Mahasthangarh: A Global Heritage

Mahasthangarh: The earliest urban archaeological sites so far discovered in Bangladesh. This exclusive ruin presents a glorious past about two thousand and five hundred years of Pundranagar the ancient capital of Pundra Vhardan Bhukti. Amixture of Sanskrit and Persian meaning fortified place of an auspicious personage. Subsequent discoveries have confirmed that the earlier name was Pundranagara or Paundravardhanapura, and that the present name of Mahasthangarh is of later origin.The words “Mahasthan” means a place of exceptional sacredness, and “Garh” means fort. About four thousand years ago Pundurunagar was an affluent and strong settlement.

Punduru Bardhan was bordered by the Himalayas to the north, rivers Padma to the south, Korotoa to the east and Mahananda to the west. Seventh century Chinese traveler Huen Shang, mentioned that the perimeter of “Punduru Bardhan” was 8 hundred miles. This ancient capitalis believed to date back as far as 700 BC and appears to have been occupied right up to the 1700s. Mahasthangarh is located in the village Mahasthan in Shibganj Thana/upazila of Bogra District. It is the oldest urban-style fortified settlement discovered in Bangladesh to date, and includes a temple with the tomb of Shah Sultan Balkhi Mahisawara dervish (Muslim saint).

It is not clearly known when and how the Muslim rule came to Mahasthan. The most popular view with the local people involves Shah Sultan Balkhi Mahisawar and the last native ruler Porshuram. According to legend, in the year 1043 CE, Shah Sultan of Balkh, the famous preacher Shah Sultan Mahmud Balkhi came to Mahastahan accompanied by his disciples dressed as a Faqir in a boat shaped like a fish. The legend Mahisawar traveled to the area in the 14th century with the objective of spreading Islam among the local Non-Muslims

The site was discovered in the early 1800s and a number of world-renowned archeologists were instrumental in uncovering its cultural and historical significance. Francis Buchanan Hamilton was the first to locate and visit Mahasthangarh in 1808, C.J.O’ Donnell, E.V. Westmacott, and Beveridge followed. Alexander Cunningham was the first to identify the place as the capital of Pundravardhana. He visited the site in 1879.

Systematic archaeological excavation of Mahasthangarh was first started in 1928–29 under the guidance of K.N. Dikshit of the Archaeological Survey of India. After a long gap the excavation was resumed in 1960-61. The work continued in every season since 1988. Since 1993, excavation got a new impetus with the joint venture of Bangla-Franco. The excavations have led to the recovery of a large number of items; some of them are appended here under:

Limestone slab bearing six lines in Prakrit in Brahmi script, was an important discovery. It was discovered accidentally by a day labourer in 1931. The text appears to be a royal order of Magadh, possibly during the rule of Asoka. A Persian inscriptional slab of 1718–19 records the construction of a mosque during the reign of the Mughal emperor Farrukhshiyar.

Silver punch marked coins are datable to a period between the 4th century BC and the 1st–2nd century AD. Some uninscribed copper cast coins have been found. Two Gupta period coins also have been reported from a nearby village named Vamanpara. A number of coins belonging to the sultans of 14th–15th century and British East India Company have been found.

Ceramics mostly represented by a vast number of shards. A 5th century Buddha stone sculpture recovered from Vasu Vihara. ALokesvara stone sculpture showing the blending of Visnu and Avalokitsvara, was salvaged from neighbouring Namuja village. In addition, a number of sand stone door-frames, pillars and lintels, numerous Buddha bronze sculptures, terracotta Surya and numerous other pieces were discovered at Mankalir Bhita.

A number of terracotta plaques have been discovered. Many of these are on display in the site museum. The fortified area was in use until the 18th century AD. Within the fortifications of the city are a number of interesting features, including JiatKunda, Mankalir Dhap (terracotta plaques, bronze Ganesha, bronze Garuda etc. were discovered), Parasuramer Basgriha, Bairagir Bhita, Khodar Pathar Bhitaand Munir Ghon.

There are some gateways at different points: Kata Duar (in the north), Dorab Shah Toran (in the east), BurirFatak (in the south), and TamraDawaza (in the west). At the north-eastern corner there is a flight of steps (a later addition) that goes by the name of Jahajghata. A little beyond Jahajghata and on the banks of the Karatoya is Govinda Bhita (Situated 185m north-east of Jahajghata and opposite the site museum). In front of it is the site museum, displaying some of the representative findings. Beside it is a rest house (See maps alongside).

As well as museum carries lots of ancient symbols of the lost civilizations, and displaying some of the fascinating artifacts discovered in and around the settlement. These include a limestone slab inscribed with words in Brahmi script dating back to the 3rd century BC; silver punch market coins from between the 4th century BC and the 1st to 2nd century AD; coins of the British East India Company of 1600; shards of ceramics; a 5th century stone sculpture of Buddha; and terracotta plaques.

In 2010, “Global Heritage Fund” identified Mahasthangarh as one of twelve worldwide sites. This is a fascinating place to visit from a historical and cultural perspective, and from its elevated position it offers spectacular views of the surrounding areas.

Now the addition of walk way and sitting arrangement has made this place more enjoyable. This place also can be a tourist attraction. Coming generation can be benefited by visiting this historical wonder of Bangladesh. Commute to this place from any part of the country has become much more convenient with the construction of Bangabandhu Jamuna Bridgeacross the Jamuna River. All in all, Mahasthangarh is a very pleasant excursion.

By: Abu Hanif Noman, Jahangirnagar University

 

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