Category Archives: Bangladesh

New finds at Nateshwar excavation site

A section of the new excavation on the 10 acre Nateshwar archaeological site in Munshiganj’s Tongibari upazila, where scientists believe a Buddhist city was founded more than a thousand years ago. The photo was taken yesterday. Photo: Star

The Daily Star, March 25, 2017

Our Correspondent, Munshiganj

Scientists have discovered several archaeological evidences of a Buddhist city older than a thousand years at Nateshwar excavation site in Munshiganj’s Tongibari upazila.

The new finds include an entrance and walkway, prayer hall, mortar floor, three octagonal stupas, pot shreds, baked clay materials, and burnt bricks.

The scientists unveiled their discoveries through a press conference at the excavation site yesterday.

Oitijjo Onneshon, a Jahangirnagar University-based archaeological research organisation, conducted the excavation with support from Agrashar Bikrampur Foundation and the Department of Archaeology of the government.

Teachers and students of Jahangirnagar University and Comilla University took part in this year’s excavation.

Head of the excavation expedition Prof Sufi Mustafizur Rahman said more archaeological evidences were expected to be found at the site.

BETA Laboratory of the USA confirmed that the artefacts were formed between 780 AD and 1223 AD, added the archaeology professor of JU.

Nuh-Ul-Alam Lenin, president of Agrashar Bikramapur Foundation, said the artefacts were discovered at the depth of 1.5 feet to 15 feet.

Ibrahim Hossain Khan, secretary of the cultural affairs minister, and Altaf Hossain, director general of Department of Archaeology, also spoke.

The excavation started at the 10 acre site in 2010, and 25 students are taking part in the field work.


Why we marvel at Mahasthangarh

Bogra has a far more ancient history in its land that we realise

Bogra has a far more ancient history in its land that we realise

Dhaka Tribune
Tim Steel

The origins of this very ancient site that we know today as Mahasthangarh, but which has been known through history as Pundranagara, is somewhat veiled from us by the usual mists of history.

Lying just north of Bogra, in the Rajshahi division of North Bengal, it has been subject to exploration and investigation for over two centuries; the most recent period of such work, by a joint French and Bangladesh team, has lifted a large part of that veil from the fifth century.

First identified as a site with major historic significance early in the 19th century, both the international excavations carried out there over recent years, and studies, such as that of the etymology of its ancient identity, is in some ways seen to raise more questions than answers.

The general consensus appears to identify it with a non Indo-European, non-Aryan people known as the Pundra. That mention should be made in the Mahabharatra of these people, probably about 9th century BCE, suggests that they may, indeed, have indigenous connections from beyond the Ganges basin.

Whilst there continue to be attempts to “Islamise” the site — a somewhat bizarre habit at such sites, predating Islam by as much as a thousand years in Bangladesh, we may well, however, wonder at origins even earlier than the retreat of the sea waters.

Perhaps the origins lie millennia before the apparent foundation, predating even the suggested third or fourth millennium BCE arrival of the Aryans.

Excavations of sites of the Harappa civilisation of north west India appear to suggest social settlements that may even predate those of Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Is it possible, one may well wonder, that in this site we have suggestions of a far more ancient history for the lands that are now Bangladesh than hitherto suggested?

We already have considerable evidence of pre-Common Era history of these lands as a group of independent “kingdoms,” reaching back, probably, even to the earliest times of urban development.

There seems little doubt that the wealth generated by international trade, including that with lands of Central Asia, along with what we now identify as the Southern Silk Road, linking Central Asian lands with what is now the Middle East and Europe, financed such communities.

The road to Bogra, today, to visit this extraordinary site, is itself littered with the heritage of over 5,000 years of history; and within 20km of the main site can be found, traces of over 100 Buddhist sites, together with those of both Hindu and Jain history, together with Islam of more recent centuries.

Indeed, there can be little doubt that it was the wealth of trade, and probably also social intercourse, that meant that these lands made their own significant contribution to the evolution of the three great, early, faith groups: Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.

Of these, the greatest tangible inheritance is that of Buddhism, dating from the time of Prince Gautama himself; a presence considerably amplified by the Pala Dynasty Empire of 8th to 12th centuries CE, which had its roots in North Bengal.

Crossing the bridge over the Jamuna, which, when it opened a couple of decades ago, was the World Bank’s biggest project and ninth longest bridge in the world, is still a memorable experience, whatever the season. But it is not long before any traveller knows they are entering a world so rich in history and heritage.

