Sanjay Das /India

Terracotta Marvels

West Bengal has been one zone that has deeply inspired me, time and again. It has been many years now, that I keep going back to the region, almost always preferring to take the road instead of any other means, driving all the way from Delhi, taking local boats and animal carts to reach the nooks and crevices of the fascinating lands, that behold so many surprises still.

While travelling through the lengths and breadths of West Bengal, I discovered these gems in Terracotta. Surprisingly though, they stand in oblivion, garnering absolutely no focus and zero curiosity from the locals or visitors. These temples were without doubt built with highly adept craftsmanship of terracotta panels. These structures were an eye opener for me and marked the beginning of an intriguing journey, of another interesting story. Besides, this was additionally exciting for me because along with history and aesthetics, there was exclusivity to this chapter.

Terracotta temples are found nowhere else in the country except West Bengal. Terracotta is the craft of baking clay to make things of use, play or even structures to live in. But to make intricate carvings using this technique is but remarkable. In popular culture, the terracotta temples of Bishnupur in the Bankura District attract throngs of tourists, Vaishnava devotees and photographers to catch a glimpse of their splendour. And rightfully so. However, the temples I reached were far beyond the realms of Bishnupur. They were spread across the recesses of the entire West Bengal standing through the bends of time, awaiting glances of recognition and appreciation. These temples were built by the regional kings and zamindars, some for their own personal use within private premises, or outside for the public. It was like discovering architectural gold! As I journeyed through these temples, district after district, estate after estate, I became richer in my senses. The myriad stories that accompany each of these temples are fascinating and need to be told. Because of all adjectives I have used over the years for these temples, one that is befitting is the term "rare."

From the mid-15th Century, the art of baked soil took its finest shape on the temples walls of West Bengal. The vitality of the temples is not restricted to the architectural forms. The temple walls are covered with moulded baked clay panels. Favourites were the epic battles of the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and of Chandi with the demons. The life of Krishna was another favourite. Secular themes included the warriors, hunters, musicians, tradesman, birds, animals, and day-to-day life scenes.

However, in a span of eight years during the time I was doing my survey and research on Bengal. I have been witness to the changes these structures have undergone. Within another few years or more, these temples will be reduced to dust, and with that we will kill an epoch of our pristine glory. Therefore, as a photographer who wants to keep alive the stories and unique elements of this country for posterity, it is my effort to preserve through visual archiving, the remains of a very glorious past and components of our plush ethnicity, that as much as we hope not, may cease to exist in the years to come. That is when these archives may help ameliorate the memories of those generations who may never get to see these structures again, and aid in presenting imageries for the generations to come who may never experience the structures in person even.

Sanjay Das

Curatorial Statement:

Sanjay's photographic documentation of the terracotta temples of West Bengal is a rare historical evidence of a forgotten tradition and craft, which is exclusive to the eastern Indian state. The photographer through his highly detailed eye and classical approach along with his unique visual storytelling sensibility transports the viewer somewhere between their days of glory and an uncertain future, questioning our own ignorance towards such marvelous vanishing cultural heritage.

Though the present and changing world, which continues to remain oblivious towards these rare hidden gems, they will one day almost quite certainly might require Sanjay's phenomenal effort to create this awareness of our own glorious, yet a sadly fading history.

Sandeep Biswas ( Curator )

Bio Data

India's rich cultural diversity and its many unique customs and traditions have been a major source of inspiration for the photographer. It has always been his endeavor to bring forth the untold stories that this country has to offer and showcasing them to the world at large.

The objective is to create imagery that tells a story - in color, in texture, in light and in shadow and form a unique blend, which is spiritually as well as mentally rewarding. Sanjay's works are a merger of theoretical and conceptual assertions with experiences, interests or fascination which finally forms the image and its meaning. Advertising professional turned Fine Art Photographer; Sanjay completed his qualification from College of Art, New Delhi. Photography developed as a passion in his early college days and ever since his involvement with photography has spanned more than two decades. Sanjay have been a part of many national and international shows. Born on 4th July, 1969 in New Delhi, the photographer lives and works from New Delhi, India.

Selected shows

"Heritage-A Celebration of our roots" (Group Show) in Mechuchen, USA, 2021. "The Joy of Bengal"

(Group Show) at Shridharni Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi, 2021. "Desolate" (Group Show) at Museo

Camera Centre for the Photographic Arts, Gurugram, 2021. "The Inner Path" (Group Show) at National

Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, 2019. "Bapu" (Group Show) at Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, 2019.

"Radiant Spaces-in search of lost time" (Solo Show) at Art Exposure, Kolkata, 2019. ""Vriksha"

(Group Show) at IIC, New Delhi, 2019. "Reliving the Lutyens' Splendour" (Group Show) at Vivanta by

Taj Ambassador Hotel, New Delhi, 2019. "Baluchars-The Woven Narrative Silks of Bengal" (works

were part of the project) at National Museum, New Delhi, 2019. "Monumental Terracotta" (Solo Show)

at Art Centrix Space, New Delhi, 2018. "Those Days- An Exhibition of Indian Vintage Photography"

(Group Show) at Art Konsoult, New Delhi, 2018. "One Soul Many Lives" (Group Show) at Bikaner

House, New Delhi, 2018. "India Art Fair" New Delhi, 2018. "50-50" (Group Show) at 50 years

celebration of Birla Academy, Kolkata, 2017. "New York Art Fair" New York, 2017. "India Art Fair"

New Delhi, 2017. "Tantra" (Group Show) at Art Konsoult, New Delhi, 2017. "The Art Singapore Fair" ,

2016. "Yoga Chakra" (Group Show) at Lalit Kala Academy, New Delhi, 2015. "Rediscover Bengal" (Solo

Show) at India Habitat Center, New Delhi, 2014. "Timeless" (Group Show) at NCPA, Mumbai in 2013.

"The Blue Room" (Group Show) at The Stainless, New Delhi in 2012. "Panchatatva" (Group Show) at

Birla Academi, Kolkata in 2011. "Closeup India" (Solo Show) at Shridharni Triveni Kala Sangam, New

Delhi, 2009. "The Art Singapore Fair" , 2008. "Breathing Space" (Solo Show) New Delhi, 2007.

"I have always been drawn to capture the mystery of a fleeting moment through my lens"

Sanjay Das