Sonamukhi, located in Bankura district is home to some of the most exquisite terracotta temples built in Bengal that are widely considered to be far more superior to those seen in nearby Bishnupur. Sonamukhi derives it names from the powerful local deity Swarnamukhi Devi with Swarna meaning gold and mukhi meaning face and literally means gold face or golden face. Sonamukhi has been mentioned as the village of weavers and an important trading centre for cotton, silk and clothes in many manuscripts and historical documentation pertaining to the East India Company.
According to the locals, most of the temples seen in this town were built by the affluent cloth merchants and weavers who had established themselves centuries ago. Some of these temples are still standing in the heart of the town but sadly most of them are either in ruins or have collapsed due to decades of neglect.
Sridhar Temple is yet another grand example of the rare Panchabingshati – ratna (Twenty-five pinnacles or peaks) style. This temple is located in the narrow Madani Galli close to Chowrasta in the centre of the town.
Locals say that a rich devout weaver, Kanai Rudra wished to build a magnificent temple in honour of Lord Vishnu and employed Hari Sutradhar. He was instructed to build a temple with intricate terracotta panels that would rival those seen in the temple district of Bankura. Hari Sutradhar went about his task assiduously but when Kanai Rudra paid a visit to the temple on its completion, he was dissatisfied that the entire temple was not covered with terracotta.
It is said that he conveyed the same to Hari and told him not to spare any expense and instead to make it more extravagant. Hari Sutradhar took this as the command of the Lord and painstakingly covered the entire temple structure with the most stunning terracotta work seen at that time.
This west facing temple was built in 1845 with every façade and pillar covered with terracotta relief work. This small but impressive brick temple is two storeyed and has a triple arched entrance on the west side. The temple is built in three levels of twelve, eight, four and the central pinnacle making it twenty-five pinnacles. Unfortunately, these pinnacles are in a dilapidated state and the top portion of the central pinnacle has collapsed completely. The sanctum sanctorum has a Shaligram of Lord Sridhar.
The sheer range of themes and subjects that have been depicted on the panels is staggering and will take hours to study. There are scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharat and Puranas, Krishna Leela, musicians, dancers, social life, animals, birds, foreigners, floral and geometric motifs, the marriage of Lord Shiva, birth of Brahma from the navel of Lord Vishnu, Durga Devi as Mahishasuramardini and sages and saints.
The work on the front two pillars is breath-taking and stands as a testimony to the unparalleled finesse and skill of the artisans. This temple is a spectacular example of the ingenuity of the craftsmen of Bengal who have created masterpieces in terracotta across the state. It is indeed very troubling that the temples in this historic town are in total state of disrepair and uncared for.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)