Although we had heard about the terracotta temple of Debipur from friends, no one had prepared us for the sight. Sixty feet in height and richly carved, it stood like a lonely sentinel, its time-worn red tiles a sharp contrast to the translucent blue sky above.
There is nothing touristy about Debipur, a suburban town located a little over 80km by road from Kolkata. So if you are looking for a day trip without much ado, pack a picnic hamper and set off for this little town, around two hours’ drive away. Once you reach the town’s periphery, ask for the way to Lakshmi Janardan Temple.
On the way, you may stop at the twin Shiva temples, with a Dol Mancha in the middle. But do keep a sharp lookout as the neighbourhood seems to have grown around it with scant regards towards the heritage these temples preserve. The Shiva temples sported the eight-roofed architecture typical of Bengal. The Dol Mancha (where typically an idol of Radha-Krishna is brought for worship during Holi) was taller than the temples and stood in the middle. All three were on the same platform, an example of peaceful co-existence of Shaiva and Vaishnav principles. However, we could not find out if the door-like structure at the bottom of the Dol Mancha was a false one or has been sealed later on.
A short walk from here will take you to the Lakshmi Janardan Temple. We entered through a small gate set within the boundary wall. The arched entrance with pillars were reminiscent of the glorious days. Encircling the quadrangle were rows of dilapidated rooms.
Built in a mixed style of Bengal and Odia architecture, the colossal temple stood on a high platform. The main entrance was through a three-arched façade, which was topped by a double-roofed sloping structure (‘do chala’ of Bengal). Fused with it and rising over the sanctum was the tall spire or the ‘deul’ (reflecting the Odisha influence). However, since the main entrance was barred, we entered through a side door.
It was the sculptures on the façade that astounded us. Not an inch was left unadorned. While time had taken its toll on the intricate terracotta artwork, still they reflected the fine craftsmanship for which Bengal artisans were once famous. Most of the decorations were drawn from the life of Krishna but tales from mortal life were also present, such as hunting scenes, as well as ornamental and floral patterns. It was interesting to note that dresses of the women from the Krishna tales were of north Indian style and not that of Bengal. If you are a photographer, remember to carry a long lens and a camera stand.
According to records, Narottam Singha purchased the land from the then ruler of Burdwan to build the temple. The temple was completed in 1844. Although the family maintains the temple through a trust, it is not easy. Therefore family member Indudipa Sinha, a medical doctor and a theatre performer is aiming to repurpose the space as a cultural venue. She had started organising cultural events before the pandemic struck. The repurposing will also ensure that the local people connect with the temple and want to preserve this architectural marvel as a part of our common legacy, she said.
Note: Since visitors are few and far between, the priest may not always be around. But ask at the twin Shiva temple or the people in the neighbourhood and they may help you in locating the priest.