Nateshwar excavation area of Bikrampur Buddhist archaeological site has all the potential to emerge as a world heritage site in Bangladesh.
It has got a unique combination of religious and culturally-important structures, a centrepiece of ancient Bengal, and the site is close to the capital, said archaeologists on Wednesday, emphasising 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, archaeologists said an attractive tourist zone can be developed centring the site by taking advantage of the place's location as it is close to the capital.
Though there is progress in terms of excavations, process of conservation seems tough as the country lacks technical and technological expertise and proper funding, they added.
“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 excavation expedition Prof Sufi Mustafizur Rahman told the news agency.
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 a proper initiative is taken, this site will emerge as a big tourist zone,” said Prof Rahman. “China is interested because Buddhist scholar, religious preceptor and philosopher Atish 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 also help strengthen cultural bonding. “I'm very excited. I see huge possibility…, it can attract many Chinese tourists,” the diplomat told the news agency.
He said they would arrange the required funding if the Bangladesh government seeks funds under a framework or 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.
Describing the site as unique, Prof Shahnaj Husne Jahan, director of the Center for Archaeological Studies, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, 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.”
Responding to a question, she said the site is well-connected with Dhaka and people can come here through the rivers Buriganga and Dhaleshwari. “This can be a heart of Buddhist heritage tourism.”
Nuh-Ul-Alam Lenin, president of Agrashar Bikramapur Foundation, said it will be one of the best heritage sites in the country. He sought continued support from China.
Oitijjo Onneshon, a JU-based archaeological research organisation, conducted the excavation with support from the Foundation and the Department of Archaeology.
The archeological research at the site was initiated in 2010 and archaeologists carried out surveys and excavations at nine sites in Bikrampur region during 2010-13. The major discovery during this period is parts of Bikrampur Buddhist Bihar at Raghurampur.
Understanding the magnitude of the project, Agrashar Foundation invited Hunan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in China to participate in the excavation and conservation, said the archaeologists.
From December 2014 to January 2018, the joint archaeological team conducted five large scale excavations at Nateshwar. More than 5,000 square meters were unearthed and a series of significant results were achieved by this time.
Finance Minister AMA Muhith will visit the site today.