Team WHEELS Published : 30 September 2022

Since time immemorial, Bankura has played a pivotal role in the development of culture in eastern India. The relics of human culture in this district are manifested in the form of stone artifacts, sculptures, terracottas, coins and many other archaeological objects. A continuous cultural succession right from stone age to modern time through the mediaeval and late mediaeval periods has been noticed in the Bankura district. The place is better known for varieties of temples and many monuments of archaeological importance among which are 16 temples, two gateways, one cannon and a small stone chariot. This month, Team WHEELS set out to explore the historic and enchanting towns of Bankura and Bishnupur.

Route Description
We started our drive from Vidyasagar Setu Toll Tax Plaza at 9.00 AM and set up our trip meter to zero. From Vidyasagar Setu we drove through Kona Expressway and from the junction at Kona Expressway we took the flyover to enter the NH-19 followed by Durgapur Expressway AH-1 / NH-19 straight up to Bamunara at Durgapur. En route we have crossed three toll tax plazas namely Dankuni, Palsit and Durgapur. Next we took left towards the Durgapur Barrage through the SH-9, and continued till Barjora. We continued driving straight on the Bankura-Beliator-Barjora-Durgapur Road and crossed the Fulberia More. At 194.8 kilometres on the odometer, we turned right from Beliator More and continued driving straight until we crossed Makurgram continued driving straight till Ratanpur. At 212.6 kilometres, we took the left diversion from the Y fork and continued straight until we drove past Bankura University Sports Campus on our left. At 214 kilomotres, we turned right into Bankura town. We kept driving straight and took the right diversion from the Y fork at 215.5 kilometres. At 218.6 kilometres on the odometer, we turned right and continue straight for another 2.5 kilometres. Hotel Hilton was located on our left with the odometers indicating 221 kilometres. The travel time was five hours which included a 45 minutes breakfast pitstop at Hotel Nabanna. We mostly drove through national highways and the state highways followed by the PMGSY and village roads for few kilometres to reach our destination safely and comfortably.

Bankura – A Land Of Rich History And Heritage
The earliest sign of human habitation in the modern day Bankura was at a place called Dihar. By about 1,000 BC, chalcolithic people had settled on the north bank of the Dwarakeswar. In the later pre-historic times, this area was inhabited by various Proto-Australoid and a few Proto-Dravidian tribes. The tribes were spread across different strata of development – food gathering, hunting, animal raring and agriculture. Bankura district was part of Rarh in ancient times. From around 7th Century AD, till around the advent of British rule, for around a millennium, history of Bankura district was identical with the rise and fall of the Hindu Rajas of Bishnupur.

In the late 19th Century, Romesh Chunder Dutt wrote, “The ancient Rajas of Bishnupur trace back their history to a time when Hindus were still reigning in Delhi, and the name of the Musalmans was not yet heard in India. Indeed, they could already count five centuries of rule over the western frontier tracts of Bengal before Bakhtiyar Khilji wrested the province from the Hindus. The Musalman conquest of Bengal, however, made no difference to the Bishnupur princes… these jungle kings were little known to the Musalman rulers of the fertile portions of Bengal, and were never interfered with. For long centuries, therefore, the kings of Bishnupur were supreme within their extensive territories. At a later period of Musalman rule, and when the Mughal power extended and consolidated itself on all sides, a Mughal army sometimes made its appearance near Bishnupur with claims of tribute, and tribute was probably sometimes paid. Nevertheless, the Subahdars of Murshidabad, never had that firm hold over the Rajas of Bishnupur which they had over the closer and more recent Rajas of Burdwan and Birbhum. As the Burdwan Raj grew in power, the Bishnupur family fell into decay; Maharaja Kirti Chand of Burdwan attacked and added to his zamindari large slices of his neighbour’s territories. The Marathas completed the ruin of the Bishnupur house, which is an impoverished zamindari in the present day.”

