Bengal has been the home of several great civilizations. However, structural records of these kingdoms, considering the extent of the country, are extremely scanty. This is largely because of the nature of the soil and the climate, both of which encourage the rapid growth of thick vegetation which is destructive to deserted buildings. However, it is believed that hand of man has played a bigger part in demolishing ancient cities and temples.
Of the ruined temple in the districts of Burdwan and Bankura, enough remains to establish its kinship with the arthitectural movement in Orissa that produced the temples of Bhubaneswar. A group of temples at Barakar provide a connecting link between Orissan architecture of the 11th and 12th centuries and its provincial phase in the south of West Bengal. A distinctive feature as of the temples of Barakar.
Barakar is a small town in Asansol in the Burdwan district of West Bengal. It is at the border of West Bengal and Jharkhand. A group of temples in Barakar are believed to have been built in the 10th and 11th centuries A.D., by the Pala Kings. These are locally known as the “BEGUNIA” group on account of their fancied resemblance to the fruit of the egg plant (The Bengali name of eggplant is “ Begun “). All four of them are located in one complex, protected by a big boundary wall, no encroachment should be possible.
The temples are numbered 1,2,3 and 4 by A. S. I. Two of them are dedicated to Lord Shiva, one to lord Ganesha and other to Goddess Durga. Build of black and grey sandstone not from the usual terracotta. They are of typical The Shikhara (pinnacles) or Rekh Deul style and are decorated with floral designs and mythological figures. The inscription on the walls credits a king named Harishchandra for its construction. The temples were dedicated to Harishchandra’s queen Haripriya. The two Nandies ( Lord Shiva’s Vehicle) of temples 3 and 4. The temples face opposite directions. The temple no. 1, This is the Siddheswari temple; it houses a cell and a vestibule. A shivling, 55 inches in diameter, is worshipped here. This temple is the oldest dating back to 8th to 9th century. ( It is amongst the oldest rekh-deul temples in West Bengal). The earliest reference to the temple s can be found in a book named History of Indian & Eastern Architecture by James Fergusson. In the book, a woodcut of one of the temples was mistakenly referred to as the Bankura temple( Instead of Barakar temple). The complex was correctly identified in print in 1878, in a report prepared by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Many stone idols have been discovered in the complex. Some are Vishnu idols but others are Jain idols, possibly belonging to the older fourth temple. Plenty of evidences were found in this complex that goes to prove that Barakar was once a Jain religious centre. Stylistically, the temples and the sculptures provide evidence of the cultural and technological intercourse the local artisans, sculptors and architects had with Bengal heartland comprising northern Radha, Varendra and Vanga, on the one hand, and with Orissa, on the other. While the majority of sculptures found from Purulia, Bankura & and some portion of Burdwan unmistakably bear stylistic resemblance to those of the Pala-Sena period, a number of nagara-sikhara temples remind one of Orissan temples of that age.
The cultural influence of Orissa was not limited to temple architecture alone. The ancestors of the present day Utkal Brahmans started settling in the south-west of Bengal with grants of rent free lands, either from the local kings and chiefs or from their Orissan overlords right from the tenth century and the process continued till almost recent times.
Photos of Siddheshvara temple at Barakar, Burdwan district taken by J.D. Beglar in 1872-73. Beglar wrote, “ Barakar…contains several very interesting ancient remains, in excellent preservation”. “….. consist of a cell and an antarala, or vestibule. It does not appear to have ever had a mahamandapa in front. The object of worship is a lingam, placed in a great argha, 4 feet 7 inches in diameter. Besides this there are lying , in an out, statues and fragments, among which may be reckoned, Ganeca, a 4-armed female, a 4-armed male holding a sword and a trident in two hands, and some nondescript fragments.”
Source : 1. J. D. Beglar, Report of a tour through the Bengal Provinces… in 1872-73
& A. S. I Vol. VIII, Calcutta,1878, Page.151-53.
2. “Paschimbangaer Shaskriti” by Binoy Ghosh.
3. District Gazetteer of Burdwan, Purulia by L S S O’mally.