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Excavation at Tilpi and Dhosa

Now is a great chance to learn about the art and archaeology of Chandraketugarh

For further information, please contact Goutam Dey

Excavation at Tilpi and Dhosa

The West Bengal State Archaeology Department is excavating at the twin sites of Tilpi and Dhosa near Joynagar by the side of the river Piyalee. Please note that I had earlier incorrectly said that the excavation was being done by the Archaeological Survey of India, sincere apologies. This was brought to my attention by Dr. Gautam Sengupta and Rangan Datta. Here are some links on this excavation work:

Dhosa and Tilpi by Saurab Basu

Dhosa and Tilpi by Rangan Datta

Treasure trove seals worth of site- Emerging, Holy Centre by Sebanti Sarkar

Twin sites of mystery - Archaeology seminar by Sebanti Sarkar

2200-yr-old life in Bengal by A Staff Reporter

Furnace found near stupa site by Sebanti Sarkar

News sent in by Goutam Dey (25 February, 2012)

Finally, heritage tag for 2500-yr-old Chandraketugarh

by Ajanta Chakraborty, Times of India, Jan 18, 2012, 04.19AM IST

Exactly 105 years after it was first "discovered", Chandraketugarh is finally getting some attention. The Mamata Banerjee government has decided to turn Bengal's richest archaeological treasure trove into a heritage village.

The ruins dating back to 6th Century BC has been a pilferers' paradise for decades, and people all over the world have minted money smuggling the exquisite antiques out of the 'garh' (fortified city) tucked away in Berachampa village in North 24-Parganas, about 34 km from Kolkata. To know that, you have to simply check out some of the relics soaked in Bengal's rich yet unknown past at the Christie's or the Sotheby's websites.

Countdown begins

Is this the beginning of the end to the booming "trade"? Shuvaprasanna, chairman, West Bengal Heritage Commission, nodded. "We shall do everything to establish Chandraketugarh in its archaeological glory. We are also trying to make it a world heritage site," said the painter. The commission, in collaboration with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), has embarked upon a major excavation attempt within the next year to unearth the myth and mystery of the historical township. Harvard professor and commission member Sugato Bose said: "This archaeological site can transform our understanding of the ancient history of Bengal." Bose must return to Harvard shortly, but will be in Kolkata in February to formulate some important decisions on Chandraketugarh.

Locals overjoyed

"This is the best thing we have heard in a long time. I can't remember since when we have been demanding that the area be excavated and if required, the entire land be acquired," said local resident Asim Karmakar, who had formed a pressure group years ago so that the governments (both state and central) did something to stop the extensive looting of the relics. "The administration has been insensitive to conservation as well as to the crime related to Chandraketugarh," he said.

The heritage village will cover Berachampa to Haroa, including Singer Ati, Shanpukur, Hadipur, Jhikra, Ranakhola, Ghorapota, Dhanpota, Chuprijhara, Mathbari and Ghaziatala. The ASI might dig up Berachampa, Khana-Mihirer Dhipi, Ita Khola, Noongola and Hadipur all over again; these sites were excavated about half a century ago, but the job has been largely inadequate.

Heritage village, fort and temple

Calcutta University's Ashutosh Museum did unearth remains of a temple in 1956-57. Constructed during the times of the legendary Mihir and Khana, the temple is two miles from King Chandraketu's fort. "The temple and the fort comprised the prosperous urban settlement that flourished between 4th Century BC and 12th Century AD. It was a remarkable civilisation spanning at least six eras, starting from that of the pre-Mauryans and ending with the Pala period," say ASI records.

The temple, said to be built during the Pala era, is the most valuable archaeological find of the region. Almost nothing, however, is left of the polygonal structure connected to a square vestibule. The roof had collapsed long ago and all that remains are the walls and a flight of stairs. "The fort and the temple are immensely vulnerable to pilferage and decay. The heritage village complex will automatically protect the entire area. The excavation, on the other hand, will enhance Chandraketugarh's archaeological stature," said Amal Roy of the state archaeological department.

Museum and research

First things first. The heritage commission intends constructing a museum - like the one at Nalanda - in the middle of the 'garh', along with research facilities. Since there are currency like the gold coin belonging to Chandragupta-Kumaradevi, semi-precious stone beads, ivory and bone materials, terracotta plaques, figurines, pottery and wooden objects of remarkable sculpting that survived the test of time, Chandraketugarh has potential to be identified as the oldest early-history site in Bengal.

Archaeological Excavation at Deka - Bichkandi, Murshidabad

The West Bengal State Archaeology Department is presently carrying out an excavation in Deka - Bichkandi, in the Kandi sub-division of Murshidabad District, West Bengal. The first phase of the excavation started in mid-February 2009 and continued till mid-April 2009. The State Archaeology Department will return after the monsoon and continue with the dig. Here are some newspaper reports on the Deka - Bichkandi dig.

Ananda Bazar Patrika, 28 February, 2009

Ananda Bazar Patrika, 25 March, 2009

Additional Newspaper reports:

Pushing Bengal's history back
by Prasanta Paul (Deccan Herald, June 6, 2009)

5th century artefacts discovered in West Bengal
by Raktima Bose (The Hindu, June 6, 2009)

Mound of ruins Bengal's oldest Buddhist site
by Sebanti Sarkar (Telegraph, March 28, 2009)

Dreams to dust and then vault of history - Large mound of relics found in Musrhidabad
by Sebanti Sarkar (Telegraph, March 20, 2009)

Hunt for ancient stupa under teacher's plot
by Sebanti Sarkar (Telegraph, February 27, 2009)

"Chandraketugarh" a bengali historical fiction by SreeParabat

Of note is the book "Chandraketugarh" by SreeParabat (my father), published by Dey's Publishing of Kolkata.
This fictional bengali language novel with Chandraketugarh in the backdrop was published in 2002.
To download a few pages of excerpt of this book, Click Here.

"Nothing is Blue" a book by Biman Nath

Check out the new book Nothing is Blue by Dr. Biman Nath, published by HarperCollins .


Author's description:

'Nothing is blue' is set in Nalanda in the 7th century, when Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang) visited it. Harsha, the last of the ancient emperors, rules over the Indian subcontinent, but all is not well in his empire. There are palpable signs of unrest, and even the serene atmosphere at the Nalanda monastery is shaken by the political turmoil.

It is also a time shrouded in secrets and mysteries. Some Buddhist monks have begun to dabble in tantric rituals. Elsewhere, a crucial astronomical discovery has been hushed up. Khona, a woman scholar from Bengal, had confirmed a Greek discovery about the stars, and she was persecuted. A student monk from Nalanda stumbles upon these unpalatable secrets, and his life changes forever.

The secret of the stars is lost for centuries --- and our calendars have been hopelessly out of sync with the seasons since then. Now we celebrate the New Year in mid-April instead of 21st March, as used to happen then.

It is a story that Xuanzang cannot afford to write, because it is hopelessly mixed with heretical, tantric rituals--- but it will haunt him endlessly..

Prime Minister's daughter visits Chandraketugarh

In 2005, Dr. Upinder Singh, daughter of Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, visited Chandraketugarh. We are happy anytime Chandraketugarh is in the news, hence I post some cuttings from local (Bengali) newspapers and my own approximate translation. Among other notables, Dr. Amartya Sen and West Bengal Governor also visited the site recently, but I have no newspaper cutting.

"Manmohan's daughter visits Chandraketugarh"
Staff Reporter, Basirhat:

Upinder Singh, the daugter of Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, came to visit Chandraketugarh. She visited all the archaeological areas of interest in that region. Singh came to Kolkata for a week and attended the anuual archaeological symposium ( My addition: there must be a standard name for this symposium, which I do not know). Prof. Nayanjyot Lahiri, professor of Ancient History of Delhi University, and Prof. Rupen Chakrabarty, Head of Archaeology Department of Calcutta University, accompanied her for this trip to the 2500 year old site.

