Bishnupur (বিষ্ণুপুর Biṣṇupur), also spelt Vishnupur, is a town in the Rarh region of West Bengal, India. Although famous for terracotta temples, Bishnupur also houses several laterite stone temples. Bishnupur also houses several other ancient religious and non-religious structures. The town probably contains the highest number of historical sites of any town in West Bengal. The terracotta temples are in the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998.
Bishnupur (BIHSH-noo-poor) was the citadel of the Malla dynasty. The dynasty was founded in the late 7th century by Adi Malla. Adi Malla was the abandoned son of a North Indian king. He was brought up by a Bramhim of the present-day Bishnupur region. The brahmin family provided him with the best education along with physical and warfare training. The boy not only excelled in education but also turned out to be an outstanding wrestler. Soon on the request of the local elders, he ascended the throne of the local kingdom, which was renamed as the Malla Kingdom (Malla meaning wrestling) and he is known as Adi Malla.
The Malla Kingdom flourished and after about 300 years the 10th Malla King Jagat Malla decided to shift his kingdom to Bishnupur. Over the next 800 years, Jagat Malla and his descendants built several temples and structures (both of brick and stone) turning Bishnupur into a temple town. Among the present structure, the oldest structure of Bishnupur is the Rasmancha dating back to 1600. The other structures were built in the next 150 years.
Although known for its terracotta temples Bishnupur also has its fair share of stone temples. In fact, these laterite stone temples outnumber the brick or terracotta temples. Moreover, the temples of Bishnupur follow different styles of Bengal Temple Architecture and include both chala (sloped roof) and ratna (pinnacle) temples. Apart from the temples and other religious structures a small portion of the fortification of the citadel still remains.
The nearest airport is Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport (RDP IATA) at Durgapur, but only a few flights are present at the airport. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport (CCU IATA) at Kolkata is the nearest airport to get to Bishnupur smoothly.
- 1 . It takes about 3:30 to 4:15 hours from Kolkata, distance 201 km. Convenient connections - Rupashi Bangla Express departing Howrah at 6AM, Purulia Express departing Howrah at 4:45PM and Aranyak Express departing Shalimar at 7:45AM. To come by Aranyak Express from Howrah to Bishnupur, first go to Santragachi by local train. All these trains are via Kharagpur and Midnapore. You can also opt for Howrah-Chakradharpur passenger which leaves Howrah at 23:05 hrs. This train has a sleeper class.
- 2 Bishnupur bus stand. West Bengal Transport Corporation (WBTC) buses ply regularly between Esplanade Bus Terminus of Kolkata and Bishnupur. It takes about 4–5 hours to reach Bishnupur. The road distance is about 150 km. Buses are also available from Tarakeswar, Durgapur. Kharagpur, Bardhaman, Asansol and other nearby cities.
From Kolkata travel to Dankuni, take the Durgapur Expressway (NH 19), at Ratanpur crossing turn left and take the Sheoraphuli-Tarakeswar road, go straight through to Arambagh and Bishnupur.
Many of the temples are near each other and walking is a good option. Cycle rickshaws are another option. A combination of walk and cycle rickshaw can work out very well. Auto (diesel-powered three-wheelers) and toto (battery powdered three-wheelers) are also available and are good for tourists with limited time. Cars are also available on hire and hotels can arrange for them. One day is more than enough to visit the major sites of Bishnupur. For more detailed observation minimum of two days are absolutely necessary.
Bishnupur being a temple town, the focus is on temples, several of them built of terracotta during the reign of the Malla kings, who ruled over the area prior to the arrival of the British. Bishnupur also hosts several laterite stone temples along with several other religious and non-religious structures. The sites of Bishnupur are clustered around the Rasmancha. They can be classified into four groups:
- Rasmancha and north of Rasmancha
- South of Rasmancha
- Further north
- North west
Rasmancha and north of Rasmancha
This area contains three of the best-known terracotta structures of Bishnupur. They are Shyamrai Temple, Kestorai Temple and the Rasmancha. This is a compact area and walking can be a good leisurely option. People who are short of time can opt for a cycle rickshaw.
