Kantojiu Temple – Terracotta Treasure

The ancient Hindu temple of Kantojiu is located in the Dinajpur District of Bangladesh. Constructed over a period of fifty years (1702-1752) the building of the temple was initiated by Maharaja Pran Nath and concluded during the reign of his son, Maharaja Ramnath. Kantojiu Temple originally featured nine spires typical of the nava-ratna architectural style, but the earthquake of 1897 destroyed the spires and they were never reconstructed. Nevertheless, the temple remains an architecture marvel featuring some of the best examples of terracotta adornment to be found in Bangladesh.

Also known as Kantanagar, the Hindu temple is built around a square inner courtyard, reaching a height of around fifteen meters. The stone of the courtyard is believed to have been transported from the ancient ruins of Bannagar, located near Gangarampur. Small square cells are located at the four corners of both the ground and first floors, supporting the octagonal towers above. Four ground floor rectangular alleys surround the prayer hall, with three arched entrances on each side separated by intricately decorated pillars.

The most outstanding feature of the temple, which is both a Hindu pilgrimage site and a tourist attraction, is its terracotta murals which cover every available space both inside and out. A range of themes can be seen in the terracotta artwork. The lowest panels on the outer walls of the temple feature floral motifs with fully opened blooms alternating with foliage, along with scenes depicting life at the time and focusing on the landed nobility. The panels further up depict hunting scenes and royal processions of camels, horses and elephants, as well as nobility and their soldiers dressed in Mughal garb carrying weapons. Zamindars puffing on elaborate hookahs, chariots, stallions, boats with revelers, and squads of weapon-laden soldiers.

Panels higher up include mythological scenes featuring the nativity of Krishna; the attempts by King Kangsa to kill Krishna; Krishna’s slaying of the Putana ogress and the crane-demon Bakasura; the lifting of Govardhana mountain and subsequent killing of Keshi. On the south and east face of Kantojiu Temple are scenes from the Ramayana, with the north face portraying scenes of Krishna and Balarama – the elder brother of Krishna. The western face of the temple focuses on scenes from the legend of Krishna, including scenes which can still be seen in rural Bangladesh today – the carrying of milk and butter in string bags hanging from poles resting on the shoulder.