A three-car convoy reached Beracha(m)pa at around 10am on Wednesday. Upinder Singh first visited the Chandraketugarh site and enquired about the maintainance and prservation work. Next she went to the protected site of "Khana Mihirer Dhibi" (The Mound of Khana Mihir). She was impressed by the teracotta artefacts. (My addition: This I don't understand because the site doesn't have any artifacts for display, only the ruin (walls and some structure) of a temple.) Next, she went to the house of Dilip Maite a local archaeological researcher. After extensively studying Chandraketugarh, he built a collection of artifacts in his own home. Upinder visited this collection.

Police scuffles with journalists and photographers Manmohan's researcher daughter visits Chandraketugarh
Staff Reporter, Barasat, Nov 9, 2005:

Will add my translation when I get time.

Beracha(m)pa Residents Meet State Governor for Fear of Eviction

Staff Reporter, Basirhat, 31 July, 2005

Will add my translation when I get time.
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The following photographs were sent to me by Goutam Dey of Berachampa.

" The photograph of the elephant was taken from the collection of Balanda Pratna Sangrahashala (of Late Abdul Jabbar Saheb), Haroa. It was taken quite a few years ago. It is made of stone and very weighty and cold. Rest of the photographs was of Khana-Mihirer-Dhipi and of Chandraketugarh. " - Goutam Dey

Mr. Dey has sent me additional photographs of fascinating objects from the collection of Mr. Dilip Kumar Maite, a resident of Berachampa and a well-known collector of Chandraketugarh objects. Click here to see the photos. Mr. Dey will send me further descriptions on these objects.
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Return of hope... (July 21, 2004)

Just a few days ago (see below) we were made aware of the beginning of the construction of a cell phone transmission tower in the vicinity of Khana-Mihirer Dhipi in the Chandraketugarh area. Numerous artifacts started to be unearthed literally on the reckless shovels of the diggers. The archaeological implication of this is easily imaginable! We are happy to note that this activity seems to have stopped for now, according to the news article below, again sent to me by Saurab Basu. The official status of this rich archeological area of interest remains unclear. One would also like to know which authorities are responsible for approving or rejecting the permission to dig in this area. I provide an approximate translation of the news article, comments in the parentheses are mine.

"Chandraketugarh: Instruction for immediate halt of construction"
Report by Amar Chakrabarty (from Berachampa, Deganga)
Aajkaal, July 20, 2004

The authorities have instructed an immediate halt to the construction of a cell phone tower near the "Khana Mihirer Dhipi" at the Deganga market. An article in an English language newspaper on Sunday (July 18) and then in this newspaper on Monday made the authorities aware of the developments there.

On Monday a five-member team from the archaeology department studied the excavation done by the cell phone company ("Hutch"). Curiously enough, Mr. Anjan Banerjee, the person responsible (of the archaeology department or the cell phone company?) for the Khana-Mihirer Dhibi are has suddenly started saying "There is no truth to this made up story". Mr. Sristidhar Sadhukhan, the owner of the land where the excavation had occurred, as well as some local villagers also supported Mr. Banerjee. Regardless, the reporters recovered a number of artifacts such as old earthenware, weighing blocks, water pitchers and the statue of a sheep. These were shown to Mr. Dilip Maite, a local researcher.

Mr. Maite informed that the team members from the archaeology department were rather surprised to note that a 10-12ft hole has been excavated within 600 ft of the site. They remarked that an investigation will be launched to determine why the responsible persons had neglected to inform ASI (Archaeological Survey of India). They agreed that it is extremely unusual to conduct a construction work so close to a site.
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A sad development ... (July 19, 2004)

An extremely unfortunate incident is taking place right now at the Khana-Mihirer Dhipi site of Chandraketugarh. Saurab Basu has sent me the following news-clip (published in Aajkaal, a major daily newspaper in Kolkata) -- which reveals this recent development. I can say a lot, but for now I will only supply an approximate translation of this news article. I hope this is a temporary aberration and not the beginning of a trend in the name of development. This loss of matchless archaeological treasure is irreversible.

"As construction shovels unearth priceless artefacts, historical Chandraketugarh faces destruction"
Report by Amar Chakrabarty (from Berachampa, Deganga)
Aajkaal, July 19, 2004

In the process of setting up a cell-phone transmission tower -- Chandraketugarh -- the 2500 year old archaeological site at Deganga near Kolkata faces destruction. Numerous artifacts from this site has already fetched high price in foreign black markets. Whatever is left is now in the process of further annihilation. The 15ft deep hole for the tower has yielded ancient wine vessels, statuettes of human and animals, and teracotta vases. Interestingly, the authorities are completely oblivious to the desctruction of this site, a prominent example of the old Hindu civilization.

Construction work is taking place in front of the house of Mr. Shristidhar Sadhukhan adjacent to the Khana Mihirer Dhipi.In the last 15 days numerous artifacts have been unearthed. According to Mr. Sadhukhan, the Hutch (cell-phone company) is leasing the land for 20 years at the rate of sixty thousand rupees (approx. US$1200) per year. There was no objection to this despite it being a site of archaeological interest.

On Sunday morning I collected some such artifacts from the construction worker and took them to the local researcher Mr. Dilip Maitra (Maite?). He was stunned. He informed me that due to a lack of systematic excavation at the site, the local people are often engaged in small scale digging, the recovered artifacts are sold privately. This is completely illegal but the government is aloof.

Dr. Gourishankar Dey, who has been conducting research on Chandraketugarh since 1969, told me that most of the artifacts from this site -- such as coins and seals from Maurya and Kushana periods, statues of ancient gods and goddesses, gold coins, ivory-made wine "glasses", ornaments -- are currently to be found in foriegn museums and in the possession of the aristocrats. Mr. Rakhaldas Bandopadhyay, the eminent archaeologist and historian (of Indus valley civilization fame), after visiting Chandraketugarh noted "Example of the most ancient of Indian civilizations". The ex-director of Dhaka Museum (Bangladesh), Mr. Enamul Haque has written a book titled "Chandraketugarh -- Treasure House of Terracotta". Such a glorious site is being destroyed in the process of constructing a cell phone tower.
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Letter from Saurab Basu, September 3, 2003

Inspite of all the details in hand and having all knowledge about the archaeological significance of this site of Chandraketugarh, still The A.S.I. has conducted neither any attempts nor any research to expose and clear out the structure of the 2500 year old fortress, named CHANDRAKETUGARH. What The A.S.I. has done so far is to declare the region to be 'Of Archaeological Significance', and that sign-board itself is an archaeological material, due to its extremely trecherous condition. A second thing was the publication of reports, about the excavations conducted by Ashutosh College, in the site of Khana-Mihirer Dhipi.

The A.S.I.had placed four plates declaring Chandraketugarh to be an Archaeological site, but out of the four, only three are present. The other being used by some private user!

When this is the condition with a GOVT. ORGANIZATION like A.S.I., then people like us, who are desperate to explore our past, do need to take some initiatives.  

The place named Chandraketugarh, is now a heaven for illegal old antiques traders, who dig out the heart of this ancient soil, every night in the lust for treasure, and sell the coins, terracotta plaques, and tablets, to any interested customer. 'Agents', like these can be found in plenty, once you are in Chandraketugarh. They bargain 'history', to any extent.

