Temple architecture is one of the most fascinating features of the architectural heritage of Bangladesh. The greater Bengal (both Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal combined) saw remarkable architectural accomplishments from the 16th to the mid-19th century. Hundreds of temples were built at the time, which still stand tall representing the unique structural characteristics of the era.
The motivation behind the creativity and patronage was Gaudiya Vaishnavism, a religious-cultural movement launched by Sri Chaitanya in the first half of the 15th century. Many landlords and merchants joined the cult and sponsored temple complexes for their devotional quest.
Temple architecture has a unique identity in this part of the world. Due to a lack of suitable stone in this alluvial delta, architects had to resort to other materials, giving rise to the use of burnt bricks and terracotta for temple construction and decoration.
The most striking feature is the elaborate decorations covering the walls. In some temples, every inch of the surface (even the inside walls) is decorated with terracotta. This ornamentation is composed of rows of burnt-brick panels, each with a figure or geometric patterns, arranged in particular ways in specific parts of temple walls, and often forming large sculptural compositions.
After decades of experimentation, the organisation of these wall panels became standardised in the 18th century and temples were built with very similar decorative schemes. Kantaji temple of Dinajpur is the best example of this kind of temple.
The Kantaji temple is also one of the Navaratna temples consisting of nine ornamental spires.
According to the number of ratnas, temples were named as Pancharatna (five spires), Navaratna (nine spires) or Satero ratna (seventeen spires) in Bengal.
Ratna style temples are the composite type of architecture. There are a few temples in Bangladesh where elements of the Bangla style and the Sikhara (spire) styles are combined. The lower part of a temple is adorned with curved cornices, while a short, pointed spire crowns the roof.
Such architectural patterns originated in the 18th century.
Kantaji Temple in Dinajpur, Puthia Rajbari Temple in Rajshahi, and Navaratna Temple in Sirajganj are some of the rare examples of the design in this county.
The Navaratna style is an extension of the Pancharatna style where there are five (one in each of the four corners and one at the center) pinnacles.
Seven of the nine old spires of Kantaji Temple in Dinajpur are still visible even after an earthquake destroying most parts of them.
An 18th Century architectural heritage of Bangladesh, Navaratna Temple is located at the Hatikumrul union in Ullapara upazila, Sirajganj. It is the largest Navaratna temple of Bangladesh. Local people call it 'Dol Moncho'.
In its original form, the temple was generously decorated with terracotta ornamentations, but they weathered with time. The marks of the panels of terracotta plaques are still found on the façade.
The temple, which was later refurbished by the Department of Archaeology, contains no inscription. But from some textual references, it is thought to have been built between 1704 and 1728 AD by Ramnath Bhaduri, who was a revenue collector during the reign of Nawab Murshid Quli Khan.
It is a three-storied temple. The first floor has two verandahs, with two-sided entrance, while the second and third floors have no verandah. There is one staircase inside the temple to go up. Built as per a nine-spired temple plan, it occupies around 15.4 square meter standing on high plinths. Its central shrine measures 2.34 square meter.
The ground floor of the temple has a central 'Garbhagriha' (shrine) surrounded by two verandahs. The outer verandah has seven archways on each side. The central shrine has two arch openings -- one in the east and other in the south. The second floor of the temple has been built without any outer verandah, while the third storey looks over the central shrine of the temple.
The cornice of the temple was gently curved. Brick and lime mortar were used for the construction of the temple. Classical terracotta is found on the temple wall. Three other smaller temples have been found in the premises, one of them decorated with terracotta.
Navaratna Temple Shares architectural features with Kantaji Temple. Legend has it that each brick of Navaratna Temple was cleaned with ghee before it was set in place. The temple is an excellent sight after it has almost been completely restored.