516.448,57.996 516.448,50 C516.448,42.003 516.479,41.056 516.623,37.899 C516.755,34.978 517.244,33.391 517.654,32.338 C518.197,30.938 518.846,29.942 519.894,28.894 C520.942,27.846 521.94,27.196 523.338,26.654 C524.393,26.244 525.979,25.756 528.898,25.623 C532.057,25.479 533.004,25.448 541,25.448 C548.997,25.448 549.943,25.479 553.102,25.623 C556.021,25.756 557.607,26.244 558.662,26.654 C560.06,27.196 561.058,27.846 562.106,28.894 C563.154,29.942 563.803,30.938 564.346,32.338 C564.756,33.391 565.244,34.978 565.378,37.899 C565.522,41.056 565.552,42.003 565.552,50 C565.552,57.996 565.522,58.943 565.378,62.101 M570.82,37.631 C570.674,34.438 570.167,32.258 569.425,30.349 C568.659,28.377 567.633,26.702 565.965,25.035 C564.297,23.368 562.623,22.342 560.652,21.575 C558.743,20.834 556.562,20.326 553.369,20.18 C550.169,20.033 549.148,20 541,20 C532.853,20 531.831,20.033 528.631,20.18 C525.438,20.326 523.257,20.834 521.349,21.575 C519.376,22.342 517.703,23.368 516.035,25.035 C514.368,26.702 513.342,28.377 512.574,30.349 C511.834,32.258 511.326,34.438 511.181,37.631 C511.035,40.831 511,41.851 511,50 C511,58.147 511.035,59.17 511.181,62.369 C511.326,65.562 511.834,67.743 512.574,69.651 C513.342,71.625 514.368,73.296 516.035,74.965 C517.703,76.634 519.376,77.658 521.349,78.425 C523.257,79.167 525.438,79.673 528.631,79.82 C531.831,79.965 532.853,80.001 541,80.001 C549.148,80.001 550.169,79.965 553.369,79.82 C556.562,79.673 558.743,79.167 560.652,78.425 C562.623,77.658 564.297,76.634 565.965,74.965 C567.633,73.296 568.659,71.625 569.425,69.651 C570.167,67.743 570.674,65.562 570.82,62.369 C570.966,59.17 571,58.147 571,50 C571,41.851 570.966,40.831 570.82,37.631"></path></g></g></g></svg></div><div style="padding-top: 8px;"> <div style=" color:#3897f0; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:550; line-height:18px;"> View this post on Instagram</div></div><div style="padding: 12.5% 0;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; margin-bottom: 14px; align-items: center;"><div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; height: 12.5px; width: 12.5px; transform: translateX(0px) translateY(7px);"></div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; height: 12.5px; transform: rotate(-45deg) translateX(3px) translateY(1px); width: 12.5px; flex-grow: 0; margin-right: 14px; margin-left: 2px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; height: 12.5px; width: 12.5px; transform: translateX(9px) translateY(-18px);"></div></div><div style="margin-left: 8px;"> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 20px; width: 20px;"></div> <div style=" width: 0; height: 0; border-top: 2px solid transparent; border-left: 6px solid #f4f4f4; border-bottom: 2px solid transparent; transform: translateX(16px) translateY(-4px) rotate(30deg)"></div></div><div style="margin-left: auto;"> <div style=" width: 0px; border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4; border-right: 8px solid transparent; transform: translateY(16px);"></div> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; flex-grow: 0; height: 12px; width: 16px; transform: translateY(-4px);"></div> <div style=" width: 0; height: 0; border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4; border-left: 8px solid transparent; transform: translateY(-4px) translateX(8px);"></div></div></div></a> <p style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;"> <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B5pnWj9pmlE/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" style=" color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;" target="_blank">The hidden architectural marvels of West Bengal flaunt a soothing symmetry from which one cannot look away . . 📸 : @deckle_edge . . #OutlookTraveller #travel #photography #travelphotography #westbengal #bishnupur #temples #instatravel #travelgram #ot</a></p> <p style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px; margin-bottom:0; margin-top:8px; overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;">A post shared by <a href="https://www.instagram.com/outlooktraveller/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px;" target="_blank"> Outlook Traveller</a> (@outlooktraveller) on <time style=" font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;" datetime="2019-12-04T12:18:26+00:00">Dec 4, 2019 at 4:18am PST</time></p></div></blockquote> <script async src="//www.instagram.com/embed.js"></script>

In between the temple visits, budget some time for souvenir shopping. Apart from making traditional toys (including the unique long-necked horse), the terracotta artisans of Bishnupur now also make decorative pieces and ornamental fashion accessories. If you have half a day to spare, pay a visit to Panchmura village, about 25 km from Bishnupur by road. Home to traditional potters and terracotta craft manufacturers of Bishnupur, the entire village is like an open-air museum.

The royal courtiers of yore were fond of a card game played with hand-painted cards. Essentially the deck of cards were painted with images of Dashavatars (the 10 incarnations of Vishnu) and had special coloured codes and dots for playing. Although the cards are on display in many museums around the globe, it is now a dying craft. Only a few members of the Fouzdar families still make them.

If you are fond of textiles, a look at the Baluchari sari manufactured here is a must. Manufactured on hand looms, the silk sari has tales from the epics woven along the ‘pallu’, with the designs repeated along the borders. Although the saris can be bought off any of the shops (where you will have more choice of designs) in the town, ask local people for directions to weavers’ cooperatives. Unless part of any contracted consignment, the weavers often agree to a direct sale of the saris.

And finally, just as you begin to get tired under the cultural overload, make your way to any of the local sweet shops. The royal family had got some of the best sweetmeat makers of Bengal to settle in Bishnupur and their families continue with the tradition.

The information

Bishnupur is well connected to Kolkata by road and rail. By road, the town is about 40km from Kolkata. The early morning trains, Rupasi Bangla Express (from Santragachi station) and Aranyak Express (from Shalimar station) are the best trains; they have ac chair car and take between 3 and 3.5 hours to reach.

Even though a popular tourist destination, there is lack of luxury accommodation. The tourist lodge run by West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation is the first choice of most travellers. Privately run Hotel Annapurna is another option.

The best time to visit is between December and February. Even in winter, the sun can be strong, so keep a cap/umbrella and carry drinking water while visiting the temples.

The Bishnupur Fair will be held from December 23-27, 2019

Related Articles

7 Terracotta Temples...

Uttara Gangopadhyay September 24 , 2020

5 Traditional Handicraft...

Uttara Gangopadhyay November 07 , 2018

Here to there

Explore Directions(Routes) and more...
to Go

Our Other Editions

Outlook’ is India’s most vibrant weekly news magazine with critically and globally acclaimed print and digital editions. Now in its 23rd year...

Explore All
  • Check out our Magazine of the month
  • Offbeat destinations
  • In-depth storytelling
  • Stunning pictures
  • Subscribe