The area around Bishnupur was called Mallabhum. The core area would cover present day Bankura police station area (excluding Chhatna), Onda, Bishnupur, Kotulpur and Indas. In olden days, the term was used for a much larger area, which probably was the furthest extent of the Bishnupur kingdom. In the north, it stretched from Damin-i-koh in Santhal Parganas to Midnapore in the south. It included the eastern part of Bardhaman and parts of Chota Nagpur in the west. Portions of the district appear to have been originally the homes of aboriginal tribes, who were gradually subdued. The Khatra region was Dhalbhum, the Raipur region was Tungbhum, and the Chhatna region was Samantabhum. They were eventually overshadowed by the Malla Kings of Bishnupur. There also are references in old scripts to Varahabhumi or Varabhumi (present day Barabhum) on whose borders run Darikesi River and Sekhara Mountain (probably present day Pareshnath).

Adi Malla was the founder of the Malla dynasty. He ruled Laugram for 33 years and has been known as the Bagdi Raja. He was succeeded by his son, Jay Malla, who invaded Padampur and captured the fort, the then power-centre. Jay Malla extended his domains and shifted his capital to Bishnupur. The subsequent kings steadily extended their kingdom. Among the more renowned were Kalu Malla (the fourth in line), Kau Malla (the sixth in line), Jhau Malla (the seventh in line), and Sur Malla (the eighth in line), who defeated the Raja of Bagri, a place now in northern Midnapore. He was followed by 40 other kings, all of whom were known as Mallas or Mallabaninath, which means Lords of Mallabhum or Mallabani. Family records show that they were independent of foreign powers.

Bir Hambir, the 49th ruler of the Malla dynasty who flourished around 1586 AD and ruled in 16th-17th Century, was a contemporary of the Mughal emperor Akbar. Bir Hambir was both powerful and pious. He was converted to Vaishnavism by Srinivasa. There is mention in two Vaishnava works, Prem-Vilasa of Nityananda Das (alias Balaram Das) and Bhakti Ratnakara of Narahari Chakrabarti, about Srinivasa and other bhaktas (devotees) being robbed by Bir Hambir, when they were travelling from Vrindavan to Gaur with a number of Vaishanava manuscripts. However, Bir Hambir was so moved by Srinivasa’s reading of Bhagavata that he converted to Vaishnavism and gave Srinivasa a rich endowment of land and money. He introduced the worship of Madan Mohan in Bishnupur.

Raghunath Singh, who followed Bir Hambir, was the first Bishnupur Raja to use the Kshatriya title Singh. It is said that he was conferred upon with this title by the Nawab of Murshidabad. Bishnupur kingdom had entered its golden age. With exquisite palaces and temples built during the period that followed Bishnupur was reputed to be the most renowned city in the world, more beautiful than the house of Indra in heaven. However, it has also been recorded that while these royal patrons of Hindu art and religion were busy building temples, they had lost much of their independence and sunk to the position of tributary princes. Raghunath Singh built the temples of Shyam Rai, Jor Bangla and Kalachand between 1643 and 1656.

Bir Singh built the present fort, the temple of Lalji in 1658, and seven big lakes named Lalbandh, Krishnabandh, Gantatbandh, Jamunabandh, Kalindibandh, Shyambandh and Pokabandh. His queen, Siromani or Chudamani, built the temples of Madan Mohan and Murali Mohan in 1665. Legend has it that he had walled up all his sons alive, eighteen in number. The youngest, Durjan, alone escaped, having been kept in hiding by the servants.

Durjan Singh built the Madan Mohan temple in 1694. According to family records, the kings of Bishnupur continued to pay tribute to the Muslim rulers, however, there was no interference by the Muslim rulers in the internal affairs of Bishnupur. This is also confirmed by Muslim historians. The status of the Raja of Bishnupur was that of a tributary prince, exempted from personal attendance at the court at Murshidabad, and represented there by a resident.