Incidentally, when I visited Chandraketugarh in Mid-March this year, a resident from nearby, came up with four 'Punch-Marked Copper Coins', and started a trend towards making us, his first customer for the day. Rates per coin started from Rs. 1000/-, and he had an 'Intact Seal (Nagari)', and a tablet. The total costs he asked for was Rs. 6000/-.
People who are interested in negotiating with history, would definitely try to grasp them, into their personal collection. The entire transaction made the picture even more clear, about how our history is being ruined by some of our civilized hands and transported illegally from one hands to the other.

The Site of Chandraketugarh should be handed over to any interested private concern, under whose methodological guidance, the history could be brought to light. I hope all of the group members would definitely agree to the point, that illegal trade of our MAGNIFICIENT Past should be restricted IMMIDIATELY! The site has so much to offer, so many hidden mysteries, and a lot more treasures of our golden past, to enlighten upon our future.

I would like to appreciate any comments on my view.

Thanks and Regards,
Saurab Basu
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The Temples of Bishnupur

Compiled and edited by: Saurab Basu

Bishnupur, formerly known as MallaBhum, is famously known as the temple town of West Bengal, for its architecturally exclusive temples, built by the Malla Rulers from AD 695 onwards. The town remained as the capital of MallaBhum, ranging as a territory, containing the entire of the Bankura District and extending up to a quantitative part of today’s districts of Bardhamman and Midnapore. Any and Every Visitor to Bishnupur is a must to get stunned by the exquisite workmanship and architectural elegance of these historic creations. Continued patronage of The Archeological Survey Of India, has made it able for these structures to retain their lost glory, and recent illuminating additions, have added a new spirit to the entire arena.

Primarily known for such a large count of temples of extensive dignity and large tanks, Bishnupur really offers the essence of a typical and profound Urban Complex of Bengal, which had witnessed the grandeur and radiance in the years of its command and brilliance.

Someone named Raghunatha is known to have been the Adi Malla, or the founder of the MALLA Dynasty, after being established as the most powerful wrestler of the Kingdom. However, the Kingdom attained distinction from the time of Bir Hambir, the best known among all Malla Rulers. Although, he originated as an iniquitous ruler, but later transformed into a gracious personality, under the influence of a prominent and intellectual scholar named Sriniwas Acharya.

The Temples, I visited are ordered accordingly as follows:

RAS MANCHA: This monument of exceptional character was erected by Bir Hambir, the most renowned among the Malla Kings. The structure of picturesque beauty and structural formulation is considered as a distinctive construction. The Rasa-Mancha has a combinational architectural composition, with a pyramid like get up, on a traditional Bengal Temple design. This massive structure was built in the years probably between 1557-1600 A.D.It has a pyramidal summit, based upon a roomy Laterite platform. The internal sanctum of the shrine is enclosed by three successive circumambulatory galleries and crowned by a colossal pyramidal roof above. The square foundation 1.5m high, each side of which measures 24.5m long, and rises to a height of about 11m to reach a level roof above.

The primary purpose that acted behind the erection of this colossal structure, was the arrangement of the ‘Ras’ festival, when every image, large or small in the form of deities was brought into here, from each and every neighboring shrines or temples to be arranged on and for a display to every individual during this occasion. This ritual was in practice during the Malla Rule, and now stands obsolete, excepting the grandeur and glory of those days that the Ras-Mancha beckons of.

Maintenance of this historic masterpiece is being conducted dedicatedly by the A.S.I, providing illumination facilities and conserving the fragile terracotta craftsmanship’s that were exercised on each and every designed bricks and walls of the Ras-Mancha. The A.S.I. charges Rs.5/- per head, for entry and maintenance of the Ras-Mancha, Jor-Bangla and Shyam-Ray Temples. (Tickets are needed to be purchased at the entrance of the Ras-Mancha, and the same remains valid for the rest too. Only a one time expense of Rs.5/- is necessary.)

MA CHINNAMASTA TEMPLE: One of the most renowned and lively deities in all Bishnupur, is the Chinnamasta Mata. The temple is almost 100 years old and newly renovated. The specification of this deity resembling the Goddess of Power is that ‘It depicts the goddess without her head, or rather she is seen to carry her head on one of her 12 arms’. ‘Chinnamasta’, a word in Bengali, means, ‘With the head separated’. This temple lies on the way to the Jor-Mandir Group of Temples, via the Dalmadal Cannon/Gun. Regular Offerings and worships are made to the divine being, by hundreds of devotees. The deity has been carved out of Red Desert Sandstone, and the entire complex was set up by one of the devotees of the goddess, from Midnapore.

DALMADAL GUN/CANNON: : Legends state that the Malla Kings and Rulers had several number of Cannons in operation, during their rule. But, later onwards, the infiltrating British Administration, forced the relocations of many of those. Out of the few enduring ones, the Dalmadal Cannon attracts most of the tourists and visitors.

The gun weighs almost 30 tones, and shaped by welding collectively 63 Iron Rings, in line. The Cannon is 12.5 ‘Long and has a frontal diameter of almost 12”. It had a then price value of more than a Lac.

A must see in Bishnupur, has many a small historic folklore about itself, on offer.

According to the local myths, in and around the years 1742, during the Maratha Invasion, His Holiness Lord Madan Mohan, himself operated the Gun and saved the Malla Ruler, Gopal Singha from being defeated by the Maratha leader Bhaskar Pandit.

RADHA MADHAVA TEMPLE: Located to the North of the Lal-Bandh, stands the grand Radha Madhava Temple. It depicts the typical ‘Eka-Ratna’ Style of temple Architecture. The temple was built in AD 1737 by one of the spouses of Bir Singha, Siramanidevi.

The temple has a square plan, and measures app. 11.1m and 9.2m in height. There are three arches on the walls of the portal, approaching the entry of the temple. The rows of birds, animals and epical scenes can be found on a splendorous display, parallel to the platform. On the side or edges, and the bottom region of the cornice, there exist elaborate and descriptive sculptural reliefs, displayed in two rows. Scenes from the Krishna-Lila can be located on the sides of the arches and the pillars are also embroidered with relief beautification dealing with diverse themes. There is a ‘do-chala’ ‘Bhog-Mandapa’, positioned near the temple itself. This construction is unique in itself, because no other do-chala structures are located anywhere else in Bishnupur. The temple complex is well maintained and conserved by the A.S.I., and has a lush green environ surrounding the premises as usual.

GUM GARH: : The place meant for executing the traitors, betrayers and infiltrators in the kingdom, and sentencing them to death, was then termed as the Gum Garh. This was where the king used to deport the criminals and anti socials for executions. The historical structure can be found on the way to the Ruins of the Bishnupur Fort.

BISHNUPUR FORT: For the proper protection of the kingdom, Bir Singha, the third of Malla Kings, had built the Bishnupur Fort, after being enthroned in 1656 AD. The ruins and ramparts of this fort can be found in the region named SanKhariPara. The Fortification had a rectangular channel of water, encompassing around its premises, and restricting any adversary from attacking.

The Fort had two ways of entry: (a) Small Fort Entrance (Choto Pathar Darja) and (b) Gate of Old Fort (Boro Pathar Darja).

Both of the above entrances are made of laterite stones. The Gate of Old Fort (Boro Pathar Darja) used to control operations into the Northern Side of the fortress. The base of this access had a water channel inside itself, so as to control any external infiltrations, and continuous check posts were on alert, inside the trenches. Soldiers had fingers on the triggers and were never short of any deployment. The internal walls of the gateway thus have been found to bear a large number of holes, meant for the passage of gun shots.

The Small Fort Entrance (Choto Pathar Darja) was supposedly meant for the internal protection of certain parts of the fortified region.

SHYAMA-RAYA TEMPLE: This temple is the best example of the ‘Pancha-Ratna’ type. One of the prides of Bishnupur, in terms of its architectural pattern, Shyama-Raya temple attains a place in the highest prioritized monuments of the Archaeological Survey of India. The after conservation state of this temple takes us back to the splendor and glory, it carried, during the early years of establishment.

