Monday, July 16, 2012

The Hon'ble Justice Soumitra Pal visit Mogalmari Buddhist Monastery

Excavation at Moghalmari (2011-2012)

The Department of Archaeology, University of Calcutta resumed its excavation programme at Moghalmari (Lat.N21 59 33 and Long.E 87 17 46) in Dantan police station of Paschim Medinipur district under the Direction of Dr.Asok Datta and assisted by  faculty members specially Dr.Rajat Sanyal and Dr.Durga Basu as well technical and non-technical staff members of the Department. The excavation was conducted in two phases viz. from 10th march, 2012 to 25th march, 2012 and 4th may, 2012 to 23rd may, 2012. This is mainly due to funding problem. The excavation, besides University fund, was partially funded by Panchyet Samity, Dantan Block I and Buddhist study centre, Dantan Bhatter College. We also received full co-operation from the members of Tarun Seva Sangha and Pathagar, Moghalmari, the owner of the Moghalmari mound. I also express my deep sense of gratitude to Dr.Rupendra Kumar Chattopadhyay of the Archaeology Department for providing financial support to the excavation. 

The basic objectives of excavation were as follows:

a)     To trace out the southern and south-western outer wall of the monastic complex in order to reconstruct the plan of the monastery.

b)    To trace the Sanctum cell or temple/Shrine area of the early monastic complex.

c)     To make co-relation between different structural elements within monastic complex.

To achieve these objectives, initially we laid out six trenches namely E9, D9, C9, B9, A9, XA9 measuring 6Mx6M in the south and south-western periphery of the mound. The excavation was conducted at different levels in different trenches according to the nature of damage of the southern outer wall of the monastery. The excavation reveals that the massive lime plastered outer wall was found running towards the west, but in trench XA9 it makes a turn towards the northern direction. This outer wall which was originally plastered with lime and decorated with Stucco floral (especially Lotus Petal) and animal/ human figures was severely damaged in the south-western part of the mound. In XA9 trench, we have traced this wall from below the plinth level. It also reveals that the outer wall was wider in the foundation level while it was made deliberately narrower above the foundation level by making a number of off- set projections at regular intervals for the beautification of the wall as well economy. As a result of this, the outer wall varies in thickness between 1.27M and 80CM.  Earlier our excavations have recovered two corners of this structure in south-eastern and North-eastern parts of the mound. This year we have recovered the south-western corner of the structure in trench XA9 and since the length of southern and eastern wall measures 60M each, we can therefore conclude that the plan of the monastery was a 60Mx60M squire structure with entrance in the northern part, although currently it is concealed under the huge gateway of the second structural phase of the monastery. The excavation further reveals that the height of the plinth of the early monastery in K7 (eastern wall) was 3.5M which can further be divided into three segments viz. upper, middle and lower. The lower portion measuring almost 2M is simple lime plastered wall with three offset projections at the extreme end and above it the middle portion is almost a bulging portion measuring 50CM created by architectural designs using different decorative bricks for decoration with lotus petal, geometric and other floral designs. The top or the upper portion having almost 1M space was created to accommodate pilasters after every 70CM which provided squire boxes of 70x70CM. These squire boxes were utilized for placing Stucco figures of both animal and human character. The entire composition of the outer wall of the monastery is provided with many architectural designs which indicate wonderful engineering skill. A surki rammed floor is found all along the monastery which we call as Pradakshina Path. A circular votive stupa was found on this Pradakshina Path in trench G10 of the southern part of the mound.

In addition, three more trenches namely E8, E7 and E6 in south-north direction were taken up for excavation to understand the relationship between the outer wall and the inner structural elements. After an average digging of 53 CM in these trenches, a brick wall with lime plaster on its inner face and with a width of 80CM was found running in south-north direction from the centre of these trenches. While clearing the debris attached on the outer face of this wall in trench E7, we suddenly discovered to our utter surprise that a stucco human head was peeping through the debris and that is how we latter discovered  the panel of stucco figures decorating this wall in all the trenches. The Stucco figures consist of divine and semi-divine human characters are placed in 70 CMX70CM squire boxes created by pilasters after every 70CM gap on the wall.

