Bengali Terracottas


Sri Krsna Slaying Kamsa
Charbangla Temple, North Baranagar, Distrist Murshidabad, West Bengal
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Nov 23, CANADA (SUN) — In past issues of the Sun, we have explored the legacy of adobe temples in West Bengal, and some of the beautiful terracotta artworks contained within and on the outside of these structures. Most recently, we ran a three-part series entitled "The Beauty of Bengali Temples" (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

Today, we begin a new series on the super-excellent transcendental art incorporated into West Bengal's adobe temples. As we consider each of these terracotta panels, fine artworks in their own right, it is astounding to realize that large temple structures are covered, end to end, in such detailed adobe relief panels. Krsna lila pastimes have been preserved for the centuries in these terracotta artworks.

In the example shown above, Sri Krsna is slaying the demon Kangsa (Kamsa). This panel, which is positioned above the right-hand doorway of the temple, shows Krsna killing Kamsa, the tyrant king of Mathura. Balarama stands by, plow resting against his shoulder, and a horn held aloft. Sporting similar clothing and ornaments, there is little difference between the brothers, except that Krsna is larger and more prominent in the action.

Kamsa is seated in full regalia on his throne under the royal parasol. He is wearing a dagger, sword and shield, and is seen here trampled by the right foot of his adolescent adversary. Krsna has caught hold of the demon's crown and it pulling it from the head of Kamsa. The royal diadem has fallen to the ground, and Krsna is about to impart a deadly blow with the fist of his right hand.

Timeline of Terracotta Art in Bengal

In Bengal, Terracottas appear in three distinct evolutionary stages. In the primitive stage, it partakes of the character of Mayuryan and Pre-Mayuryan Art of greater India, the nearest culture-area being the old site of Laurya Nandangarh, near Bettiah.

In the year 1929-30, some terracotta figurines of the Sunga Period were found at Mahasthangarh in the Bogra District. Based on this find, archeologists conclude that Mahasthan represents one of the earliest of the city-sites of Bengal, and was in occupation from the 2nd century B.C. to the 12th century A.D.

In November 1931, a small fragmentary stone slab, bearing six lines of a Mayuryan inscription in Brahmi characters, was discovered almost on the surface of the earth, which created considerable interest among scholars in Bengal. In addition to the identification of Mahasthan with the ancient Pundra-Nagara or Pundra-Vardhana, the date of the site has been pushed back to the 4th century B.C., that is, two centuries earlier than that suggested above, on the strength of a terracotta figurine of the Sunga period that was discovered there during 1930-31 - thus relating the early culture of Bengal to the culture of Mayuryan times.

In this early stage, the terracottas consist of stray cult-pieces of small sizes, analogous to the Bulandibagh and Nandangarh finds in Bettiah, Champaran District.


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