The Bishnupur Rajas who were at the summit of their fortunes towards the end of the 17th Century, started declining in the first half of the 18th Century. First, the Maharaja of Burdwan seized the Fatehpur Mahal, and then the Maratha invasions laid waste their country.

Gopal Singh (1730–1745) was a pious king but was not fit to cope with the difficulties faced by his kingdom. He issued an edict that people of Mallabhum should count their beads and chant Harinam (name of God) every evening at sunset.

While they failed to take the fort and pillage the treasury, the Marathas harried the less protected parts of the kingdom. The Maratha Chief, Sheobhat, made Bishnupur his headquarters in 1760 during the invasion of Shah Alam. The Marathas fell with their heaviest weight on border principalities such as Bishnupur and Birbhum. Exactions of a hundred sorts reduced the once powerful kingdom to poverty. The tenants fled and the country became desolate.
Chaitanya Singh was another pious ruler who proved to be unfit to face the difficulties. As he was too involved in religious matters, he did not have time for administrative matters. He faced internal feuds. Damodar Singh, a cousin of his, tried to gain power. He was able to convince the court at Murshidabad about his capabilities. Initially, Siraj ud-Daulah lent him forces but he was unable to capture Bishnupur. Later, after the British defeated Siraj, Mir Jafar lent him stronger forces. He succeeded in taking Bishnupur, and Chaitanya Singh escaped to Calcutta with the idol of Madan Gopal, but the British restored the latter to power. However, intrigue and litigation continued for many years. Litigation ruined the Bishnupur Raj family and eventually in 1806, the estate was sold for arrears of land revenue and bought up by the Maharaja of Burdwan.

Bishnupur was ceded to the British with the rest of Burdwan chakla in 1760. The Marathas had laid the country waste and famine of 1770 completed the misery of the kingdom. A large section of the population was swept away, cultivation fell, and lawlessness spread. The once powerful king had been reduced to the status of a mere zamindar. In 1787, Bishnupur was united with Birbhum to form a separate administrative unit, the headquarters was shifted to Suri, and a rebellious situation prevailed. The situation was so bad that the people of Bishnupur came to be known as Chuars or robbers. Bankura continued to be one district with Birbhum till 1793, when it was transferred to the Burdwan collectorate.

In 1879, the district acquired its present shape with the thanas of Khatra and Raipur and the outpost of Simplapal being transferred from Manbhum, and the thanas of Sonamukhi, Kotulpur and Indas being retransferred from Burdwan. However, it was known for some time as West Burdwan and in 1881 came to be known as Bankura district.

Hotel Hilton
Our stay at Bankura was booked at Hotel Hilton. This is a fantastic property and perhaps one of the best in Bankura. The rooms were neat and well appointed with all the modern amenities to make the urban travelers feel at home. The washroom was clean and the air conditioning was brilliant keeping the room cool in harsh warm weather.

Hotel Hilton has an in-house multi-cuisine restaurant called Maharaj. They have an impressive menu on offer and the food was delicious. The décor is classy and the staff was amazing. They went over and beyond to help make our stay enjoyable.
Overall we had a wonderful experience at Hotel Hilton. Every staff member we encountered, from the reception to room service and even the housekeeping staff were delightful and eager to help with a smile on their face.

Hotel Hilton Bankura
Bankura-Purulia Road
Katjuridanga,Bankura,West Bengal
Reception: +91 8900582120
Restaurant: +91 89005 82130
Email: [email protected]
Check in : 12:00PM
Check out : 11:00 AM

Places To Visit From Bankura
One of the most popular tourist destinations in the vicinity of Bankura town is the historical town of Bishnupur – the land of terracotta. The distance from Bankura to Bishnupur by road is around 35 kilomtetres and will take nearly an hour to reach. The famous ‘temple tour’ is the major attraction of visiting Bishnupur.

