In a significant breakthrough confirming the prevalence of Buddhism in ancient western India, the Gujarat State Archaeological Department has excavated an archaeological site, complete with a monastery, in the Vadnagar area of Sabarkantha district, this month.
It was after an extended work of three years involving five field archaeologists that the monastery was unearthed.
Y A Rawat, Director, Gujarat State Archaeological Department, said, “This excavation is an important finding since it establishes that besides caves sighted in Junagadh as well as in other areas of north Gujarat, structural constructions also existed during the 2nd and 4th Century AD.”
Referring to another essential aspect of the excavation, Rawat said: “It has been found that a Chinese monk and traveller by the name of Wenshang visited India in 7th Century AD. In his travelogue he had mentioned about 1,000 monks living in 10 monasteries at Vadnagar, which was earlier known as Anandpur during that era.”
Rawat said the recently discovered monastery is one of those 10 mentioned by Wenshang, adding that the monastery is situated right within the fortified area of ancient Vadnagar town. “Generally, the monasteries are situated outside human habitation. But the presence of monastery right inside the town shows how keenly Buddhism was followed here,” said Rawat.
He said it took over three years to confirm that the structure was indeed a Buddhist monastery, as several alterations were made in the structure in the following years.
The monastery is small and has 12 shelves with small spaces and a single plinth. It is a fortified area, around 16 metres sq in size, and has steps and an open courtyard, he said.
Incidentally, it was way back in 1962 when a team of archaeologists from the M S University (MSU) discovered the ruins of Buddhists stupas during work on a reservoir project in Devnimori village of Sabarkantha district. After a gap of nearly 50 years, a Buddhist monastery has finally been excavated in the fortified area of Vadnagar.
Rawat said the Vadnagar excavation project is an ongoing task taken up by the Gujarat State Archaeological Department. “Within a town planning layout of ancient Vadnagar there have been several inscriptions reflecting Gandhar sculptures, seals, various successors, trade as well as economy. Various findings show the impact of north India and West Asia; it’s an ongoing project,” he said.