Archaeological explorations and excavations have substantiated two Buddhist centres in the north-east Indian state of Tripura. One of them is located at Shyam Sundar Tila in South Tripura district and the other site is located at Boxanagar in West Tripura district.
The ancient mound, locally known as Shyam Sundar Tila, is located in south Jolaibari, Belonia sub-division of South Tripura district. The mound is situated on the west bank of the Pillak nala which flows a few metres away from the site and is surrounded by a cultivable plain landmass with alluvial soil cover. The mound at present is spread over 1,260 sq.m., but due to gradual encroachment by the local people, it has already lost considerable area.
The archaeological importance of the mound can be seeing from the discovery of two stone images of Avalokitesvara and a number of terracotta plaques depicting figures of animal, birds, etc. Some of the plaques are now displayed in the State Museum at Agartala. The site was first explored in a joint survey by ASI and the State Cultural and Tourism Department of Tripura in 1965-66 under the guidance of A. Ghosh of the Archaeological Survey of India and S. Banerjee, Director of Education, Government of Tripura.
The ASI subsequently carried out limited excavation in 1984-85 and later a comprehensive excavation was undertaken from 1998-2001 and complete plan of the brick-built stupa was expressed along with discovery of large number of terracotta plaques. The stupa, cruciform on plan, is almost identical to the Paharpur stupa in Bangladesh. The brick-built stupa is pancharatha on plan intervened by the four wide openings in four cardinal directions.
There are two pradaksbhinapathas, one at the outer edge of the stupa while the other is the inner pradakshinapatha close round the medhi, the extant remains of which were found up to 1.70 m from its floor level. The beauty of the stupa is enhanced by friezes of terracotta plaques comprising Dhyani Buddha and various gods of Brahmanical pantheon like Ganesha, Narasimha and other divine figures.
A Buddhist Heritage in tripura number of terracotta plaques also depict contemporary socio-cultural scenes such as musicians, drummers, dancers, gandharvas, kinnaras, archers, warriors and human figures besides a number of plaques depicting the faunal and floral motifs. Mention may be made of plaques depicting duck, parrot, peacock, eagle, snakes, fish, makara, elephant, tiger, lion, camel, fox, deer, bull, buffalo and monkey.
Among the stone sculptures, mention may be made of Buddhist deities and Avalokitesvara Padmapani made on fragile sandstone standing in samapada posture over a carved lotus. The left hand of the figure is shown holding a padma while the right hand is in varada mudra. The divine figure is flanked by two devotees, one of them is a male figure shown in clubbed hands in anjali mudra while the other is a female figure standing in samapada posture over the basement. Stylistic features of the image show a resemblance with the Pala School of art and can be assigned to c. 9th century CE.
The structural mound at Boxanagar is located on the northern bank of a rivulet named Harimangal and is about 40 km west of state capital Agartala, in the West Tripura district near the Indo-Bangladesh border. The adjoining areas along the border are full of archaeological remains especially in the adjacent Comilla districts, Bangladesh, formerly known as Tipperah. The structural activity at the mound is spread over an area of about three acres. The excavation work was undertaken in the south-western corner of the mound which revealed a massive brick-built Stupa of triratha plan.
The stupa consists of a large basement and is made of eight mouldings with gradual decreasing order in upward direction, over which the gradually tapering medhi is beautifully set with burnt bricks with the help of mud mortar. Evidence of the collapsed portion of the harmika is noticed on the western side of the stupa. The cause of the damage may be attributed to natural factors. The chamber of the harmika is also square in plan. In the second season, a chaityagriha came to light on the eastern side of the stupa.
The plan of the exposed chaityagriha is rectangular and aligned in east-west direction. The superstructure is damaged except for the side wall which has survived approximately 1.65 m from the foundation level. The construction pattern of the chaityagriha appears very simple. It shows that the larger rectangular plan encloses a proportionately smaller rectangular structure, leaving a gap of 1.40m on three sides. The walls of the chaityagriha are joined with the walls of the stupa on one Brick-built stupa at Boxanagar, Tripura.
side. The walls are thick, measuring up to 1.25m which might have supported the superstructure. The central vacant space might have been used for congregation of the devotees for prayers. The walls are robbed at many places. Only 28 extant courses of burnt bricks have been found. Mud mortar has been used for joining the burnt bricks in the structure.
A small staircase was provided on the eastern side of the structure to enter the chaityagriha. Excavation of the central chamber of the stupa yielded about 150 clay sealings of Buddhist creed. A number of clay votive stupas were also found. A notable discovery was a clay figurine of a headless Buddhist deity with four hands seated in padmasana.
Antiquities found from the chaityagriha are mainly of terracotta comprising mostly bricks with kumuda motifs, fragments of two vases, one terracotta spindle whorl, hopscotch, one iron pin, etc. A small quantity of redware sherds of coarse to fine fabric, mostly wheel-turned were found from the site. Majority of the shapes are represented by vases and handis of different variety made of the fine levigated clay and well burnt.
Most of the sherds are plain, devoid of external decorations but some of the sherds found had external impressions like the back of a tortoise, etc. Since the structural remains of the chaityagriha are interlocked with the stupa,
it suggests that both belong to the same phase. The date of the stupa is tentatively ascertained from the stylistic pattern of the writings of the Buddhist creeds found in the clay sealings.
Considering the paleography of the writing and the ceramic assemblages found in the vicinity of the chaityagriha, it can be presumed that the chaityagriha is contiguous to the stupa and stylistically can be assigned to circa 7th-8th century CE. It will not be out of place to mention here that the copper plate inscription which was found during the course of excavation at Mainamati in Bangladesh provided important information about the two new dynasties of ‘Devas’ and ‘Khadgas’.
They ruled from the middle of 7th-8th century CE and seem to be contemporary to the early Palas. Excavated materials at Mainamati further revealed that the rulers of both the dynasties followed Buddhism as the state religion. Scholars have identified the seat of the government of the Khadgas as “JayakarmantaVasaka” identified with Badakamta, a locality 12 miles west of Comilla in Bangladesh. On the other hand, the Devas set their capital at Mainamati, now located in Bangladesh. Considering all the available evidences, it appears that the Buddhist centre of Boxanagar may have belonged to the Khadgas who ruled mid7th-8th century CE from their capital located near Comilla. The locality of Boxanagar is hardly 4-5 km away from Comilla.
Another notable feature is the nonavailability of icons, which was common with rulers of the Palas. This is despite the availability of sandstone at several places for making the icons. This suggests that the Buddhist centre was not in the domain of the Palas although on the basis of architectural details and cultural assemblage of the site, it can be hypothesized that the religious establishment at Boxanagar was perhaps much influenced by the theology of Hinayana Buddhism during the 7th-8th century CE. Further excavation may provide more light in this direction. However, one thing is certain— the discovery of the Buddhist centre in Boxanagar has opened a new chapter in the cultural history of Tripura.