The use of terracotta or burnt clay has been prevalent in India since the Indus Valley civilisation. While the use of terracotta can be found across many states in India, especially for making religious artefacts, household items, and toys, interestingly, the form and style differs from one region to another, reflecting local customs and social norms.
In the eastern part of the country, especially in West Bengal, burnt bricks have also been used to build temples, often covered with beautifully carved terracotta panels. The recently issued commemorative set of seven stamps by India Post highlights some of the known and lesser known temples found in Chattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. Most of these temples are easily reached and can be visited during winter on a short vacation.
One of the temples featured in the series is the Lakshman Temple of Sirpur, which dates back to the 7th century. About 80km east of Raipur (the capital of Chattisgarh), is Sirpur which traces its antiquity to the first century, and was an important principality between 5th and 12th centuries. However, today only ruins of temples located along the Mahanadi River bank bear testimony to the glorious days.
Despite being in a state of severe disrepair, the 7the century Lakshman temple, reflects the intricate craftsmanship of the period. Dedicated to Vishnu, the temple depicts tales from the life of Krishna and scenes from the Bhagavata Purana. A carving of Vishnu reclining on Sesh Nag can be seen on the lintel above the sanctum sanctorum. However the carved frame around the sanctum is made of stone.
Another temple which features on the stamp series is the Indralath Temple in Odisha. Located in Ranipur-Jharial, it is said to be one of the tallest terracotta temples in India. Standing on a sandstone platform, it reaches to a height of 80 feet. The genesis of the temple is lost in legends, with Indra being credited with building it in honour of Shiva. The existing section of the temple which rises above the sanctum, is an example of Odisha’s ‘rekha deul’ style of architecture. The temple can be seen along with the Chausath Yogini temples found here. The temples can be visited from Bolangir, 104km away by road.
Bishnupur in West Bengal, the former capital of the Malla rulers, is known for its cultural excellence, including terracotta temple art and artefacts. In fact, the long-eared Bankura horse, the symbol of the Central Cottage Industries Emporium, is part of Bishnupur’s legacy. The temples featured on the stamps are Shyam Rai, Madanmohan and Krishna Rai temples, built in different periods in the 17th century.
The Krishna Rai temple, which is better known as the Jor Bangla, is distinguished by its double roof, its walls covered with intricately carved terracotta panels. Since the temples are dedicated to different avatars of Krishna, the walls of the temples are carved with stories from the life of Krishna. There are also reflections of then contemporary life. Bishnupur is about 130km by road from Kolkata.
Another terracotta temple from West Bengal which has also been featured is the 18th century Lalji Temple from Kalna (also Ambika Kalna). This temple, hardly known beyond the state, is topped by 25 spires and contains intricately carved terracotta panels. Kalna is around 100km from Kolkata by road.
The stamp series has also brought to limelight another lesser known site, the Nibiya Khera temple complex in Bhadwara, Uttar Pradesh. Built in the Panchayatan style, the complex consists of a central shrine and four subsidiary shrines, built between 9th and 10th century.