The Ramayana temples of West Bengal have woven histories behind them.Based on the ancient epic by Valmiki these magnificent structures combine art with heritage to present a mix of splendid architectures. Places like Malancha in Midnapore,Baronagar in Murshodabad,Bansberia in Hoogly & Palpara in Nadia have temples with the influence of Krittibash Ojha's Bengali Ramayana of 13th century.The son of the soil translated the great epic in Bengali winning the hearts of millions.His epics left it's mark on all branches of culture – literature, music & architecture.

The walls of temples are no exceptions.Since stones were not easily available in Bengal this expression took shape in form of burnt clay popularly called terracotta.There was a smattering of Ramayana temples all around the state the best among them coming up in Guptipara a small village in Hoogly. The hamlet is famous for another reason. Community Durgotsav commonly known as Barowari puja is believed to have started from here.In mid 17th century twelve friends got together to organize a common Durgotsav which changed the face of festival overnight.

The Ramayana temples of Guptipara stand in a complex with three other temples.Guptipara math houses Ranchandra temple, Brindababchandra temple, Chaitanya temple & Krishnachandra temple. Of them Chaitanya temple is the smallest & built in Jore bangla style with the double arch roof of Bengal school of architecture.Built in 1650 by Biswambar Roy this is one of the few temple made in this style.The idol of Gouranga & Nitynanda adorns the insides of the temple that was originally constructed with terracotta.

The Ramchandra temple built in first half of the 19th century is another marvelous design.The charchala shrine stands on a seven feet high platform with small tower like structure on the apex.Terracotta figures on the walls tell the entire story of Ramayana. The other two are Aatchala temples. Brindaban Chandra temple & Krishnachandra temple stand in the same compound.They are full of frescos prominent mostly in the temples of Nadia. Brindabanchandra temple is basically a Radha Krishna temple.During Akbar's regime Satyadev Saraswati of Shantipur came here to set up an image of Lord Krishna.Harishchandra Roy king of Sheoraphuli put up the massive structure in late 18th century.

The Krishnachandra temple looks very similar to Brindabanchandra temple & has been adorned with creative frescoes.

The story of Guptipara will remain incomplete if the 400 years old Ratha yatra is not mentioned. A big fair sees devotees gate crashing the temple for Prasad.The event is called “bhandar loot.”

This article was published in 18th July 2004 in The Asian Age

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Imprinted on the terracotta walls of Guptipara temples are images of a bygone era of Bengal. The temple here is the most stunning example of the art wave that followed in the wake of Krittibash Ojha translating the Ramayana from Sanskrit into Bengali in the 13th century. Since stones were unavailable in Bengal, the locals told the story of Ramayana in the terracotta walls of their temples and huts. Ramayana temples came up in Malancha in Midnapore, Baronagar in Murshidabad, Bansberia in Hooghly and Palpara in Nadia. Guptipara, however, remains the best example of the style.

It was also in this hamlet that in the mid-17th century, 12 friends came together to organize the first community (baroari) puja, a story that is now a legend.

But back to the Ramayana temple. This follows a complex architectural pattern with three other temples. The Guptipara Math comprises the Ramchandra temple, Brindavanchandra temple, Chaitanya temple and Krishnachandra temple. The Chaitanya temple is the smallest and is built with a double arch roof, typical of the Bengal school of architecture. The beautiful temple was constructed by Bishwambar Roy in 1650. Inside is a huge image of Gouranga and Nityananda.

The main Ramchandra temple, popularly known as the Rathtala temple, is situated in a fenced compound with three other temples. It is built in the Ekratna Charchala style. A plethora of tiny terracotta artworks depict the entire story of Ramayana on the panels surrounding its main body. In aesthetic quality, these temples equal those of Bishnupur. The Brindavanchandra and the Krishnachandra temples are massive examples of Aatchala.

A good time to visit Guptipara is during Rath Yatra, the biggest after the famous Mahesh Tatra of Vrindavan. The Bhandar Loot is an interesting event when the priest opens the temple doors, allowing devotees to consume as much Prasad as they can. Dol Jatra celebrated here is also 300 years old.

How To Go
Get off at Behula, a station on the Burdwan line. From the station, one can take a cycle-rickshow to the temple complex. It takes under two hours by train from Howrah. One can also catch a train from Bandel. It is best to carry your own food and water.

This article was published on 17th April, 2004 in The Hindustan Times

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