Boats and other vessels in the temple decoration of Bengal

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A boat with a richman inside cabin_ Dwarhatta 1
Zamindar in Boat, Dwarhat

Written by Asis Kumar Chatterjee.


Various types of boats and other water vessels are seen in the decoration of the temple of Bengal, it is really surprising. Bengal is surrounded by rivers, so water vessels are pride of Bengal. Keeping it in mind, artists had included water vessels to decorate temples. The decoration of the temple reflected contemporary social customs and events, so the design of these vessels is considered as one of the historical instruments of that time. Since the most of decorations of the temples of Bengal is terracotta, we will put our discussion on the basics, mentioning other works later.

Small country Boat 5, Jorbangla
Native boats of Bengal, Jor Bangla


In temple decorations, various types of boats and other vessels are used mainly for two purposes:

  1. As part of mythological and religious myths.
  2. As part of social scene.

    Nouka Vilash (Joyride in a boat by Lord Krishna & Radha)_ Krishna Chandra temple, Kalna
    Boat Riding

Example of using boats and vessels as part of mythological and religious myths:

  1. Boat riding view of Krishnilila. In many temples, there are variety of Krishnilila and boat riding scene. Many examples can be given, I mentioned a few. The readers must be able to give more examples.
  2. Kamal Kamini’s story. Kamal Kamini’s story is a well-known myth. There are many examples of this also.

    Boat with men with musket, Jorbangla
    Armed Boat

Example of using boat and vessels as part of social scene: Various types of boats and other vessels are shown in various temples in many scenes. There are three types in this scene.

  1. Ordinary native boats.
  2. Large boats, in which Zamindars or rich people are going.
  3. Large sized vessels with foreign (European) passengers or armed soldiers, which can be said to be portrayed in the form of foreign ships.

    Boat with Europeans with muskets - may be soldiers or pirates, Jorbangla
    Armed Boat of Europeans

Various types of ships available in Bengal

To discuss the vessel in the decoration of the temple, first we need to know what boats were seen in Bengal in the 18th-19th centuries. It is not difficult to find a list from the internet. I got the name of some of the boat, I have a list of them. Keep in mind that I do not have the knowledge to tell about the technical part in different ways. I can only say a little bit of a suggestion.

Name of the boat – Brief description – Common Use

Boat_ Gangeswar temple
‘Gangeswar’ Boat
  1. Patiya (or Patam): Large boats, boats with shade, were used as fishing boats.
  2. Bachari: With shade and masts. Mainly used for fishing. It had some sub category, i.e., ‘Kaila Bachari’, ‘Kalije Bachari’, ‘Malo Bachari’ etc.
  3. Pansi: With shade. For carrying goods and passengers.
  4. Chhip: Thin and tall, high speed racing ​​boat. Beloved by the pirates.
  5. Dingi or small boats: Usually for 2 or 3 passengers or for transporting few things.
  6. Khadiya Kisti: Very large freight boat, mainly used to transport straw or grass.
  7. Vor: Large boat, mainly for transporting salt.
  8. Sultani: Large boat, expert in contrary to the flow. Mainly used for transporting, except fish.
  9. Pauka : Flat bottom, large boats. Freight boat, used for fishing.
  10. Ghashi: Large boat with shade and masts, mainly used for transporting goods.
  11. Dholay: Medium sized freight boat.
  12. Salti or Chhoto Salti: Medium sized freight boat.
  13. Kosha: Small boat without shade and masts. Freight boat.
  14. Gayna: Large boat with shade and masts, mainly used for transporting goods.
  15. Saodagari (Merchant boat): Cargo carrying one / more than one flock.
  16. Lambe Padee: Long and big boat, with shade. Freight ship, without masts.
  17. Nayree: Middle sized boat with shade. Mainly used for transporting passenger and goods.
  18. Sampan: Middle sized boat with shade. Mainly used for transporting passenger and goods.
  19. Taler Nao: Made of palm tree. Used for transporting goods.
  20. Salongo or Sarongo: Small boats for fishing.


One should remember that the names of these types of boats are regional, and in many cases they are from Bangladesh. Without these boats, the large size boat, ‘Bazra’ was the most preferred vessel for the Zamindars and the rich.

