In the Rajshahi Division, the Puthia Upazila boasts a remarkable site that those in search of Bangladesh’s architectural heritage should visit. A little to the east of the city of Rajshahi is a huge temple complex that holds a stunning number of temples in its bounds. In fact, it holds the most temples of any location of its type in the country, making Puthia a place to visit for those eager to see all that Bangladesh has to offer.
The place is appropriately called the Puthia Temple Complex, and it was established by a group of zamindars living in the area some centuries ago. Zamindars were the local aristocrats and rulers of Bengal, generally deriving their titles from grants given by the emperor, and the aristocratic family responsible for the construction of the temple complex, the Mughal aristocrats known as the Puthia Raj, were considered to have been among the most significant and affluent of the aristocrats in the country at the time. They were also known for engaging in a great deal of philanthropic work. However, what has truly gained them lasting fame has been the founding of the temple complex, which has lasted to this day as an enduring testament to their vision and power during their time.
There are more than a few structures in the complex and they are arranged around a central lake. Majority of the structures are crafted out of terracotta, as indeed is true of many of Bangladesh’s architectural relics, and one of the most impressive of these is the lovely Govinda Temple, which is dedicated to Krishna. This was built by one of the queens of the noble family. Another remarkable building, also dedicated to Krishna and made of terracotta, would be the Jagannath Temple. Then there is the very impressive Bhubaneshwar Shiva Temple, which was built in the early 19th century and which boasts the “pancha ratna” style of construction, which means it has five spires in total. This is actually among the most visited structures here, not least because it is so hard to miss: this is certifiably the largest of all the temples of Shiva in the entire country, covering a space of 19.81 square metres in total.
The Shiva Temple was commissioned by another of the aristocratic ladies, Rani Bhuvan Mohindi Devi. Its imposing bulk actually holds the largest shiva linga in Bangladesh inside. The linga is a phallic sculpture, very stylised so it is quite far from the realistic-looking herms of Roman pedestals, and is used to represent the god Shiva. The huge linga in the temple in Puthia was nearly stolen by Pakistani soldiers during the 1971 war, but was too large for them to carry off, fortunately enough. The walls still bear scars from that war, however, with a good number of the original embellishments having been hacked off and damaged.
There are many other things to see in the Puthia Temple Complex, from the four-storey main palace, the do-chala type shrine behind it, and other smaller shrines in the area. Plans to visit the place should account for this, as it should likely take more than an hour to fully appreciate the entirety of this site.