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20 July, 2017 00:00 00 AM
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Mahasthangarh

Mahasthangarh

M Mahmud Ali

Bangladesh is a country of rich archaeological heritage, especially from the medieval period. The glorious history of Bangladesh reveals that Hinduism and Buddhism flourished during important ruling dynasties like the Mauryans, the Guptas, the Palas, the Chandras, and Deva and Sena kings. Under their royal patronage, numerous Buddhist monasteries were established all over the country.

Mahasthangarh is one of the oldest and the most important archaeological attractions in Bangladesh. ‘Mahasthan’ means ‘great sanctity’ and ‘garh’ means fort. Mahasthangarh is the remains of the ancient city of Pundranagar. It was the capital of the Maurya, Gupta and Sen kingdoms.

This ancient archeological and historical site, established around 2500 BC, is located at Shibganj upazila of Bogra district. It lies on the western bank of Korotoa River, about 13 km north of Bogra city on the Dhaka-Dinajpurpur highway.

It is believed that the rulers of the Maurya dynasty founded the city. It is the earliest evidence of urbanisation in ancient Bengal. A broken limestone slab from the 3rd century BC that bears six lines in ‘Brahmi’ script has been found there with the name ‘Pundranagar’ inscribed on it.

The entire area is surrounded by a fortification wall. The oblong enclosure measures 1,525 metres by 1,370 metres, with an average height of 5 metres. Evidence has been found at the site of successive Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim occupation. The Buddhists were there at least until the 11th century. Their most glorious period was between the 8th and 11th centuries, when the Buddhist Pala emperors of North Bengal ruled.

Beyond the fortified area, there are some other ancient ruins within a semicircle of about 8 km radius. Various mounds and monasteries (bihar) are scattered throughout the vast area outside the fortification wall. Among them, Bairagir Bhita, Govinda Bhita, Khodar Pathar (stone of God) mound, Mankalir Kunda mound, Parasuramer Prashad Mound, Jiyut Kunda (Well of Life), Godaibari Dhap, Noropotir Dhap, Gokul Medh (Lokhindorer Bashor Ghar), and Bhasu Bihar are mentionable.

Inside the fortified enclosure, the highest place in the southeast corner is occupied by the tomb of a Muslim saint, Shah Sultan Balkhi Mahisawar, and a mosque built by Mughal Emperor Farrukh Siyar. The archaeological site is still revered by the Hindus. Every year in mid-April, and once every 12 years in December, thousands of Hindu devotees join a bathing ceremony on the banks of the Korotoa.

There is a museum at the site where a wide variety of antiquities, gold ornaments, coins, terracotta plaques, toys, earthenware and so on unearthed from Mahasthangarh are preserved.

Several scholars and travellers contributed to the discovery and identification of the ruins at Mahasthangarh. Among them, the contribution of Francis Buchanan Hamilton, CJ O’Donnell, EV Westmacott, Beveridge and Alexander Cunningham are mentionable. Hamilton was the first to locate Mahasthangarh in 1808. Cunningham, who visited the site in 1879, was the first to identify the place as the capital of Pundra-bardhan. Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsiang (also known as Xuanzang) came to visit Basu Bihar monastery in this area in 639-645 AD.

The rise of society and civilisation in Mahasthangarh, its prosperity and fall ranges from 3rd Century BC to 15th Century AD. A recent excavation by a France-Bangladesh team unveils 18 construction layers, which is quite a fascinating discovery.

Mahasthangarh is our pride that must be treasured. We must take care to preserve this invaluable heritage of our country. In a 2010 report titled ‘Saving Our Vanishing Heritage’, Global Heritage Fund identified Mahasthangarh as one of 12 worldwide sites most “on the verge” of irreparable loss and damage, citing insufficient management (poor water drainage in particular) and looting as primary causes.

Reference: Bangladesher Protnoshompod by Abul Kalam Md Zakariya (Dibboprokash, 2007), and Discover the Monuments of Bangladesh by Nazimuddin Ahmed (UPL, 1984).

Photos: Writer.

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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