The desire to see new things and learn about the unknown always interests us. So whenever opportunity comes, we seize it tightly and chart out for the unknown. This time it was a freak wish of mine for a scooty ride took us to Jagjivanpur – one of the Buddhist excavation sites to be found in West Bengal. We had heard about this place since long and wanted to visit it much before. But coincidentally, just the day before Buddha Purnima on 10th of May, 2017, while we went out on our weekly scooty ride, we simply took the road and providence led us to Jagjivanpur.
Jagjivanpur is in the Habibpur Block of Malda District and is around 36 km from Malda town. Our scooty took us through the highways and the village roads to reach the place after an hour ride. The excavation site is known as Nandadirghi Vihar, also called ‘Tulabhita’ or ‘Salaidanga’.
Just as we chanced upon Jagjivanpur, the discovery of this place was also by chance. Some thirty years ago, the villagers had stumbled upon a copper plate charter at the village that led to the discovery of such an excavation site. The copper plate of size 52 cm X 37.5 cm was like any other royal plate with a royal seal attached at the top of the plate. There were verses written on both sides of the plate in a long forgotten ancient script of Siddhamatrika prevalent in the 9th century Sanskrit language. The royal seal at the top consisted of a Dharmachakra with deer on sides, a lotus and legend Sri Mahendrapaladeva. The importance of the plate lies in the fact that it tells the tale of the King who was hitherto unknown in the history of Bengal. The plate was issued by the King Mahendrapaladeva of the Pala dynasty during the seventh year of his rule on the 2nd day of Baishak month. Mahendrapaladeva was the son of the most famous Pala ruler Devapala. He ruled over this region in the 9th century. The charter mentions the construction of a monastery (vihara) under the patronage of General (Mahasenapati) Vajradeva at Nandadirghika Udranga. Vajradeva requested the king to grant him the land for ‘worship, copying (manuscripts) and such other activities’.
The discovery of the charter from the mound during 1987 led to extensive excavation work in the Jagjivanpur area. The first excavation work had started in 1992, but proper excavations were done from the year 1995. Several mounds have been found since then out of which Tulabhita is the most important. Other mounds which constitute this site are known as Nandagarh, Rajar Mayer Dhipi, Nimdanga and Akhridanga.
Excavations have led to the discovery of the outline of a monastery, two monastic cells, stupa and other terracotta artifacts. The structure consists of sanctorum, cells, balcony, steps, bathroom complex, well, courtyard and entrance. Towers at four corners were also seen. Buddhist statues, plaques and other important seals were found during the excavation that confirms that a thriving and well organized monastic order was present here. The terracotta plaques of man, lion, bear, peacock, Hindu and Buddhist deities were found here. The pictures of some important plaques and objects found from the site are displayed at the site. But the dilapidated condition speaks volume about the state of affairs in this place.
Jagjivanpur is not the first Buddhist Monastery to be excavated in West Bengal, but it is definitely the first Pala period monastery to be excavated. The excavation at Jagjivanpur surely throws a lot of light on the history of Malda as well as Bengal. Walking over the mounds simply transported me back to the era- I could visualize a monastery with monks in their attire ready for their daily study. It was a surreal experience at the dusk and I think getting to know our past is a unique experience. But what disheartens me is the current state of affairs at the place.
This place could have been made into a great tourist spot in the lines of other Buddhist circuits. But currently, there is no one to look after this place, grasses and trees have grown all over. The photographs of the terracotta artifacts that were found in this region are so unclear that you will not be able to see and read anything. It would have been great if a museum was made nearby the site where the artifacts could be kept, so that people can visit the place and also get a taste of their past.
How to Reach Jagjivanpur:
Malda Town is the nearest railway head. There are numerous trains from Howrah and Sealdah to Malda. From Malda Town, Jagjivanpur is 36 km away after crossing Aiho, Bulbulchandi and Habibpur.
From Malda town, you can book a car to Jagjivanpur.
There are numerous lodges and hotels at Malda.