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Buddhist monastery complex at Bharatpur of Bengal

  • Category
    Art and culture
  • Published
    28th Jan, 2023

Context

Recent excavations at Bharatpur in West Bengal’s Paschim Bardhaman district have revealed the presence of a Buddhist monastery.

About the site:

  • The last excavation at the site was taken place about fifty yearsback in the 1970s.
  • At that time black and red ware pottery belonging to the Chalcolithic Agewas recovered with a Buddhist stupa.
  • The recent excavations have revealed the presence of an extended monastery complex at the site. 

Buddhist Stupa is a commemorative monument usually housing sacred relics associated with the Buddha or other saints or priests, whereas votive stupas have similar significance but are smaller structures originating in eight cylindrical structures.

Key findings:

  • Recent excavations have revealed the presence of a Buddhist monastery.
  • According to experts, the Buddhist sites in the State are the presence of a large stupa along with a monastery complex and black and red ware pottery from the Chalcolithic or Copper Age.
  • In the 1970s, five beautiful seated sculpturesof the Buddha in Bhumisparsha Mudra.

Bhumisparsa Mudra is the gesture of hand showing five fingers of the right hand towards the earth symbolising the Buddha’s enlightenment.

  • These miniature sculptures, each about 30 cm in height, were most likely used for worship in the monastery. 

Significance:

The site was important for two main reasons:

  • It is an early village settlement on the bank of the River Damodarwhich could date to around 2000 BCE; and
  • The Buddhist monastery complex found symbolises the site is secular and is an early village with Buddhist followers.

Importance of stupas:

  • Religious importance –
    • Relic repository: In the beginning stupas were built to venerate and safeguard relics and remains of Buddha.
    • Sacred place: Along with monasteries (viharas) later, stupas were included in chaityas, which is a prayer hall.
    • Circumambulation path: an important Buddhist ritual around the path surrounding it.
    • The object of veneration– it is believed that relics of buddhas body were buried within the stupas
  • Philosophical
    • Meditation: It is an important place for meditation.
    • Commemorative: In the Tibetan tradition, stupas were built to celebrate the life events of the Buddha.
  • Symbolic: The stupas encapsulate the teachings and ideology of Buddha
    • Dhamek stupa at Sarnath marks the spot where the Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment, revealing his Eightfold Path leading to nirvana.
  • Historical: Provide information about the various dynasties who ruled India. Eg :
    • Mauryas: Bairat stupa , Sanchi stupa , Bharhut stupa etc
    • Sathavahanas: Amaravati stupa etc.
  • Architectural –
    • Oldest stone structures: The stupas at Sanchi and Bharhut are one of the oldest stone structures in India.
    • Inclusion of text in narrative panels– at Bharhut (Queen Maya’s dream)
    • Use of marble– at Amravati stupa
    • Taxila excavations reveal stupas with Boddhisatva images, Gandhara influence and patronage of Kanishka.
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