Known as the ‘City of Temples’, Ambika Kalna in West Bengal is famous for its terracotta temples built in the 18th century. The elaborate intricacy of terracotta artwork dons an intensely religious aura in Bengal Their glazed detailed surfaces turn into magnificent storybooks and the lesser known terracotta trails in Bengal can be a very rewarding experience.
Ambika Kalna once flourished as a prosperous port town in Bengal. The town’s history dates back to the Gupta Dynasty which ruled between 3rd and 5th century AD. It reached it’s pinnacle of glory during the late 18th century under the patronage of the Maharaja Tej Chandra Bahadur – Maharajas of Bardhaman, who desired to construct temples here. However there was a unusual dilemma with no stone available in the region that was suitable for construction with intricate work. However, the artisans found a unique solution, they first made a model with baked bricks that were abundantly available. Next, they made tiles of various forms with terracotta with images from ancient Hindu mythological episodes including the epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, erotica and hunting scenes depicted on the walls. This became the famous terracotta architectural style.
The most notable of the terracotta sculptures of Kalna is the Rajbari Complex consisting of the Pratapeshwar temple, Rasmancha, Lalji temple, Vijay Vidyanath temple, Krishnachandraji temple and more.
Since 2014, the entire Rajbari Temple Complex has been illuminated and is a visual delight that highlights the splendor and artistic excellence of the terracotta era of Bengal.
Pratapeshwara Mandir – The smallest and the most ornate, the Pratapeshwar temple is the first that you come across as you enter. Named after King Pratap Chand, It was built by the widow of Raja Pratap Chand in her husband’s memory in the year 1849 AD.
Formed in the Rekha Prasad (Rekha deula) style with a simple shikara ie square at the base and the walls curving inward to a point on the top of the shikara. The filigree work on the doorway is an extraordinary feature.
Rich terracotta ornamentations adorns its four sides with scenes from daily life and from mythology figures of Hindu gods and goddesses in red burnt brick panels – the most notable one is the Mahishasur Mardini.
Ras Manch is the main attraction there at evening illumination. A hexagonal structure, with 8 open arched gateways housed in larger hexagon roofless enclosure with 24 open gate arches was once a theatrical stage, where deities or ‘Jiu’ of Lalji jiu and Madan Gopal Jiu from Gopalbari were put up during the Ras festival. The Inner structure has one dome shaped pinnacle with two sections. It is believed that the structure had a roof which over the years fell off.
Lalji Mandir – Built in 1739 AD by Rani Brojo Kishori, it is different in terms of style -intricately detailed and excels in limestone stucco work The temple is a three storeyed structure with 25 steeples. The cornices in each tier are decorated with exotic floral designs and figures of birds while its outer walls have plaques with varied designs. The temple is said to be the oldest in the complex.
Krishnachandra temple is also as imposing in structure like the Laljiu temple. Like Laljiu it also has a small Ekchala styled small Mandap (popularly known as Jagamohan) with a triple entrance in its frontal side. It has the spire distributed in 12+8+4+1 style.
Built by Raja Trilokchand in the name of his mother Lakshmikumari Devi between 1751 -1752 AD. The main deity of this temple is Krishnachandra and Radha.
The beautifully preserved magnificent terracotta panels of richly decorated Krishna Chandraji temple compliment perfectly with amazing limestone stucco work and is indeed a visual delight.
At the extreme end of the temple is a porch with three arches that have extensive geometric shapes and scenes from epics Mahabharata and Ramayana.
Vijay Vaidyanath – medium sized Atchala styled temple is located behind the KrishnaChandra temple, King Trilokchand’s mother prayed to Shiva for a son. On fulfillment of her wish, she later asked Trilokchand to build this temple when he became the king. The temple has has some terracotta work on its frontal side only.
In nineteenth century Bengal architecture came under European influence in which structures were domed internally but internally spanned by shallow vault and latterly flat ceilinged. Porch resting on two or more pilasters was replaced by clustered pilaster. The arches were cusped and facades were designed as those of chala and ratna designs with plastered terracotta decoration. Common example of flat roofed temple is the sixteenth century Durga dalan built for annual pujas. Over a period of time these temples lost their traditional characteristics, becoming a brick built room similar to those of modern domestic architecture.
Pancha Ratna Temples – Five atchala temples stand in a row on a raised platform. Not much is known about them except that they’re built in the 19th century.
The vaishnaivite temple shrine complex is just opposite to the shaivaite sect – Nava Kailash or more popularly knows as the 108 shiva temples, which has a very interesting form and design with 108 Shiva temples arranged in form of a rosary bead here > A rosary bead of 108 Shiva Temple at Ambika Kalna
Despite the terracotta temple attractions here at Kalna which revels its past glory, it is a pity that they are not found on the tourist map of Bengal..