State Minister for Cultural Affairs KM Khalid said the historical place will soon be developed as a tourist spot
Archaeological excavations at Nateshwar Deul in Tongibari upazila of Munshiganj have unearthed a large and rich stupa complex of the Atish Dipankar era for the first time in Bangladesh.
Atish Dipankar was one of the most venerated Buddhist saints and scholars in Asia, who was born in this area over a thousand years ago.
The discovery of the stupa complex was announced in a press conference on Wednesday.
According to the press conference, the stupa complex, a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics that is used as a place of meditation, was built between the 10th-11th century.
Among last year's discoveries was a large-sized aesthetic central octagonal mound. It also had four stupa halls around it. This time, two large octagonal mounds, a memorial chamber, part of a protective wall, and carved bricks have been added to the symbolic architecture through excavations.
A special kind of architectural memorial chamber in the center of the octagonal mound is a rare and significant discovery. The ashes of Gautama Buddha or his important disciples and their used things were kept in this chamber. Its upper part is round and the lower part is quadrangular.
The circular part of the memorial chamber is a symbolic form of the creationist philosophy of Buddhism “Zeroism.” In addition, the interior of the pile was built in the shape of a wheeled vehicle.
Round wheel is a replica of zero and a symbol of wheel motion. The vertical brick layout is compared to the wheel spokes. The spokes are imagined like the rays of the sun.
Dr Sufi Mostafizur Rahman, professor of Archaeology at Jahangirnagar University and director of Archaeological Excavation and Research Project in Munshiganj region, said the part of a protective wall made of designed-bricks was found during the excavation.
The fact that the protective wall was all over the stupa complex has been made much clearer by this discovery. This is the first time that Bangladesh has discovered a protective wall across an entire settlement, he added.
Earlier excavations had found broken pieces of designed-bricks, but they were not found in the exact location of the architecture. This time at least a complete brick design was discovered in the correct position on the outer side of the protective wall, said Dr Sufi.
A source of frustration during the excavations was the non-discovery of terracotta slabs at Nateshwar. Understanding the use of designed-bricks, helped solve the mystery this time. Designed bricks have been used instead of terracotta plaques to decorate the walls of the stupa complex in Atish's birthplace, he added.
Nuh-ul-Alam Lelin, president of Agrasar Bikrampur Foundation, said: “The more we dig, the more important and significant patterns are being discovered. More will be found if the excavation continues.
“However, the excavations are expensive. There are natural problems too. The government is cooperating with us but that is not enough. With more cooperation, excavation work can be done faster.”
‘Will be a tourist spot’
State Minister for Cultural Affairs KM Khalid visited the stupa complex discovered during the excavation.
"We can learn about our past history from the excavations at Nateshwar. Tourists want to visit historical places. For that purpose, Nateshwar Deul will be developed as a tourist spot. The government is cooperating with this project in all aspects,” said KM Khalid.
The state minister also inaugurated the Bikrampur Museum at the Raghurampur Buddhist Monastery archaeological site in Munshiganj Sadar upazila on Wednesday afternoon.
Archaeological surveys and excavations have been started in the Munshiganj area since 2010 and traces of ancient human settlements have been found at nine places.
Excavation work started in 2012 on an area of about ten acres in Nateshwar.
The excavation work is being carried out under the initiative and management of Agrasar Bikrampur Foundation in collaboration with researchers of Heritage Research, teachers and students of Jahangirnagar and Comilla University, and Hunan Provincial Archaeological and Cultural Materials Institute of China.
In the meantime, the largest octagonal and pyramid-shaped central temple of Bangladesh, a cross-shaped high-tech brick building with multiple roads, bathrooms, drains, multiple houses, floors, etc. have been discovered.
By using the carbon-14 dating system, archaeologists found that these artefacts dated between 780 and 1223 AD.