Moghalmari fest to bring ‘buried’ Buddhist vihara under limelight

Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey & Sujay KhanraJan 10, 2016, 11.45 PM IST

Kolkata: Buddhist monks from different corners of the country are set to converge on Buddhist monks from different corners of the country are set to converge on Moghalmari near Dantan in West Midnapur on January 24 to stake their claim on a newly excavated site, believed to be one of the oldest Buddhist viharas in India.near Dantan in West Midnapur on January 24 to stake their claim on a newly excavated site, believed to be one of the oldest Buddhist viharas in India.

What was written off as just a mound, which residents of the area believed to hide an ancient lore, has turned out to be a 5th century Buddhist site. The state archaeological department’s excavation has pushed the Raktamrittika Vihara at Karna Subarna in Murshidabad, dated 7th century, to the second position on the Buddhist religious map and calendar.

The Bauddha Dharmankur Sabha, headquartered in the city, has organised the two-day Moghalmari Buddhist Festival, which will see a rare congregation of monks at the site that dates back to the era of Raja Samachar Dev. This was the time when the Gupta dynasty had waned and local satraps had managed to shake off its suzerainty to declare their independence, Raja Samachar Dev being one of them. Most details of the pre-Pala age of Bengal is shrouded in mystery owing to lack of any historical evidence but now, scholars believe that the Moghalmari vihara excavation would help them piece together this past.
The excavation of the site, which had been put on a hold for nearly two years, will be taken up again from Monday. The state archaeology directorate had stopped the digging after archaeologists found coins and seals that had to be analysed to verify the site’s antiquity.

With the inscriptions on the seals finally ascertaining the fact that the vihara was founded and fucntioned during the 5th-6th centuries, if not earlier, the state government has decided to release funds for the new phase of excavation. Already, more than Rs 3 crore has been spent.

“A total of 6,400 square-feet area has to be dug up. So far, we have been able to work our way through less than 2,000 square feet. There is a lot of work to be done. Apart from the stucco figurines, gold, silver and mixed metal coins, pendants, votifs and seals, we have also been able to unearth a seal that describes the vihara as the Sribandaka Vihara Aryabhikkhu Sangha. The vihara did not grow in one phase. So far, we have come across evidence that pinted at the fact that the establishment flourished over second and third phases. We will not stop till we get to see traces of the first phase of the vihara’s development which might put the dates back even further,” said Prakash Maiti, director of the Moghalmari excavation site and a senior archaeologist of the directorate.

During the festival, the Bauddha Dharmankur Sabha will organize special prayers and meditation sessions to spread the message of Buddhism. Visitors will be taken on tours through the excavated courtyard, pradakshin path, the cells in which the monks lived. Seminars have also been organised on Tagore’s writings on Buddha and how his teachings had inspired Vivekananda. While on one hand, the festival would write a new page in Buddhist religious history, it would also help catapult Moghalmari from obscurity to an important position on the map of ancient Indian history.
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“This phase is especially important to us because we will look for more seals to finally establish the name of the vihara. Also, we might stumble upon the first phase of the vihara’s growth while excavating further. We have not yet reached the Garba Griha,” Maiti said.
District magistrate of West Midnapur J P Meena said a lot of interest has already been generated around the forthcoming festival.

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