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Mrityulata – Death Vine – Decorative Terracotta Panel In Bengal Hindu Temples

Mrityulata is a vertical decorative terracotta panel in Hindu temples in Bengal. It contains a vertical series of humanoid and animal figures, each poised to attack the figure below. But in some instances the serial figures are not attacking the figure just below, but displayed vertically one above the other in a peaceful way. Even very rarely there are copulating human figures too. This justifies the use of the term Kalpalata or Barsha panel instead of Mrityulata for these panels.

In the Bengali vernacular, there are three terms associated with decorations of temples in Bengal – ‘Mrityulata’ meaning death vine, ‘Kalpalata’ (difficult to explain, roughly “the vine which fulfills wishes) and ‘Barsha’ meaning ‘lancet’ or ‘javelin’ .

In most of the Mrityulata scenes, we find that certain unusual creatures are engulfing certain other animals like lion, horses or even elephants and vice-e-versa. Horse riders with arms are attacking animals. Tarapada Santra has even described the war between Kali Sena and Shiva Sena. These are the common phenomena in Mrityulata subject.

Mrityulata scenes are mostly situated in the vertical corner projection of temples placed longitudinally from the base to the cornice of temples.

The projections are either triangular or simply flat in 19th century temples and have been accommodated mostly in the side panels like in Itonda, Dignagar