For the first time, a group of archaeologists have unearthed a pyramid-shaped stupa in the country.
The discovery was made at the Nateshwar archaeological site in Bikrampur. Archaeologists deduce the stupa to be from 780-950 AD, following carbon-14 dating from an American lab.
This rare pyramid-shaped stupa is not only markedly different from the usual egg-shaped variety of the Buddhist religious monuments, but also carries deep significance for understanding the region's history.
On top of this, the 44X44m stupa, which is almost 2,000 square metre in area, is Bangladesh's largest stupa, comparable in size to the globally exalted great stupas of Sanchi, Bharhut, Amaravati, Sarnath and more.
The above came to light following an almost complete uncovering of the structure's southern wing from excavations made this year.
Dr Sufi Mustafizur Rahman, professor of archaeology at Jahangirnagar University, who is the research director of this project, and Dr Nuh-ul-Alam Lenin, chairperson of Agrasar Bikrampur Foundation and director of the excavation project, unveiled the information at a press conference.
The briefing was held at Nateshwar excavation site in Munshiganj's Tongibari upazila on Wednesday, said a press release signed by the two. This excavation and research project, which started in 2010, is being supervised by Bikrampur Foundation.
Nateshwar archaeological site bears witness to the Bengal region's thousand-year-old history. Ranging from biological remains of flora and fauna, to terracotta, metal and stone artefacts and unique architecture, the archaeological findings also paint the picture of an ancient civilisation that once dwelled on this land.
While this year's excavation uncovered the 44m wide southern wing of the stupa, digging for the past two years yielded parts of the northern and eastern wings.
But what makes the excavation of the southern wing important is that it sheds light on the shape of the structure and reveals critical clues about the architecture, such as wall length and area of the central terrace.
Additionally, this discovery helps put into perspective the timeline of the area.
After carbon-14 dating, two time periods of the Nateshwar Buddhist locale has been found. The first one dates from 780 to 950 AD, starting from the Deva dynasty (750-800 AD) and lasting till the early years of the Chandra dynasty rule (900-1050 AD).
The second period stretches from 950 to 1223 AD, spanning rules by Chandra, Varman, and Sena dynasties. According to some copper-plates (tamra-shasana), Bikrampur served as the capital of these three dynasties, the press release added.
Chronologically, this stupa dates before the time of Buddhist scholar Atish Dipankar Srigyan and is believed to be a part of ancient capital city of Bikrampur, referenced in writings by Atish Dipankar as well as Chinese historian Nacuo Cuichengjiewa.
The archaeologists and researchers hope this discovery of a rare pyramid-shaped stupa will attract the eyes of tourists the world over. Not just this stupa, from 2013 to 2019, around 6,000sqkm area was excavated and many significant cultural artefacts were discovered at the site, they added.
The archaeological site of Nateshwar has the potential to become a centre of Buddhist culture in South Asia. There is also a temple made of brick, three octagonal stupas with mandap, 51-metre long brick roads, multiple rooms and hall rooms, and entryway.
In light of the numerous discoveries made in the area, Nateshwar is on the process of being announced a Unesco World Heritage Site, Prof Sufi told The Daily Star yesterday.
Before this, Bikrampur Foundation ran another project at Rampal union's Raghurampur village (ancient name "Bajrayogini") from 2010 to 2013.