Bankura is famous for its terracotta temples but they are not the only points of interest in the district for those who love history. Dharapat, a village just 12 km north of Bishnupur town, houses a fine “fusion” temple that dates back centuries and several abandoned ones which are just as old.The district, like Purulia, was deeply influenced by Jainism in the middle ages. Hinduism later became the dominant religion in Bengal and many of the Jain temples across the state were converted to Vishnu temples. The main temple of Dharapat is one of the rare ones where Hindu and Jain deities have existed side by side for centuries.

The deul-style temple was built in 1701 by king Advesh. It came up in place of a plastered laterite structure that had collapsed. The new temple has four small statues of flying lions on its four sides, a characteristic of the Orissa school of architecture. There are many stone relics in Dharapat. One of them is a statue of Parasnath that has been converted into a Vishnu idol by adding two hands. The change indicates the overpowering Hindu influence after the decline of Jainism in the area. There are three excellent stone idols in the temple — two Jain deities and Vishnu. All three are on the outer walls.

The Jain deity is naked indicating the influence of the Digambar sect. The statue is locally known as nangta thakur (naked deity). The massive image of Vishnu is embedded on the eastern wall. There are four smaller images on the four corners. Two of them are of figures flying over Vishnu’s head while two women are at his feet. One of them is shown playing the veena. The other has been partly defaced. Vishnu holds shankho, chakra, gada and padma in his hands.

Around the statue of the naked deity are six smaller images of Hindu gods. There are also two sentinels at the bottom of the wall and two on the top corners. On the left is a Jaksha head but a similar image on the right side has gone missing. Floral designs adorn the temple walls. The third statue is also of a naked exponent of Jainism. It is aesthetically the most appealing. The deity resembles a Hindu god.

The carving is encircled by a series of miniature statues. There are six rows of two naked figures on each side. The deity stands on a lotus, below which are two small stone lions, a bull and two women.

The Archaeological Survey of India has not taken up the upkeep of the temple. The abandoned temple of Shyamchand, built in 1603, is worth a visit. The idol was stolen some years ago and the temple has not been maintained since. Also stop over at a group of 10 abandoned temples with rasmancha in the same village. There are a few more temples in a dilapidated shape in the vicinity.

Trip tips

Dharapat is just 12 km from Bishnupur town. Bargain hard and hire an autorickshaw from Bishnupur. It does not take more than two hours to tour the village.Photography is allowed. The temple complex is in bad shape. Domestic animals have littered the compound. Carry drinking water and food. You can visit Dihar and Abantika on the same trip.

This article was published in 12th October 2008 in The Telegraph

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