1000-yr-old temple excavated
The unearthing of a 1000-year-old sculpture of Mohini, the only female avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, in Madhabgaon village of Dinajpur's Kaharol upazila has archaeologists excited. Not only is the discovery of Mohini unexpected, but the temple itself is designed in navaratha, nine-projection style, an architectural form commonly associated with the Kalinga temples of Odisha as well as temples in Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, rather than Bengal.
According to Professor Claudine Bautze Picron, an expert on South Asian iconography and art history, the depiction of Vishnu in feminine Mohini form is the rarest avatar to be observed in eastern India. She has identified the Madhabgaon temple site as a centre for the Vaishnavism tradition within Hinduism, with the temple dating from about the 11th to 12th centuries CE.
“We found such a rare, brick-built structure,” says Swadhin Sen, an archaeology professor from Jahangirnagar University and head of the excavation team. “It's a first for Bangladesh.”
“A navaratha style temple has never before been discovered in Bangladesh,” says another professor from Jahangirnagar's archaeology department.
The temple was discovered in 2014 underneath a 7 metre high earth mound in the village. Excavation began in mid-April this year.
“We have completed the excavation work with the help of 27 local-hired workers, said Swadhin Sen.
The temple's foundations reach almost 8 metres underground, with a 2 metre high structure above land level. The “rathas” consist of different sized vertical projections along the temple's north, south and west sides. There is also a square sanctum which the experts believe was used for worship and a four-pillared room that is suggested to be an assembly hall. The temple's entrance is along the eastern edge of the site.
“The sanctum was a superstructure featuring a curvilinear tower,” says Professor Seema Haque of the team. “This too is a very rare feature among the ancient brick temples that have been found anywhere in both parts of Bengal.”
According to retired professor of ancient Indian architecture from the University of Kolkata, Dipak Ranjan Das, the site does have some similarity with the similarly unusual Siddheshwar Temple of Bahulara in West Bengal's Bankura.
During excavation, experts have uncovered shards of stone sculptures and pottery as well as decorated bricks and other stone objects. “We presume many of these pieces are part of a chakra disc, conch, mace and parts of legs with garlands. These are all iconographic attributes of Vishnu,” says Swadhin Sen, noting that these are separate to the Mohini image discovered.
The team believes the temple was probably used until as late as the 16th century, after which it was abandoned for unknown reasons. “We assume multiple deities were worshipped in this edifice,” says Sen.
The temple's discovery has not only thrilled the archaeologists but generated great local interest as well. “I have seen that heap of dirt there since my childhood,” says centenarian Satyaram Roy of the area. “The site's land measures 49 decimals. I never thought there could be a 1000-year-old temple there!” He hopes the government will take good care of the site.
As news of the temple's discovery has spread visitors from near and far have converged to see it. At the current time the site attracts around 500 sightseers per day.
“This temple is a very good addition to our research in north Bengal over the past 15 years,” says expert team member Professor Syed Mohammad Kamrul Ahsan.