Ancient Hindu temple found built on Buddhist shrine in Bangladesh’s Dinajpur

Ancient Hindu temple found built on Buddhist shrine in Bangladesh’s Dinajpur

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A Hindu temple sits firmly on the remains of a Buddhist shrine in Dinajpur in an awe-inspiring sight that testifies to the conquest by Hindus of Buddhists at Barendra – a region in ancient north Bengal.Buddhist monasteries and Viharas had been converted into Hindu temples hundreds of years ago, and an archaeological team in Bangladesh believes these temples they recently unearthed will serve as witnesses to this significant transformation in the region’s religious and political history.Their construction may date back to the 8th or the 11th century, the archaeologists say, and expect carbon dating to fix their antiquity.Evidence of Buddhist ‘Stupas’ being changed to Hindu temples already exists, but now, for the first time, archaeologists have found proof of their imposition on a Buddhist place of worship.It was Emperor Ashoka in the third century BC who had first built a ‘Stupa’ to preserve the bodily remains of Gautam Buddha, initiating the practice of building these mound-like structures to house the dead.Jahangirnagar University Professor Swadhin Sen led the team that found the temples after digging 3,600 square feet at ‘Itakura Dhibi’ at Setabganj’s Ranagaon Union. “It is among around 126 archaeological sites identified when we began our survey at Setabganj (Bochaganj) in 2012,” Prof Sen told bdnews24.com.The expedition was being funded by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.“The temple had walls on its eastern, northern and southern sides with an opening on the west. The wall was of the tri-ratha type, a significant feature of Hindu temple architecture.”‘Tri-ratha’ implies a building style having a projection on each side.A 30-40 cm thick metal panel had been used to separate the base of the Buddhist temple from the Hindu one on top.“The main entrance was faced west. The bricks had been carried away by the local people, who used them to build houses, making it difficult to get a clear idea of the rectangular gate’s main design.
“But there might have been a huge stairway there.”The Jahangirnagar students, who have been digging for the past three months under Prof Sen and Prof Syed Mohammad Kamrul Ahsan’s guidance, have also discovered a thousand-year-old Hindu temple at Setabganj’s Meherpur. Meherpur. Prof Sen said he identified the two temples with the help of Dipak Ranjan Das, a retired professor of ancient Indian history, former archaeology Professor Arun Rag of Visva Bharati University and Cardiff University Professor Adam Hardy.Ancient temples in the region comprised two distinct sections – the ‘Garbhagriha’ or the innermost sanctorum, where the deity was placed, and the ‘Mandap’, a porch-like structure leading to the temple.“The Buddhist temple suffered severe damage because building materials had been removed from it to make the Hindu temple, which had its ‘Garbhagriha’ built right on top of the Buddhist ‘Garbhagriha’. “The new temple’s entrance, too, was on the western side of the structure,” said Prof Sen.‘Broken Stupas’ Remains of 13 Buddhist ‘Stupas’ were found on the south-west side of the digging site, four more on south-east part along with a square temple.The ones on north-west were buried with sand to erect the main wall of the Hindu temple and its front porch.They may have had ornamental lids, but now only their bare bases remain.Four among them had charred pieces of human bones, ashes and coal fragments. A mud urn found next to one of the Stupas also had crematory remains.These are known as ‘Sharirika Stupa’. It is among the three types of stupas found across the Indian subcontinent.The others are ‘Paribhogika Stupa’, built on used materials, and ‘Uddeshika Stupas’ which is used to house objects to commemorate various events of Buddha’s life.Besides these, ‘Votive Stupas’ are made to attain blessings. Professor Gregory Schopen, who teaches Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and also at Brown University, researched extensively on these ‘Sharirika Stupas’, said Prof Sen.“The South Asian stupas that have been known as ‘Votive Stupas’ are actually ‘Sharirika Stupas’ which used to be built near important Buddhist structures (large stupas, temples, viharas).“Important religious leaders were not the only ones who received this honour after death but normal disciples too.”“These sites later became pilgrim sites for Buddhists. This is the first discovery of ‘Sharirika Stupas’ in Bangladesh,” Prof Sen continued.These findings will paint a clearer picture of Buddhist socio-political culture of ancient Barendra and how it came to be a holy site, said the Jahangirnagar professor.Various terracotta plates have been found on the site. They have been identified as depictions of deities, Buddhist Siddhacharya with a female companion and Buddhist goddess Tara.The Hindus and Buddhist communities in the 6th and 12th centuries living in eastern India had intense conflicts and made compromises too, said Prof Sen. “There isn’t much archaeological evidence on the complex history of conflicts and compromises between these two major sects at Barendra.“There is evidence that Stupas at Mahastangarh’s Gokul Medh and Birampur’s Boala hillock were turned into Hindu temples… but proofs found at Gokul Medh are not fit for research.”“The Siddheshwar Shiva temple at West Bengal’s Bakurar Bahulraris is also built on a Votive Stupa. But this is the first discovery of a Buddhist temple being turned into a Hindu one in Bangladesh.”“The discovery of a Shiva Linga near the Stupas and countless mud lanterns proves that Hindu and Buddhist rituals were slowly merging at Barendra.”The Department of Archaeology has been informed and the professor hoped the government will take measures to preserve the temples.

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