Kalarte Gallery
Pictures from India. October, 1999

Scenes from West Bengal

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Click on the thumbnail image to view a larger image.

West Bengal is a state in northeast India. It is bordered on the east by the nation of Bangladesh (formerly East Bengal, and then East Pakistan), on the north by the nations of Sikkim and Bhutan, on the northwest by the nation of Nepal, on the west by the state of Bihar, on the southwest by the state of Orissa, and on the south by the Bay of Bengal. The capital of the state of West Bengal is Calcutta. The state is divided into districts, roughly corresponding to what we call counties in the U.S.


Bishnupur is located in Bankura District, in rural western West Bengal, about 150 kilometers west of Calcutta. It was the seat of a kingdom several centuries ago. The Bankura district is known for the traditional tribal dhokra lost wax castings.

Bishnupur The Acharya Jogesh Chandra Purakriti Bhavan.
This is a University art museum named after the teacher (acharya) Jogesh Chandra. The museum shows traditional art (paintings and sculptures) from the kingdom of Bishnupur.

Bishnupur is famous for its terracotta temples. These temples were built not only in Bishnupur, but also in other areas of Bengal from approximately the 16th through the early 20th centuries.The wall surfaces of these temples are covered with reliefs on terracotta tiles and plaques. The typical style of Bishnupur temples consists of a single tower on top of a roughly square structure with a curved roofline, somewhat reminiscent of rural Bengali huts.

Unfortunately, when visiting this temple, I was unable to get pictures from inside the temple complex. I did not want to impose—by taking their pictures—on the homeless people who were sleeping on the temple portico and milling around the building. However, some terracotta reliefs are faintly visible on the columns of the ante-hall in the right foreground.


Dakshineswar is a town just north of Calcutta, along the Hooghly River (a branch of the Ganges). Dakshineswar is noted for its Kali temple (or complex of temples: the central temple is the Kali temple but there are also twelve Siva temples, a Radha-Krishna temple, and other ancillary buildings). Dakshineswar is particularly famous because Sri Ramakrishna, a Bengali saint and mystic, lived and taught there (on the temple grounds) from the 1850s through 1880s. It has become a place of pilgrimage for devotees of Sri Ramakrishna and friends of the Ramakrishna Order, founded by Swami Vivekananda in honor of his guru.

Dakshineswar In the Kali temple complex at Dakshineswar, there are two sets of Siva temples, six in a row. Here is one of the sets. We are looking from inside the temple courtyard. The Kali temple is behind us to the right.

Here is the famous Kali temple where Sri Ramakrishna worshiped the goddess Kali. The temple was constructed around 1850 in the Bengal style.

Dakshineswar Here is a view of the hall next to the Kali temple, which is partly visible at the far left of the picture.
Dakshineswar Next to the temple courtyard with its several temples, and still within the temple complex, is a garden area. In Sri Ramakrishna’s day, this area was densely forested. During the time of his spiritual practices, Sri Ramakrishna planted a “panchavati,” that is, a group of five trees. This particular grouping is considered holy and auspicious in some tantric scriptures. Sri Ramakrishna used to meditate under these trees. The sidewalk in the foreground is along the embankment of the Hooghly (Ganges) River.
Dakshineswar This is a view of the River Ganges (Hooghly branch) at the Panchavati. This picture was taken standing by the tree shown in the earlier slide.

Nadia District

Nadia District is a district to the north (about 25 miles) of Calcutta. The far northern reaches of the Calcutta metropolitan area extend into the southern part of this district. The Hooghly (Ganges) River flows through this district, which borders Bangladesh on the east. It was in Nadia District that Chaitanya, the 15th century mystic, was born and lived his early life. Nadia District was also the home of the 18th century poet Ramprasad Sen.

Nadia Roadside scene with church in rural Nadia district.
Nadia Roadside scene in rural Nadia district.

Roadside scene in rural Nadia district.
Along the roads in this district, one occasionally sees these pigs (which are domestic, not wild) roaming around. They are about the size of an average dog. One also sees cows and dogs along the roads.


Kalyani is a town in southern Nadia District. It is a university town in which there are five universities or colleges. It is a small and quiet town, with perhaps 20,000 inhabitants. However, there may be half again as many refugees from Bangladesh living in makeshift structures in the town.


This is a residential street in Kalyani. Many who work at the universities, and retirees from Calcutta, live in Kalyani. This picture shows an empty lot (as yet not "developed") and another plot with a house.

Kalyani Middle-class house on a residential street.
Kalyani Street scene.

Ramprasad's Village

The 18th century poet-saint Ramprasad Sen was a devotee of the goddess Kali. He lived in the village of Kumarhati on the banks of the Ganges (Hooghly branch). This village is in southern Nadia District.

Ramprasad's Village According to the legend, on the last day of his life, Ramprasad walked from his home to the river, carrying an image of Kali on his head and singing songs of his own composition. He walked into the river at the bathing ghat (a construction of steps at the river’s edge) pictured here, sang four last songs, then walked under the water, disappeared, and was not seen again. This is the story of his “mahasamadhi” or final ecstasy at the time of death.
Ramprasad's Village

This is a view of the River Ganges (Hooghly branch) at the bathing ghat of Ramprasad’s mahasamadhi, looking north (away from Calcutta).

Ramprasad's Village This is a view of the River Ganges (Hooghly branch) at the bathing ghat of Ramprasad’s mahasamadhi, looking south (toward Calcutta).
Ramprasad's Village Ramprasad worshiped the goddess Kali at a temple in his village. This temple is perhaps a kilometer from the river. The temple depicted here is not the Kali temple, but another temple situated on the road to Ramprasad’s Kali temple
Ramprasad's Village A scene on the road to the Kali temple where Ramprasad worshiped the goddess.
Ramprasad's Village The hall in front of the Kali temple where Ramprasad worshiped the goddess. Note the vehicles in the parking lot, indicating the different modes of transportation used by visitors: motor scooter, hand-pulled ricksha, automobile (a Fiat).
Ramprasad's Village Just to the right of the temple hall is the “panchavati,” or group of five trees (see the earlier slide about Sri Ramakrishna in Dakshineswar), which the poet Ramprasad planted and under which he practiced meditation.
Ramprasad's Village This is the road in front of the Kali temple where Ramprasad worshiped the goddess.

Pictures and text Copyright © 2000-2007 by Kalarte Gallery and Bernard Cesarone.

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