- 1 Rasmancha. Built in 1600 by Bir Hambir it is the oldest standing structure in Bishnupur. The pyramidal structure stands on a high platform approached by a long flight of stairs. It consists of arched entrances separated by pillars and is crowned with a stepped pyramidal structure surrounded by smaller typical Bengal styled sloped roofed structures. It is architecturally unique and one of its kind in the whole of Bengal, probably in the whole of India. Sadly apart from a few floral lotus motif the Rasmancha does not contain any terracotta art work. It is not a temple and hence does not house any idol but during the festival of Ras all the idols from different temples of Bishnupur are brought at the Rashmancha for public display.
- 2 Shyamrai Temple (Pancha Ratna Temple). The temple has five pinnacle, hence the name Panch Ratna. Built in 1643 by King Raghunath Singha. It is one of the largest temples of Bishnupur. The temple is accessible by triple arched entrance on all the four sides All the walls are richly decorated with terracotta carvings featuring aspects of Lord Krishna’s life.
- 3 Gumgarh. A window door less square structure located atop a small mound. Nothing much is known about the construction date and the purpose for which it was built. Some opine it was a prison while other believe it was a granary. Sadly it is nothing spectacular.
- 4 Kestorai Temple (Jorbangla Temple). It follows the jora bangle style of architecture and hence is popularly known as the Jorbangle Temple. Her two buildings shaped like a typical Bengal hut joined together with a small turret on top. It is the most interesting one from the architectural point of view. Built by King Raghunath Singha Dev II in 1655 it is considered as one of the finest example of terracotta art in Bengal. All four sides of the temple are covered with the most intricate terracotta panels covering a wide range of topics. Panels of ships and boats are quiet in the temple. There are also several panels from the two great epics but a panel depicting Bishma is sarasajya (bed of arrows) stands out among all.
- 5 Radheshyam Temple. Just next to the Kestorai Temple is the Radhashyam Temple. This Ek – ratna (Single Pinnacled) temple is built of laterite stone and contains lime stone stucco decoration. The temple is enclosed with high walls and is entrance consists of a triple domed Islamic style gateway. The temple dating back to 1758 was constructed by the Malla King Chaitanya Singha.
- 6 Lalji Temple. A little away is the Radha Laljiu Temple, built 100 years earlier than the Radhashyam Temple the temple follows a similar single pinnacled structure. Built by the Malla King Bir Singha in 1658 it is considered as the finest laterite stone temple in Bishnupur.
- 7 Mrinmoyee Temple. Just opposite the Radhashyam Temple is the Mrinmoyee Temple, the oldest temple of Bishnupur. Sadly the old structure no longer exists and the ancient idol of Mrinmoyee is housed in a newly constructed structure. Mrinmoyee is an incarnation of Goddess Durga and durga puja is performed at the temple.
- 8 Choto Pathar Darja (Small Stone Gateway). Once the temple town of Bishnupur was surrounded by a high wall complete with bastions. The walls were punctured by gateways gateways providing access to the fortified temple town. The fortified walls have long crumbled to dust and a couple of gateways remain on the northern end of the city. The Choto Pathar Darja (or small stone gateway) is the souther of the two gateways. The small gateway with an arched passageway is built of laterite stone.
- 9 Baro Pathar Darja (Big Stone Gateway, Gate of Old Fort). This is the second of the two surviving gateways of the fortified temple town of Bishnupur. This lies north of the small stone gateway and is much larger in size. Unlike its smaller counterpart, this gateway is not just a passageway but comes with a complete defensive mechanism. The double-tiered gateway comes in with a guard house at the top level whole with narrow slits allowing the archers and the gunmen to fire their shots. North of the gateway is a 17th-century laterite stone chariot, which follows the ekaratna (single-pinacled) style of architecture.
