The Archeological Survey of India (ASI) has unearthed structures resembling a Buddhist monastery in Vadnagar city of Gujarat, a finding which could further establish the importance of the region as a thriving Buddhist centre.
“The latest excavation revealed structures resembling monastic cells. However, only further excavation at the site would help establish whether the structures were part of a monastery or were secular in nature,” Superintending Archaeologist of ASI (Western region) Madhulika Samanta said.
“We have unearthed six-seven monastic cells but the entire planning can only be ascertained after extended excavation, which is not possible now because of concrete houses having been built there by locals. We have not been able to establish its religious association, but we assume that it can be a monastery,” she said.
“To establish Vadnagar’s claim as a thriving Buddhist centre, this could be an important discovery, but for that we need to get land so we can carry out further excavation. For that, we have written to our head office in Delhi stating our position,” she said.
The ASI carried out excavation at Vadnagar in two phases between January, 2015 and May, 2016, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hails from Vadnagar, took office.
“The aim has been to establish the town, situated in Mehsana district, as an important centre from the point of view of Buddhism, especially as mentioned in the written accounts of Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang,” she said.
In his accounts belonging to 7th century AD, Hiuen Tsang talked about ten Buddhist monasteries flourishing in Onantopulo, or Anandpura, the ancient name of Vadnagar.
Buddhism is likely to have flourished in Vadnagar between 3rd century AD and 9th century AD, she said.
“In 2007, excavation carried out at Vadnagar by the state’s Archaeology department revealed a monastery with 12 residential cells, supposed to have been used between 2nd century AD and 4th century AD. The discovery authenticated Huien Tsang’s account of the ancient town,” she said.
Remains of monastery-like structures excavated this time might have been constructed in at least three different phases of history between 3rd century Ad and 9th century AD, she said.
Samanta added that as per archaeological assessment, the structure in its entirety could be a big square complex with verandah to the northern side and cells in north, south-east, north-west, south-east and south-west directions.
“The entrance to north had at least two-three phases of building activities, which means it was built at least thrice in different phases of history. We also found archaeological remains belonging to 1st century AD and 2nd century AD there,” she said.
The second phase of excavation, which was carried out between December, 2015 and May, 2016, also unearthed complexes with water management system to carry out sophisticated metallurgical works, she said.
“In the first phase of excavation (carried out between January, 2015 and May, 2015) we had found metallurgical workshops, but this is the first time that we have found excellent water management system for utilisation of canals.
Other than that, around 4,000 antiquities were discovered in excavations carried out at four points,” she said.
“We found a plan very similar to Ayaka Stupa (platform used for religious rituals), religious sculptures terracota and a large number of mediterranean pottery like amphora, and more than 1,200 coins of silver and copper belonging to different ages from ancient to modern times. No foreign coins could be found though,” she said.
In the first phase of digging, ASI unearthed several artefacts including coins, and amphoras that suggested that Vadnagar was closely connected to the Silk Route for cross-border trade.
The town, which has existed for more than 2,000 years now, was built around Sharmishtha Lake and was fortified in the 12th century AD by Kumarpal of Solanki dynasty of Patan.
Remains of ancient city found in first phase of excavation indicated that the town extended much beyond what was presumed till date.