Vegetables on Mahasthangarh

Plundering goes unabated at archaeological sites in Bogra

This cabbage field at Mathura in sadar upazila of Bogra has replaced the Buddhist temple built during the Paul dynasty around 1,500 years ago. Photo: Hasibur Rahman Bilu

Many archaeological sites including the Mahasthangarh have fallen into ruin in Bogra mainly due to apathy among locals and neglect by the Department of Archaeology of Bangladesh.
At least 50 sites bearing the legacy of Maurya, Gupta and Pala dynasties in Bogra are now at the risk of destruction as the archaeology department falls short of manpower to protect them.
The historic Pundranagar popularly known as Mahasthangarh and other 33 archaeological sites centring around it were declared protected in 1922 under the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904 during the British rule.
Md Badrul Alam, acting Rajshahi regional director of the Department of Archaeology, said official records show the department has purchased only 37 of the 516 acre-land in the Pundranagar.
Md Shafiquel Islam, Shibganj upazila agriculture extension officer, said, “Locals have been growing vegetables and seasonal crops on 425 acres of land.”
To make matters worse, the construction of a mazar on the Mahasthangarh premises began recently threatening the integrity of the archaeological site. Two committees, the Mahasthan Mazar Committee and the Mahasthan Mazar Development committee are jointly working on the project.
Md Abdul Jabbar, administrative officer of Mahasthangarh Mazar Committee, claimed the committee owns 57 acres of land in the Pundranagar.
Department officials said the committee does not have any valid document to prove its ownership of the land. Relevant documents and map show that the committee has illegally occupied at least 20 acres of land.
Md Lutfar Rahman, upazila nirbahi officer in Shibganj and member secretary of the committee, denied the allegation and said the committee has valid documents.
The local administration remains indifferent to the issue as the deputy commissioner holds the post of president of the mazar committee that also includes influential local politicians.
Md Abdul Khaleque, regional director of the archaeology department for Dhaka Division, said “Mahasthangarh is the only archaeological site where we have found so many archaeological objects from the pre-Mauryan to the Mughal period.”
“The mazar committee's recent digging for constructing a multi-storey building in the area has destroyed the integrity of the site. It was done in violation of the Antiquity Act and the High Court rulings."
He said architectural stone structures, terracotta and other archaeological objects that date back to 5th-6th century AD, had been demolished and broken.
Swadhin Sen, who teaches archaeology at Jahangirnagar University, said, “Despite efforts from local government officials, the destruction of the archaeological site continues with the support of a powerful leader in the ruling party and the district administration. The people responsible must be brought to book.”
Sen has been involved in excavation at the Mahasthangarh since 2000 and doing extensive research on the site for the last 12 years.
“Locals destroyed 'Chhoto Tangra', an archaeological site of the Pala period in Bogra, to clear land for cultivation a few years ago. It was declared a protected site during the British rule in 1922,” said Md Badrul Alam.
A Franco-Bangladesh joint excavation team discovered an earthen stove dating back to 400 BC in Mahasthangarh a few years ago. A French team also discovered a brick wall built there in 300 BC.
Locals had destroyed a mound and brick structures at Boro Tangra, another protected site of Gupta period.
Azmal Hossain, 40, of Palashbari village of Bogra said locals including him dug and destroyed brick structures at the archaeological site of “Mothurar Dhap” to clear land for cultivation.
“It has not been declared a protected site. But department officials nearly four years ago had requested the land owners not to destroy the archaeological structures saying they had a plan to acquire it. But that had not happened”, said Azmal Hossain.
Badrul Alam said the temple at Mothurar Dhap was built in 7th century AD.
The Rajshahi regional office sent a proposal to the director general's office in Dhaka on April 27, 2006 for purchasing 47 acres of land and another on June 10 the same year for buying 44.19 acres of land. But no decision has been made yet.
“We need at least Tk 5 crore for purchasing land to protect the archaeological sites in Bogra”, said Alam.
Md Safiqul Islam, director general of the Department of Archaeology, said, “The department offers primary students free tours to archaeological sites and museums to create awareness about the archaeological sites and the country's heritage.”


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