Temple to Love
239 pages
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Temple to Love

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239 pages
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Description

In richly illustrated detail, identifies a radical new style of temple architecture in 17th-century India and relates it to cultural, political, and religious currents of the time.


"[A]n excellent analytical study of a sensationally beautiful type of temple. . . . This work is not just art historical but embraces . . . religious studies, anthropology, history, and literature." —Catherine B. Asher

"[A]dvances our knowledge of . . . Bengali temple building practices, the complex inter-reliance between religion, state power, and art, and the ways in which Western colonial assumptions have distorted correct interpretation. . . . A splendid book." —Rachel Fell McDermott

In the flux created by the Mughal conquest, Hindu landholders of eastern India began to build a spectacularly beautiful new style of brick temple, known as Ratna. This "bejeweled" style combined features of Sultanate mosques and thatched houses, and included second-story rooms conceived as the pleasure grounds of the gods, where Krishna and his beloved Radha could rekindle their passion. Pika Ghosh uses art historical, archaeological, textual, and ethnographic approaches to explore this innovation in the context of its times. Includes 82 stunning black-and-white images of rarely photographed structures.

Published in association with the American Institute of Indian Studies


Contents
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Note on Transliteration

Introduction
1. Desire, Devotion, and the Double-Storied Temple
2. A Paradigm Shift
3. Acts of Accommodation
4. Axes and the Mediation of Worship
Epilogue: A New Sacred Center

Glossary of Architectural Terms
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Sujets

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Date de parution 20 avril 2005
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EAN13 9780253023537
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"[A]dvances our knowledge of . . . Bengali temple building practices, the complex inter-reliance between religion, state power, and art, and the ways in which Western colonial assumptions have distorted correct interpretation. . . . A splendid book." —Rachel Fell McDermott

In the flux created by the Mughal conquest, Hindu landholders of eastern India began to build a spectacularly beautiful new style of brick temple, known as Ratna. This "bejeweled" style combined features of Sultanate mosques and thatched houses, and included second-story rooms conceived as the pleasure grounds of the gods, where Krishna and his beloved Radha could rekindle their passion. Pika Ghosh uses art historical, archaeological, textual, and ethnographic approaches to explore this innovation in the context of its times. Includes 82 stunning black-and-white images of rarely photographed structures.

Published in association with the American Institute of Indian Studies


Contents
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Note on Transliteration

Introduction
1. Desire, Devotion, and the Double-Storied Temple
2. A Paradigm Shift
3. Acts of Accommodation
4. Axes and the Mediation of Worship
Epilogue: A New Sacred Center

Glossary of Architectural Terms
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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Contemporary Indian Studies
Published in association with the American Institute of Indian Studies
Susan S. Wadley, Chair, Publications Committee/general editor
AIIS Publications Committee/series advisory board
John Echeverri-Gent
Brian Hatcher
David Lelyveld
Martha Selby
Books in this series are recipients of the
Edward Cameron Dimock, Jr. Prize in the Indian Humanities
and the
Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences
awarded by the American Institute of Indian Studies and are published with the Institute s generous support .
A list of titles in this series appears at the back of the book .

This book is a publication of
Indiana University Press
601 North Morton Street
Bloomington, IN 47404-3797 USA
http://iupress.indiana.edu
Telephone orders
800-842-6796
Fax orders
812-855-7931
Orders by e-mail
iuporder@indiana.edu
2005 by Pika Ghosh
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The Association of American University Presses Resolution on Permissions constitutes the only exception to this prohibition.
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ghosh, Pika, date
Temple to love : architecture and devotion in seventeenth-century Bengal / Pika Ghosh.
p. cm. - (Contemporary Indian studies)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-253-34487-5 (cloth : alk. paper)
1. Temples-India-Bengal. 2. Architectural terra-cotta-India-Bengal. 3. Terracotta sculpture, Indic-India-Bengal. 4. Architecture-India-Bengal-17th century. 5. Architecture and religion. I. Title. II. Series.
NA6007.B4G55 2005
726 1 09541409032-dc22 2004016533
1 2 3 4 5 10 09 08 07 06 05