South of Rasmancha
This section contains no terracotta temples but houses seven single pinnacled (ek ratna) temples made of laterite stones. Apart from the seven temples there is a reconstructed old temple. The area also contains a huge cannon. The area also contains the artificial lake and the local museum. This area is also compact lush green area and best explored on foot. People who are short of time can opt for a cycle rickshaw.
- 10 Dalmadal Cannon, Dalmadal Para. Bishnupur has something more to offer than temples. The massive Dalmadal Cannon is one such attraction. The 1742 built cannon weighs 112 quintal and measures 3.8 meter with a diameter of 30 cm, including a muzzle of 29.2 cm. According to legend, when the Marathas attacked Bishnupur in 1742 Lord Madan Mohan himself fired the gun to drive them away.
- 11 Chhinnamasta Temple (Temple of the severed head godeses). Devi Chhinnamasta is the goddess with the severed head. She carries her severed head in one hand and other she carries a khara (sword like weapon). The present Chhinnamasta Temple is a new structure and has no historic elements. It is an active temple and photography of the idol is strictly prohibited.
- 12 Nandalal Temple. This is the first of the seven single pinnacle temples and lies of the left hand side of the road, leading from the Chhinnamasta Temple. It is a south facing temple with a triple-arched entrance. It has a square plan and stands on a raised platform. It has very little ornamentation of shallow relief work. Originally the temple was plastered with lime but only traces of it remains to this day. The temple has no foundation plaque but according to architectural style it was possible erected sometime in the 17th century.
- 13 Jor Mandir. This cluster of three single pinnacle (ek ratna) temple and lies on the opposite side the Nandalal Temple. All the three temples follow the square plan and are constructed on a raised platform. Among the three some beautiful stucco work can still be seen in the central one. These temples were built by Malla King Gopal Singh in 1726.
- 14 Radhagovinda Temple. This is the fifth single pinnacle (ek ratna) temple and lies just ahead of the Jor Mandir complex. An dedicatory inscription of the southern face of the temple say that it was built by Krishna Singh in 1729. On south eastern corner of the temple is a small brick built chariot shaped in the form of a miniature temple.
- 15 Radhamadhab Temple. A short distance away is the 1737 built Radhamadhav Temple. The ek – ratna temple is accompanied by a do – chala (double sloped roofed) structure. The temple is built by Churamony Devi, wife of Krishna Singh. The temple still contains some interesting stucco work featuring animals.
- 16 Kalachand Temple. Further down the road is the Kalachand Temple with its towering pinnacle. Built in 1656 by the Malla King Raghunath Singh temple once covered with stucco decoration, only traces of it remains to this day.
- 17 Lal Garh Park and Watch Tower, Dalmadal Para. Located east of the seven single pinnacle (ek ratna) is the artificial lake of Lal Bandh (Bandh means dam). The lake dates back to the time of the Malla King Bir Singh II (reign 1657 -77). On the south eastern part of the lake is the Lal Garh Park. Garh literally means fort but sadly no traces of the fort remains to this day. It is a modern urban park with landscaped gardens. The only ancient structure is a well, which is said to be the entrance of an underground tunnel. The entrance of the well is sealed off due to security reasons. At the southern end of the park is a watch tower providing great views of the surrounding. The tower offers an bird's eye view of the seven single pinnacle (ek ratna) towering above the lush green forested canopy.
- 18 Acharya Jogesh Chandra Purakriti Bhaban (Bishnupur Museum). The museum is houses in a two storied building just east of the Bishnupur Tourist Lodge. It houses artifacts not only from Bishnupur but the entire Bankura District and beyond. The museum exhibits stone and copper age artifacts. The music gallery showcases musical instruments of Bishnupur gharana. The textile gallery exhibits famous local sarees like baluchari and swarnachari sarees. There is a collection of terracotta artifacts made by award winning local artists. ₹ 5.
This area contains the famous Madanmohan Temple, the fourth and last major terracotta structure of Bishnupur. There are three other terracotta temples near by. All four temples are located in close vicinity to each other but far from the other areas and hotels, and are best explored on an auto or toto.
