Into the heart of Buddhism in Bikrampur

AKM Moinuddin back from Munshiganj
Thursday, January 11th, 2018

Archeaologists from Bangladesh and China including China’s Deputy Chief of Mission in Dhaka, Chen Wei at the Nateshwar excavation site (Photo AKM Moinuddin)


Nateshwar holds prospect of emerging as a world heritage site


Nateshwar excavation site of Vikrampura Buddhist archaeological location has all the potentials to emerge as another world heritage site in Bangladesh.


It has got a unique combination of religious and culturally-important structures, a centerpiece of ancient Bengal and the very location of the site is close by to the country’s capital, say archaeologists emphasizing on proper preservation and development of the area.


At Nateshwar excavation site in Munshiganj’s Tongibari upazila, researchers and experts have discovered several archaeological evidences of a Buddhist city older than a thousand years. These include an entrance and walkway, prayer hall, mortar floor, octagonal stupas, pot shreds, baked clay materials, and burnt bricks.


The aesthetic of these stupas is unique in architectural style. A stupa is a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics that is used as a place of meditation.


During a visit to the site on January 3, archaeologists said an attractive tourist zone can be developed centering the archeological site by taking advantage of the location close to Dhaka, perfect for a daytrip outside the capital.

Though there is progress in terms of excavations, conservation seems a tough ask as Bangladesh lacks technical and technological expertise and proper funding, said the archeologists.


“The government should seek funding for it. China is willing to provide financial support but the Cultural Affairs Ministry is not taking any initiative,” head of the expedition Prof Sufi Mustafizur Rahman told Dhaka Courier.


The archaeologist, who teaches at Jahangirnagar University, said no archaeologist will come forward if their request is not entertained. “That’s why many remain inactive and silent. I got involved because I am a researcher and a teacher.”


“We have many limitations. If proper initiative is taken, this site will emerge as a big tourist zone,” Prof Rahman said mentioning that China is very interested because Buddhist scholar, religious preceptor and philosopher Atisha Dipankar’s house is located here.


After visiting the site, China’s Deputy Chief of Mission in Dhaka, Chen Wei, said people to people contact between Bangladesh and China is growing and this site will help strengthen cultural bonding, too.


“I am very excited. I see huge possibility, specially it can attract many Chinese tourists,” the diplomat told Dhaka Courier.


He said they will arrange required funding if the Bangladesh government seeks funds under a framework or under One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative.


“If this site is conserved and exhibited well it can be a world heritage site,” said the Chinese diplomat.


Director of the Center for Archaeological Studies, Prof Shahnaj Husne Jahan described the site as unique. “It’s going to be a wonderful achievement. They will now go for conservation.”


She said it can be another world heritage site if it is conserved properly but it will take time.


“We have limitations in terms of funding and technology. But we will be able to complete a scientific report on the site,” she told Dhaka Courier.


Responding to a question, Prof Shahnaj said this site is well-connected with Dhaka and people can come here through Buriganga River and Dhaleshwari River. “This can be a heart of Buddhist heritage tourism.”


President of Agrashar Bikramapur Foundation Nuh-Ul-Alam Lenin said it will be one of the best heritage sites in the country and sought continued support from China.


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.


The archeological research at the site was initiated in 2010 and archeologists carried out survey and excavation at nine sites in the erstwhile Vikrampur region during 2010-13. The major discovery during this period is parts of Vikrampur Buddhist Vihar at Raghurampur.


Understanding the large volume of excavation and conservation Agrashar Vikrampur Foundation invited Hunan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology in China to participate in excavation and conservation, said the archeologists.


From December 2014 to January 2018 the joint archeological team “successfully” conducted five large scale excavations at Nateshwar. More than five thousand square meters were exposed and a series of significant results were achieved by this time, that made it all worthwhile.

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