CONTENTS

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Note on Transliteration
Introduction
1 Desire, Devotion, and the Double-Storied Temple
2 A Paradigm Shift
3 Acts of Accommodation
4 Axes and the Mediation of Worship
Epilogue: A New Sacred Center
Glossary of Architectural Terms
Notes
Bibliography
Index
Illustrations
All photographs are by the author unless noted otherwise; drawings are by G. Murugan, The Landscape Company, Bangalore, India .
Illustrations are grouped at the end of each chapter.
Introduction
0.1. Map of South Asia Showing Major Sites Discussed
0.2. Map of Bengali Cultural Region
0.3. South Fa ade, Shyam Ray Temple, Vishnupur
0.4. Temple No. 4, Barakar
0.5. Radha Ballabh Temple, Krishnanagar
0.6. South Fa ade, Keshta Ray Temple, Vishnupur
0.7. Kala Chand Temple, Vishnupur
0.8. Murali Mohan Temple, Vishnupur
0.9. Radha Vinod Temple, Vishnupur
0.10. South Fa ade, Madan Mohan Temple, Vishnupur
0.11. Radha Shyam Temple Compound, Vishnupur
0.12. Temple-Types of Bengal
0.13. East Fa ade, Keshta Ray Temple, Vishnupur
0.14. Domestic Hut, Vishnupur
0.15. Temples No. 1 and 2, Barakar
0.16. Celebration of Ratha at Madan Gopal Temple, Vishnupur
0.17. European Ships, West Fa ade, Keshta Ray Temple, Vishnupur
0.18. Dedicatory Inscription, South Fa ade, Shyam Ray Temple, Vishnupur
Chapter 1
1.1. Central Upper Pavilion, Shyam Ray Temple, Vishnupur
1.2. Terra Cotta Panel Depicting Kirtan , Central Upper Pavilion, Shyam Ray Temple, Vishnupur
1.3. Gokul Chand Temple, Gokulnagar
1.4. Central Upper Pavilion, Gokul Chand Temple, Gokulnagar
1.5. Plan of Shyam Ray Temple, Vishnupur
1.6. Kalanjay Shiva Temple, Patrasayer
1.7. Ratha Procession, Madan Gopal Temple, Vishnupur
1.8. Priest Sushanta Mukhopadhyay Attending upon Madan Mohan and Radha during the Annual Celebration Commemorating the Arrival of the Saint, Srinivas, Who Initiated the Vaishnava Transformation of the Region, Madan Mohan Temple, Vishnupur
1.9. Priest Subrata Pujari Carrying Madan Mohan from the Altar to His Dining Room, Madan Mohan Temple, Calcutta
1.10. Panel Depicting Double-Storied Temple, South Fa ade, Shyam Ray Temple
Chapter 2
2.1. Tantipara Masjid, Gaur
2.2. Qadam Rasul, Gaur
2.3. Goaldi Masjid, Sonargaon
2.4. Jami Masjid, Bagha
2.5. Masjid at Kushumba
2.6. Jami Masjid, Atiya
2.7. Egaroshindur, Sadi s Mosque
2.8. Adina Masjid, Hazrat Pandua
2.9. Motichura Masjid, Rajnagar
2.10. Ruin, Kulut
2.11. Domestic Hut, Birbhum
2.12. Domestic Hut, Birbhum
2.13. Plan of Keshta Ray Temple, Vishnupur
2.14. Porch Ceiling, Shyam Ray Temple, Vishnupur
2.15. Eklakhi Mausoleum, Hazrat Pandua
2.16. Jami Masjid, Salban
2.17. Terra Cotta Wall Panels, Jami Masjid, Bagha
2.18. Jami Masjid Interior, Bagha
2.19. Court Scene, South Fa ade, Keshta Ray Temple
2.20. Tiger Taming, South Fa ade, Keshta Ray Temple
Chapter 3
3.1. Radha Damodar Temple, Ghutgeriya
3.2. Radha Damodar Temple Doorway, Ghutgeriya
3.3. Mathurapur Deul, Madhukeli
3.4. Terra Cotta Ornamentation, Mathurapur Deul, Madhukeli
3.5. Ratneshvar Temple, Jagannathpur
3.6. Malleshvar Shiva Temple, Vishnupur
3.7. Jadab Ray Temple, Jadabnagar
3.8. Terra Cotta Ornamentation of South Fa ade, Madan Mohan Temple, Vishnupur
3.9. Nandakishor Temple, Dvadasbari
3.10. Malla Estate Garden Pavilion, Vishnupur
3.11. Family of Shiva, North Porch, Shyam Ray Temple
3.12. Goddesses, West Porch, Shyam Ray Temple
Chapter 4
4.1. Worshippers Gathered in the Courtyard, North-South Axis, Madan Gopal Temple, Vishnupur
4.2. Plan of Madan Mohan Temple Compound, Vishnupur
4.3. Plan of Gokul Chand Temple Compound, Gokulnagar
4.4. Natmandir , Madan Mohan Temple, Vishnupur
4.5. Natmandir , Gokul Chand Temple, Gokulnagar
4.6. Priestly Activities in the Kitchen, East-West Axis, Gokul Chand Temple, Gokulnagar
4.7. Plan of Madan Mohan Temple, Vishnupur
4.8. Plan of Gokul Chand Temple, Gokulnagar
4.9. Plan of Radha Madhav Temple, Vishnupur
4.10. North Sanctum Wall, Shyam Ray Temple, Vishnupur
4.11. West Sanctum Wall, Shyam Ray Temple, Vishnupur
4.12. Images of Chaitanya and Nityananda, Altar on North-South Axis, Radha Shyam Temple, Vishnupur
4.13. Image of Krishna as Radha Shyam, Altar on East-West Axis, Radha Shyam Temple, Vishnupur
4.14. Kirtan Performance, South Fa ade, Madan Mohan Temple
4.15. Drummers, South Fa ade, Madan Mohan Temple
4.16. Blind Doorway, North Porch, Shyam Ray Temple, Vishnupur
4.17. South Fa ade, Lower Story, Shyam Ray Temple, Vishnupur
4.18. Wall Frieze, East Fa ade, Shyam Ray Temple, Vishnupur
4.19. Culmination of the Mahabharata , South Entrance, Madan Mohan Temple
4.20. Bamboo Frame of Hut, Outskirts of Vishnupur
4.21. Mihrab , Tantipara Masjid, Gaur
4.22. Mihrab , Jami Masjid, Bagha
4.23. Mihrab , Jami Masjid, Kushumba
4.24. Central Mihrab , Sadi s Mosque, Egaroshindur
4.25. South Doorway into Sanctum, Radha Vinod Temple, Vishnupur
4.26. South Doorway into Sanctum, Madan Mohan Temple, Vishnupur
4.27. Animal-Headed Motif, Madan Mohan Temple, Vishnupur
4.28. Rasamandala , South Fa ade, Shyam Ray Temple, Vishnupur
4.29. Krishnalila Panels, South Fa ade, Keshta Ray Temple, Vishnupur
Epilogue
5.1. Govindadeva Temple, Vrindavan
5.2. Laterite Ratha , Vishnupur
Acknowledgments
The writing of this book was as humbling an experience as it was exhilarating. This project would not have been possible without the assistance of several institutions. The research and writing of the dissertation was funded by a Social Science Research Council Dissertation Research Grant, an American Institute of Bangladesh Studies Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, and a School of Arts and Sciences Fellowship and Schapiro Weitzenhofer Fellowship from the University of Pennsylvania. Subsequent revisions were facilitated greatly by an American Institute of Indian Studies Senior Fellowship, a J. Paul Getty Postdoctoral Fellowship in the History of Art and Humanities, and at the University of North Carolina from a Junior Faculty Development Grant, Research and Study Leave, and grants from the University Research Council and the College of Arts and Sciences.
Various people and organizations in Bangladesh made the research possible. Institutional support was provided by the Government of Bangladesh Department of Archaeology and the field museums, particularly at Mahasthangarh. I owe an immense debt of gratitude to Perween Hasan, who has always been a role model, a mentor, and a friend. Susan Lee, Khaled Ashraf, Mrs. Amina Chowdhury, and Dr. Rokiya Kabir assisted in various ways. In India I am grateful to the Archaeological Survey of India for the generous access to monuments provided by Mrs. Kasturi Gupta Menon, Mr. Bimal Bandopadhyay of the Bengal Circle, and Shekhar Datta, Bholanath Chatterjee, and the many members of the Vishnupur Subdivision. I thank Chittaranjan Dasgupta, Secretary of the Vishnupur Sahitya Parishad, for his insights into terra cotta iconography, and his family, who recounted the tales of Vishnupur s gods over many cups of tea. Achintya Banerjee shared his knowledge of the town and its monuments and copied many local publications for me. Without the assistance of Dilip Datta I would not have been able to conduct many of the trips to remote temples in Bankura. Shyambhu Mitra, Dr. Ramakanta Chakravarti, Debarshi Nandi, Dr. Doel Mukerji, and Dr. Nimai Choudhury facilitated the field trips and my thinking about the monuments I examined. The curators of the Asutosh Museum of Calcutta University and the Gurusaday Dutta Museum provided generous access to their collections. Prashant Bhat and G. Murugan of The Landscape Company, Bangalore, spent many hours helping to make the drawings that sometimes express the ideas of the book more cogently than the text. The monuments could not have been measured, nor their layers of reconstruction unveiled, without the enterprise and meticulousness of Gangadhar Das of the Archaeological Survey of India. His goodwill in the town got us access to the interiors of several living temples. He also helped me discover the town and made our stay during that project extremely enjoyable.
This book is based on my doctoral dissertation, which was supervised by Michael Meister at the University of Pennsylvania and generously advised by Tony K. Stewart of North Carolina State University. I owe them an enormous debt of gratitude for their encouragement, thoughtful suggestions, and advice. My intellectual debt to Michael Meister in my understanding of the monuments is clear throughout this work. Tony Stewart guided my reading of Gaudiya Vaishnava literature and deeply shaped my understanding of that material.
The revision of that dissertation has been enriched by wonderful suggestions and insightful readings provided by various scholars: Catherine Asher, Janice Leoshko, Padma Kaimal, Pallabi Chakrabarty, Leela Prasad, Joanne Waghorne, Dorothy Verkerk, Mary Sheriff, Ajay Sinha, Margaret Ewalt, Sarah Weiss, David Gilmartin, David Curley, Richard Eaton, Rebecca Manring, Tracy Pinchtman, Donna Wulff, Cynthia Atherton, and Debby Hutton. Rebecca Brown deserves special thanks for painstakingly going through the entire manuscript. Many scholars generously shared their knowledge and advice about publication, including Frederick Asher, John Cort, and Romila Thapar. I thank the anonymous readers and the committee of the American Institute of Indian Studies, particularly Susan Wadley and Brian Hatcher, who nominated the manuscript for the Edward C. Dimock Prize.
My family has supported this project with enthusiasm since its inception. My grandmother accompanied me on most of the field trips to deserted temples and spent many months in Vishnupur, asking the most basic questions, which made me stop and reconsider my assumptions. My sister and brother-in-law took on several adventurous field trips and ran numerous errands toward the completion of this project. To my mother and my mother-in-law I owe a huge debt for doggedly pushing me to fulfill dreams they did not have the opportunity to pursue. Rai arrived at the tail end of the process and gave me a new perspective on the whole enterprise. Branavan read, heard, and responded to innumerable versions, and shared his faith from our graduate school years to the end.
Note on Transliteration
For the sake of accessibility, diacritics have been avoided, and the names of sites and monuments are standardized in accordance with current popular use and the Archaeological Survey of India. The names of well-known historical figures, deities, communities, and texts (for example, Chaitanya, Krishna, Vaishnava, and Ramayana) appear in their generally accepted anglicized form. The diacritized versions of Sanskrit technical architectural terms are provided in parentheses when they are used for the first time.