Just beyond the bifurcation of the road, where one heads toward such heritage treasures as Pabna, Puthia, Natore, and Rajshahi, the road heading northward, towards Bogra, passes, on the right hand side, an archaeology department sign to a little gem of Mughal period, Hindu temples — with two parts elegantly restored.

Further towards Bogra, a left hand road heads to Bhabanipur, with some more fine, early 17th century temples, and the ruins of an interesting, Mughal period palace, the home of the famous Rani Bhabani, known as the Queen of North Bengal, whose husband built the temple complex at Sirajganj.

Bogra itself is in the thick of Buddhist heritage, with its proliferation of Vihara sites.

Mahasthangarh, itself, is surrounded by such Buddhist remains, although the walled citadel itself, occupied until the 18th century, contains little that is visible within the walls and ramparts. Believed, originally, to have been founded by Hindus, to judge from the proliferation of treasures of Hindu origin during excavations early in the 20th century, there are many Buddhist sites in the immediate vicinity.

Indeed, the apparent coexistence of contemporary Hindu and Buddhist remains of both the Hindu Gupta Empire of the 4th to 6th century CE and that of the Buddhist Pala Dynasty of the 8th to 12th centuries CE, have reinforced the general belief that, despite the faith of the rulers, religious tolerance was well established in those periods.

In fact, the present day level of religious intolerance was largely absent from the lands of Bangladesh throughout most its history; Sultanate and Mughal Muslim rulers appear to have continued the practice of earlier Hindu and Buddhist rulers.

An object lesson, perhaps, for today’s Buddhist and Hindu rulers in neighbouring Myanmar and India?

North and south of the site, in immediate proximity, are fine remnants of Buddhist constructions. The site museum contains a few pieces of architectural and sculptural interest, but the National Museum in Dhaka, and the Varendra Museum in Rajshahi both hold more and better pieces, mostly of sculptural interest.

A limestone slab, found on the site in 1931, is believed to be inscribed by a royal order of the Magadha period, the vast kingdom that sprawled across much of the northern sub-continent for, perhaps, a thousand years before the Mauryan period from 4th century BCE. One of the last of the Magadha Kings is believed to have been the first significant convert, by Prince Gautama, to his Buddhist creed.

Within a circle of about 20km around the main city site, further sites, of Hindu and Buddhist origin, are plentiful, together with a few of early Muslim periods.

In immediate proximity lie such as Govinda, Mangalkot, Khulnar, and Godaibari Temples, all of which have been fully excavated, as has the beautiful, well kept site of the Bhasu Vihara.

In fact, driving on the narrow roads, especially to the north and west of the main citadel, many of the hillocks to be seen disguise unexcavated Vihara. A walk upon them will often reveal fragments of terracotta and pottery. And there are not a few visible remains of ancient mosques and temples, also, to be found.

In fact, over 30 sites, at least, remain unexcavated within that 20km circle, and archaeologists believe that there are around 100 yet to be recognised.

It continues to be a pity that accommodation to internationally acceptable standards is hard to find, for those visiting foreigners, who bring with them, not only cash, but also their cultural and social sensitivity, as well as their experience, and, sometimes, even expertise, to explore the wealth of archaeology, history, heritage, and cultural and social traditions that abound around this magnificent and, unquestionably, unforgettable gem of Bangladesh inheritance.

By any standards, for the seeker of cultural and heritage treasures, Mahasthangarh offers, simply put, a magnificent feast.


900-year-old temple found in Northern Bangladesh

A team of the Department of Archaeology excavating a Buddhist temple with boundary walls, built 900 years ago, in Jaldhaka upazila of Nilphamari. The photo was taken recently. Photo: Star

A team of the Department of Archaeology excavating a Buddhist temple with boundary walls, built 900 years ago, in Jaldhaka upazila of Nilphamari. The photo was taken recently. Photo: Star

EAM Asaduzzaman
The Daily Star

February 13, 2016 11:06 am

A Buddhist temple, believed to be built in the 12th century during the Pala period, has been unearthed in Jaldhaka upazila of Nilphamari in Northern Bangladesh.

A team from the Department of Archaeology excavated the temple on a reserved archaeological site in Dharmapalagarh area, named after the 2nd Dharma Pala who had established his capital there.

Mujibur Rahman, leader of the seven-member team that has been working since January 1, said the upper portion of the temple was destroyed and some parts of its basement were still buried.

