In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree,
Where Alph, the sacred river ran
Through caverns mesureless to man
Down to a sunless sea..............
--- Kubla Khan , Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Lapped in the rugged terrain of the Chotanagpur Plateau and away from the maddening crowd , din and bustle and the Kafkaesque ambiguities of the heartless city , silently breathes the idyllic Xanadu where , way back in the 16th century , did blossom the cultural heartland of the radh.
Bishnupur , as a locale of socio cultural importance , came into focus in the 16th century and – to be more technically specific – in the post Chaitanya Era of Vaishnavite movement . The area around Bishnupur is also known by the cognomen of Mallabhum after the Malla kings of the olden times – the local chieftains who happened to be famous wrestlers. Culturo-geographically and also ethnically the term Mallabhum includes the Damin-i-koh under the Santhal Parganas in the North to Midnapore in the South. The eastern part of Bardwan also comes under its purview. If we go by the records of LSS O’Malley, it becomes evident that the pre vaishnavite local chieftains used to be rigorous wrestlers who shared some intimate connections with the local Bagdi tribes. Both in the Mangal Kavyas (like Dharmamangal) as well as anonymous local skits/poems like ‘’.... Agdum bagdum ghoradum saje / Dhak mridang jhanjhar baje ......’’ and so on the Bagdis have been depicted as brave warriors. In the British terminology these robust sons of the soil have often been described pejoratively as criminals and dacoits.
However , it was socio-cultural accident or some pleasant turn of events in the course of history that this so called pagan ethno-topographic landscape came into contact with the mainstream sanskritised Vaishnavite culture of the post Chaitanya era – mainly under the kind auspices of Acharyas Srinivas , Shyamananda and Narottam . These three acharyas carry the lineage of the six famous scholars called the Sadhogoswami namely Sri Rupa Goswami, Sri Jiva Goswami , Sri Sanatana ,Sri Jadunath Bhatta , Sri. Gopal Bhatta, Sri Jadunath Das whom Sri Chaitanya Dev (1486 – 1533) had sent to Brindavana to spread the non violent ethics of Vaishnavism in the Northern India . After the demise (or should I say tirodhana ) of Sri. Chaitanya , the six scholars of the North sent their three representatives namely Srinivasa , Shyamananda and Narottama mainly to stand up to the challenge of cultural vacuum that was created after the demise of Chaitanya . On their way to Bengal, they took the route through the forests of the radh . They were carrying with them a number of valuable books and manuscripts. They were waylaid by a gang of dacoits who beat them and robbed them of their manuscripts. Shyamananda and Narottam could not take the shock and died instantly. Srinivasa, having no other alternative , started searching for the clue to the hidden treasures and found his way to the court of the Malla king Bir Hambir Malla Deva . The latter, being a connoisseur of learning, was impressed by the scriptural recitations of Srinivas. He was so moved that he broke into tears, admitted the guilt committed by his goons and also took initiation under Srinivasa .
This initiation was a watershed in the cultural history of erstwhile Mallabhum . The ruling dynasty became so impressed by the ethics of Vaishnavism that a new era of socio cultural renaissance seemed to have dawned on the region. The previous capital at Sankharipara was shifted to a new place which came to be christened under the name of Bishnupur after the name of Lord Bishnu. The Rasa Mancha , Dol Mancha , Dal Madal Kaman , the terracotta temples of charchala / aatchala genre and so on bear the testimony to this bygone glorious era .