The statues were discovered yesterday at Dantan’s Moghalmari village, 180km from Calcutta and near the Odisha border, by a team of Calcutta University archaeologists.
“It appears to us that this was an institution on the lines of Nalanda. Some of the decorations found are similar to those in Nalanda,” said Asok Datta, a professor of archaeology and a former head of the department who has been leading the team.
Datta said monastic complexes were found in Murshidabad and Malda around two decades ago but the one in Dantan is the biggest yet in Bengal so far. “It appears the ruins of the monastic complex is the largest so far found in Bengal, measuring about 3,600 square metres.”
The archaeologist said the complex and the statues traced their roots to the reign of Sasanka, who ruled Bengal between 590 and 626 AD.
“We came across the statues yesterday. Some of the statues are of Buddha in various forms and figures. We have discovered some sculptures of Dharmachakra as well,” Datta said. Dharmachakra, a wheel of life, is a religious symbol representing Buddha’s path to enlightenment.
The digging at Dantan began in 2003. “A headmaster of a local school had drawn my attention to a big mound at Moghalmari village. I visited the place and saw some fragments of bricks that appeared ancient. I returned and decided that excavating the mound might reveal something,” said Datta.
The monastic complex is decorated with stucco art. “The excavation revealed the ruins of a monastery and other constructions from which we can deduce that there was some kind of a school or institution,” said Datta.
Five phases of excavation have been carried out. The sixth started on March 10 this year.
A librarian in Dantan, Surjya Nandi, said that the site should be taken over by the Archaeological Survey of India to facilitate more discoveries. “If the Archaeological Survey of India takes over the excavation, their expertise will help reveal many more things,” he said.