Introduction
For the pleasure of Sri Radhika and Krishna a new bejeweled temple was given by Maharaja Sri Raghunatha Singh, son of Sri Vir Hambir, the king in the Malla Saka year 949 [1643]. 1
This proclamation greets us as we approach the main entrance to the Shyam Ray Temple, one of the earliest monuments in the town of Vishnupur in Bankura district, West Bengal ( figures 0.1 , 0.2 , 0.3 , 0.18 ). The inscription boldly asserts that the temple is new by using the phrase new bejeweled temple ( navaratna ratnam ), and unveils the new Ratna (jewel) typology. 2 As architectural innovations reformulated the region s traditional temples, this new multi-faceted form emerged, reflecting-like a jewel-the remarkable creativity and cultural fluidity of the period.
These seventeenth-century monuments have remained unnoticed for the most part, occupying the margins between architectural formations that have been given pride of place in the mapping of South Asia s artistic heritage. As one art historian recently observed, they are no more than a footnote in South Asian architecture, and indeed few introductory textbooks deem them worthy of an illustration. (In chapter 2 I address the historical conditions that produced such a canon.) However, cultural interstices are often the site of some of the most exciting and creative interactions, as much recent scholarship, new historicism, and subaltern studies, to name a couple of strands, have shown us. In the case of seventeenth-century Bengal, the energetic architectural experimentation left its mark on two major empires: that of the Mughals, who dominated north India during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and later that of the British. To the Mughals it provided the bangla 3 that Emperor Shah Jahan employed to frame his image as a cosmopolitan world ruler, and for the British it inspired the ubiquitous bungalows that gradually dotted, and even plotted, their domination of South Asia through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This book is my attempt to bring these temples to the fore, to promote an appreciation of the originality that their inscriptions marveled at.
From the late sixteenth to the seventeenth century, architects experimented with the region s traditional curvilinear-towered temple form, which belongs within mainstream north Indian Nagara (N gara) temple construction ( figure 0.4 ). These experiments culminated in the development of a completely new temple-type that stands apart from that preexisting tradition. Features of mosques and local thatched huts were combined to form a double-storied temple-type that served newly developing religious traditions. It also served the needs of local Hindu rulers for visual and symbolic self-definition in a world no longer dominated by Hindu monarchs. As Mughal presence was gradually established after the conquest of Bengal in 1575, local Hindu landholders took advantage of their distance from the imperial capital at Delhi and the delays and difficulties of establishing a provincial administration. During this time they enjoyed a remarkable degree of independence. They employed sacred architecture to assert their role in the dynamic Indo-Islamic political culture of the region, and to redefine it for themselves.
The inscription cited above also points to the reconceptualization of temples as the pleasure grounds of the gods, where Krishna and his beloved Radha could rekindle their passion. Krishna is the focus of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the bhakti (devotional) movement led by the Bengali saint Chaitanya (1486-1533) that swept up Bengal and Vrindavan in north India in a frenzy of ecstatic devotion and passionate song and dance over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 4 Chaitanya advocated a deeply emotional and intensely personal engagement with Krishna, modeled on Radha s single-minded dedication. The inscriptions deployment of terms such as mudita (pleasure, happiness, delight) and rasa (taste, deliciousness), given specific connotation in a century of literary texts, leaves no doubt that the monuments were dedicated for the expression of this intensely passionate love shared by Radha and Krishna. Two terra cotta depictions of the divine lovers flank the text. On the left Krishna plays his flute for Radha, while a devotee kneels at their feet. On the right, however, is a less conventional image of Krishna seated with Radha on his lap. He lifts her chin with one hand to draw her closer. The intimacy of the amorous scene makes the text s claim explicit. The inscription thus heralds the new architectural form as the immanent site of Krishna and Radha s divine play ( lila ), the object of the devotee s aspiration. 5
This new epigraphic convention marks a shift in what a temple meant to Bengal s Gaudiya Vaishnava community at the time. It diverges from earlier inscriptions that typically emphasized the role of the king as patron and his personal relationship to the primary deity, praised the donor s generosity in funding the monument, and indicated the specific end sought through the act of patronage. 6 The formula embraced at Vishnupur, one focused on Radha and Krishna s mutual pleasure, was repeated for more than a hundred years with minor variation, emphasizing through the epigraphs the purpose of the new bejeweled architectural form.
Over a hundred red brick and terra cotta Ratna temples studded the lush green delta, from Midnapore and Bankura districts in southwestern West Bengal to Jessore and Khulna in southern Bangladesh, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 7 Monuments surviving in relatively good condition at sites such as Vishnupur in Bankura district, Ghurisha in Birbhum district, and Krishnanagar, Bansberia, and Guptipara in Hooghly district in West Bengal share significant commonalities and can be treated as a regional architectural corpus ( figures 0.2 , 0.5 ). The end of Mughal rule can be conveniently used as an approximate date to separate these temples from those built subsequently, when increased European contact and then British political hegemony introduced further complexities in temple form and style.
This study revolves around a smaller group revealing the early burst of architectural experimentation. I focus on the structures standing at Vishnupur, where over thirty temples were built in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The town is thus an experimental laboratory, driven by the religious enthusiasm of Gaudiya Vaishnavism and sponsored by the Mallas, a dynasty of local kings that came to power at the end of the sixteenth century and held sway over most of Bankura district during the next hundred and fifty years. 8 Most of these monuments are dated and therefore facilitate discussions about the beginnings of this new architectural style. In addition, the circumstances surrounding their patronage and use are better known than at other sites. Therefore, while I will discuss the broad range of Ratna temples in the Malla territories and beyond for comparative reasons, the primary monuments addressed in this book are the Shyam Ray Temple of 1643 ( figure 0.3 ), the Keshta Ray Temple of 1655 ( figures 0.6 , 0.13 ), the Kala Chand Temple of 1656 ( figure 0.7 ), the Lalji Temple of 1658, the Madan Gopal and Murali Mohan Temples of 1665 ( figure 0.8 ), the Radha Vinod Temple of 1659 ( figure 0.9 ), the Madan Mohan Temple of 1694 ( figure 0.10 ), the Radha Madhav Temple of 1737, and the Radha Shyam Temple of 1758 ( figure 0.11 ). Spanning the years from the mid-seventeenth century through the mid-eighteenth century, these temples enable investigation into the formation of the Ratna temple form while they illustrate the new space for Krishna and Radha s pleasure gardens within the religion, politics, and social organization of Bengal during these years.
This book examines the monumental transformations in the purpose and formulation of Hindu temples claimed in the inscription s assertion of originality. The architecture reveals radical changes from the way in which temples were organized earlier. As a series, the temples disclose various experiments that the architects conducted to incorporate a festival pavilion, and therefore point to the transition from a single- to a two-storied form. The addition of a second altar in the sanctum below resulted in a reorientation of temples from the conventional east-west axis to a north-south one that is unusual. Facing a central courtyard, the new south-facing altar in the sanctum provided the focus of collective ritual activity, while the east-west axis was converted into one of priestly services. Further, porches were gradually closed off to provide space for more private worship. These changes culminated in the organization of a temple compound with multiple structures. A close scrutiny of the buildings hand in hand with observation of current practice thus also reveals the ways in which the new temples shaped ritual worship. The choices in the content and organization of terra cotta imagery on the monuments fa ades draw attention to these novel elements, as do the confident declarations of their inscriptions.
These distinctive architectural features have never been analyzed before, not least because entry into many parts of the temple complexes is difficult. To protect the sanctity of the deity s space, priests demarcate the threshold beyond which devotees may not enter, and the attendants of the Archaeological Survey of India stand guard to protect the monuments from vandalism. Unprotected monuments have often fallen into such ruin that their ceilings and stairs have given way. Further, some sites are remote and difficult to reach, off the arterial roads and railway lines. They require an art historian to wade across streams with a camera and tripod, or to crawl through the dense undergrowth of teak forests. Consequently, the inaccessibility of sites and of the entire temple compound has contributed to the neglect of their architectural properties in both popular discussion and scholarly literature. In attempting to correct this, this study fills a gap in the scholarship on eastern Indian art and architecture, between the literature on the earlier Pala sculpture and Sultanate mosques and that on later Bengali art that expresses a colonial world and then resists British power.