- 19 Madanmohan Temple. King Durjana Singh Deva built the temple in 1694 AD in the ekaratna style, a square flat-roofed building with carved cornices, surmounted by a pinnacle. Impressive carvings on the walls depict scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas. The temple is enclosed inside a high walled complex. Entrance is from the western side through a do chala (sloped roof) gateway. On the southern side is a do chala (sloped roofed) structure, with arched entrances.
- 20 Malleswar Temple. Unlike other temples of Bishnupur, this is a Shiva temple. It is a single pinnacle stone temple built by Bir Singha in 1622, making it one of the earliest temples of Bishnupur. It differs considerably from the other ekaratna temples of Bishnupur. According to historians, the temple was initially built in deul style, but the sikhar was later replaced with an octagonal turret or ratna. This change in architecture gives the temple an unusual look. The entrance is through a door on the western side.
- 21 Murli Mohan Temple. An ekaratna laterite stone temple located east of the Madammohan Temple. It is built in 1665 by Siromani Devi (also called Chudamani), wife of King Bir Singha. The temple stands on an elevated platform. The extended sloped of the temple is supported by four pillars on each side.
- 22 Radha Vinod Temple. Radha Vinod Temple is an at-chala (eight-sloped roof) brick-built temple located west of Madanmohan Temple. It is built in 1659 by the wife of Raghunath Singha. The eastern side has a triple-arched entrance and the south has a single-arched entrance. Traces of terracotta ornamentation can still be seen on the outer walls.
These two terracotta temples are located next to each other but are quite far from the other areas or hotels. So it is best explored in an auto or toto. These temples are generally not visited by general tourists but are visited by history and terracotta enthusiasts.
- 23 Madangopal Temple. Madangopal Temple is a pancharatna (five-pinnacled) temple built of laterite stone. It was built in 1665 by Shrimoni Devi, wife of Bir Singha.
- 24 Sridhar Temple. The only navaratna (nine-pinnacled) temple in Bishnupur with rich terracotta ornamentation.
It is also a great centre for music - the Bishnupur gharana is well known in classical music. Look out for opportunities, check where you stay, if you are an Indian classical music fan.
The town of Bishnupur has several shops selling baluchari and swarnachuri saris, terracotta artefacts, conch shells and artefacts and Dasabatar Cards. Panchmura is a nearby terracotta artisan village which can also be visited.
- Brass Utensils. Brass and German Silver utensils are famous in Bishnupur. Brass and German Silver artefacts are also available.
- Conch shell artifacts. Decorated conch shells and items made out of conch shells, including bangles, are also popular shopping items in Bishnupur
- Dasabatar Cards (Set of hand-painted cards). A card game of 120 cards with 10 suits representing the 10 avatars of Vishnu. The game was introduced by Bir Hambir (reign 1565–1620). It is a complex game played by 5 players. The circular cards of four and a half inches in diameter are works of art and collector's items. The cards are made of several layers of cloth pasted together with glue, made out of crushed tamarind seed. Then they are cut into circles of four and a half inches in diameter. The inner side is painted with pictures of the das avatars with organic colours. The reverse side is layered with lac and hence red in colour. Full set (120 cards) cost ₹ 12000 - 15000, Set of 10 ₹ 1500.
- Saris. Handloom saris are in great demand in Bishnupur. Baluchari Saris are famous Bishnupur products. Inspired by the terracotta panels of the temples the saris are woven with replicas of the terracotta panels depicting stories from epics, and historical and religious texts. Swarnachuri is another famous sari of Bishnupur. It follows the same design, but silk threads are replaced with gold threads. Today modern versions of both saris are available.
- Terracotta Artifacts. the terracotta artefacts are the most sort after items while shopping in Bishnupur. Long-necked giraffe-like Bankura Horse is now the symbol of Bengal Handicrafts. These terracotta horses are available in different sizes. Apart from the landmark horses, there are various terracotta artefacts available. They include anything from large salutes to jewellery.
