Ancient Buddhist monastery comes to sight in Midnapore

Archeologists from the University of Calcutta have excavated relics at Moghalmari in West Midnapore that indicate a strong presence of Buddhism in West Bengal between the seventh and twelfth centuries.

During the excavations at Moghalmari village of Dantan block, 180 km from Kolkata, the team found structural details of a monastery, an inscribed seal and a stucco human head (possibly of the Buddha).

The Sanskrit inscription on the seal has been deciphered as the Buddhist Dharmaparyay, a hymn that gives glimpses into the Buddha's teachings on philosophy. The script dates back to the eighth-ninth centuries and shows characters peculiar to Siddhamatrika of the eastern Indian variety.

The archeologists, led by Asok Datta, reader in the department of archeology of Calcutta University, also found terracotta votive tablets showing the Buddha in the 'dhyana' pose along with two rows of miniature figures at the bottom showing the famous five transcendent Buddhas.

The tablets showing the Buddha in dhyana is very unique, and a characteristic monastic artifact that proves beyond doubt the existence of an extensive monastic settlement at the site, the archeologists said.

The mound was first excavated by the department of archeology, CU, in 2003-04. However, its monastic identity was fairly established in the excavations of 2006-07.

"The antiques once again justify that it was a Buddhist monastery. We have also discovered the plan of the monastery. A pradakshina path, along which devotees would go around, has also been discovered," said Datta. He was referring to a circumambulatory path in the eastern and southern part of the monastery, known as a pradakshina path, that the devotees would encircle as part of a monastic ritual. The outer wall of the pradakshina path is decorated with stucco depicting different Buddhist legends.

The height of the plinth of the outer wall till the main entrance of the monastery in the northern part is about 4 metres. The upper part of the wall is thickly decorated with stucco figures and designs. An enormous variety of designs in stucco (lime and gypsum mixed with sand, typical in early Buddhist monastic sites) have also been excavated.

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