There are, however, many other problems in attempting to produce a narrative surrounding these temples, and these too may well have deterred scholarly commitment to them. For a start, the examples that remain standing are chance survivors from a much larger corpus of monuments that have perished for a variety of reasons, including the merciless monsoon rains and the dense vegetation they bring with them. When I walked around Vishnupur for the first time in the summer of 1994, I recall feeling distinctly dismayed at the vigorous banyan trees erupting through brick and mud ruins. I seemed to encounter them in larger numbers than the beautiful, well-preserved temples. The ruins are living testimony that there were probably many more innovations and variations that we can no longer discern or appreciate. Likewise, three hundred years have left their mark on the survivors. Most have been altered, modified by generations of users who made the space their own. A summer of measuring the structures with an architect-surveyor revealed that doors have been closed off, porches blocked, and halls transformed into shelters for the local homeless and madmen. Scratching through the lush green gardens and floral beds, I found rubble that marked courtyard floors and foundations of accessory structures that have fallen away. Such changes hide the architectural patterns that only a near-decade of searching had taught me to look for. Likewise, the temples disclosed the dramatic shifts in appearance caused by the stripping of the heavy white lime plaster that protected the terra cotta surfaces. However, a few temples that continue to be owned privately are repainted regularly, in vivid colors that highlight the terra cotta sculptural ornamentation ( figure 0.5 ). 9 They remind us of the aesthetic shifts that occur over three hundred years. They also point to the divergent interests of devotional communities, who wish to maintain a ritually potent building, and archaeological preservation, which is driven by a modernist preference for terra cotta rather than brightly colored paint. They reiterate the lessons learned from the Parthenon-that although monuments standing before us offer a tangible experience of the past, they yet remain tantalizing, for there is no unmediated view into the time and place from which they came. Inevitably, my narrative is a conscious selection, arrangement, and interpretation from this fragmentary and often altered archaeological record. Precarious though the process admittedly is, in conjunction with material available from a variety of other sources, and drawing upon my art history training and lived experience in Bengal, I began to discern broad patterns. Though some monuments inevitably seem to contradict any attempt to identify patterns in cultural phenomena, as a group they allowed me to imagine how architecture was defined by and also shaped the devotional activities around which a community cohered at Vishnupur in the seventeenth century.
After my first encounter with these monuments and their inscriptions, I looked for texts that could help me understand the historical conditions of their making. Those who work on premodern Bengal are only too aware of the lack of documentary evidence regarding who produced buildings and images, and under what circumstances. No contracts or memoirs survive, and we have to correlate tangential references in the literary genres and inscriptions with the visual evidence of architecture and terra cotta imagery. For this period these textual sources are several. Among them, the sacred literary works produced by the Vaishnava religious community were devoted to asserting its distinctive theological propositions, producing hagiographies that celebrated Chaitanya and other spiritual leaders, and composing songs that in their lyricism match the emotions of Krishna and Radha that they describe. In addition, what is now called the mangalkavya genre was a performance tradition glorifying deities such as Chandi and Manasa. Its oral component was gradually transformed into written texts that provide material for uncovering the processes of social change that the authors comment upon. The sacred biographies provide glimpses of the larger religious processes and networks within which Vishnupur s architectural formation occurs, and the mangalkavya narratives suggest the transition from a forested to an urban world, and from a tribal to a Hindu one. Although none of the major works were composed at Vishnupur, they provide a broad background against which I situate the architectural experimentation. Because I am an art historian, my perusal of these texts is preliminary, particularly when compared to the work of scholars who devote lifetimes to these texts, and indeed, I turned to these scholarly interpretations as guideposts in my forays.
When I returned to Vishnupur with some of the larger historical processes in mind, I followed the inscriptions direction and sought out the gods for whose pleasure these monuments were created. The presence of Vishnupur s many forms of Krishna is felt deeply to this day, and the town s geographical and architectural features are tied closely to narratives of their miracles. I learned these stories when priests or attendants narrated the episodes that occurred at their temple to gatherings of pilgrims, and from local devotees who regularly came to the temple, usually when the crowd dispersed. Various other residents of the town also related them to me. Mrs. Salil Singh, one of the four daughters-in-law of Vishnupur s last king, for example, stood at the doors of the palace, pointed to the dusty red road winding from the stone gateway to the palace, and told me how one of these Krishna images, Madan Mohan, had come galloping on his horse down this path. I also became familiar with the town s oral lore from local tour guides, librarians, schoolteachers, Archaeological Survey attendants, and some of the women who befriended me. Gangadhar Das of the Archaeological Survey office cautioned me to tread lightly in the seemingly abandoned temples, for their deities had still not forsaken them. Through him I learned of their nocturnal activities and people s unsuspecting encounters with them. Later, when I began to collect the cheap paperbacks and pamphlets circulating in Vishnupur s bazaars, I encountered other versions. These local Bengali texts range from pilgrimage guidebooks that focus on describing the sites of the gods accomplishments to mahatmya s, verses of praise glorifying Vishnupur s major deities. Together, they allowed me glimpses into how the temples provided suitable sites for the gods enjoyment.
I also observed daily worship and festivals performed in living temples to understand the role of the rituals and the monuments in the life of the local community. I spent many lunch hours eating bhog , the leftovers of the gods meal, and numerous evenings attending singing sessions and trailing festival crowds and processions with my camera. At these occasions I also had the opportunity to ask the participants about their experience and how they understood it. I have relied on these traces from current practice to illuminate the architectural forms raised over three hundred years ago because this kind of material is unavailable from any texts surviving from the period. Many of my conclusions about the ways in which architecture defined, and was in turn dictated by, ritual practice are drawn from piecing together this ethnographic evidence and other less direct clues gleaned from the region s folklore and textual descriptions. Some of the temples communities claim a history of unbroken affiliation, as succeeding generations of priests, caretakers, musicians, garland makers, and potters claim to have served the gods from the time the Malla rulers established the institutions and appointed their families. Such links to the past suggest that despite inevitable changes in practice and meaning, the shared elements begin to allow for a cautious reconstruction of the conditions that motivated the dramatic spatial reorganization undertaken in temple architecture of the seventeenth century.
The devotional songs performed in the temples also yield glimpses into the meanings of the activities and the monuments that are unavailable from other sources. A wealth of songs written in Bengali even before the temples were built give ideal descriptions of Radha and Krishna s divine love affair as it was conducted in the idyllic Vrindavan. The vividness of these descriptions provides verbal counterparts to the images that sheath the temple walls and allowed me to imagine how the visual imagery may have been deployed for the re-creation of Krishna s pleasure. The songs are themselves products of, and continue to be used for, the mental re-creation of these events by devotees. Together with the depictions of devotional experience in the Vaishnava literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the words of the songs provide an invaluable resource for gaining access to the cultural imagination that also produced the monuments where the events were ritually re-enacted. Before approaching that cultural process, however, it is first necessary to identify the architectural forms that constitute this study.
Temple Forms
Three major categorizations of Bengali temples are in popular use at present and have been absorbed into the scholarly literature. These are called Chala, Nagara (locally called rekha ), and Ratna ( figure 0.12 ). Perhaps the region s most distinctive contribution to temple architecture is the chala , a form of temple based very closely on the Bengali village hut with its thatch roof (compare figures 0.13 , 0.14 ). The simplest such hut ( chala ) has a square or rectangular base and a bamboo skeleton in its walls, which is filled with reeds or matting and reinforced with mud. The thatched roof is also supported on a bamboo frame. This bamboo frame provides the distinctive curved upper ridge and bottom rim to the roof that is mimicked in Bengali mosques and temples.
While this thatch roof is an ancient form, in existence at least from Vedic times, its use as a source for monumental architecture does not seem to have preceded the period of Sultanate rule, beginning in the thirteenth century, in Bengal. Thatched roof-types are imitated in the construction of Sultanate monuments from the fourteenth century, and by the seventeenth century the Vaishnava temples also begin to reproduce the basic features of the huts. Chala , one name for these huts, is applied to these temples in popular usage and local literature. Specifically, chala is thatch, and a thatched roof or covering. 10 With reference to these temples, it is used to describe a sloping roof with curved ends made in stone or brick that imitates the thatch original.
