Bishnupur or ‘land of Vishnu’ has many stunning terracotta temples to its credit but the Madan Mohan Temple stands tall with its outstanding detailed relief work. This centuries-old temple was built by the devout Durjan Singha Dev of Mallabhum around 1695 CE.
Legend has it that the original idol of Madan Mohan in ashtadhatu was actually given to a priest by the renowned saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who came into possession of this swaymabhu idol in the middle of a dense forest. The mighty king Bir Hambir of Mallabhum visited this ashram on the way from a pilgrimage and became so enchanted by the beauty of Madan Mohan that in a state of trance, found himself in conversation with his beloved Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna directed him to take Him to Mallabhum without the knowledge of the priest. Obeying the command of his Guru, Bir Hambir brought Madan Mohan to Mallabhum. Meanwhile, the priest had plunged into despair finding his beloved Lord missing and begged Bir Hambir to return him.
However, Bir Hambir was bound to the instructions of Lord Krishna and refused. Angered and tormented, the priest cursed the Lord that even He would have to leave this holy land in a manner similar to how He left the priest.
This is how the worship of Madan Mohan began in Mallabhum. All the successive Hindu Malla kings were dedicated to the traditional rites and rituals established for Lord Madan Mohan. One of them namely Gopala Singha Dev, threw himself completely in the service of the Lord spending hours in meditation and contemplation and forgot his duties as a king. This was perhaps why he ignored the message of the Marathas who had besieged Mallabhum in 1742 CE. Gopala Singha Dev realised his folly and prayed that his Lord should save him and Mallabhum from a bloody war.
At the dead of night, Gopala Singha Dev suddenly heard the deafening booms of artilleries. As he was pondering over this, a cannoneer entered his chambers and informed him that a little while earlier, he found a cavalry boy in blue riding on a white horse heading towards Munda Malar Ghat with a burning torch. A dazzling light suddenly engulfed the entire area. On seeing this radiance, he fainted and woke up to the sounds of cannons.
The king realized that his benevolent Madan Mohan had come to the aid of Mallabhum and headed to the temple. He was met by a milkman who also had a bizarre story to narrate. He said that he met a boy wearing blue who bought the curd meant for Lord Madan Mohan and paid him with a gold bangle. The king recognised the gold bangle as that which adorned the hand of Madan Mohan. He opened the doors of the temple and rushed inside the sanctum sanctorum. A distinctive smell of burnt gun powder filled the room. The king found soot stains in the hands of Madan Mohan and one bangle missing.
The king became overcome with emotion and wept at the feet of the Lord, grateful that he had protected the kingdom. The Dal Madal cannon is the one fired by Lord Madan Mohan which stands even today and is revered as God’s artillery. During the reign of Chaitanya Singha Dev, Lord Madan Mohan left Mallabhum in accordance with the priest’s curse and is said to be in the Madan Mohan temple at Bagbazar in Kolkata. The original temple was destroyed in an earthquake and the present temple was built.
The Madan Mohan temple stands on a square base measuring 12.2 metres and rises to a height of 10.7 metres. The roof of the temple is built as an ekaratna (single dome) in the typical chala style. The temple is built on a makra pathar (laterite block) platform and earthen bricks. There is a do chala (two roof) gateway with a curved roof. There is a Chandi mandap and natmandir (dancing hall) in the complex. There is a kitchen in the east for preparing Bhog.
Covered porches with arched openings on three sides are seen around the innermost chamber with the main entrance in the west. The temple is created as a double storey with the upper storey meant for rituals during festivals and the lower storey houses Lord Krishna and Radha Devi. The ceilings are ornate and the pillars have intricately detailed sculptures. One of the most famous sculptures is Nabanarikunja where nine females form an elephant.
The frontal façade has spectacular panels depicting stories from Ramayana, Mahabharat, Puranas and Śrīmad Bhāgavata Mahāpurāṇa. There are panels with hunting and war scenes, dancing, musical instruments, Rasa Leela, animals and others. There are beautiful floral, geometric and decorative patterns carved. The arches are also very interesting in their design and structure rendering an interesting play of light and shadow.
There are two magnificent pillars at the entrance of the temple which depict scenes of Lord Hanuman. There is a big tree outside the temple which has a Ganesha-like formation that is worshipped by locals.
This temple is an exemplary example of terracotta panelling dating back centuries. The dedication of the Malla kings to Lord Krishna is seen in every part of the façade.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)