THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL Survey of India (ASI) has unearthed a Buddhist monastery, believed to be at least 900 years old, buried under a mound in a village situated in a hilly area of Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand. The finding comes two months after discovery of an ancient Buddhist shrine, buried under a similar mound, barely 100 metres away.
Over the past four days, an team from the Patna branch of ASI has excavated 10 stone statues of deity Tara and the Buddha in Burhani village near Juljul Pahar of Sitagarhi Hills, around 12 km from district headquarters Hazaribagh. On Thursday, they found a sculpture which appears to be that of Shaivite deity Maheswari – with a coiled crown and chakra – indicating cultural assimilation in the area, said ASI officials.
Archaeologists said the findings were significant since the monastery is on the old route to Varanasi, 10 km from Sarnath, where the Buddha gave his first sermon. They said the presence of statues of deity Tara shows possible proliferation of Vajrayana form of Buddhism in this region.
Assistant Archeologist Niraj Kumar Mishra – of Excavator Branch III, Patna, ASI – said in December last year they found a Buddhist shrine with three rooms near an agricultural land on the eastern side of Juljul Pahar. He said the central shrine had Tara’s statue and two subsidiary shrines had the Buddha’s.
“Earlier, the context was not clear,” he said, adding that their focus then moved to the second mound and excavation was started on January 31.
“We concentrated on a mound near Juljul Pahar foothills where we found remnants of a Buddhist monastery-cum-shrine where there are rooms at the sides and an open courtyard,” said Mishra.
“We found four statues of deity Tara in Varad Mudra [gesture of hand showing dispensing of boons] and six statues of the Buddha in Bhumisparsa Mudra [gesture of hand showing five fingers of right hand towards the earth symbolising the Buddha’s enlightenment]. So it is a significant finding as deity Tara’s statues means this was an important centre of Vajrayana sect of Buddhism.”
Vajrayana is a form of Tantric Buddhism, which flourished in India from 6th to 11th century. Mishra said the ASI has not yet done scientific dating of the structures, but it represents Pala period based on earlier findings.
“Last year, during excavation we found a script of four-five words and sent it to ASI Mysore for Paleographic dating for historical manuscripts. They said it was a Nagri script and they dated it between 10th century AD to 12th century AD. Nagri is a previous version of Devnagri script and the words indicate Buddhist religious affiliation. This time also we have got Nagri script on a Tara statue.”
ASI Patna Superintending Archaeologist Rajendra Dehuri said: “This is a significant finding in terms of spread of Buddhism in Jharkhand. However, it is also a matter of research and further findings.”