Wari-Bateshwar one of earliest kingdoms
The discovery of silver punch-marked coins of the pre-Mauryan period dating back to 600 BC to 400 BC in Wari-Bateshwar reveals that the place was a Mahajanapada, one of the earliest kingdoms or states in the Indian subcontinent.
The silver coins and artefacts unearthed and collected so far and geographical positioning of the place both are apparently leading archaeologists to an astonishing discovery.
Wari-Bateshwar could be a part of Gangaridae, which was described as a rich place of trade in the estuary of the river Ganges in Greek and Latin literature and was also mentioned by Ptolemy, Virgil, Strabo, Deodorus, Kartius and Plutarch, archaeologists claim.
The punch-marked coins are of two series –Janapada, a coin series used during pre-Mauryan period dating back to 600 BC to 400 BC when 16 Mahajanapadas were flourished in the Indian subcontinent, and Imperial, another series used during Mauryan period dating back to 400 BC to 200 BC.
"The coins unearthed in Wari-Bateshwar were of imperial and Janapada series. On the basis of the silver punch-marked coins it can be said that it was a Mahajanapada," said Prof Sufi Mustafizur Rahman.
"This means it was the earliest state in Bangladesh and in the Indian subcontinent as well," the archaeologist added.
"Geographical importance and findings of Wari-Bateshwar interestingly match the description and identity given in Greek and Latin literature about Gangaridae and indicates that Wari-Bateshwar was a part of it," he added.
Prof Dilip Kumar Chakrabarti, noted Indian archaeologist and faculty member of Cambridge University, in an essay published on the Archaeological Heritage by Asiatic Society said: "If Wari-Bateshwar is considered as a main and fortified city, it can be considered that it was the capital or main centre of an ancient Janapada."
"But the main problem is to determine the name of the Janapada," he added.
A study on 150 coins, unearthed and collected from Wari-Bateshwar and its adjoining areas, by the excavation group led by Prof Sufi Mustafizur Rahman of the Department of Archaeology at Jahangirnagar University (JU) found existence of both Janapada and imperial series coins. This indicates the earliest money-based economy contemporary to the subcontinent and the world as well.
Back in 1942, following discovery of some coins on the bank of the Arialkha, a place seven kilometres south off Wari-Bateshwar, Nalini Kanto Bhattyashali, founder curator of Bangladesh National Museum, said those were of Mauryan and pre-Mauryan period and shown the early nature of the settlement.
It was thought earlier that use of coins was not existed in Bangla before 300 BC. Earlier, silver punch-marked coins of only Imperial series were found in Mahasthangarh.
The discovery of coins provides substantial and significant information about a well-established urban civilisation as part of the second urbanisation on the context of Indian subcontinent.
The existence of coins found in Wari-Bateshwar also suggests trade, banking system and administration besides bearing sociocultural and sociopolitical condition prevalent at that time, archaeologists explain.
Study also reveals that punch-mark found on the faces of the silver-coins of Wari-Bateshwar is distinctive in symbols, shapes and forms that reveal that the Mahajanapada was a distinctive one in addition to the 16 Mahajanapadas so far unearthed in the subcontinent by archaeologists and described in Jain and Buddhist literature.
Earlier, another Janapada was found in Pundranagarh in Bangladesh.
Archaeologists who say Wari-Bateshwar might be a part of Gangaridae explain that the wide range of areas through which the Ganges downstream flowed is known as the Ganges delta.
Though Wari-Bateshwar is nearer to the old Brahmaputra river the area is geographically known as the Ganges delta in a wider sense, they add.
The discovery of Rouletted Ware (RW), Knobbed Ware, sandwich glass bids and other artefacts indicates that the place had relations and trade with the Mediterranean and Southeast Asian countries, the archaeologists describe.
Moreover, according to the statement of Ptolemy all the estuaries in the river Ganges are in the states owned by people called Gangaridae.
Archaeologists, however, say till now it couldn't be confirmed specifically which place in the subcontinent was Gangaridae. It is widely believed that south part of the West Bengal was occupied by Gangaridae.
They also add that radiocarbon date of the charcoal samples tested by the Netherlands' Centrum Voor Isotopen Onderzoek has confirmed that there were habitation and industry in the area in 500 BC.
Prof BN Mukherjee of Calcutta University earlier in the book Banga, Bangla and Bharat said the present West Bengal and North 24 Parganas, Hugly, Haora and Medinipur, some parts of Bardhaman and till the mouth of the Padma (the adjoining point of the Padma, Brahmaputra and Meghna) in present Bangladesh was on the border of the ancient country named Ganga or Banga. He said the seaside areas of Bangladesh were occupied by Gangaridae.
The coins of Wari-Bateshwar weigh from 1.7gm to 1.9gm. The symbols found punched on the faces of the coins include boat, sun and fish. The silver coins are found usually in round and square shapes.
COINS LOST IN NEGLIGENCE
Though the silver punch-marked coins were first discovered in 1933 in Wari-Bateshwar and reported to National Museum authorities immediately, the government did not take any initiative to conduct research or protect those.
As a result, a huge number of coins were lost, destroyed or used by individuals till the year 2000. In many cases discovery of coins remained unreported as individuals sold those secretly or made ornaments out of the silver coins.
Hanif Pathan, father of local researcher and teacher Habibullah Pathan, collected 20/30 coins for the first time in 1933 after labourers unearthed a hoard containing punch-marked coins while digging earth.
The father and son wrote several essays on different newspapers in an attempt to attract the attention of the government and archaeologists in vain.
The largest hoard of coins was found in 1956 in the area. A man named Janru found around 4,000 silver punch-marked coins weighing over nine kilograms in a terracotta hoard. The man sold the coins at Tk 720.
"At least 99 percent of the coins unearthed so far from 10 points since 1933 have been lost," said Habibullah Pathan.
"The coins prove that the place was a rich trade centre," he added.
The latest terracotta coin hoard was discovered in 2004 by the excavation team led by Prof Sufi Mustafizur Rahman and handed over to the Department of Archaeology.
"The hoard unearthed during excavation is the only piece of hoard in the country that was unearthed in its complete shape and unimpaired. People never saw even a broken hoard of coins in the country," said Sufi Mustafizur Rahman.
The excavation that digs into the ancient archaeological site now awaits cancellation due to severe fund crisis.
The excavators earlier managed funds from different private organisations but this year they have failed to manage any and fear cancellation of the work anytime.