Raghunatha Singha built this exclusive temple in the year 1643 AD. Exclusive and exquisite in terms of the high class terracotta beautification, this temple is extra-ordinary in its structural configuration.

The terracotta sculptures engraved on the walls and edges or reliefs, depict various scenes from epics like the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Krishna-Lila etc. Other topics include the royal hunting scenes. The cornices are carved with friezes showing musicians and lively dancers. The panels with scroll works, depicting Radha-Krishna figures, appear truly lively. Because of the five towers, the pattern is commonly considered to belong to the ‘Ratna-Chuda’ type.

The well decorated porches and plinth depict the true display of the splendorous craftsmanship, practiced during those early periods. Built entirely in brick, this temple is quite massive in shape and thus it is imaginable, about crafting the number of small and large sculptures needed to design the entire structure must have been a painstaking job, requiring prolonged concentration and devoted dedication. Each side of the temple measures about 11.4m and is 10.7m in height. Detailed specifications in the terracotta sculptures, for instance depicting the ‘Rasamandala’ in the Krishna-Lila, or the dancing ‘Gopi’s’ is really astonishing.

MRINMOYI MATA TEMPLE: The deity is known to be more than a thousand years old. Foundation inscriptions suggest that the goddess was first enshrined in the year 997 AD, by the then Malla King JagatMall. Just near the remains of what used to be the Royal Palace, is the location of this temple.

Legends suggest that the structure of this deity was hidden beneath the present shrine, and the king upon being divinely instructed conserved the divinity and appropriated her shrine by establishing the temple. The temple has gone numerous renovations after that, to retain to its present state.

RAJ BATI / ROYAL RESIDENCE: The remains of what used to be the Royal Residence of the Malla Kings, is now nothing but a structure in desperate ruins. The history is still glorious. A Nearby Museum has the history well preserved. One can see the carved and beautifully designed Wooden Door of the Raj Bati. The royal utensils and other miscellaneous used artifacts are carefully conserved and placed on exhibit to all the history lovers, to take them back to the lustrous years to feel the past intimately.

JORH-BANGLA / KESHTA-RAYA TEMPLE: A temple formed on the combination of two temples, is what depicts the true style of the Jor-Bangla Architecture.

Two of such temples are found in Bishnupur, but only one of them remains in a preserved state, and the second one is in ruins. The former and conserved one being, the Jor-Bangla or Keshta-Raya Temple, and the other one known as Mahaprabhu temple.

The KESHTA-RAYA Temple is famous for its structural configuration and exclusive terracotta sculptures. According to the dilapidated inscriptional records, the temple is stated to have been erected by Raghunatha Singha in 1655 AD. The structural pattern is unique in itself. It resembles the union of two hut-like structures, having two angled roofs, combined to form a single architecture, installed with a char-chala tower on the crown.

Facing the southward direction, the temple has a base-platform measuring 11.8 m in length and 11.7 m in breadth, the stature being 10.7 m. The temple has some of the most exquisite terracotta works, on all three sides of the porch facades. Except the stucco Shadbhuja (Six-Handed) figure of Sri Chaitanya (not worshipped now a days), there is no other image or décor found inside the temple. Outer terracotta panels depict scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Krishna-Lila and other social themes.

Exceptionally ornamented terracotta art places this temple high among all Bishnupur Temples.

The second temple as mentioned earlier, to be in the Jor-Bangla group, is that of The Mahaprabhu temple, now in ruins. It stands out to be probably constructed in 1734-35 AD, during the rule of Gopala Singha.

LALJI TEMPLE: The Lalji Temple has an established grandeur among the laterite Eka-Ratna temples registered in and around Bishnupur. Inscriptions suggest the year of its erection as 1658 AD, during the reign of Bir Singha II, as the representative of the Malla Kingdom. Descriptive and ornamental arches and an encompassment around the temple are a typical significance of the temple. Dedicated to Sri Radhika and Sri Krishna, this temple bears similar architectural concepts as of the earlier temples. As general for most temples, The Lalji Temple is also placed on a square plinth, each side being 12.3 m high above the ground. It is evident from the architectural curvatures, about the ornamentations and sculptural depictions on the arches and sides, minority of which stand out today to highlight the craftsmen’s commitment.

RADHA-SHYAMA TEMPLE: This Laterite temple stands south of the Lalji temple, encompassed within a large patio. This temple, as deciphered to have been constructed in 1758 AD by Chaitanya Singha, is known to be the most recent among all the dated temples in Bishnupur. This Square Planned temple measures 12.5m on all sides and 10.7m in height. Famous for its stucco Relief, these are exquisitely garlanded and elaborative in nature, including symmetric and floral icons of dedicated craftsmanship.

The inner sanctum is widely ornamented with scenes from The Ramayana, Anantashayana of Lord Vishnu and alternate figures of Radha Krishna. Majority of theses figures and images are in a decrepit status. Still these images are regularly worshipped along with the prime icon of Lord Krishna along with Radha, known as Radha-Shyam.

Till date this temple stands as an icon of the dedication of The Malla Rulers towards the Vaishnav Sect.

STONE CHARIOT: This crafty creation from Laterite can be located north of the Small Entrance to the Ancient Fort. References suggest that this exceptional entity was constructed during the rule of the Second Malla King, Raghunatha Singha, in the 13th Century AD. Truly a spectacular example of miniature art!

KALACHAND TEMPLE: One of the most important temples in Bishnupur, due to its presence in the enclosure of The ASI Bishnupur Office, is the Kalachand Temple. Built in 1656 AD by Raghunatha Singha, The Kalachand Temple is the earliest of all the laterite built Eka-Ratna type of temples, in all Bishnupur. The temple is situated on the south-bank of the Lal-Bandh. The non-metalled road starting in front of Udayan Lodge, would take one straight to the Kalachand Temple within 10 minutes of walk. This square base temple measures 11.1m on all sides and is seated at a height of 9.2m from the ground. Curvatures on the roof depict ornamented scenes from Epics, while the prime theme of this temple circles around the Krishna-Lila. The architecture is worth an appraisal, truly!

MADAN MOHANA TEMPLE & DEITY: According to me, the best temple visited in Bishnupur was the Murali-Mohana Temple. It’s a typical example of the Eka-Ratna style of temples, located in Bishnupur. A brick built shrine, dedicated to the sacred Madana-Mohana, the prime deity worshipped by the Mallas. The wonderfully decorated temple was erected by the Malla King, Durjana Singha in 1694 AD.

The ornamentations have been designed and depicted on the Terracotta Plaques, set upon the walls of the frontal porches, having three arched openings on each side. The temple, as usual, is of a square plan, having dimensions 12.2m on four sides and 10.7m in height.

Terracotta plaques portray scenes from The Krishna-Lila Chronologies, Dasavatara, Legends and Pauranic Episodes. Other interesting features include floral beautifications, birds and animal figurines. An astonishing figure of ‘Dragon’ like creatures, inside the temple, proves to be of distinct significance. It defines the share of cultures and traditional depicts between India and the Overseas, during that period too.

The inner sanctum seats for the dedicated deity of the Mallas, Lord Madana-Mohana. The original figure now remains in Bag Bazaar of Calcutta, while its replica is the one, worshipped in the original temple.

The pillars of the temple resemble the typical styles as illustrated in epics like The Mahabharata. On the porches one can find depictions from Wars and battlefields.

Truly a magnificent merge of traditional and cultural scenarios, so different from today, yet so similar!