The two basic roof forms used in chala temples are the two-sided (that is, a gable roof consisting of two elongated eaves that converge at a curved ridge) and the four-sided (where four triangular eaves converge to a point at the top). The first is used to cover a rectangular structure, the second a square. Common parlance calls these forms do-chala (two eaves) and char-chala (four eaves). More complex combinations are used for seventeenth-century temples. An at-chala (eight eaves) is constructed in two levels, with a four-eaved roof on the lower structure surmounted by a smaller four-eaved upper structure ( figure 0.5 ). The Radha Vinod temple at Vishnupur imitates this type ( figure 0.9 ). When two gable-roofed huts are juxtaposed, sharing a common long wall, the name given is jor bangla , meaning twin Bengali huts ( figure 0.14 ). The Keshta Ray Temple at Vishnupur is an example of this type ( figure 0.13 ).
A second category is a curvilinear-towered temple called Nagara in the scholarly literature on South Asian temples. This tower is ornamented with vertical bands of vines or lata ( lat ). This latina Nagara temple was dominant in Bengal and throughout north India from the seventh century onward. Michael Meister has defined the form in the following way:
Curvilinear in outline, made up of laminated planes, this type of tower is marked into storeys by ribbed malaka stones on the corners and divided into vertical creepers ( lat s) by offsets, established in the plan and extending into the superstructure. This unified Latina (formula with lat s) temple spread rapidly across north India and into the Deccan by the seventh century as a viable and vital symbol of emergent Hinduism. 11
In Bengal, only a handful of these single-towered temples survive from the reign of the Pala and Sena dynasties (eighth-twelfth centuries) and from the following period of Sultanate rule, the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries ( figures 0.4 , 0.15 ). The few that remain are located mostly in the southwestern part of Bengal, between the Ajay and Damodar rivers in the north and the Rupnarayan in the south (the districts of Puruliya, Bankura, and Burdwan, and parts of Midnapore, Hooghly, and Howrah). In this region, these temples are called Rekha Deul (curved-spired palaces of the gods), a terminology shared with the neighboring region of Orissa. In this case, the curvilinear shape of the tower is the defining characteristic used to name these monuments, rather than the vertical ornamental bands of creepers.
Ratna, the third categorization commonly used for seventeenth-century temples, is less easy to define. The term is often used to identify temples with spires, but is also used to label the shikhara ( ikhara , spire) as well. In this book I turn to the dedicatory inscriptions of these monuments, where the designation ratna is applied fairly consistently, preferred over other general terms such as devakula, prasada, mandapam , and mandiram (house of god, palace, pillared hall, and temple, respectively) that are used in inscriptions on temples of other forms. Conversely, this word ratna does not appear to have been used for monuments that do not take the two-storied form. Such usage suggests that the term was likely used to differentiate these two-storied temples from the chala and curvilinear-spired Nagara at the time of their construction.
The inscriptions seem to specifically differentiate Ratna as a new temple-type. The dedicatory inscription on the five-spired Shyam Ray Temple proclaims the structure navaratna ratnam . The profound significance of that phrase, defining Ratna as a new temple-type, has been obscured by its current loose interpretation as simply exquisite gem of a temple, without any rigorous analysis of the architectural nature of the structure. Such a translation evades the dilemma created by the words nava (which means both new and nine), and ratna (which means both jewel and ornament). In earlier scholarship, the number of spires has been a major concern in the discussion of these monuments. Because nava also means nine, prior translations called these temples nine-spired, when in fact they have one, five, or any other number of spires. The double meaning of the term nava thus diverted scholarly attention from the truly innovative upper shrine to a counting of spires. A. K. Bhattacharyya was the first to translate nava as new and read the inscribed phrase navaratna ratnam as jewel among new jewels i.e., a best one among the new temples. 12 Coming to the material from an epigrapher s perspective, he did not attend to the crucial architectural distinction between a spire and a whole temple. He therefore did not recognize the full significance of this phrase in proclaiming a new architectural form.
In keeping with Bhattacharyya s translation of nava as new, I interpret the adjective navaratna as new-spired, which leads to a rereading of the phrase navaratna ratnam as new-spired temple. Here the noun ratnam refers to the temple. The adjective new ( nava ) thus applies to both the spire ( ratna ) and the temple ( ratnam ), that is, a new-spired Ratna temple-type. Consequently, I read the inscription to suggest a new temple-type resulting from the use of a new upper-storied structure that is a full temple in miniature rather than simply a spire. The inscription thus clarifies that this additional full story is what makes these temples new and distinctive as double-storied formations, and worthy of a new name.
I therefore understand the Ratna temple as having a single lower story that acts as a base, with one or more miniaturized shrines, each with its own roof, placed on the upper terrace above the sanctum ( figures 0.3 , 0.5 , 0.6 , 0.7 ). The upper shrine acts as a cap for the sanctum. More significantly, the upper structure of the double-storied temple is a complete miniature temple, with its own spire. The Ratna temple s upper structure has an interior space that is approachable by stairs, and arches open this shrine to the outside. Accessibility through the stairway and visibility through the arches allow the upper structure to function in an unprecedented way as a shrine for ritual performances. And perhaps because of this unique feature, the temple that incorporates it has received the designation of new.
This second level takes a wide variety of different forms and is thus distinct from the lower story, which developed a consistent formula based on indigenous hut and Sultanate architectural traditions in the seventeenth century. Similarly, in ritual use, the lower story retains the conventional functions of a Hindu temple as a cave-like womb ( garbha ) for the deity residing in its sanctum ( garbhag ha ), while the upper structure takes on particular ritual festival roles for the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. In chapter 1 I suggest that the ritual use of this additional structure contributed as much to the creation of the new Ratna temple-type as its double-storied form. This function at least partly dictated the development of the form, and this newly available extra space was then put to creative use. I use the term Ratna for this distinctive temple-type, with its corresponding specific functions.
In redefining Ratna in this way, I have rejected the importance given to shape, number, and origin of the roofing elements, which were previously used as the primary criteria for defining seventeenth-century temple-types. David McCutchion, for example, used the term ratna to identify and count the number of spires. In distinguishing the ratna temple from the chala , he wrote,
The pinnacled or ratna design has the same lower structure as the chala series-a rectangular box with curved cornice-but the roof is more or less flat (following the curvature of the cornice), and is surmounted by one or more towers or pinnacles called ratna (jewel). 13
Here he significantly recognizes that the Ratna temple must have an upper structure built above a complete lower temple-structure with its own roof. However, he does not investigate its functional consequence for the region s architectural and religious traditions, choosing instead to focus on a formal typologization:
The principle of decorating the tower with miniature temple duplicates is very ancient in Hindu art; in the southern temple style they are boldly outlined, in the northern temple style they merged into the curvilinear shikhara . 14
Rather than pursuing the significance of the ratna temple as a whole, he first explains its spires as derivations from latina and chala models and then classifies them by the numbers of sub-spires: ekaratna (one ratna ), pancharatna (five ratna s), navaratna (nine ratna s), etc. In contrast, my study draws attention to the whole structure, the new two-storied temple formula, with separated upper shrines that accommodate specific ritual practices. The upper shrines can be of different forms, and there can be many of them. In redefining Ratna in these terms, I incorporate the heretofore distinct at-chala and jor bangla types built at seventeenth-century Vishnupur, focusing on their double-storied organization rather than roof-type ( figures 0.5 , 0.13 ).
Gaudiya Vaishnavism and Temple Ritual
Almost all the surviving seventeenth-century monuments are dedicated to Krishna, indicating the critical role that Gaudiya Vaishnavism played in the emergence of this new temple-type. 15 The forms of Krishna enshrined in these temples express the Vaishnava emphasis on his relationship with Radha. The names of Vishnupur s temple deities, such as Radha Vinod, emphasize Krishna s attractiveness ( vinod ) to Radha. Likewise, Radha Raman is the captor of Radha s heart. Others, like Madan Mohan and Madan Gopal, assert his inherently alluring nature, which attracts not only Radha but also the devotional community. As Madan Mohan, Krishna seduces even Madan, the god of love; as Madan Gopal he is the cowherd (Gopal) identified as the god of love himself. In giving names to the temples, these deity images, like the epigraphic statements, point to the new understanding of temples as the sites for exploring Radha s relationship with this charming cowherd god.
