An exquisite 19th century terracotta temple commonly known as the ‘temple in the bazaar’ holds its own in the busy marketplace of Hath-tala (Hathtala) in Illambazaar. This temple draws the interest of visitors from across states for its unusual octagonal shape and stunning terracotta carvings.
Hath-tala Gauranga Mahaprabhu Temple is one of the many temples documented by the late David McCutchion in detail. This temple was complete only to the top of the walls. This octagonal temple measures about 6 feet 2 inches on each side and is richly decorated. This temple is classified as a ridged rekha even though the roof was either unfinished or destroyed. Interestingly, this temple now has a tin roof.
There is a natmandir adjacent to this temple which one is likely to miss in the hustle and bustle of the market. At first glance, one is captivated by the detailed panels seen on the facades but, on a closer look, it is evident that this temple is neglected and crumbling under the pressure of the population. The lower panels of the temples are in a state of disrepair and are falling off as we speak.
Each side has an arched doorway that has collapsed in some part and a distinctive panel above it which is in a reasonably good condition. As you walk around the temple, you can see a panel of Goddess Durga perhaps as Mahishasura Mardini seated on a lion flanked by Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi on her right and Goddess Saraswati and Lord Kartikeya on her left. There is the traditional chalchitra that stretches on both sides of the figures framing this divine scene. The chalchitra appears to be representing the divine radiance of Goddess Durga emanating from her as waves. There is a beautifully designed lotus that is below this panel surrounded by figures who might be musicians.
Another side has a detailed depiction of Krishna Leela where Lord Brahma is seen hiding the calves and cowherds and Lord Krishna manifesting himself as the missing calves and boys to take their place for a whole year. Lord Brahma astonished at this leela of Lord Krishna after finding his captives where he had placed them then seeks refuge in the Lord to understand this leela. The figures of men and women and their dresses along with their facial expressions are a visual delight. You can clearly see what looks like a folded umbrella in the hands of one and even spot the tilak on the forehead of another.
Another spectacular panel on one of its sides is the battle between Lord Rama and Ravana. The carved figures on the sides, traditional motifs, linear elements and stories from the Puranas and Hindu scriptures are fantastic. The Kala Chakra with twelve spokes dominates the entrance of one side. Ganga’s descent along with Bhagiratha witnessed by the entire gamut of creation, Lord Shiva and Parvathi Devi seated on Nandi, Parvathi Devi with Lord Ganesha on her lap, Lord Krishna and Rukmini Devi playing a game of dice, Goddess Shakti in her many forms (possibly Dasha Mahavidya) and others are seen on the panels which appear to also have Tuscan Roman columns and Ionic columns.
The mrtyulatha (creeper of death) seen at the corners has a set pattern of tigers, dogs, men, horses, lions, men and elephants. The panels also have social scenes like soldiers, boats and men and women engaged in daily tasks. The idols of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Shri Nityananda Prabhu are seated in the sanctum sanctorum and daily worship appears to be done.
It is shocking that this temple of great spiritual potency has been totally neglected by the state government even though it is classified as a protected monument. Temples like these located in the old marketplaces very rarely survive the ravages of the weather and time. It is imperative that some effort is put in to preserve and renovate this magnificent structure that was built over two hundred years ago.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)