The wall is further decorated with lotus petal and other floral designs. Altogether 13 such stucco figures have been retrieved from the debris, of which some are intact while few others are partially or substantially damaged due to either plundering or brick hunting. Among the identified Stucco figures, the important ones are Gana figure, Kuvera figure, Janguli figure, Dancing couple and Flying Gandharva etc. The rest are either divine or Semi-divine figures. One half Medallion of wheel was also found among the composition.

It appears from excavation that this decorative wall towards the north is badly damaged by those who plundered the monastery from time to time. However, from this trench of E6 four terracotta votive tablets were found at depths of 1.60M, 1.64 M, 1, 85 M and 1.95 M respectively. Of these votive tablets, two are complete while the other two are broken parts. In one votive tablet, Buddha as central figure is shown seated on Padmasan. He is flanked by two Bodhisattvas on each side while there are two rows of miniature sitting Buddha figures. In another votive tablet, Buddha as central figure is shown seated in European style and placed in temple while he is flanked by two Bodhisattvas on each side. They are also placed in temples and below there is an inscription of Buddhist creed which reads as “Ye dharma hetu prabhababa…..”. the inscription, there are miniature votive stupas. This votive tablet is very interesting since the temple in the tablet appears to be a true replica of Nagara style with clear sign of Amlaka Sila on the top.

This is interesting from the point of view of its origin and diffusion from middle Ganga valley where it first appeared around 5th century CE. According to Prof.Peter Skilling, an authority of Buddhist Votive Tablets, this type of votive tablets was locally made and exclusively for local use or its application was restricted to a particular area or region (Personal Communication). The remaining two are broken parts and represent the later type. Other antiquities from excavation include terracotta lamps, Stucco fragments, Decorative bricks, Sprinklers, Iron nails, Footed bowls, Hopscotch, Spouted  bowls,  etc Besides large number of red, black ,grey sherds and moulded and appliqué red and grey sherds have also been found.

After a gap of about one month, we resumed the excavation again from 4th May, 2012 and continued till 23rd may, 2012. This time our basic objective was to trace the alignment of the decorative wall containing panel of Stucco figures. Our search was mainly to examine whether this was the actual temple wall of the monastery or something else. This question becomes very much apt in view of the fact that a number of votive tablets have been found at different levels near this wall in trench E6 which makes it quite imperative that this might be the temple area of the monastery.

Initially we took up two trenches namely E5 and E4  for excavation to trace the alignment of the decorative wall exposed earlier in trenches E8,E7,E6 and later three more trenches namely D6,D7 and F4 were also taken up for excavation. After a digging of 1.56M in trench E5, we encountered the wall, but in case of E4, we found the wall at a depth of 1.75M which means that this decorative wall having beautiful Stucco figures found earlier in trenches E8, E7, E6 at a depth of 53CM below surface level are in fact lost in these two trenches due to severe damage of the upper part of the wall. However, it has been traced in these trenches at a much lower level which however signifies  that this decorative wall runs through trenches E9, E8, E7, E6, E5, E4 towards north direction and measures 31.90M. This wall has an average width of 80CM, but where it is projected the width becomes 1M.The thickness of projection is between 14 and 20CM. This wall contains beautiful Stucco figures of divine and semi-divine human forms. But it is badly damaged in its northern direction. This wall makes a projection after 13.33M from the southern end and the projected portion measures 6.66M where the thickness of this wall becomes 1M. Another projection was expected after 13.33M, but since our excavation exposed only 12M of this structure, we can not say anything about the character of this architectural plan, but it is likely to be there. At a depth of 1.75M in trenches E5 and E4, we encountered another massive brick wall running parallel to the decorative wall at a distance of 1.88 M. in trench E5 and 1.68M in trenchE4.The width of this wall is 1.45M, but without any decoration or any lime plaster either on inner face or outer face which gives us the impression that it was constructed later. We expose this wall in trench E5 and E4, but believe that it runs parallel to the decorative wall in south-north direction.  The purpose of making such a huge structure (Wall) so close to the Stucco decorative wall was not immediately clear and we ponder over it. However as the digging continued, we discovered few connecting walls attached with the Stucco decorated wall at a regular intervals of 7.55M. This means that the connecting wall was constructed to support the decorative wall and it was constructed latter. We further confirmed when we discovered that rectangular chambers/boxes measuring 7.55M X 1.75M were deliberately created between the decorative wall and the massive wall by the connecting wall and later these boxes were filled up with fresh clay without any external particles. The clay was used as packing material against the decorative wall. The thickness of the fresh clay deposit in trench E5 is 2.50M while it is 1.90M in trench E4.