Kamale Kamini, Ghurisha (1)
Kamale Kamini, Ghurisha

Various types of boats in the temple decorations:

It is to be remembered that the domestic boats that are seen in the decoration of the temple are more dependent on the imagination of the artist than the reality. And in most cases the proportion of the size of man and boat is unreal. But paintings of terracotta or stone work and paintings are not the same. So while viewing we have to see in their aspects.

One more thing, In many cases it is seen that the water vessels floating in the water, there are so many waterfowl. These animals are realistic or unreal – they are both visible. These were probably used to refer to the dangers of water, and the artists’ imagination. On the other hand, the possibilities of using these animals were to glorify the courage of the sailors. Whatever the reason or purpose, the presence of these diverse waterfalls that helped to enhance the beauty of the panels cannot be blown away.

Boat_ Ananta-Vasudev, Bansberia
Boat in Ananta Basudev temple, Bansberia

Now let’s see what kind of match with the actual boat and in the temple decoration boats. There are too many temples in West Bengal with boats in decoration. Among them Rajrajeswar temple of Dwarahatta, Hooly, Laxmi-Janardan temple of Ghurisha, Birbhum, Jora Bangla temple, Madan Mohan temple, Shyam Rai temple, Ramchandra temple of Bishnupur, Gupti Para temple, Gangeswar temple of Badanagar, Murshidabad are notable.

Boat in Giripathar, Ganpur
Boat in Giri Pathar, Ganpur

Some of the boats we see in different temples can be divided into these category:

  1. Without a long cabin (e.g. Rajarajeshwara Temple, Dharhatta; Madan Mohan Temple, Bishnupur)
  2. With a narrow long cabin (e.g. Ramchandra Mandir, Guppipara; Banavishakshi Temple, Hugli)
  3. Small boats (e.g. Banakati-Ayodhya)
  4. Flat-bottom boat with masts and without cabin (e.g. Rajbalhaat, Hoogly)
  5. Large rod shaped boats (e.g. Jorangla, Bishnupur) without a shade and masts, including armed European soldiers. These European people are likely to be Portuguese pirates, because armed pirates were used to strike Bengal in these fast boat.
  6. Shark shaped big vessels (e.g. Ramchandra, Guptipara).



The European merchants arrived in Bengal on the sailing ship of that day. European merchants traveled mainly through the Hooghly river, and in the north, they were transported to the entire bundle. Some of the artists of the temple decorations were skeptical of seeing this ship, but most artists tried to draw ships with European passengers or soldiers depending on the listening.  As a result, instead of the actual ship, two or three-story passengers were drawn into a large flat boat boat with a boat, and in most cases these ‘ships’ are ‘Makarmukhi’ or Lion’s face. A very good example of this type of ‘ship’ is seen in Rajarajeshwar temple in Dwarhattar of Hooghly district.

Boat ride_ Charbangla complex, Baronagar
Boat Riding, Char Bangla, Badanagar
Nouka Vilash (Radha & Krishna in a boat)_ Rajbalhat
Boat Riding of Radha Krishna, Rajbalhaat

More Pitures

Ship_ Dwarhatta 3
Ship of Dwarhata
Ship with mast & sail_ Dwarhatta (1)
Sailing Ship, Dwarhata
A Ship _ Dwarhatta 2
Ship, Dwarhata
Ship_ Dwarhatta 11
Ship, Dwarhata
Boat Riding, Guptipara
Ghurisha 1 (4) (1)
Boat Riding, Ghurisha

Boat decorations, except for terracotta

Stone boat decorations can be seen in the works of Giri Pathar or Ful Pathar of Ganapur in the district of Birbhum.


Boats and ships are very interesting and thought-provoking in the decoration of the temple. Hope this article will be able to attract many people’s attention here.

Photo Courtesy : Writer.

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Post Author: Udayan Majumder

Udayan Majumder
Photographer, Traveler and Explorer. Student of B.Sc pure science but more interested in Literature and Culture. Folk Culture is one of the most interesting topic to him. Loves roaming. Solo Rider.

0 thoughts on “Boats and other vessels in the temple decoration of Bengal


    Md Mustafizur Rahman

    (23rd December 2018 - 3:43 am)

    Your effort is great,we could feel the pulse of our Brothers in the west.

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