One has to begin the temple tour from this spot since the common ticket counter for the temples is located here. From structural formation, the Rasa Mancha is unique, having no similar structure anywhere in the whole of India. It may be regarded as the pride of Bishnupur. It has a pyramidal roof placed upon a spacious laterite plinth and was built by Bir Hambir in 1600. The sanctum of the shrine is enclosed by three successive circumambulatory galleries and crowned by a massive pyramidal roof above. The outer arches of the enclosing galleries are decorated with terracotta lotus motifs and in the eastern wall, there are panels showing dancers and singers.

Jor-Bangla Or Keshta-Raya Temple
Two such temples are noticed at Bishnupur. One of these is called the Keshta Raya and the other Mahaprabhu temple. The Keshta Raya temple is famous for its structural formation and exquisite terracotta art. The inscriptional record states that the temple was built by Raghunatha Singha in 1655. It is a two hut type structure each having two sloping roofs, joined together to form a single temple, set up with a char chala tower on the top. This temple is very extensively decorated with terracotta ornamentations upon the facade of the porch and all three sides. There is, however, no decoration on inner side of the tower of the temple, excepting a stucco figure representing Sri Chaitanya in his shadbhuja (six handed) form placed on a high pedestal against the back wall of the inner chamber. The panels depict subjects of very wide variety of scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, episodes of Krishna lila etc. From the richness of ornamental decoration and the quality of their workmanship, this temple can be held as one of the finest among the temples of Bishnupur.

Lalji Temple
Among the stone built eka ratna temple, the Lalji temple has a very impressive appearance. It is known from the inscriptional record that this temple was built by Bir Singha II in 1658 for the pleasure of Sri Radhika and Sri Krishna. This temple is enclosed by a covered ambulatory and a few ornamental details are visible on the sides of the three arched openings. Placed upon a large plinth, the temple is a structure of square shape having a roof slightly sloping on all the four sides, upon which stands the single tower.

Murli-Mohana emple
Of the eka ratna type, the next temple is the Murali Mohana temple, which stands facing the south and shows some difference from other eka ratna group of temples. Here the three arched openings are found replaced by a covered ambulatory resting on a row of pillars and a tower tops the inner sanctum. On the temple, there exists an insignia or the ‘dhaja’ standing above what is called the ‘chuda’, indicating which deity has been installed within. Rani Chudamanidevi, wife of Bir Singha in AD 1665, built this temple.

Madana-Mohana Temple
Of the eka ratna variety, the temple of Madana Mohana is built in brick. This temple was erected to enshrine the tutelary deity of the Mallas. Among the brick built eka ratna shrines the Madana Mohana temple is unique of its type. The Malla King Durjana Singha had built this temple in AD 1694. The temple is much celebrated for the ornamentations, which embellish the walls of this temple. The ornamentations are mainly on terracotta plaques set upon the wall. The facade of the temple has scenes showing Krishna lila episodes, scenes showing dancers. The area resting upon the arches are found covered with scenes depicting war while the lower panels are found decorated with figures of animals and birds, Krishna lila, Dasavatara scenes, legends and stories from the Puranas. The interior part of the temple porch is also decorated, showing a few dragon like animals.

Radha-Madhava Temple
Belonging to the group of temples located to the south of the Lal bandh stands the impressive Radha Madhava temple, which is a structure of the eka ratna type. Siramanidevi in 1737, one of the consorts of Bir Singha, built this temple. Parallel to the plinth can be found rows of birds and animals and Pauranic episodes shown carved in a very graceful manner. Amidst the temples belonging to this complex there is a do chala mandapa situated near the Radha Madhava  temple. This structure is known as the bhoga mandapa. This do chala bhoga mandapa is unique of its type in Bishnupur, since no other do chala structure is to be found here.

