By Sebanti Sarkar

In Moghalmari history is everywhere. Not just the state-protected Sakhisena mound, which has yielded bronze statues of Buddhist deities dating to 6th century, evidence of history lie scattered around mud tracks looping through the Moghalmari village.

Brick bats, fragments of decorated terracotta and ancient pottery pepper bamboo fences reinforced with walls and mud at the West Midnapore village.

Black, red, grey and buff pottery lie around the children playing hopscotch near the tiny primary school.

Beyond the sluggish green surface of a pond one can see part of an ancient brick wall rising in phases. The other part is covered in foliage.

"It seems the Buddhist religious structures (several of them were built successively, one over another, between the late 5th century and 9th century) extended this far. And around the periphery of the structures, the habitations of ordinary folk - such as artisans, farmers and traders - grew and changed along with the fate of the monasteries and stupas," said Prakash Chandra Maity, who is in charge of the excavation at the site by the state archaeology department.

This year's excavation season was drawing to a close when Metro visited the site In March, around 400m off National Highway 6 in Danton.

Maity was excited because even as the walks (narrow untouched paths to facilitate movement across the excavation site) were being removed, more structural features were coming to light.

A semi-circular step neatly finished with fine large bricks was revealed as the Chandrashila or moonstone, a typical Buddhist architectural feature considered sacred. The crescent-shaped footstone ends the circumambulatory path around a sanctum or before the sanctum.

"There are such steps at Udaigiri and Lalitgiri in Odisha. The moonstone at the the Anuradhapura stupa in Sri Lanka is richly decorated. The one at Moghalmari was carefully executed, too, and belongs to the first phase of building activity from the post-Gupta period," Maiti said.

"Close to the moonstone is a square platform with curved corners. This could be the platform inside the sanctum where a Buddha idol might have been placed."

Interestingly, the Nara Patra Shaka fragment in basalt stone discovered earlier was also found from near the Chandrashila. Nara Patra Shaka motifs were common on door jambs or lintel over the entrance, so it's likely there was a decorated doorway just here.

The Nara Patra Shaka belonged to the pre-Pala era (pre-eighth century). A stupa that was recently discovered belongs to a later period.

"The stupa is small, with a radius of 3.8m, but it is too big to be a votive stupa," Maity said. Two courses of bricks were visible of this roughly made monument, which probably served as the main stupa in later, turbulent times.

But what of the large cells running along the stucco decorated eastern outer wall? Why was it fragmented into five smaller cells at a later stage? What about the narrow cell at the end of which the gold-plated crown was discovered? What secret room of the monastery was it where the 95 bronze Buddhist icons had been buried for safety?

Making sense of all these structures is proving more and more difficult. The region seems to have been repeatedly disturbed by geological events, such as the shifting course of the Subarnarekha river, and rampage by foreign tribes like the Huns.

The conservation of the site and insitu finds is a difficult, laborious and continuous process, which is why the stucco work on the eastern wall is being left untouched. "To remove the covering soil would be to expose the fragile decorations to the elements. We will rescue them at a later date when we are better equipped to ensure their safety. Luckily, the local people are eager to cooperate, we need not worry that the site will be disturbed or destroyed in our absence," Maity said.

Gourishankar Mishra and Atanu Pradhan, joint secretaries of the Moghalmari Tarun Seva Sangha O Pathagar, agree. "The people here have always been conscious of the historical significance of the spot, though the name Moghalmari had initially led them to expect a Mughal monument," Pradhan said.

"The first seal with Brahmi inscriptions, which led archaeologist Ashok Dutta of Calcutta University, to recognise the site's importance in 2003, had been found by a local teacher."

Pradhan said their club owned around a 2.39-acre plot, which includes the mound. "When we gave our no-objection certificate to the state archaeology department, we hoped that efforts would be undertaken to develop the tourist potential of the site. We would like to see that happen and the building of the promised and much-needed site museum. Our club has collected several antiquities found around the site and many villagers have fragments of sculptures, seals, terracotta lamps, sprinklers etc. I am sure we will all be too happy to see these finds protected in a museum in our village."

Pravakar Pal, additional director, state archaeology, said: "Tenders have been called and work on the site museum will begin soon. To begin with, Rs 69 lakh have been allotted. In the second phase, we can expect another Rs 93 lakh."

Source: The Telegraph