Maluti, a remote village in the Dumka district of Jharkhand, would perhaps have remained anonymous and nondescript but for the fact that it is home to an exquisite cluster of terracotta temples dating back to the 17th century.
Maluti (also Malooti) is on the Bengal-Jharkhand border and came into prominence in 2015 when a Jharkhand tableau featuring the terracotta temples won an award at the Republic Day parade. The temples generated much interest among the public and also prodded the government to give priority to their restoration work.
The richly decorated temples are in a dilapidated condition with crumbling panels and overgrown vegetation due to the ravages of time and lack of upkeep.
According to local historians, there were once 108 temples though only 72 are standing now.
Attempts are underway to restore the temples under the guidance of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Wide view of arch panel on the wall of a terracotta temple in Maluti at Dumka, Jharkhand. Pic by Amitabh Gupta/Wikimedia.
Most of the temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva and are grouped in five clusters.
The terracotta plaques are not carved onto the temple walls but rather stuck using locally made glue of sand, brick powder, molasses, betel nut, coconut fibre, horsehair, beeswax and some other substances.
The plaques depict stories and events from Hindu scriptures and the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. There are sequences of panels showing scenes from the Ramayana and stories from the life of Krishna. Goddess Durga is also prominently portrayed on several plaques.
The temples have been ravaged by time and now clamouring for restoration. Pic: Flickr
They also portray the prevailing social scenario. For instance, one plaque shows soldiers on horseback carrying swords followed by soldiers on foot wielding guns. This is said to mark the arrival of the East India Company in India.
Influence of Bengal
Since the Dumka district borders West Bengal, the influence of the Challa architecture of Bengal is evident in the temples.
Challa architecture refers to the unique style of Bengal temples which have sloping roofs and curved edges, much like traditional Bengali huts.
The terracotta temples also have a strong imprint of the Keshta Raya terracotta temple of Bishnupur in Bengal. The Global Heritage Fund has declared Maluti one of the world’s 12 most endangered cultural heritage sites.
There is no clarity on why or how the temples came to be built. Local legends say that the temples were built by successors of Raja Baj Basanta of Maluti.
Out of 108, only 72 temples now remain. Pic: Flickr
Basanta Roy, a Brahmin, was given a zamindari by Sultan Alauddin Hussain Shah (1495–1525) as a reward for safely returning the pet hawk of the sultan’s wife.
Roy later came to be known as Raja Baj Basanta as Baj is a hawk in Hindi. The main temple at Maluti is of Devi Mauliksha, who is the family deity of the Basantas. The scions are believed to have built the temples as a show of their prestige.
Devi Mauliksha, the family deity of Raja Baj Basanta, is worshipped in her temple even today. Pic: Flickr
Others believe that the temples were built by the women of the zamindar family as a status symbol and in an attempt to outdo each other. The women would not visit a temple built by another woman’s husband and so they built their own. Some inscriptions in proto-Bengali on the temples show they were also named after women.
The Maluti temples are a testimony to India’s vast and rich cultural heritage. But if they are not restored and protected, they might be lost forever. More Maluti temples in pictures here:
The terracotta plaques depicting scenes from Ramayana & Mahabharata are not carved onto the temple walls but stuck using glue. Pic: Flickr
Temple dedicated to Bamakhyapa, spiritual leader from Bengal, at Maluti, Dumka. Pic: Flickr
Most of the surviving temples are in ruins and may be lost forever if not restored at the earliest. Pic: Flickr The inscriptions on temple walls are in proto-Bengali. The temples are named after women of the royal family who constructed them. Pic: Flickr
(Lead picture by Amitabh Gupta through Wikimedia Commons)