Bishnupur is a small town. One can find various small eateries in and around the temples as well as near the main bus stand. However, one should try Posto-r Bora. You may also try various types of fries (telebhaja) and Sweetmeat near Sibdas Girls school prepared from pure Ghee. If you want a simple Bengali lunch with posto bora, Hotel Monalisa is the place to go.
Hard drinks are generally available in the hotels.
- 1 Bishnupur Tourism Property (Bishnupur Tourist Lodge), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Run by West Bengal Tourism. Double bed, 4 bed and dormitories available here. All rooms have attached bathrooms. Rooms ₹600 and AC-₹1400, ₹2000. Dormitory ₹100.
- 2 Bishnupur Lodge (private hotel), ☏ . ₹200-₹500.
- Hotel Bishnupur, ☏ . ₹200-₹500.
- 3 Hotel Laxmi Park, ☏ , . With a restaurant serving Indian, Chinese and Tandoor food with room service. ICICI Bank and SBI ATMs are available AC & Non AC Rooms (39 Room) @ 200,300,450,700,800,900,1100,1300,1800 as single, Double, three and four bed rooms.
- 4 Mallabhum Lodge (Mallabhum Lodge), Rasikgang, ☏ . Run by Bishnupur. provides budget accommodation in its standard double rooms and comfortable accommodation in its standard rooms, 4-bedded rooms and dorms. ₹500.
- Meghmallar, ☏ . ₹200-₹500.
- 5 Monalisa Lodge, ☏ . ₹250-₹500.
- 6 Udayan Lodge, College Road, ☏ . ₹250-₹600.
- 1 Dihar (8 km from Bishnupur). It is famous for the Saileswar and Sareswar temples. King Prithvimalla of the Malla dynasty built the temples in 1346.It is one of the proto-historic sites that has been discovered. By about 1200-1000 BC chalcolithic people had settled on the north bank of the Dwarakeswar River. After the early historic period nothing noticeable has been discovered at Dihar till Saivite activity around 14th century AD.
- 2 Dharapat (12 km from Bishnupur). There is a 18th century Jain-Hindu temple. There are three excellent stone idols in the temple — two Jain deities and Vishnu. All three are on the outer walls. There are some stone relics in Dharapat. One of them, and a very interesting one, is a statue of Parasnath that has been converted into a Vishnu idol by carefully adding two hands. It obviously signifies the overpowering Hindu influence after the decline of Jainism in the area.
- 3 Joypur. There are some terracotta temples with a thick forest in Joypur. Some highlights include an at-chala temple and two navaratna (nine-pinnacled) temples.
- 4 Panchmura (About 10 km from Bishnupur). The village where they make the famous terracotta horses, with Tridhara Milan Mandir established in 1 July 2022.
- 5 Patrasayer. There are several temples in and around Patrasayer, including the Kalajiriya Shiva temple (a plain brick temple), the Raghuvira temple (a laterite at-chala with terracotta inlay), the Shiva temple at Bamira (a navaratna with ridged turrets and rich terracotta on two sides) and the Radha-Damodara temple at Birsingha (a navaratna with ridged turrets and rich terracotta façade).
- Bankura - 30 km from Bishnupur.
- Biharinath - for a holiday in the lap of nature.
- Jayrambati and Kamarpukur - 43 km. from Bishnupur, birthplaces of Sri Ma Sarada Devi and Sri Ramakrishna Pramahansa. Near Kamarpukur is the historic Garh Mandaran, made famous by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay.
- Mukutmanipur - about 83 km from Bishnupur, by the side of the river Kangsabati. The main attraction is the dam across the river and the hilly landscape.
- Susunia - one of the important hills in Bankura district, rising abruptly from the neighbouring plains to a height of 44 metres. Stone inscriptions of Chandravarma, a 4th-century king, have been discovered here. From Bankura on the Bankura-Purulia road, one has to alight at Chhatna on the 13th km. Susunia is 7 km. north of Chhatna.