Bengal museum to reconstruct excavated Buddhist site

Indo-Asian News Service, September 12, 2005

Kolkata, India -- A new Buddhist gallery is coming up at the State Archaeological Museum in Kolkata that will display antiquities found in Jagjivanpur, a recently excavated site in Malda district of West Bengal.

The new gallery will recreate the ancient site of Jagjivanpur with valuable antiquities recovered from there, which include the remains of a monastery built by a hitherto unknown Pala king, Mahendrapala.

Jagjivanpur, 36 km east of Malda town, stands close to Rajshahi district of Bangladesh. Situated 349 km north of Kolkata, Malda is famous for its large Fajli mangoes.

"We are reconstructing the site in the gallery and it would be known as Jagjivanpur Gallery, where onscreen visuals and artefacts, including terracotta plaques, pottery, etc. would be kept," said Gautam Sengupta, director of West Bengal archaeology and museums department.

"During our excavations from 1990 to 2004 and more precisely from 1995, we have found this Buddhist site, which throws new light on the history of Bengal," he said.

The site at Jagjivanpur has a number of mounds, locally known as "Bhita" and "Danga". A number of waterbodies and vast stretches of rice fields dot the one square km landscape.

The archaeological department became aware of the importance of the site with the chance discovery of a copperplate charter, which revealed the identity of Pala king Mahendrapala.

Issued in 854 AD by Mahendrapala, the charter mentions about the construction of a monastery at Nandadirghika Udranga under the patronage of his general Vajradeva.

Taking cue from the inscription in the charter, the state Directorate of Archaeology and Museums began exploring the area from August 1990.

However, full-fledged excavation of the site began only in 1995. Excavation in one of the mounds locally called as "Tula Bhita", laid bare a considerable portion of a huge monastery, evidently the one referred to in the copperplate.

Like many other Buddhist sites, Jagjivanpur is immensely rich in terracotta plaques. More than 250 plaques have been found from the "Tula Bhita" mound alone. Made of fine levigated clay, often with a micaceous compound, the plaques are normally red in colour.

Many plaques depicting sacred text have been found during the excavation, which bear testimony to the Buddhist tradition of copying and worshiping sacred texts. Apart from the terracotta plaques, more than a hundred terracotta seals and sealings have also been found so far.

Among other antiquities are beads of terracotta and semi-precious stones, bricks with various designs, items of everyday use like iron-nails, terracotta lamps, dabbers and a large number of pots and pans coloured red and grey.

Encouraged by the findings, the archaeology and museums department say that it can be developed as a major Buddhist tourism site.

"Jagjivanpur can be part of the Buddhist tourism circuit in India if the state government promotes the region and tags it with popular hill stations like Darjeeling in north Bengal," said Sengupta.
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