The other Nalanda in West Bengal !!

A group of researchers discovered a forgotten shrine between Medinipur in West Bengal and Jalesar in Orissa, on the south bank of the river Subarnarekha. What we know as the Moghulmari Buddhist Monastery is believed to have been a structure similar to the ancient Nalanda University.

The researchers, led by the late Dr Ashoke Dutta, reader at the department of archaeology, University of Calcutta, were in search of a lost course of the Subarnarekha when villagers drew their attention to a mound of artefacts, mostly stone inscriptions. The team found several hundred small figurines and started investigating. They discovered that beneath the 20x80 square metre mound was a 3,600 square metre space — most likely to hold mass prayer or meetings — in ruins. Remnants, excavated and analysed through carbon dating and other methods, indicate that this used to be a huge monastery, set up at least 1,400 years ago.

Their findings suggest that what is Moghulmari today was a part of Dantapur, a place mentioned by Chinese pilgrim and Buddhist Hiuen Tsang, who spent 15 years travelling through India in the seventh century, in his treatise Si-yu-ki (The Records Of The Western World).

It is believed that Dantapur was named after the word ‘tooth’, indicating that one of Buddha’s teeth was preserved when the shrine was built, according to a junior member of the team of archaeologists and historiographers engaged in the project.

The name is believed to have changed from Dantapur to Moghulmari after 1575 AD during the reign of Akbar the Great. Bengal was almost entirely overrun by the Moghul troops. Gujar Khan, a chief general of the Kakshals, a turbulent clan of Chagatai Turks, destroyed the Moghul van in a battle in Midnapur. The defeat of the Moghuls is symbolised in the rechristening of the region.

In May this year, Dr Datta submitted his final report, to be released in due course. “Paleographic scans, art and styles of relief prove beyond a doubt that this monastery dates back to the sixth century. The sandstone architecture, reflected in the bricks, has explicit similarities with remnants like Vikramshila, Nalanda and Moynamati of the aforesaid period in Bihar and undivided Bengal,” he said, a fortnight before his demise.

There are remains of ‘pradakshina path’ (pathway of Buddhist monks), but the entrance to the monastery and the spot where the deity was placed remain unknown. The structures that withstood the effects of time are a massive square, surrounded by rooms and a hall.

Perhaps the most important discovery is a statue of the Buddha in the bhumisparshamudra (touching the earth with fingers) flanked by Bodhisattvas. Besides these, equidistant pillars, extensive stucco (sandstone decoration using water, lime, marble and gypsum) imprints indicate that it was from the pre-Pala age of greater Bengal (comprising undivided Bengal, Bihar and Orissa).

Prof Bratindranath Mukherjee, past president of Indian Science Congress and a doyen among historiographers, confirmed that it was set up between the sixth and seventh centuries, and resembled the Gandhara architectonics.
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