He said they discovered several broken parts of clay pots, white marble slabs with motifs and a wall with overly burnt large bricks around the structure.

The length of the wall is 25 metres while the thickness 0.85 metres.

Also, the main structure of the temple is encircled by a 1.2-metre wide passage on which devotees used to walk as part of their rituals, said Mujibur, also the custodian of Mahasthangarh Museum in Bogra.

He said his team along with 20 workers arrived in January as part of an annual excavation programme of the government.

In 1987, the government declared Dharmapalagarh with some 30 acres of land and its surrounding Moynamotir Kot, shrine of Kherkathi Pir and Satisher Danga, a nearby place, a reserved archaeological site realising its historical importance, he added.

Assistant Custodian of Mahasthangarh Museum SM Hasanat Bin Islam, another team member, said the bricks found in the temple seemed similar to that of Mahasthangarh.

Asked about the historical background of Dharmapalagarh, Abu Sayed Inam Tanvirul, custodian of Rangpur museum, and another team member, said British archaeologist Dr Fransis Bukanon visited the area during 1807-08. Continue reading


World Religions News



This discovery is expected to offer a great deal of information about the early life of venerated scholar and saint of the Buddhist faith, Atish Dipankar, who was born over 1,000 years ago in Asia. The excavation, which lasted fifty days, began in 2013, with the Agrasar Vikrampur Foundation in collaboration with China’s Hunan Provincial Institute.

The old temple at Nateshwar has produced the discovery of two roads and a wall nearly three meters in width, as well as other evidence of an urban area in the southeast side of the site that was both busy and prosperous. Other relics have also been unearthed, including various pieces of pottery and ash pits. Other structures, called stupas, have also been found at the site. Stupas are spiritual sites that are typically constructed as mounds and usually contain relics of the Buddhist faith. These discoveries are said to be the first of their kind in the nation.

B-MYxsoCYAAeoC2Although fame came early in the life of Atish Dipankar, he did not journey into Tibet until the later years of his life. He gained followers and eventually became one of the most revered saints of Buddhism. However, his life and education remain largely a mystery. Archaeologists from both Bangladesh and China have expressed the hope that the new findings at Nateshwar would shed some light on the life of Atish Dipankar, as well as provide some insight into the rise and decline Buddhism has experienced in that part of the world. There is some speculation that the site could become a center for pilgrimage among devout Buddhists.


Archaeologists, monks visit millennium-old Buddhist site

Munshigan-Pic-2Dhaka Tribune
Our Correspondent, Munshiganj

Monks and archeologists from India, China, and Korea visit the 1000-year-old Buddhist town found through excavation in Nateswar in Munshiganj yesterday
Photo- Dhaka Tribune

Archaeologists and Buddhist monks from different countries yesterday visited the remnants of an ancient Buddhist town discovered recently at Nateshwar village in Tongibari upazila of Munshiganj.

A team of 20 archaeologists and monks from India, China, and Korea visited the ancient town – thought to be around a thousand years old – as well as visiting the sadar upazila’s Bajrajogini village, which is believed to be the birthplace of Buddhist scholar Atish Dipankar.

Those present during the visit included Awami League leader Nuh-ul-Alam Lenin, who is the chief patron of the excavation initiative, the project’s Research Director Dr Sufi Mostafizur Rahman, China Buddhist Association (Tibet branch) Chairman Drub Kang, Prof Chai Huarbo from Hunan Provincial Institution of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, and Munshiganj (sadar circle) Assistant Superintendent of Police Md Emdad Hossain.

On February 16, the discovery of the archaeological site was made public at a press conference in Nateshwar.

Over the last two months, archaeologists have discovered many different structures at the site, such as octagonal piles, chambers, pedestals, etc.

Four Chinese archaeologists are accompanying 20 researchers from Bangladesh at the excavation site.

The archaeological dig will continue until the arrival of the rainy season


Book: Vibrant Rock offers a rare peek into stone sculptures in Bengal

The Hindu
July 20, 2014

The first-ever catalogue of stone sculptures collected from different parts of West Bengal, Bihar, and parts of Bangladesh belonging to Brahmanical, Buddhist, and Jain pantheon has been published by Directorate of Archaeology and Museum, Department of Information and Cultural Affairs, Government of West Bengal.