LAL-BANDH & SARBAMANGALA MATA TEMPLE: Lal-Bandh is one of the seven bandhs or tanks, built by the Malla Rulers to confine their Fort from any alien attack. These tanks or Bandhs were primarily built as a permanent solution to the scarcity of Water in the kingdom, apart from intensifying the security of the fortress. Lal-Bandh is the most famous among these all. One of the major reasons being, an abundance of temples situated along the southern bank of the tank. ‘Lal-Bandh’ derived its name from and after the death of Lal-Bai, after she committed suicide, by entering the tank. Till date the Lal-Bandh has a statement to establish the grandeur and prosperity, it had witnessed during the glorious rule of the Mallas.

Adjacent to the Lal-Bandh is the Sarbamangala Mata temple. The Goddess of peace and universal prosperity is the worshipped deity. Comparatively a newly built temple, it lies on the College Road.

JUGAL KRISHNA TEMPLE: This pair of abandoned temples can be very easily located near the dilapidated Mahaprabhu Temple. Standing up high, without any maintenance and care, these structures seem to tell their story, as one approaches them. I really feel sorry for their state!


RADHA-MOHANA TEMPLE: The Radha-Mohana Temple is located South of the Lal-Bandh, and just opposite the Jor-Mandir Complex of temples. It forms the gateway towards visiting the Kalachand Temple, within the encompassment of the Archaeological Survey of India, site office. One can get ready information about the temples and other historical view points nearby.

The Radha-Mohana Temple is also a remarkable structure resembling the Eka-Ratna architecture of the Mallas. Built in 1737 AD by Siramanidevi, one of the consorts of Bir Singha, the temple measures 11.1m on four sides and 9.2m in height based on a general square plan. The temple has three arches on the frontal porch.

Terracotta crafts depict rows of birds, animals and general epical scenes. The arches of the temple have ornamented décor, including impressive scenes from the Krishna-Lila chronologies, the Dasavatara panels and other beautifying sculptural executions; from floral motifs to general terracotta designs as found in most other temples.

JOR-MANDIR GROUP OF TEMPLES: The Jor-Mandir Group of temples stands very near to the Lal-Bandh, towards the southern end. The non-metalled road from the Chinnemasta Temple takes one through to these temples.

Two comparatively well-built and another miniature temples form this group. The temples have a unique architectural format. The temple lying to the north and the one in the south, are the matured ones, while the third one lying between them, is a diminutive one.

These three temples are known to have been built by the Malla King, Gopala Singha in c.1726 AD.

While the most ornamented temple is the minute one. This is a rather unusual style of craftsmanship. The stucco figures on the walls of the temple stand impressive till this date. All three temples follow the patent Eka-Ratna style of architecture. Sculptural depictions are specific scenes and panels from The Ramayana and the Krishna-Lila. The three temples bear the following dimensions on a individual square plan:

Northern Temple: 11.7m on four Sides and 12.2m in Height.

Mid-Temple: 7.0m on four sides and 7.6m in Height.

Southern Temple: 11.8m on All Sides and 12.2m in Height.

RADHA-GOVINDA TEMPLE: In close proximity to the Jor-Mandir Group of temples, stands another structural grandeur and remembrance of the Malla Rulers in terms of a definite example of their dedicated craftsmanship and architectural conscience. The temple was raised during the period of Krishna Singha as ruler, in 1729 AD.

The temple has three arched openings on each side, and is supported by bas-relief décor. The recently conserved Tower top of the temple adds its old glitter and amongst all the nearby temples including the Jor-Mandir Group and Radha-Mohana temple, it stands out to be the leading configuration. The abandoned sanctum, as usual, stands witness of the dedication and religious dawns of its own times.

The sculptural engravings are individually ‘blocked’, and recent conservation activities have made the entire complex attractive.

Adjacent to the Radha-Govinda temple stands a minute temple and another structure, that once used to form another temple, but has been conserved from ruins.

NANDALALA TEMPLE: The last temple, I visited in Bishnupur, was the Nandalala Temple. Lying on the same approach towards the Radha-Mohana Temple, this temple is also a square planned laterite atructure. The interior designs can be viewed from the three arches openings, on each side. The temple could not be deciphered about its built up.

Another place worth visiting is the Local Museum:

Acharya JogeshChandra Purakriti Bhavan, an official unit of The Bangiya Sahitya Parishad; Bishnupur Branch.

Dilip Chakrabarti comments on "Discussing Chandraketugarh with Prof. Joachim K. Bautze"

Dear Dr Goswami, I have just now read Dr Bautze's opinions about Chandraketugarh. I strongly disagree with a couple of comments :

(1) Bautze says: "what is now 100 km inland was coastal land at that time"
The opinion is derived from J-F Salles' work at Mahasthangarh, or rather from Salles' interpretation of his work in that area. My academic discussion on this interpretation is given in a section ( " J.F.Salles and the Bengal coast-line") of my book " Archaeological Geography of the Ganga Plain : the lower and the middle Ganga"(Delhi : Permanent Black, 2001), pp.99-102. My basic argument is that Salles' contention flies in the face of the geological work on the West Bengal coast.

(2) Bautze's reference to B. N. Mukherjee's reading of Kharosthi inscriptions from Chandraketugarh : he seems to accept these readings. Unfortunately there should be grave misgivings about these readings. My comments are the following : " Although Mukherjee published a monograph containing his translations of inscribed seals and other materials from lower Bengal, nowhere does he explain why the use of both Brahmi and Kharosthi was necessary in the case of a particular category of inscriptions of this area. In fact, it defies all common sense to argue that the individual signs of two completely different scripts were used to write the letters/words of a single sentence ! Everything which has been written by B. N. Mukherjee and his colleagues from Calcutta on the basis of Mukherjee's reading of the so-called mixed 'Brahmi-Kharosthi' inscriptions from lower West Bengal has, regretfully, to be characterised as fanciful" (ibid, p. 156).

With best wishes and regards, Dilip K Chakrabarti, University of Cambridge

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Discussing Chandraketugarh with Prof. Joachim K. Bautze

Prof. Joachim Karl Bautze is the Chief of the Art History Section at the South Asia Institute of the Heidelberg Univeristy. He is a Professor of Indian Art History. From October 2002 he will become a professor at the Wako University, Tsurukawa, Japan. Dr. Bautze is the author of the book Early Indian Terracottas (E.J.Brill, 1995) which, with the help of 48 plates, describes northern Indian terracottas from 2nd Century BC to 1st Century AD. Many of the terracottas discussed in this book are from Chandraketugarh.

I met him during his recent visit to the USA and over a long lunch discussed several aspects of Chandraketugarh and its terracottas. Below, I present a transcript of this discussion, in a Q & A form.

AG: How did you get interested in Chandraketugarh terracottas?

JKB: There are two main reasons behind this. First, my Ph.D. advisor Prof.Dr. Herbert Härtel, former Director of the Museum of Indian Art, Berlin, considered the terracotta as major objects of archaeological interest. Terracotta often pre-dates stone sculptures, and are not necessarily influenced by the so called imperial art (e.g. Maurya, Shunga, Kshatrapa). Besides the Mauryan Ashokan capitals, pillars and rock edicts, what else do we have in stones in India? Terracottas are clues to zeitgeist, they have an immediate result, since it is easy to create them. Stone or bronze sculptures involve complex processes to create. Lower Bengal contains mainly alluvial soil and no major mountains and quarries which can be the source of stone. Thus, terracotta was the only medium until the Gupta period, and in South Asia nobody else mastered it to a better degree of quality than the Bengalees. Chandraketugarh terracottas are some of the most outstanding.

Second, I lived in the lower Bengal (Dankuni, Hooghly) for quite some time and was naturally interested in Chandraketugarh. I personally saw the uses of unbaked terracottas during different festivals and rituals.

