Third century Buddhist relics, caves found at Taranga Hills

TNN, 5 September 2009

AHMEDABAD, India -- A team consisting of three archaeologists of state archaeology department could not believe their eyes in early February when they spotted two terracotta figurines at the foothills of Taranga Hills, 20 km from Vadnagar town. These figurines were of Lord Buddha in 'Padmasana' pose and were as old as third century BC.

The excitement did not end there. Further investigations of Taranga Hills- Jogida hill in particular, revealed several Buddhist cave shelters with proper terraces - pointing towards the late Hinyan period. Discovery of Buddhist idols is significant as the region is believed to be hub of medieval and early medieval Jain temples. The revered Ajitnath temple for instance, built during the period of Solanki ruler Kumarpal is a popular shrine in the region.

It was in 1936 that chief archeologists of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad, AS Gadre examined idols of Dharanmata and Taranmata temples that are worshipped by locals. Gadre had pointed out that they belonged to ninth century AD. Dharanmata was identified as Tara Devi, goddess of tantric Buddhism. The Buddhist settlement flourished between third century BC to ninth century AD in Gujarat, Gadre had noted.

But, this bustling Buddhist settlement was located right outside the now believed Anarthapura fort walls and symbolized the epitome of Buddhism in Gujarat. The Gurjar king Parsarti king Mihir Bhoja (836 AD-885 AD) says his predecessor Nagabhatta-II had conquered Giri fort of Anarthapura. Most people had migrated out of the fort city and moved to Vadnagar after ninth century AD, believe scholars.

"It is not an easy task to negotiate the narrow spaces in the caves. There are several secret entries and exits. These caves are a marvel and reflect the intelligentsia of that era. We found remains of pottery used by monks and statutes of Lord Buddha. One of the caves at the apex of Jogida hills seems to have belonged to the head monk of the Buddhist settlement," says director of state archaeology department, YS Rawat.

Also, the lower part of Jogida hills revealed an embankment for a reservoir and damming of a local perennial stream. Interestingly, some Buddhist idols in the hills are praised as local tribal gods and in one case has been positioned as 'Roothi Rani'. "It's interesting how these settlements have been interpreted by locals. We will be carrying further investigation in the area," says Rawat.