Archaeologists say the first-ever catalogue of historical stone sculptures in the region titled Vibrant Rock contains a comprehensive details of 444 stone sculptures housed in the State Archaeological Museum at Behala in the southern parts of the city, dated between the sixth and 19th century AD. Continue reading

A giant Buddha statue is unveiled in Bangladesh

Buddhistdoor International BD Dipananda 2014-05-29

A new buddha statue in East Idalpur Buddhist Temple. From Dhammainfo.

Recently, when an initiative to erect a 10-foot Buddha statue at the Ajalcuga Forest Temple in Rangamati district of Bangladesh was raised, there was strong opposition from the local state forces and administration. The district administration imposed 144 prohibitive rules indefinitely and claimed these areas in protected forests were out of bounds for building any kind of settlement. At the same time, there was an attempt at depriving the Buddhists and some indigenous organizations in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of their right to build religious structures on their land.

Continue reading

Book: Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia, 5th to 8th Century


From Yale Press website:

Lost Kingdoms
Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia

John Guy

Numerous Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms flourished in Southeast Asia from the 5th to the 9th century, yet until recently few concrete details were known about them. Lost Kingdoms reveals newly discovered architectural and sculptural relics from this region, which provide key insights into the formerly mysterious kingdoms. The first publication to use sculpture as a lens to explore this period of Southeast Asian history, Lost Kingdoms offers a significant contribution and a fresh approach to the study of cultures in Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, and other countries.

Comprehensive texts written by prominent scholars introduce more than 160 objects, many of which have never before traveled outside their home countries. Gorgeous photography shot on location highlights each artwork, and maps and a glossary of place names elucidate their geographical context. A watershed study of Southeast Asia’s artistic and cultural legacy, Lost Kingdoms is an essential resource on a fascinating and enduring subject.

John Guy is Florence and Herbert Irving Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art, Department of Asian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

With contributions by Hiram Woodward, Robert Brown, Pattaratorn Chirapravati, Peter Skilling, Geoff Wade, Arlo Griffith, Pierre-Yves Manguin, Le Lien Thi, Pierre Baptiste, Berenice Bellini, Thierry Zephir, Stephen Murphy, Federico Caro, Donna Strahan, and John Guy

336 pages, 360 illustrations (304 in full color). 8 3/4” x 12 1/4”. Hardcover, clothbound.

Exhibition Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia, 5th to 8th Century, April 14–July 27, 2014


Yale University Press


Rediscovering Buddha [in Bangladesh]

Dhaka Tribune
Tim Steel
13 December 2013

A new history of Buddhism in Bangladesh may emerge after the latest discovery in Nepal

Opportunities like this, to reopen received wisdoms, are rare in the heritage world, but when they open, they can be more easily seized, and used to reflect previously ignored and unpublicised realities

A new history of Buddhism in Bangladesh may emerge after the latest discovery in Nepal

A hundred years here, a hundred years there, as Senator Everett Dirksen might have said, and soon we are talking real history.

Much of the history of the development of social, economic and cultural history of south Asia, remains somewhat obscured by the mists of time. However, slowly, more substantial evidence, facts, emerge, and, as a consequence, it becomes necessary to rewrite the history.

And every rewrite can bring with it not simply new insights, but also new opportunities to encourage and inform exploration by those who are interested.

The news that excavation work at Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini in Nepal has revealed wooden remains – believed of Buddhist origin, carbon dated earlier than 550 BCE, and will force reappraisal of the dateline of Buddhist development – is a fascinating revelation. And it is a revelation that potentially opens another door of opportunity for the development of high quality, international inbound tourism into Bangladesh. Continue reading

One year on, Bangladesh restores Buddhist temples destroyed in riots

South China Morning Post
Shaikh Azizur Rahman
Tuesday, 01 October, 2013

Bangladesh is winning praise for the rebuilding of Buddhist monasteries after last year’s attacks

A new Buddha figure graces a rebuilt temple at Ramu. More than 50 idols were imported from Myanmar and Thailand. Photo: Xinhua

A year ago, tensions were on a razor’s edge in southeast Bangladesh, as Muslim mobs looted and vandalised 19 Buddhist temples and monasteries.

But the pogrom, which also saw scores of Buddhist villages set on fire in the Cox’s Bazar area, has inspired religious reconciliation, all too rare in South Asia.

The government of the Muslim-majority nation renovated and reconstructed all the temples and monasteries, drawing praise from across the region. The project was completed last month. Continue reading