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5th century artefacts discovered in West Bengal

by Raktima Bose, The Hindu, June 6, 2009

Among the articles recovered are earthen lamps, iron nails and slugs, beads and bangles. The site has three layers, which indicates that it has undergone three phases of construction

KOLKATA, India -- The arrival of Buddhism in Bengal was till now traced back to the 7th century post-Gupta period. But recent archaeological excavations by the State’s Directorate of Archaeology and Museums at a non-descript village named Dheka in Murshidabad district have thrown up seals and artefacts dating back to the 5th century AD – indicating the presence of the religion in the region much earlier than was previously thought.

The site is just 20 kilometres off Karnasubarno, which was considered the earliest Buddhist site in the State and houses the ruins of the ancient Buddhist university of Raktamrittika that finds mention in the travelogues of the famous Chinese pilgrim, Hiuen Tsang.

“The presence of several mounds in the region adjoining Karnasubarno always made me curious,” Amal Roy, superintendent of archaeology at the State’s Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, told The Hindu here on Friday. “So we started excavating at one such site named Deuliapar in February this year and stumbled upon the artefacts.”

Among the articles recovered are fragmented stucco figurines, terracotta plaques, earthen lamps, iron nails and slugs, beads, bangles and hopscotch made of terracotta and, most interestingly, terracotta seals inscribed with scripts used way back in 5th century AD.

Mr. Roy said that two names – Vijayachandrasya and Vainya – have been deciphered from the seals, though their identities are yet to be established.

“We still do not have any concrete evidence as to whether it was a Buddhist site or not. But its close proximity to Karnasubarno and the nature of the artefacts excavated so far are strong indications of its Buddhist affiliation,” Mr. Roy said.

The site has three layers, which indicates that it has undergone three phases of construction in the past, starting from the post-Gupta period.

Mr. Roy said that the earliest used bricks were large and highly decorated with geometrical patterns. Some were even adorned with stuccos. The later ones were much smaller.

Interestingly, archaeologists have lately discovered another site named Ugura, which is not very far from Deulipar, where excavations have revealed Buddhist sculptures inscribed with the image of Lord Buddha.

“There is a high possibility that the region housed a flourishing Buddhist centre in early times. The entire picture will become clear once the excavation is completed,” Mr. Roy said.

“What we have found till now is just the beginning.”

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