An at least 800-years-old temple has been unearthed in Dinajpur's Kaharol that has a unique architecture and includes a unique idol, that of the Vishnu avatar Mohini.
This goddess is well-known across South and West India, but the Kaharol temple is the first of its kind discovered in the eastern subcontinent. Experts say the implications of this finding may change predominant ideas about the region's history and traditions.
A Jahangirnagar University archaeology team began survey in Madhabgaon of Dabor Union in April this year and found the temple. A full-scale excavation funded by the Cultural Affairs Ministry and the University Grants Commission has been going on for the last three months.
Madhabgaon temple's architecture contains a feature called Navarath, sets of nine facets on all four sides. In fact this temple contains two additional sub-facets, or Uparath, behind each outermost facet.
This is the only such temple in Bangladesh, the team said. It is characteristic of Kalinga architecture of the 11th and 12th century eastern India.
Apart from the unique Mohini idol, excavators have also found a Shankha in Vishnu's hand, a Sudarshana Chakra, a mace and a part of a Vishnu idol's foot adorned in garland.
The excavation team's workers include 13 veterans of the Mahasthangarh archaeological site as well as 26 locals. The 10 archaeology students from JU are engaged in drawing up the design of the temple that can be used in future research.
Excavation team chief JU Assistant Professor Dr Shadhin Sen said the temple is divided into two parts. There is a 12 by 12 metre chamber on the west side where worship was possibly held.
“This is the first Navarath temple in Bangladesh. Earlier a Pancharath [five-faceted] temple was found in Dinajpur's Nababganj,” he said.
The team had spoken to Indian archaeologist Dipak Ranjan Das who had remarked that the upper portion of the temple was similar to the Siddheswara Shiva temple in Bankura, West Bengal.
Claudine Bautze-Picron, an expert of East Indian iconography, has identified the idol recovered from the eastern part of the temple as that of Mohini, the Vishnu Avatar, he said.
“According to her this is the first stone-made Mohini idol in the eastern subcontinent, which leads us to reconsider the history of this region.”
In Hindu mythology, Mohini is the only female Avatar of the god Vishnu, who appears in the Samudra Manthan myth. The goddess is worshiped widely in South and West India.
After excavation, photography and documentation, the team will cover the temple with soil once again for its preservation, a standard practice for archaeological preservation. But locals have demanded that the temple be opened to the public.
Dr Sen said this would require preservation and maintenance by the Archaeology Department. Madhabgaon residents have filed an application with the government for the approval.