Indian Survey body ?stumbles upon? Buddhist site

Newindpress, April 28 2005

BHUBANESWAR, Orissa (India) -- When the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) began excavating the Choudwar Fort site last May in search of an ancient palace, little did it know that it would stumble upon something else.

For the preliminary stages of excavations reveal that this could be an ancient Buddhist site. The cruciform structure found by excavators at the Bodhi mound points to a Buddhist stupa in Ballal Dabi of West Bengal?s Kalna district, say ASI officials. There is a similar monument at Pahadpur in Bangladesh as well.

??Though presently there is no sculptural and inscriptional evidence to back our claim, the architectural plan of the excavated structure says it could be a Buddhist stupa,?? said D Jitendra Das, Superintending Architect of Orissa.

No Orissa temple is based on such a cruciform architectural plan, says he. The excavated site also shows projections at its four corners and is made of finely carved laterite stones and is typical of Buddhist structural plans, seen even at Sarnath in Bihar. Since Ratnagiri, Lalitgiri and Udaygiri are just 50 km from this site, he says, this site could have come under Buddhist influence.

Importantly, the massive excavated structure is superimposed over another one built during either the Somavamshi or Ganga period. ASI officials connect it to the Ballal Dabi site which, too, was superimposed over a Hindu structure.

The excavated site is believed to be from the 10th century when both Hinduism and Buddhism were in vogue. Moreover, the Somavamshis ruled both Orissa and parts of West Bengal during that period.

??However, whether it was used for Buddhist or secular worship is yet to be ascertained,?? Das added.

The excavated structure has three tiers, as is the case in several Buddhist monuments. But, at a later stage, it may have been demolished with a square structure built over it. Four gates of laterite stone blocks were also erected, says the preliminary ASI investigation report.

Das says, two more experts who visited the site also agree that it does not seem to be along the lines of typical Hindu architecture. The ASI, he said, has decided to consult the renowned historian Prof Karuna Sagar Behera on the matter.

The apex body has urged the Culture Department to transfer the land surrounding the site and the latter has agreed.