Work on Buddhist relics, 80 years on

by SEBANTI SARKAR, The Telegraph (India), April 2, 2010

Traces of settlement dating back centuries

Calcutta, India -- The Archaeological Survey of India and the West Bengal State Archaeology Department have started excavating what could be a sixth or seventh century Buddhist settlement in Murshidabad over 80 years after its discovery.

<< Excavation under way on the mound of Rakshashi Danga. Picture by Siharan Nandi

Rakshashi Danga or the Devil’s Mound is about 35km from Deka-Bichkandi, the state’s oldest Buddhist site dating back to the sixth century and discovered last year. The Rakshashi Danga site, where the ASI and the state’s archaeology department are carrying on joint excavations since March 22, is at Chandpara mouza in a village called Pratappur in Murshidabad. The site was discovered by A.N. Dikshit in 1928-29 but was lying idle.

The mound is probably connected to Deka-Bichkandi as some of the objects unearthed are similar. “The Deka site, now known to date from the sixth century, is 35km from the Rakshashi Danga site.

The surrounding area has more mounds — Rajbari Danga (officially recognised as the Raktamrittika Mahavihara mentioned by Hiuen Tsang), Sanyasi Danga, Bhimki Tala and Nilkuthi Mound. None of them has been fully explored,” said Amal Roy, the superintendent of the state archaeology department team camping at Rakshashi Danga.

Several wall segments forming three-room units that measure about 10mx8m each, a narrow passage and signs of an entrance have been uncovered. The bricks are hand-made, about 30-36cm long, 26cm wide and 5-6cm thick, such as those used in the pre-Pala era. One brick has a lotus design on its surface.

Roy said no figures had been found yet, but the excavation has already yielded a rich haul of dull red pottery, objects of shell, iron nails and pieces of stucco. “We have to wait for more extensive excavations to draw conclusions. But the objects certainly resemble other finds from the early medieval or pre-Pala period (approximately the seventh century),” he said.

Rakshashi Danga, about 200km from Calcutta, is about four to five metres high, higher than Rajbari Danga. “The ASI had taken it under its protection, but neither the state nor the Centre tried to find out what lies beneath the surface,” Roy said.

Work is on in six trenches with depths varying between 3 feet and 5 feet.

The walls indicate three rooms and suggest the presence of a large complex, only a corner of which has been revealed. There is not so much black ware as was found in Deka-Bichkandi. The dull red pottery fragments are not decorative and mostly are home utensils like woks and bowls.

“The objects resemble the finds at Deka. Taken together the area could grow into a tourist hotspot once we manage to uncover it fully,” Roy, who had discovered the Deka site and pushed for its excavation, said.

“Another 80 per cent of the mound remains to be excavated. It is high and has remained undisturbed. Maybe we can find structures that have remained less broken. Work will continue till the first week of May.”

The archaeologists working at the site in Deka-Bichkandi had initially estimated the ruins to be closer to the age of the nearby monastery at Karna Suvarna, Chiruti. The seventh century monastery was the oldest known Buddhist relic in Bengal till Deka-Bichkandi was unearthed.

The monastery dates back to the time when Hiuen Tsang visited India. His writings mentioned a Mahavihara (monastery) close to the Karna Suvarna Nagari, but there is no mention of other monasteries or stupas. So the archaeologists at Rakshashi Danga may be rewriting history in many ways.

Gautam Sengupta, the director-general of the ASI, had earlier as the director of state archaeology initiated major excavations in this area and eased formalities for the effort.

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