Devotees seek to comprehend this divine love affair through worship practices that enable them to engage in an intimate relationship with Krishna. Gaudiya Vaishnava worship conceptualizes five emotional or relational states for experiencing Krishna, and these five states are graded in a hierarchy of increasing intimacy. They are santa , the peaceful condition in which the worshipper regards herself or himself as low and insignificant in relation to the supreme, omnipotent deity; dasya , the condition of devotion toward one s master (as Arjuna served Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita ); sakhya , the state of friendship; vatsalya , a relationship of caring affection between mother and child; and madhurya , the sweetness of love, such as that Radha had offered him. These five states are modeled on Krishna s relationships with the people in his life, as described in the stories making up the Bhagavata Purana , the tenth-century text regarded as divine revelation by the Gaudiya community. They include the parental affection of his foster parents Yashoda and Nanda, the brotherly love of Balarama, the comradeship of the gopa s (cowherding men), and the passionate love of the gopi s (cowherding women). Of these, Radha s passion was upheld as the most complex and intense, and thus the most satisfying form of love to both the devotee and Krishna. It is the polar opposite of aishwarya , the awe experienced before the magnificent but remote Vishnu-Narayana. Such an omnipotent and omniscient deity is not loved intimately but honored through ritual activity. Radha s capacity to long intensely for Krishna, to serve him, and to risk everything for him was instead regarded as the ideal emotional experience for devotees to emulate.
Married to another man, Radha had to undergo great difficulties, take huge risks, and compromise her position in society for the sake of her love for Krishna. As Edward Dimock has pointed out, love has an element of self-sacrifice: only when the heart is given unconditionally . . . is such love pure and thus efficacious. 16 A second aspect of Radha s love emphasized in this tradition is the pining inherent in the separation ( viraha ) from her lover. Because an adulterous relationship lacks predictability, much of the experience involves anticipation and expectation. 17 This longing and sacrifice was identified as the path to salvation. Parakiya , the doctrine celebrating these especially delectable qualities of an illicit love, was celebrated in Vishnupur s temple as the greatest sweetness to be relished, and temple architecture and ornamentation was oriented toward articulating these values.
Chaitanya initiated a distinctive style of worship that provided devotees with the opportunity to participate in Radha and Krishna s playful activities, and this devotional practice was so potent that it gradually culminated in the reorganization of temples as the arena for its performance. He led his followers in kirtan , songs praising Krishna and describing the episodes and emotions of his relationship with Radha. These sessions lasted through the night, and the songs were so powerful that they evoked visceral responses of not only dance, but even tears, trembling, and fainting. Gradually the processions overflowed through the streets of his hometown, Nabadwip, and soon the singing ( nagar samkirtan ) made sixteenth-century Bengali towns resound with the name of Krishna:
When Prabhu gave the order to the people of the city, they began to make k rtana from house to house. I bow to Hari, I bow to the Y dava Kr a, to Gop la, Govinda, R ma, and r Madhusudana. Sa k rtana, with cymbals and m danga drums rang out, and nothing could be heard except for the sound Hari Hari! 18
In the seventeenth century, Vishnupur s temple courtyards provided an alternative venue for these ecstatic expressions of devotion and played a pivotal role in bringing the Vaishnava community together. These practices were brought to Vishnupur by Srinivas Acharya, one of the foremost leaders of the movement in the seventeenth century. Here he converted Vir Hambir, 19 the earliest historical ruler of the local Malla dynasty, his family, the court, and a substantial segment of the population of Mallabhum, the Land of the Mallas. 20
Srinivas was of the third generation of Vaishnava leaders, who were given the responsibility of consolidating the religious community in Bengal at the end of the sixteenth century. As Tony Stewart has recently elaborated, the movement had lost momentum as Chaitanya s various companions proposed their own interpretations and organized their own lineages. Yet the tradition flourished in Vrindavan, where the goswami s, disciples handpicked by Chaitanya, compiled the theological texts of the tradition. In anticipation of the imminent dissolution of the religious tradition in Bengal, these leaders sent three energetic and charismatic students to rectify the situation. The trio, Srinivas, Shyamananda, and Narottama, accomplished this mission in part by aligning themselves with Hindu chiefs who were also looking for opportunities to establish their authority in the flux created by the collapse of the Bengal Sultanate. 21
At Vishnupur, Srinivas s collaboration with Vir Hambir culminated in the transformation of forests into the bowers of Krishna s play. Here he taught about Radha s selfless and all-consuming love and led the local community in kirtan that brought her experiences alive. Such was the intensity of his devotion that he would be transported to the green groves of Vrindavan, where Radha and Krishna danced or bathed in the waters of the River Yamuna. In one mystical vision he observed Radha s nose ring slip off while they were splashing around, and her maid Manimanjari search assiduously through the grains of sand underfoot. Srinivas seems to have been so inert, engrossed in this visualization of the divine realm, that the king and his physicians believed he was dying. However, three days later he awoke, exclaiming with tears in his eyes that Radha s ornament, trapped in the roots of a water weed, had been retrieved. 22 His reveries also brought the eternal play of the gods into Vishnupur s landscape, and his experiences provided a model for the emergent community of followers. Inspired by his devotion, the kings constructed a succession of temples that created the space and aesthetic for celebrating the activities of the divine lovers.
The new temples, with their capacity to house large gatherings, were sites of the collective devotional activities that assisted in the formation of a Gaudiya community. Alongside temple construction, Srinivas had also mobilized his patrons resources toward organizing festivals, feasts, and fairs ( mahotsav ) commemorating events in the life of Krishna, Chaitanya, and other key members of the Gaudiya Vaishnava leadership. Following the success of the early gatherings in the western part of Bengal, Srinivas and his colleagues Narottama and Shyamananda prepared a more elaborate affair at Kheturi, Rajshahi district, where goddess worship held sway. 23 Here they demonstrated how to serve the images, perform arati (the evening service), and sing kirtan honoring Chaitanya as well as Krishna. Doljatra, the festival of colors, was celebrated by smearing the images and then participants with red powder. 24 The Ratna temples, in their capacity as local congregational centers, facilitated the replication of these activities at the local level. The success of the strategy can be discerned from Srinivas s declaration that three new Vaishnava centers had emerged at Kheturi, Jajigram, and Vishnupur. 25
By this time a three-layered mapping of the relationship between Krishna, Chaitanya, and Srinivas Acharya was developed. Chaitanya was identified as an avatar or incarnation of Krishna in his own lifetime, and Gaudiya Vaishnavas were thereby given immediate access to Krishna. At the end of the sixteenth century, after Chaitanya passed away, Srinivas Acharya was recognized as an incarnation of Krishna-Chaitanya. 26 The immediate access afforded to the devotees present when Chaitanya was physically alive was now made available to devotees of the next generation, while the layering of identity simultaneously legitimated the authority of Srinivas. This Krishna, embodied by Chaitanya and later by Srinivas Acharya, resides in the Ratna temple s sanctum and revels in the adoration of his devotees.
The temples operate as a site for the reinforcement of these conflated identities, which are expressed through visual imagery and ritual practice. The populist style of worship with exuberant song and dance that Chaitanya launched and Srinivas brought to Vishnupur is modeled on Krishna s own playful activities ( lila ) in Vrindavan. These paradigms are invoked in temple rituals, and they create sensory linkages with the original divine performance. Such overlaying of beliefs and practices made the divine visible to devotees with knowledge and divine grace. In the deity images, terra cotta vignettes, songs, and consecrated food, they are able to see Krishna and participate in his eternal play. These visual and verbal elements of temple activity are therefore fundamentally commemorative in nature, re-enacting the original activities of the gods. 27 The architectural form, terra cotta ornamentation, and ritual use of the new temples stimulate and refine the imagination and emotion of the devotional community. Uninitiated viewers, however, do not have such access to the divine lila . As institutional sites, temples therefore define the nature of participation and set up boundaries that demarcate devotional communities by exclusion as well as inclusion. In examining the layering of meanings, this study thus also explores how the architecture, iconography, and worship practices of Ratna temples mark the threshold between two alternate perceptions and mediate between the manifest ( prakat ) and the hidden ( aprakat ).
The triumph of these practices and of the new temples where they were undertaken considerably undercut the region s older conventions and the architecture associated with them. The menace these new spaces and their personal style of devotion posed to conservative Brahmanical Hinduism, with its focus on priestly ritual, suggests the success of the new Vaishnava approach. As Vaishnava worship curtailed practices such as blood sacrifice, it threatened the traditional authority of Brahman priests. An orthodox Brahman community, for example, complained to its ruler,
Whence have these upstarts brought the Vai ava creed? The worship of our gods and goddesses is abandoned. The sacrifice of animals at the altars of our temples is stopped. The sacred rites are abolished, and we are undone. They do not touch meat or fish and live on vegetable food. They form K rtana parties; they dance and cry like mad men. The rites enjoined by the Vedas and the Tantras are abandoned. They have charmed the people by their songs and music. 28