Radha-Syama Temple
Built in laterite, the temple stands within a large enclosed courtyard. The dedicatory inscription of this temple gives the date of its erection in the year AD 1758. Built by the Malla ruler Chaitanya Singha, this temple is the latest of the dated temples in Bishnupur. Though built in laterite, this temple is noted for its stucco relief. Built on a square plan the temple has a curved roof with a single tower above. The lime plaster known as pankha applied to cover the laterite walls reveal decoration of a very elaborate nature. The decorations include geometric and floral motifs of exquisite workmanship. The front wall of the sanctum is found decorated with scenes from the Ramayana, Anantasayin Vishnu and widely recurring figures of Radha Krishna. This temple is quite large and images from all the temples, which are now deserted or in dilapidated state are housed in the sanctum of this temple where these are worshipped simultaneously with the main vigraha or Krishna with Radha called Radha Syama.

Syama-Raya Temple
The pancha ratna temple of Syama Raya built by Raghunatha Singha in 1643, can be held as the most outstanding among the temples of Bishnupur for its structural set up and elaborate terracotta ornamentations, which are of very high quality. Built entirely in brick, the temple is quite massive and has Bengali char chala roof. Above the roof which slopes on four sides, four towers stand on four corners and a tall one rises at the centre. Because of these five towers, the temple is considered to be belonging to the pancha ratna class. An inscription placed on the main entrance of the temple states that this temple was "built for the pleasure of Sri Radhika and Sri Krishna". Besides, a very rich profusion of beautiful floral designs, the decorations reveal a wide variety of subjects. All these decorative and narrative scenes have endowed the Syama Raya temple with a beauty and charm of unsurpassable nature and have gained for its popularity far beyond any other temple to be found, not only in Bishnupur but the whole of Bengal.

The Bandhs
The Malla rulers of Bishnupur had built a large fort in Bishnupur and dug up a number of big tanks known as bandhs. These bandhs were set up to surround an area within which was the fort including the royal palace with high walls and moat around. The bandhs were excavated mainly for the relief of the people from shortage of water supply and were also to some extent used for strengthening the defence of the fort. The Malla ruler Bir Singha dug most of these bandhs between 1657 and 1677. These tanks are popularly known as the Lal-bandh, the Krishna-bandh, the Gantat-bandh, the Jamuna-bandh, the Kalindi-bandh, the Syama-bandh, the Poka-bandh and the Chowkhan-bandh. Apart from Chowkhan-bandh, which is now almost dry, all the other tanks are still in a glorious state of existence.

Dalmadal Canon
Previously there were many canons at Bishnupur but the most remarkable and the famous one is Dalmadal canon, deriving its name from the Sanskrit word "Dalamardan", i.e. disperser of enemies. This canon is made of wrought iron, which is 3.8m long with a muzzle of 30cm in diameter. Possibly it was the largest canon used by the Mallas.

There are two gateways in Bishnupur, which once provided entrances to the old fort at Bishnupur. Both these gateways are known as Pathar darwaja. The larger one had double storied galleries flanking the central passage for accommodating troops, and it had narrow slits on either side for archer and the gunman. Malla King Bir Singh possibly built it in the mid 17th century AD. The other small gateway of the fort is also made of laterite and provided inner entrance to the old fort at Bishnupur.

Cottage Crafts
Bishnupur is famous for terracotta handicrafts, dokra, bell metal and brassware, conch shell, tassar silk and baluchari saris. You may visit the local cottage industries to have a glimpse. Das Abatar Tas (cards) is also of historic relevance.

Susunia Hill (30 kilometres from Bankura)
Explore the unspoiled beauty of nature in Susunia Hill. The hill is believed to be older than Himalayas. According to history, Raja Chandra Barman had his fort on this hill. The hill holds great archeological value and is also home to many wildlife animals like Giraffe, Asiatic Lion and Hyena among many more species. Let yourself be free among the crowd of ‘Shal-Palash’ and walk through the soft green light while climbing up the slopes of the hill. Susunia Hill is also a great reserve of various types of medicinal plants. Spend your leisure days in the breathtaking beauty of nature embracing the vast canopy of flora. Embark your journey as a mountaineer from the rock climbing center of Susunia Hill.

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