AG: Please describe the ancient geography of Chandraketugarh and its association, if any, with the ancient port of Gange (Ptolemy).

JKB: What we know is that Chandraketugarh had international relationship and commerce. To the best of my knowledge, foreign (Roman, and other Mediterranean) coins were found near this site (similar to those found in other coastal port-cities of India such as Chennai).

Geography was much different in the days of Chandraketugarh. What is now 100km inside Bengal was coastal at that time. Alluvial soil pushed the coast southwards.

The wealth of terracotta found at Chandraketugarh attests to a very major production center. You do not find so much terracotta in a region unless people are actually buying or using them. Chandraketugarh was almost a dumping ground of terracotta. Many of the earlier terracotta pieces you find in Mahasthanagarh, now in Bangladesh, and other parts of Bengal are stylistically heavily indebted to Chandraketugarh if not actually produced there. However, those pieces are of inferior aesthetic quality. Chandraketugarh was a center and landmark in those days.

AG: What is known about the religious beliefs of the inhabitants of Chandraketugarh?

JKB: During the last centuries BC and first centuries AD, the entire South Asia used to be a melting pot, with so many things in common between various population centers. Very few iconographies we can clearly distinguish. We have Surya, the sun god and something like proto-Lakshmi.

AG: Ganesha? What about the elephant-headed images from Chandraketugarh?

JKB: We are talking about Mauryan and post-Mmauryan period and Ganesha hasn't appeared yet. We have something like Kubera, then the most important God. No Buddhism yet, positively not until 2nd-3rd century in Bengal. We have endless depictions of one deity of a goddess throwing coins from her right hand to people below busy collecting them. This is the Varada-Lakshmi, proto-Lakshmi. Her gesture is seen in the Lakshmi deity still worshipped in Bengal on the day of Lakshmi-Puja which precedes Kali Puja. Hinduism or Brahmanism developped as a response to Buddhism. There were the Ashokan pillars but they were not strictly "Buddhist". We also had the Naga cultures. Vasudeva (who later on becomes Krishna) and Balarama were worshipped. Vishnu as we know him today wasn't worshipped before the late Kushan or early Gupta period. It's different from the later deities. We didn't obtain inscriptions to decidedly validate these things...

AG:... there are some inscriptions...

JKB: There are even some Kharoshthi inscriptions, which is surprising, because one generally comes across Kharoshthi in the North-West of the subcontinent. Prof. B. N. Mukherjee has read them. We have small amount of other inscriptions such as the Tamralipti copperplate inscription of Govinda Pala, but that is from a much later period (8th century). There is nothing like long Ashokan edicts. So we don't know anything about the chieftains or monarchs of the Chandraketugarh region.

AG: How does Chandraketugarh rank in the quality and quantity of its terracotta in India? How does it compare with Tamluk, Kaushambi and Mathura?

JKB: Chandraketugarh terracottas provide the largest variety of topics. There are also a large number of very high quality pieces such as the one at the Metropolitan Museum (NY) or some shown at the exhibition at the State Archaeological Museum, Behala, Kolkata (Feb, 2001). We also find many carved pieces of bone/ivory (incidentally, these inspired many fakers to execute tortoise-shell carvings -- the shells are often 2000 years old but the carvings are done recently). We have very high quality terracotta from the same period from Bulandi-bagh near Patna, but their number is not very high. Chandraketugarh is almost unsurpassed in the quantity of terracottas. I have seen literally boxes and boxes of terracotta from Chandraketugarh.

Asutosh Musem (Calcutta University, in Kolkata, India) has several thousand pieces of Chandraketugarh terracotta. You can see some of them but can't take any photos, which is a pity. Incidentally, they were the first (and the only, except a small digging in 1998) official excavators of that site. Interestingly, I know a number of students who studied there but even they are not allowed to see the material.

Rating the terracotta in terms of their quality is more difficult because "quality" can be very subjective. Due to my personal links I am biased towards Bengal terracottas. There are also wonderful terracotta pieces from Mathura and Kaushambi, but fewer.

AG: What are the particular characteristics of Chandraketugarh terracottas -- technical, artistic, or material-wise? If you see a piece of terracotta how would you determine if it's from Chandraketugarh?

JKB: It's not so easy to answer this in such a short span. What separates Chandraketugarh terracottas is not some rendering styles, such as the eye having double outline, or nose is done in a particular way. In fact, I cannot easily describe to you these characteristics. But if you work for a period of times with these terracotta objects, you simply "know" where a given object comes from, without rationally knowing why. Because the production is so rich -- there are plaques - hand modeled, half hand-modeled, matrix modeled, mixed processed, softer burns, burned with less Oxygen etc., -- . It's difficult to make a general statement. Also no art offers more exceptions than Indian Art.

If you consider a narrow category such as the hollow terracotta pieces (also called rattles, tricycles and toy carts), I can easily tell the difference if you give me two pieces. But to describe it theoretically is different.

AG: So there aren't any describable difference in terracotta from these centers?

JKB: There is a clear stylistic difference. But first, you need to compare something to some other thing. You have to start your comparison from a fixed point, and if you don't establish this point you can't do any comparison. For terracottas it is not clear what should be this standard fixed point.

AG: How about differences based on the depicted contents?

JKB: Not much, since the content is all Indian. For example consider the story of the Jataka about a monkey crossing the river on the back of a crocodile. Depictions of this story have appeared in several Chandraketugarh and other terracottas in India. But the story is well-known all over India, and from this point, the terracottas can be from any part of India. Some plaques are difficult to determine geographically. But show me two terracotta pieces, and I'll tell you why one is from one place and the other is from a different place.

No general statement is possible to make, because the examples are different. So I will be cautious to say something like "Chandraketugarh terracotta are easily recognizable due to these features...".

AG: In your book you say "A useful frame for a more precise dating is provided by the excavation report on Sonkh near Mathura. The majority of the terracottas reproduced here (by here Bautze means the BOOK) , however, stems from the areas around Kaushambi and Chandraketugarh " - please explain.

JKB: The publisher didn't want to reproduce fragments but complete terracotta. There are reliable stratographical excavation reports e.g., in Sonkh (by my Ph.D. advisor) -- so the periods are datable. Not much was done in Kaushambi and Mathura which are reliable -- I wish there will be more. Nothing much is available. Complete pieces come from private collections, so unauthorized, clandestine and unofficial sources.

Prof. B. N. Mukherjee published a photo in one of his recent Bengali booklets not knowing that the photo was originally published in my book.

AG: Is it possible for an experienced researcher to do a synthetic work on the history, economy, society and culture of Chandraketugarh from the available art materials, inscriptions and the geographical data? I am thinking of a description of the people - their day to day lifestyles, beliefs, food habits etc.

JKB: In absence of more historical material it's hard... what is lacking in any period of Indian art is a newspaper or journalistic reporting such as the inauguration of a king or the visit of a dignitary, and information of this type. All we have are the art objects and a few inscriptions, other than the Stupas and Toranas. Books on social life have been written on some historical sites (such as Sanchi) but these are all based on conjectures, and therefore are not very scientific.

Indians were never great historians. What we know about the Buddhist and the early Buddhist periods are practically exclusively from Chinese descriptions. They supplied all the information. The importance of Nalanda and Bodhgaya are testified through Chinese or Burmese sources and not through genuine Indian sources. So the topic you suggest will be interesting but it will lead to nothing that will convince me.

Why don't we take the art objects as they are? Why do we always try to... it's like you find the skeleton of a dinosaur and trying to reconstruct how it looked like, what it ate, how it mated, how many eggs it hatched etc. It's not the job of an art historian to do that. It is somebody else's job. But that somebody else first needs to undergo training in art history in order to distinguish between all the deities and gods etc. and then...