This means that the filling in trench E5 started from a depth of 2.40M while it started from a depth of 3M from the present surface level in trench E4.Since the floor or the so called Surki rammed Pradakshina Path in these trenches were encountered at a depth of 4.90M from the surface level . It is interesting to note that most of the Terracotta votive tablets have been found from trench no E4 and moreover, these are reported from above the clay deposit. It appears to us that at one point of time the Stucco decorative wall of the shrine area was in a position to collapse. To protect and preserve this most important wall, they must have made such attempt which appears to be very successful and effective from engineering point of view since the discovery of large number of votive tablets from trench no E6 and E4 tends to suggest that after the filling with clay, the shrine or the temple was in service. The variation in thickness of clay deposit in different trenches is mainly due to nature, character and extent of the damage of the decorative wall in each trench. As for example, the maximum clay deposit is found in trench E5 where the extent of damage is maximum. We observed very carefully that in this trench the original brick decorative wall was practically replaced by an artificial mud/brick jelly wall, obviously after it was either damaged or destroyed  and later it was lime plastered and decorated with Stucco figures specially lotus petal design and over it white painting was applied. The decorative wall might have been destroyed by those who plundered the monastery. But the reason for this artificial replacement of the decorative wall is not clear, why the people did not replace it with brick wall for mending and instead used very non-durable material for replacement?  However, it gives us clues as to why they need to fill up the area with clay packing.

The R.L of Surki rammed floor which we call “Pradakshina Path” was checked at three points viz. trench E5, G10, K7 located in central, southern and eastern parts of the mound. The respective R.L is 19.915 M, 19.980 M and 20.375M which means that the Pradakshina Path is more or less at the same elevation.

From trench E4, thirteen terracotta votive tablets have been found; some of them are complete while some others are damaged. However, these votive tablets can be classified into four categories. The first two types have been reported earlier from trench E6 while the other two types are a) Stupa is shown here as central figure and surrounded by hundreds of miniature stupas, b) This is a blank without any impression. So the entire collection of seventeen (17) tablets can be divided into four categories, but the purpose was same. It is interesting to note that after the excavation is over, one terracotta Seal was collected from the excavated earth mixed with brickbats by Sri Sanjoy Das, a member of the Moghalmari Tarun Seva Sangha and Pathagar club and its photograph was sent to me by Sri Atanu Pradhan Jt. Secretary of the club. The inscription of the Seal relates to Buddhist creed and written in early Siddhamatrika. The inscription reads as Ye Dharma hetu prabhaba….” . It appears further from our excavation that the northern and the western parts of the monastery were either destroyed or plundered from time and again. As result of which there were several phases of construction and renovation before it was finally crumbled by the plunderers. A second monastery was constructed over the ruins of the early monastery around 9th /10th CE after a gap of several years which was even massive than the earlier one as the builders of the second monastic complex had neither the resources nor it had the engineering skill, but they did not destroy the early stucco art since they were also Buddhists.  The structures of the second monastery were simple and massive, but without any lime plaster and Stucco decoration.
On the basis of archaeological evidences including paleography and art form/style, we can safely place the early monastery to 6th CE and as it stands unique in terms of Stucco decoration and decorative bricks, it can only be compared with the similar monasteries of Vikramsila, Nalanda, Paharpur, Mainamati etc. of India and Bangladesh. We hope this discovery will add new chapter in the history of Bengal in the near future.


                                                                                             Dr. Asok Datta
                                                                                  Excavation Director  
                                                                            Former Reader in Archaeology
                                                                               University of Calcutta