Their list of protests offers a dramatic comparison between the new rituals performed in Ratna temples and the older ones. The Brahman orthodoxy felt the Vaishnava practices of song and dance lacked the scriptural authority of the Vedas, Puranas, and Tantras. The rhetoric of deeply personal devotion and of equal access to the divine for everyone through song, dance, and mystical visions flouted the caste hierarchy that affirmed Brahman authority. 29 Further, the songs were composed in the Bengali vernacular rather than the more esoteric Sanskrit that was unfamiliar to the singers. The Vaishnava shift to vegetarianism implies abandoning of animal sacrifices, an arena over which Brahmans presided. The diminished role of sacrifices also suggests that the new devotional community no longer gave to Brahmans the offerings that had constituted their livelihood. 30 As local goddess cults had enjoyed wide popular support, the Vaishnavas cut into the Brahmans traditional clientele. Such observations reflect the resentment and anxiety amongst the more conservative Brahmans of Bengali society, who discerned a threat to their privileged status. 31 In this expression of dislike, however, lies a grudging acknowledgment of Gaudiya Vaishnavism s infectiousness and sensual appeal that bewitched throngs of people.
By making space for the rousing kirtan sessions and mystical experiences to which the Brahmans objected, the new temple form played a significant role in establishing Gaudiya Vaishnavism as a populist movement. The redesigned temples with their increased capacity provided the major venue for public activities that brought the community together in the seventeenth century. The construction of temples and the performance of kirtan and festival celebrations therein are therefore processes that transformed the Bengali landscape as irrevocably as did the concurrent consolidation of the Mughal empire.
Such expression of personal devotion did not eliminate the role of Brahman priests, however. Through the following chapters I analyze how the redesigned temple mediated between the two primary constituencies by providing separate arenas where the lay community and priests played their roles in the lives of the gods. As Ramakanta Chakravarti has noted, implicit in the act of temple patronage is the affirmation of the priest s position as caregiver, because the temples house deity images that require daily acts for their maintenance. 32 Daily service was extended in the seventeenth century to musical re-enactment of the divine lila by the community alongside priestly offerings of food and flowers. The spatial reorganization of Ratna temples, by the addition of an upper pavilion, an enclosed courtyard, and a second altar in the lower sanctum to incorporate these group activities, finely balances the roles of the two constituencies in the daily and festival cycles of worship.
Kings and Construction
The architectural experimentation that gave rise to the Ratna temple form was made possible by the enthusiasm and generosity of local Hindu rulers. Constructing temples affirmed their authority in various ways. Contemporary literature such as Mukundaram s Kavikankan Chandi suggests that temple building must be understood as part of the process of staking a claim to the urban cosmopolitanism and Brahmanical ritual order, a process often termed Sanskritization. Kalketu, the poem s hero, is a tribal chief who scraped a precarious living from hunting. With the collaboration of the goddess Chandi, he constructed the mythical kingdom of Gujarat, over which he presided as ruler. This tale of upward social mobility resembles the narrative of Malla consolidation of a frontier principality with Vaishnava collaboration in the forests of southwestern Bengal. As the author, Mukundaram, lived in this area, he is likely to have witnessed the beginnings of that historical process. 33
Their patronage of monumental architecture and affiliation with Gaudiya Vaishnavism would have enhanced the image of the local Hindu dynasties in their own eyes as well as in those of their peers and rivals. The Mallas controlled the dense forests of southwestern Bengal from their center at Vishnupur. British District Gazetteers characterized the inhabitants of these jungles, located between the tribal groups of the Chotanagpur Plateau to the west and the mainstream Hindu society of the Gangetic plain further east, as semi-Hinduized aboriginals. 34 Contemporary literary works also locate these Bagdis, Doms, Hadis, Bauris, and Chandals, which formed the bulk of this population, at the margins of Hindu society, scraping an existence as palanquin bearers, broom and basket weavers, armed guards, and soldiers. They are described as low caste or even untouchable, uncivilized, consumers of flesh and wine, probably because their customs and social organization offended orthodox Brahmanical sensibility. 35
The Vishnupur rajas themselves likely arose from these communities. The Kusmetia Bagdis, for example, claim that the Mallas were originally Bagdis. 36 The Mallas, though, seem to have felt the need to dissociate themselves from such lowly origins, as the town s lore maintains that they belonged to a royal house of north India. These narratives take pains to mystify specific historical roots, relying instead on familiar tropes of Hindu kings divinely ordained status. One version traces the family to a north Indian prince, who at a rest stop in the forests surrounding Vishnupur, on the way to the Jagannatha Temple at Puri, abandoned his heavily pregnant wife. 37 This woman gave birth to a boy, Adi Malla, to whom the dynasty attributes its origins. He was rescued and raised by a Bagdi family, who were out collecting kindling. A local Brahman recognized his innate royal status when the boy was offered shade by a cobra s hood and when he raised golden bricks in his fishing net. The Brahman took him to the funeral ceremony of the local king. Here the king s elephant spotted the boy, lifted him in his trunk, and seated him upon the now empty throne. This act was recognized as a sign and the boy was crowned ruler of the region. The employment of tropes like the cobra s and elephant s detection of royalty implies divinely sanctioned authority, while the tenuous ties to an unidentifiable north Indian princely lineage grants the Mallas the requisite caste background to be respected as rajas of Vishnupur. 38 Their enthusiasm for architectural patronage thus suggests an attempt to elevate their social standing, probably to set themselves apart from their subjects and their own past. 39
These local rulers also recognized the potential of temples as mechanisms for fostering loyalties and binding communities through patronage of ritual activity. The Mallas had inaugurated political rituals such as Indparab or Indradhaj, the flag-hoisting ceremony that commemorated their coronation and renewed the trustworthiness of their tribal allies. 40 Likewise, the spring hunting festival of Ekhan brought the king and his vassals together, and the distribution of yellow turbans reaffirmed their ties. Through carefully calculated diplomatic and symbolic acts, the Mallas thus worked to win the affections of the smaller tribal leaders who mediated their authority. It is hardly surprising that these local kings would appreciate the powerful populist appeal of Vaishnavism and embrace the celebration of Ratha and Rasa with equal enthusiasm. Having entered into an alliance with Srinivas, they constructed temples to promote not only the pleasure of Radha and Krishna, but also their own upward mobility and control over their territory.
Malla authority was also renewed in the provisions they made for the daily upkeep of the temples. The amounts of food offered to the gods each day indicate that large numbers of people were fed in these royal temples, and the redistribution of prasad (blessed food) provided the primary meals for many. The Madan Mohan Temple s daily offerings of cooked rice, greens, lentils, and rice pudding continue to be distributed among visiting pilgrims, local devotees, and homeless people. As Dimock has noted, the sharing of food as a communal and participatory activity is an important dimension of the bhakti experience. 41 In providing the food distributed both daily and during celebratory feasts, temples offered their royal patrons an opportunity to express their authority.
Malla influence was also channeled through their appointment of subjects to specific roles in the lives of the temples. The families of Brahmans, potters, garland makers, conch-shell workers, silk weavers, drum makers, and musicians were assigned to each temple to supply their wares and services to these institutions. Many of these families carry on doing so even today, creating continuities over many generations despite shifts in the structure of patronage in independent India. The rulers also donated rent-free land for the upkeep of temples and as payment for services. 42 The various caste groups appointed to perform particular tasks typically settled around each temple, giving rise to neighborhoods. To this day, these families flock to the temples for the evening musical sessions. Hand in hand with the emergence of these residential neighborhoods, markets developed near temple walls to channel the economic activity the temples generated. The Madan Mohan Temple, with its twenty-two neighborhoods and market, formed Baispara. Conch-shell workers, for example, established workshops and homes behind this temple and the chiseling of shell resounds there still, giving the neighborhood the name of Shankharibazar. Likewise, silk threads are prepared in the temple courtyards not only for clothes for the gods, but also for human wearing. These settlements extended the frontiers of the town and of the kings control from the fortified palace-center ( darbar ). The temple of Lalji, with its market and eight residential neighborhoods, forms the community of Krishnaganj, which competes with the Madhabganj community, formed by the nearby Madan Gopal Temple s eleven neighborhoods and market, to organize the town s most spectacular Ratha celebration ( figure 0.16 ). The institutions sponsored by the Mallas thus continue to provide space for Gaudiya Vaishnavism to be practiced as a popular, broadbased religious movement. Locality is thus mapped spatially as neighborhoods, organized around royal patronage of temples. As Arjun Appadurai has observed, because such mapping is inherently tenuous, it is bounded and renewed ritually, even in opposition to individual elements, as in the case of the Ratha celebrations. 43
