Temples in Bengal

Learning Goals:

Migration of People: Sixteenth century onwards, people began to migrate from the less fertile western Bengal to the forested and marshy areas of south-eastern Bengal. As they moved eastwards, they cleared the forests and started practicing agriculture there. They cultivated rice crop there. In due course of time, the local communities of fisherfolk and shifting cultivators, often tribals, merged with the new community of peasants.

Setting up of mosques: The migration of people coincided with the establishment of Mughal control over Bengal with their capital in the heart of the eastern delta at Dhaka. Officials and functionaries received land. They often set up mosques that served as centres for religious transformation for people in these areas.


Pirs

Some order and stability was brought about by the early settlers, in the conditions of the new settlements. These were provided by people who are respectfully and affectionately called pirs. Pirs were community leaders who also functioned as teachers and adjudicators and were sometimes ascribed with supernatural powers. The term also included:

The cult of pirs became famous and many of their shrines can be found everywhere in Bengal.


Temples

The temple-building spree that started in the late 15th century in Bengal, culminated in the 19th century. Temples and other religious structures, as mentioned in the earlier chapters, were built by powerful individuals and groups for demonstrating their power and to proclaim piety. Many ‘low’ social groups in Bengal, such as the Kolu (oil pressers) and Kansari (bell metal workers) helped in building many of the modest brick and terracotta temples. Many families belonging to these social groups availed of the new economic opportunities created by the incoming European trading companies. They proclaimed their improved social and economic position through the construction of temples. The local deities which were once worshipped in the thatched houses of the villages began to be housed as images in temples when they gained the recognition of the Brahamanas. The temples began to copy the roof styles of the thatched huts which were either double-roofed (dochala) or four-roofed (chauchala). This led to the evolution of the architecture that was of Bengali style.


Four-roofed structures

This is a relatively more complex structure with four rectangular roofs which are placed on the four walls and move up to converge on a curved line or a point. Usually the temples were built on a square platform with a relatively plain interior. The outer walls were decorated with paintings, ornamental tiles or terracotta tablets. Such decorations reached a high degree of fineness in some temples, particularly in Vishnupur in the Bankura district, West Bengal.



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