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PIRS and Temples
At the beginning of the 16th century, the population gradually grew up and people required more food and shelter. Seeing the rise in population, kings decided to occupy more land and make forest areas habitable and suitable for agriculture. People in Bengal began moving from the less fertile regions of west Bengal to the marshy lands of southeastern Bengal.
The marshy land was suitable for the cultivation of rice and perfect for fisheries. People from different places, fishermen and different tribes started migrating to those regions. At the same time, the Mughals made Dhaka their capital and lands were allotted to functionaries to make mosques and spread religious practices in that region. Early settlers needed some kind of order and leadership in society and Pirs played a major role in providing guidance and stability in new colonies.
Pirs were individuals with some spiritual and religious power. The word Pir is taken from the Persian language which means spiritual guide. Pirs enjoyed a special status in society and they were highly respected. The term Pir was given by people to individuals who possessed some kings of spiritual knowledge and gave guidance to people. This term included Saints, Sufi saints, Hindu and Buddhist deities and other religious personalities.
Sketch of Pir Budhan Shah at Mausoleum is located on hilltop in Kiratpur Sahib
To.harpreet, Pir Buddan Shah, CC BY-SA 3.0
Pira and Temples
Pirs became very popularised in 15th century Bengal.
The cult of Pirs started following the teachings of Pirs and started making various temples of Pirs.
The late 15th century saw a sudden increase in the temples built in Bengal, new temples for Pirs were seen everywhere.
People started worshipping these Pir as they claimed to have many majestic and spiritual powers.
Pirs gained the status of local deities and every community had its own Pirs.
In history, temples are generally built by powerful people to show their strength, but the temple for Pirs was built by lower-class people.
Brick and terracotta temple in Bengal was built by low social class people, such as Kansari, bell metal workers and Kolu, oil pressers.
These people built double roofs and four roof thatched huts for their local deities.
Gradually when the local deities were recognised by brahmins, their images were kept in temples and worshipped by all.
With the coming of European trading companies, the economic status of people improved and they started making temples.
The new temples copied the style of double and four-roofed thatched huts and this became the classical Bengali style of architecture.
Temple in Bengal
Amitabha Gupta, Radhamadhab Temple at Bishnupur Town in Bankura district of West Bengal, CC BY-SA 4.0
Pirs as Community Pioneers
Pirs guided the people of the community and they sometimes acted as adjudicators.
With the new settlement, people required guidance and assurance and Pirs played a big role in helping people.
Many new temples and shrines were built for praying Pirs.
People usually went to Pirs to deal with any problems, and Pirs gave their advice on issues.
Pirs acted as community leaders, who provided order, Guidance, and education and acted as adjudicators for the community.
Pirs were sometimes claimed to have supernatural powers and they were highly religious and respected.
The 16th century in Bengal was a period of transformation.
With the increase in population and less cultivable land, people started migrating from west Bengal to marshy and forested areas of southeast Bengal.
People cleared the woods and due to plenty of water, the area became suitable for the cultivation of rice.
Fish was also another thing that came with the marshy land. People started farming fish and it became a most important part of their meals.
From the 15th to 19th century people followed the cult of Pirs and they built many shrines and temples for the Pirs.
Pirs became very popular in Bengal and they became local deities and later got recognised by Brahmins and got prayed to in temples also.
Shrine of Pir
Amitabha Gupta, The Mosque of Pir Bahram Sakka at Bardhaman town at Purba Bardhaman district in West Bengal 05, CC BY 4.0
Pirs became very popular from the 15th to 19th century in Bengal.
A huge number of followers of Pir started cults and prayed to Pirs.
People considered Pirs as majestic individuals who had supernatural powers and declared Pirs as local deities and started worshipping the Pir.
Temples for Pirs were usually made by lower strata people.
Kolu, the oil pressers and Kansari, the metal workers, built shrines and temples for Pirs throughout Bengal.
Initially, they built double roof thatched huts and four roofed huts.
Later when the European merchants came to India, and people’s income improved, then they started building temples from bricks and terracotta.
Inspired by these huts, people built four roofed structures and they became a symbol of classical Bengali architecture.
These four roofed structures were called Chauchala.
It was built on a square platform and four triangles were put over four walls and they converge at a point which created a dome live structure.
The interior of these buildings was plain but the outer walls were highly decorated with colourful paintings, terracotta and ornaments.
Temples in Vishnupur, in the Bankura district of West Bengal, have many temples which are highly decorated.
Four roofed structures
Dr. Indranil Banerjee, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
The early settlers of Bengal needed a rich cultivable area for agriculture. They migrated to south-eastern Bengal, where the land was marshy and forested. The area was well suited for the cultivation of rice and perfect for fisheries. The people of new colonies needed a leader for guidance and that was the role of Pirs. They were religious individuals who claimed to possess superpowers. Pirs acted as educators and adjudicators for people. Pirs were respected and worshipped by the people. People even made shrines for the Priests after they died.
Q1. Who were the Pirs?
Ans. Pire were spiritual individuals who were claimed to have supernatural powers. They were relevant between the 15th to 19th centuries and they used to guide and educate people. They were the local deities of the community.
Q2. How the temples of Pirs were built?
Ans. Temples of Pirs were built by people of low social class. Two groups, Kolu and Kansar were the most prominent in making temples. The temples were in the shape of double and four roofed. Initially, the temples were in huts, but as the economic conditions of people improved and Brahmins recognised the local deities, big temples with bricks and terracotta were built.
Q3. What is Dochala and Chauchala?
Ans. Double-roofed temples were known as Dochala whereas the four-roofed temples were called Chauchala.
Q4. What does Animism mean?
Ans. Animism believes that all the objects, creatures and places around us possess a spirit and they are animated and alive.
Q5. The word Pir is used to describe what kind of people?
Ans. The term Pir included Sufi saints and other religious figures. This also included colonisers, soldiers, Hindu and Buddhist deities and even animistic spirits.
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