Architecture thus helped shape the community and the social organization of the town as much as it responded to those needs. Like Mukundaram s mythical principality of Gujarat, Vishnupur s temples point to larger processes of forest clearing, urban planning, trade and economic growth, and organized ritual. In this case, the process is initiated by the collaboration of the Vaishnavas with Raja Vir Hambir and might be called Vaishnavization, as a more specific form of the general umbrella term Sanskritization. It is also useful in contrasting the Gaudiya populist emphasis with the Brahmanical domination associated with Sanskritization.
Temples in an Indo-Islamic Environment
Unlike the Nagara form of temples, which emerged during the formation of regional Hindu principalities in north India, the configuration of the Ratna form took place in an Indo-Islamic world, in which Hindu rulers were no longer the highest authority of the land. The temples respond to the political ascendancy of Islam in Bengal, as does Gaudiya Vaishnava bhakti to the powerful presence of Sufi mysticism and Sultanate patronage. Architecture and terra cotta ornament express the political negotiations undertaken by Hindu local rulers to thrive in these new circumstances. This book suggests that the Ratna temple must also be seen as a product of the wealthy, highly cosmopolitan, diplomatic order created during the reign of the independent sultans. These dynasties of primarily Turkish, Persian, Afghan, and even Ethiopian migrants had moved eastward in search of political and economic opportunities, and controlled the region from the thirteenth century until the Mughal conquest. Particularly during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the foreignness of Sultanate rule was localized in a variety of ways, and offered a cultural environment that fostered creativity in both mosque and temple architecture. The temples are therefore a vital record of the simultaneous processes of Sanskritization and Islamicization in the rise of small Hindu kingdoms as Sultanate political authority itself came to an end.
The architectural experimentation undertaken over the seventeenth century was made possible by a century of prosperous trade in agricultural commodities, silk, and cotton. Bengal was the envy of contemporary sultans, Hindu kingdoms such as Vijayanagar, and foreign travelers in the sixteenth century. Jo o de Barros (1496-1570) of the Portuguese mission suggests that their contemporaries compared themselves to the wealthy Bengali sultans, implying the respect that they commanded among their peers:
Sultan Badur [Bahadur, 1526-37], being himself one of the richest Kings in that Orient, and very arrogant, used to say that he was one, and the King of Narsinga [Vijayanagar] two and the King of Bengal was three, meaning to say that the King of Bengal had alone, as much as he, and the King of Bisnaga [Vijayanagar] had together. 44
This traveler s account, and the opinion of contemporary courts he reflects, indicates that a very powerful state had been established in the first half of the sixteenth century. After the collapse of the Bengal Sultanate, Hindu local kings participated as successful middlemen in this maritime trade to Europe and the Middle East. The extraordinarily long-standing success of that trade relationship is reflected in, for example, the cotton fabrics sent from the Malla processing center at Sonamukhi to the former Taliban government in Afghanistan until its collapse in 2002.
Ships with animal-headed prows evoke that international maritime trading activity on the temples walls ( figure 0.17 ). Armed guards aiming long-barreled guns alternate with the seated crew members who row the boat. Their short upper garments, puffy pants, and pointed shoes mark them as European traders, like the Portuguese envoys who document these activities. Their presence on Ratna temples reminds us of the cosmopolitanism of the ports and markets where these boats docked. They also refer to the thriving mercantile system that bolstered the economy and provided the surplus that could be lavished on architectural experimentation. Temple construction thus expresses Malla connections to these trading networks and to the Indo-Islamic political culture of Bengal and most of north India.
Ratna temples are closely related to the architectural style established by the Bengal Sultanate through repeated construction of mosques, shrines, and tombs. I interpret the architectural appropriation as an attempt to establish continuity with the recently deposed Sultanate. In building temples that look like modified mosques these rajas took on the sultans role as patrons of cultural forms alongside their mercantile and administrative roles. They attempted to create what Velcheru Narayana Rao, David Shulman, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam have called vertical linkages in discussing the formation of the Nayaka state in south India:
The entire process of creating a N yaka state seems to depend upon establishing a linkage, articulated in terms of personal loyalty, with a higher centre of authority-here embodied in the Vijayanagara overlord. No N yaka king can do without this empowering source from above. On the other hand, this vertical linkage is optimally activated under conditions that effectively undermine its controlling power. 45
The Malla kingdom made a place for itself alongside a host of other local kingdoms, both Hindu and Muslim, as successors of the Bengal Sultanate at a time when Mughal authority was tenuous. Although the Mughal armies deployed by the Emperor Akbar had destroyed the power base of Bengal s last independent sultans in 1575, local Hindu and Muslim leaders organized rebellions independently and also in collaboration. Under these circumstances, the creation of a Sultanate style of temple can be interpreted as an invocation of a vertical linkage to the Bengal Sultanate, whose impotence may have made the association particularly attractive to the younger local dynasties.
The Mallas thus seem to have been pragmatic and creative in maximizing the opportunities opening up in a changing world through their cultural activities. The form of the Ratna temple suggests that their patronage of monuments conferred upon them the authority of the Sultanate, which no longer posed the imminent threat that the Mughals did. The terra cotta images of elite life on the temple walls suggest a court now imagined on an Islamic rather than the ancient Hindu model and a desire to participate in a global Islamic order.
Architectural patronage can therefore be interpreted as a political maneuver for control. Earlier scholars often conceptualized Vishnupur as a rise of Hindu power against the overwhelming might of Islam. 46 In demonstrating how the temples point to the political pragmatism of Hindu authorities and their negotiations with their Muslim counterparts, this study challenges these histories that have overemphasized hostilities and polarized Hindu and Islamic communities by projecting current tensions onto the premodern period. Instead, it reconstructs architectural strategies for achieving cultural continuities while preserving plurality.
Organization of the Book
Each chapter of the book probes an aspect of the temples architectural originality that is celebrated in their inscriptions, and examines the ways in which the innovations articulate the political and religious complexities of this period in Bengal s history. Chapter 1 brings together previously ignored evidence-textual descriptions, epigraphical information, terra cotta depictions, contemporary rituals, and oral reminiscences-to argue that the Ratna temple was exceptional as a two-storied form, segregating complementary spaces for daily rituals in the sanctum below and a festival pavilion above. The temples newly incorporated pleasure pavilion shapes the ritual re-enactment of the passionate love modeled by the divine couple Radha and Krishna. Through song, dance, and worship, as well as the terra cotta imagery, the monument is transformed into the site of the gods amorous encounters. The vertical axis created between the upper pavilion, where priests take the deity images, and the courtyard, where throngs of devotees sing and dance, brings the community into that divine love play.
Chapter 2 addresses the temples bold appropriation of the form of shrines, tombs, and mosques patronized by the earlier Bengal sultans. The mosque s organization offers a model for a congregational space for the collective expression of divine love. The box-like mosque also provides a base for the temple s new upper pavilion. The politico-religious environment that enabled, even stimulated, such intense architectural interaction across religious communities has been overlooked in most of the scholarship on these monuments. The temples assert the political agenda of these Hindu patrons as heirs to the authority of the sultans and their desire to participate in a global Islamic order.
Chapter 3 traces the role of the region s older temple typology in the newly organized temples and the new Indo-Islamic political order. Although the older Nagara temples were rejected when a new paradigm was sought, the development of the upper pavilion is partly rooted in that earlier form. Sporadic experiments demonstrate the transformation from a single-storied to a two-storied temple. The upper pavilion often takes the form of a miniature older temple as well. I argue that the new architectural pastiche achieved in the seventeenth century makes a statement about cultural accommodation in placing a miniature temple upon a mosque-base, an ideology that is corroborated in the other arts of the period. However, such inclusiveness implies hierarchy, and a pre-existing framework in which the incorporation takes place. Indeed, the size of the temple-based pavilion atop the Sultanate base is suggestive of the political reorientation of the structures patrons toward the Indo-Islamic world.
Chapter 4 turns to the spatial organization of the compound within which the double-storied temple is placed. The arrangement of structures around the central shrine departs dramatically from that of older temple complexes. A second axis of worship is incorporated into the traditional east-west ground plan of Nagara temples. The new north-south axis is reserved for community performance, which complements the conventional axis of priest-conducted services.

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