Maluti : A Truly World Heritage Village

Some FB posts were my first introduction to Maluti. A friend had posted some pictures with a brief introduction. A Google search fetched further information. Jharkhand showcased the Maluti temples in its official tableau during the Republic Day parade of 2015. This was another impetus for me to visit Maluti.

The tableau of Jharkhand passes through the Rajpath during the Republic Day Parade-2015, in New Delhi on January 26, 2015. (Image courtesy: Press Information Bureau, Delhi)

Maluti (also Malooti, मालुटी, মলূঢি) can be truly called a ‘world heritage village’. This small village— quite isolated by and large from modern times—is situated at the fag-end of Chota Nagpur plateau, in Shikaripara block of Dumka district, Jharkhand.
The name of the village probably comes from Mallahati (Malla Kings of Bankura, Bishhnupur) who once had great authority over this area. The area ruled by Malla kings of Bankura was Damin-i-koh i.e., present Pakur subdivision in the north, Burdwan in the east, Midnapore in south and some portion of Chota Nagpur plateau in west. This vast land was called Mallabhum. The village might has been named in relevance with the royal dynasty. The area subsequently came under the rule of independent late medieval Muslim rulers of Bengal or Gaura (গৌড়া, गौर). Sultan Alauddin Hussain Shah was one them, who founded the Hussain Shahi dynasty. He became the Sultan after assassinating the Abyssinian Sultan, Shamsuddin Muzaffar Shah. Maluti’s history is linked Sultan Alauddin Hussain Shah (1495–1525) who granted the zamindari of Maluti to a poor Brahmin Basanta Roy. The kingdom or zamindari of Maluti used to be known as ‘Nankar raj’. The capital of Baj Basanta dynasty was in Damra. Later it was shifted to Maluti. Baj Basanta was a deeply spiritual person. Instead of constructing palaces, he built temples. Later generations, divided into four clans, continued to build the temples, competing with each-other. Thus the area resulted out as a unique temple village.

The terracotta temples of Maluti : Sad reminder of a distinguished past
The crudely restored temples of Maluti.

Another story about the village is that the name ‘Maluti’ has derived from the old word ‘Mahulati’. This name is found in a ‘royal will’ which was written between 1865 and 1881. This hilly terrain area of Santhals is full of Mahul trees and there were many villages named Mahul Pahari, Mahul Bona etc. and so some academics opine that Maluti means the area full of Mahul trees.
Maluti once had 108 terracotta temples clustered in a radius of just 350 metres. Presently 72 temples can be found here. Unfortunately, majority of them in varying stages of decay and many in ruins. Most of these temples were built between the 17th and the 19th century and are examples of beautiful intricate terracotta work. In ancient times the village was also known as ‘Gupta Kashi’ because of large number of Shiva temples found here.

The glory gone : Remains of a temple in Maluti
Results of willful neglect : Condition of a terracotta temple of Maluti, Dumka, Jhakhand
Remains of a building, Maluti, Dumka

The architectural style of the temples is predominantly regional Bengali. People offer daily worship in some of these temples, but most of them lie neglected and deserted. Maluti’s temples are decked with detailed and intricate terracotta carvings based on Hindu mythologies, especially the epics—Ramayana and the Mahabharata along with scenes of the battle of Durga and Mahishasura. The inscriptions are mostly in early Bengali script which is a mixture of Sanskrit, Prakrit and Bengali. The dates are generally mentioned as per ‘Shaka’ era. It is believed that zamindar Basant Roy and his family constructed 108 terracotta temples here between 1680 and 1760.
Maluti used to be inhabited in pre-historic times. This fact is corroborated by the discovery of certain pre-historic stone tools found in the river bed of Chila River, which is also called Chandan Ghat Nala. The river Chila is flowing at the southern edge of the village and marks the boundary of Jharkhand and West Bengal.

Ram-Ravana battle in Arch Panel of a temple, Maluti
Priceless treasure in ruins, Maluti, Dumka, Jharkhand
Pedigree of several hundred years remain neglected
Decoration of a temple: Every Panel in Maluti tells a story
Cluster of Temples, Maluti (Distt. Dumka) Jharkhand
Dilapidated temples, which may disappear soon, Maluti

A short visit to Maluti for a couple of hours is not enough. It has left me yearning for more and I will certainly be going back soon. After the fall of the Pala rulers, temples started deteriorating and some crumbled. The existing temples too are mostly in a state of ruins.
Shri Gopaldas Mukhopadyay (85), a retired school teacher and village elder—popularly known locally as ‘Botu da’—is trying his best to take care of the remaining pieces of heritage, but this lone crusader has no support to help him. A meeting with Shri Gopaldas Mukhopadyay would have been wonderful. Unfortunately it could not happen. A visit to Maluti made me proud of our heritage and simultaneously left me saddened to see that priceless treasure in ruins, uncared and neglected.
The Maluti temples were not known to the outside world till A.K.Sinha, Director of Archaeology, Government of Bihar, publicized them for the first time in 1979.
In 2009, an NGO called Save Heritage and Environment (SHE) contacted the Global Heritage Fund (GHF) to help conserve this unique temple village. Soon after this, in 2010, GHF declared this village one of the world’s twelve ‘vanishing cultural heritage sites’ (on the verge’ of irreparable loss and damage). Maluti is the sole site from India on that list which received concern of Save Heritage and Environment.

The village is also famous for an old temple of Maa Mouliksha. ‘Mouli’ means ‘head’ and ‘iksha’ means ‘to see’. The idol here has no body, except a head and two eyes. The laterite stone red coloured icon has a smiling face. This typical Bengali ‘do-chala’ (two-roofed) design, with a ‘verandah’ in front is different from other terracotta temples of Maluti village. The temple is situated far off from any locality. The current temple was constructed on the original foundation.

Main entrance of the Temple of Maa Mouliksha, Maluti
The idol of Maa Mouliksha (a form of Maa kali)
Pieces of terracotta panels under a tree in compund of Maa Mouliksha, Maluti

Maa Mouliksha is the ancestral deity of the royal family. It is believed that the great Sadhak Byamakhyapa came here to be the priest of the Devi. He was a great devotee of Maa Mouliksha Maa, but as he was unable to memories the Sanskrit hymns and chants to worship Devi, he was appointed as a cook here and cooked Devi’s ‘bhog’ daily. He spent his most of the time in the temple yard. Byamakhyapa stayed here for eighteen months and then fled from Maluti and went to Tarapith, where he became a priest at famous Ma Tara Maa temple.

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