During excavations we have found glass beads necklaces... gold jewelry, granulated gold -- they tell us that people had very good taste but not much about their social status. The pieces put them in the map of world art. Why do we need to do more? Everybody should be happy with that.

After having lived in the rural lower Bengal villages without the amenities, I would say that life probably didn't differ that much in those rural areas 2000 years ago.

AG:...Is this opinion confirmed by what you notice on the terracottas?

JKB: No, it's more wishful thinking.

AG: For example, women these days are not seen wearing the gigantic headdresses with 10 hairpins routinely seen depicted in Chandraketugarh.

JKB: Japaneese women used to do it until recently. Until the Sunga or Kushana period both men and women used to have huge headgears to maintain a huge quantity of hair. But that doesn't allow us to draw any conclusion.

AG:... Are the plaques then depictions of totally fictional people or the realistic depictions of a certain class of people?

JKB: Can't tell. Look at the prodigious amount of granulated gold in the Tamralipta plaque in Oxford, -- she wasn't the wife of a poor peasant with 1 sq. m of paddy field, but the idealized depiction of a wealthy person. Excavation has brought up many similar objects, but whether they were actually used by the majority or the minority of people, you just can't tell.

For example, if you go by the Ajanta paintings, you would think that dark complexion was the ideal of beauty. Today it is the other way around and people want to have fair complexion rather than dark complexion.

AG: What are the European museums where one can find Chandraketugarh terracottas on display?

Musee Guimet, Paris, France
Linden Museum, Stuttgart, Germany
Museum of Indian Art, Berlin, Germany
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK
probably also the Victoria and Albert and the British Museum, London

I know collections even in Japan. Not in museums yet.

Chandraketugarh terracottas were not available 50 or 100 years ago. Even 15 years or so ago, the dealers used to freely give a few terracotta pieces accompanying a stone statue to the purchasing museums. This is how several of the museums obtained those pieces.

AG: I wanted to put pictures of Chandraketugarh teracottas from private collections on this website. I was told by researchers and museums that the private collectors wouldn't want that and they don't want their names to be known because of legal issues.

JKB: Not true. The private collectors would love their collection to be known. Scholars don't want to give access to their "stock" of collectors to other scholars. Perhaps this is a form of professional greed.

AG: You say in your book, "three plaques originate from different moulds which, however, are based on the same upper die" -- how does a upper die differ from a mould?

JKB: The first creation is a real clay figure perhaps sun-dried (they are normally not preserved). This is called the "paternal piece". The paternal piece is covered with a lump of clay to produce what is called the upper die. The upper die isn't ready for production yet and it's not sufficiently detailed. For further ornamenting it and bringing it to a production quality mould, an upper die (there can be several upper dies from the same original clay figure) is chiseled in or incised with a needle or a star-shaped piece of wood. Thus a mould is formed. I have seen several moulds, which can be traced back to the same paternal piece.

AG: What were the Chandraketugarh terracottas used for? Due to the presence of a hole at the top of many of the plaques, people think that they were hung on the wall.

JKB: You can't hang them on the wall because the terracottas are heavy and big, and there isn't enough material between the hole and the boundary to hold the weight of the clay.

There are some description of quotidien uses of certain Mauryan terracotta pieces. I have also observed a few rituals in lower bengal. For example, to build a new house, a "puja" is performed before the building actually starts -- they worship the soil, earth, because they are going to hurt it with the spade. The worshipping involves mud bricks on a row with a purna kalasha (the "vase of plenty", holy pitcher), and a quadrangle, and arati, ... before digging starts. It happens out in the open field and not for the existing house. This indicates a cult closer to the earth.

From excavation in Begram (ancient Kapishi) in Afghanistan -- ivory boxes were found and we have a fairly good idea how certain objects were used in the daily life. Terracotta objects were never hung on the wall. If they were ever hung on the neck, the pieces were very small.

Some fragments (of large terracottas) I have seen - the holes are so near the top that it would have been impossible to hang them.

For Mathura terracotta figurines, the lower part of the backs of the plaques are plain, so the pieces weren't supposed to be completely seen from behind.

This is one of the most fascinating questions -- what did they do with the toy carts?

Even now in houses in Bengal there are small temples with niches, where small images are placed. Perhaps 2000 years ago, some such practice was prevalent.

AG: What were the use of the large number of erotic plaques found from Chandraketugarh?

JKB: Another fascinating question! I couldn't include all the erotic plaques I wanted in my book, because I had to be cautious.

Taking the Chandraketugarh plaques aside, where else in India do you have erotic art? Other than the Chandella dynasty (Khajuraho) and Konarak and related sites which are all some 1000 years after Chandraketugarh -- you have practically no hard-core erotic art. These are unique, because if you didn't have them we would think that the patrons and the builders of Khajuraho and Konarak (9th-12th century) were the inventors of erotic art in India. I don't recall comparable erotic terracotta plaques from Mathura and Kaushambi.

There's one terracotta where one man enjoys sexual intercourse with five women at a time -- it is a very Indian theme -- because we have it 2000 years later in Indian painting e.g. in Kotah. Dr. Devangana Desai in her book on erotic art proposes a number of texts, but the general observer or an artist or a craftsman -- did he care for all the exotic texts -- a craftsman is craftsman and an artist is an artist and he cares but little for texts and prescriptions. When it comes to details...

If you go to a museum in Italy and Greek, you see these ancient vases with erotic depictions. It's not uncommon that the inhabitants of Chandraketugarh used to possess these terracottas. There's a certain typology of intercourse depicted here...and it's certainly very healthy.

Perhaps people were buying these erotic plaques because it was fun. The society was very different those days and we need to consider that as well. But the quantity of terracotta with this theme is prodigious and it wasn't a fluke.

AG: How did the Chinese traveller miss Chandraketugarh but were fully aware of Tamluk?

JKB: There were places the Chinese travellers should have seen but they didn't. For example, they didn't leave any description off the cave paintings of Ajanta, but they visited the nearby Ellora caves. There are also places they described which haven't been identified with certainty.

AG: What about the so-called Chandraketugarh Fakes?

JKB: I will tell you a story -- its about the plate#48 of my book. The photo was sent to me by a museum in Oxford (UK) asking my opinion. The plaque is about a lady ...(see the photo) -- it looked absolutely OK. So I reported that in my opinion it looked right. Then it was tested (thermo-luminescence) and was found that the clay was fired only 20 years ago. I was flabbergasted -- thought it was amazing that they were able to build such fine pieces in modern times. This meant that we could trust items only from old collections -- from 20-30 years ago -- when there wasn't any demand for Chandraketugarh pieces. I titled this piece in the book as a "master fake".

Subsequently a dealer called me from London and said that the piece wasn't fake and that his tests showed that it was found to be original. The investigation revealed that two fragments from two different pieces -- one new and one old -- were confounded in the laboratory.

We have to consider the following scenario: suppose that a bronze piece can be sold for $100K. How much does it cost to convince a person ("expert") in a laboratory that the piece is old? Suppose that the piece costs $5K, you add another $10K to get a seal of approval. The stakes are so high that this will be perfectly all right. I must say that the skills of modern Indian craftsmen are remarkable in making fakes.

I have seen actual fakes on display in museums, although I don't want to mention names. But then again, these are perhaps mixtures of genuine and authentic stuff. If the craftsmen are caught they should not be sent to jail but they should be rewarded, because the pieces are so good (joking).

I think most of the fakes are produced for the American market. They also know the market well. Therefore they avoid the hard-core erotic pieces. Not only Chandraketugarh terracottas are faked but also Kushana sculptures.

