Hyundai Architectural gems - VI
We go on a road trip in the Hyundai i20 Active to explore the unique Shree Govindji temple in Imphal
The final instalment of the series takes us to a mesmerizing temple in the North East
As we walked around the temple, we realized that all the effort to reach this hidden gem in the north-east was absolutely worth it
Little did I know that I’d seek tranquillity in Shree Govindji temple, which is partly archaeological, mostly architectural, and, surprisingly, houses no deity. Yet the terracotta temple exudes such calmness that the intriguing silence all around will leave you awestruck. Read our enigmatic experience as we drive to one of India’s most unique temples situated in the mystical north-east.
In this sixth and final edition of Architectural Gems of India, our destination was the Shree Govindji temple in the heart of Imphal, Manipur. We drove the rugged Hyundai i20 Active cross-hatch which, with its spirited engine and good ground clearance, was a perfect fit in this hilly terrain. The smooth-flowing design of the Hyundai only complemented the picture-postcard like landscape — clear blue skies with fluffy white clouds and lush green hills. The roads were equally beautiful as we cruised in our fiery red i20 Active towards Imphal. With tall trees on either side spreading their leafy arms above us and a sunlight-speckled tarmac below, this clearly promised to be one of the most memorable drives we’ve done in the recent past.
We entered the Kangla Fort and drove past the water canal with serene reflections of the sky and trees in it. Even on the steep climb, the performance-packed 1.2-litre VTVT petrol engine didn’t lose steam and kept surging ahead briskly. Soon we reached Shree Govindji temple, an architectural marvel that dates back to AD 1846. As we walked around the temple, we realized that all the effort to reach this hidden gem in the north-east was absolutely worth it. The experience was surreal, to say the least.
The temple is a unique structure of red brick and boasts of a rectangular medieval style of architecture. Spiritual, mystical, and magical. It’s difficult to find the right word to describe the feeling. We were all intrigued to hear the enchanting stories associated with this ancient structure. The location and the deafening silence only added to it.
Thankfully, we had an expert in the subject for company: Nilanjan Bhowal. Nilanjan is the principal architect at Design Consortium and an expert in urban planning and restoration. He has played a crucial role in restoring Shree Govindji temple to its ancient glory; most importantly, without altering the original construction and style.
According to Nilanjan, the east-facing temple was built with a composite consisting of terracotta brick and wood during the reign of Maharaja Nara Singh for the king to offer prayers to the almighty.
The east-facing temple was built with a composite structure of terracotta brick and wood during the reign of Ma haraja Nara Singh
This unique masonry of terracotta is peculiar in its composition of native alluvial soil and timber. Since the north-eastern part of India lies in the highest seismic zone, successive earthquakes in the region not only caused major structural cracks but uprooted the temple, dealing a blow to its sanctity. The idol of Lord Krishna was removed from the precincts and shifted to a new temple. Due to this, the temple remained in neglect for a century and suffered dilapidation. It wasn’t until 2004 that the government of Manipur decided to conserve and restore the temple to its former glory.
While we were strolling around the heritage site and soaking in the experience, Nilanjan informed us that the roof was reconstructed with bamboo, taking inspiration from the weaving pattern of the traditional bamboo basket. The new generation of skilled craftsmen, traditional artisans trained in terracotta art, were roped in from various parts of West Bengal to reconstruct the weathered parts of the temple.
Alluding to the uniqueness of the temple, Nilanjan said, ‘This is a very special property. In this building, 16 different types of terracotta bricks were used. We had to create a team. We approached artisans from small districts of Manipur and West Bengal, taught them what required to be done and started making a different kind of bricks for this. Some were circular, some others rectangular.’
Standing in the temple corridor, we noticed wooden rafters running along the length of the ceiling, vividly showing off traditional construction techniques. We also noticed the terracotta jalis and ornamentation under authentic cornices of stucco plaster which crown the entire temple and found it absolutely stunning. Unlike most modern structures that we see in the urban environment, this 18th-century structure isn’t just bricks and wood but so much more...
We asked Nilanjan to share interesting incidents from his restoration days and he said, ‘Back in the time when we were working here, there was allegedly a terrorist attack and the Army protecting the Kangla Fort advised us to stay overnight in the temple itself. The Army provided us with food and mattresses and for the first time I stayed at a place where I was constructing or restoring.’
It’s evident that a lot of effort, sweat, and conviction have gone into the restoration of this holy abode. And now this fascinating site has become a popular hot spot for locals and tourists to congregate. By the time we stepped out of the temple, the place was getting busy with visitors from nearby towns. It felt good to see a group of girls in colourful traditional Manipuri attire gather on the steps of the temple, posing for a picture. In another corner of the lawn, a middle-aged man was busy narrating stories about the place to a bunch of kids who seemed awestruck. Other children were making most of the large lawn, running, laughing, and playing hide-and-
Even on the steep climb, the performance-packed 1.2-litre VTVT petrol engine didn’t lose steam and kept surging ahead briskly
seek around the pillars. The temple had finally got a fresh lease of life.
As we came back to the Hyundai i20 Active, our dependable companion on this road trip, there was a sense of achievement and contentment on our faces. We had successfully completed the sixth and final leg of the Architectural Gems of India series and that too at a spectacular site like this. With palms twitching to get behind the wheel, we got into the i20 Active and started our drive back home. With glimpses of the entire series of Architectural Gems of India flashing through our minds, we realized it’s never the destination, but always the journey that enlightens you...