AG: In the Asad-Uj-Jaman collection, I have seen some wood-carvings from Chandraketugarh. They are dark black. How did wood survive the 2000 year-long subterranean life?

JKB: They are black because the wood has to be burned to have all the Oxygen out, because Oxygen causes the decay. These pieces are never very large.

With some prominent dealers I have seen some carved wood pieces with brown outlines and with no traces of charcoal. Apparently they went through treatment, but no pre-treatment photos are available -- I don't think they are old.

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The Historical and Archaeological Context of Chandraketugarh

Dr. Dilip K. Chakrabarti
University Lecturer of South Asian Archaeology
University of Cambridge

Chandraketugarh is the modern name of the site. We do not know its ancient name. The reason is that there is no clear textual reference to a city in this part of Bengal. Whether it was Gange, the capital of a kingdom called Gangaridai in the Graeco-Roman sources can always be debated, but there cannot be any positive conclusion. There is nothing in the records to indicate a specific location of either the capital or the kingdom. There is also no inscription from the site, which gives the ancient name of the place. There are, of course, inscriptions on pots, potsherds and round seals with designs, but the way they have been read does not make any sense. These inscriptions have been considered by a scholar as evidence of a mixed script in which the letters of both the major scripts of ancient India Brahmi and Kharosthi were used to write a single inscription. On modern analogy, this would be equivalent to writing a word or sentence in which the individual letters of two modern Indian scripts say, Bengali and Tamil would be used. This is a silly notion. Sillier still are attempts to reconstruct the history of this site on the basis of readings based on this method of reading.

So, if written history does not tell us anything about the site, how can we know about it? We can certainly know a lot about it by extensively excavating it and undertaking other types of field-studies including remote-sensing and geophysical surveys. No such work has yet been done. Whatever excavations were undertaken here in the 1950s and 1960s remained basically unpublished. We do not know precisely even about the total area of the site; there is a large fortified area and there is perhaps a larger unfortified area. Do we really know that it was located on the bank of a river? It was likely to have stood on a riverbank, but even this simple proposition remains to be worked out in the field. It thus appears that neither written history nor archaeology has told us much about Chandraketugarh.

Our knowledge of this site is based almost entirely on the antiquities found here by the local people. Chronologically these antiquities belong to a long period from the third century B.C. to about 10th-12th centuries A.D. These antiquities are of various kinds: coins, beads of semi-precious stones, terracottas, stone sculptures, ivories, and so on. They occur in varying quantities at all the contemporary settlements of the subcontinent, but there is a very special thing about Chandraketugarh. The sheer number and diversity of its early historic terracottas is unmatched at any other site. Some of them are also very beautiful and sophisticated.

One must also consider ivories along with the terracottas. Chandraketugarh is one of the major centres of ancient Indian ivory objects, as the increasing number of such objects found by the villagers indicates. Those who have seen the Chandraketugarh terracottas and ivories and can also think of such finds from other sites will not have a moment¹s hesitation to claim that Chandraketugarh must have been a very elegant and sophisticated urban centre of ancient India.

How did such an urban centre come to grow here? Was it an isolated place or a part of a wider network? The date of the early historic urban growth in Bengal is not yet decided. The reason is that there is no run of radiocarbon dates from the relevant levels which have also not been reached at places like Chandraketugarh in the Bengal delta. Generally it is put around 300 B.C. on the assumption that the growth of early historical cities began in this area only after it came under the control of the Mauryas. There is nothing definitive about this assumption. What we know is that the pre-300 B.C. context in the whole area from Birbhum to Medinipur on the western bank of the Bhagirathi was marked by a village economy which was characterized, among other things, by Black-and-Red plain and painted pottery, small stone tools called microliths, a limited use of copper and tin, cultivation of rice, and from about 1200 B.C. onwards, by the use of iron as well.

This village phase began in West Bengal about 1600/1800 B.C. In its turn this village phase is linked to the corresponding village growth throughout the Ganga valley. It is these "Black-and-Red Ware people" who settled in the Bhagirathi-Rupnarayan delta. There is evidence from Harinarayanpur south of Diamond Harbour and Tamluk on the Rupnarayan, although not from Chandraketugarh itself. We do not know when this settling process began. I shall not be surprised if it goes back to c.1000 B.C.

How many early historic cities were there in ancient Bengal? Among the front-rank places one has to mention the following: ancient Pundranagara or modern Mahasthangarh on the bank of the Karatoya near the Bangladeshi district town of Bagura; Wari Bateshwar (ancient name unknown) on the bank of an old channel of the Brahmaputra near Bhairavbazar/Narsingdi in Bangladesh; Kotasur (ancient name unknown) on the bank of the Mayurakshi near Sainthia in Birbhum; Mangalkot (ancient name unknown, but possibly the ancient city of Barddhamana mentioned in a Jain source) near the junction of the Kunur and the Ajay in Barddhaman; Pokharna (ancient Pushkarana) on the south bank of the Damodar in Bankura opposite Panagarh in Barddhaman; Tamluk (ancient Tamralipta) on the bank of the Rupnarayan in Medinipur; Bangarh (ancient Bannagara) in the outskirts of Gangarampur bazar in West Dinajpur; and finally, Chandraketugarh, between Deganga and Basirhat in North Twentyfour Parganas. There were other places but one cannot count them among the frontrank centres.

Mahasthangarh was the capital of the ancient Pundra territory. Bangarh was the centre of a sub-division of the Pundra kingdom in the later inscriptions, but it could also be the capital of an independent kingdom in its early phase. Wari-Bateshwar is possibly Souanagoura of the Graeco-Roman sources and could be the centre of Samatata territory. Kotasur was the first capital of Gauda and Mangalkot was the capital of the northern part of Rarh. Pokharna was the centre of the southern Rarh and Tamluk was the capital of the Suhma territory. I believe Chandraketugarh to have been the capital of the ancient geographical territory of Vanga which was focussed on the eastern side of the Bhagirathi. I cannot foresee any other geographical explanation. Interestingly, Kotasur, Mangalkot, Pokharna and Tamluk were linked by an arterial route of Bengal linking the Bengal coast with north Bengal, Bihar and further north. However, the densest concentration of early historic sites in Bengal was in the Bhagirathi-Rupnarayan delta, especially in the Bhagirathi delta along the course of the Adi Ganga which can even now be traced up to the Sagar island which itself has a major early historic site. On Medinipur coast one can trace sites between Tamluk and Bahiri (near Kanthi). The total number of sites is about 15 or more. Excavations have been conducted marginally at 3/4 sites but the results lie unpublished. We know about them mostly through their antiquities found by the local people.

Why was there such a concentration of sites on the Bengal coast? A large part of the maritime trade of the Ganga plain used to pass through them. This trade was with southeast Asia and the Mediterranean. There is no archaeological object showing contact with southeast Asia, but in view of India's traditional links with the region, this can be inferred. The element of Mediterranean contact is far more visible, mainly in the terracottas showing Roman influence and in a complete amphora which I noted in a village near Kanthi. Chandraketugarh was connected with the flow of the sea-going traffic by a channel/river which joined the Adi Ganga near modern Sonarpur.

I do not expect people to agree with me on all points, but this is hopefully a coherent outline of the historical and archaeological context of Chandraketugarh.

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Links in this site:

Chandraketugarh - First Page

Chandraketugarh - Second Page

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State Archeological Museum Exhibition

Collection of Dilip Kumar Maite

Collection of Asad-uj Jaman

Photos from ASI Reviews

Temporary Exhibition at Indian Museum

My photos of Khana-Mihirer Dhipi

My photos of Chandraketugarh area (trees, ricefields...)

Courtesy: Asad-uj Jaman
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Ambarish Goswami
Last Revised October 31, 2013