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Relocating the Past of Ancient Dandabhukti in Dantan

Tarun Tapas Mukherjee

Introduction

With the discovery of a gigantic monastery (60Mx60M) by Prof. Asok Datta and his team from the Department of Archaeology, Calcutta University following the excavations undertaken in six phases from 2003-2004 to 2011-12, researchers and enthusiasts have once again become interested in the elusive region of Dandabhukti. A general survey of the region around the modern-day muffasil town Dantan reveals that the entire region is rich in archaeological artefacts and certain place-names still contain the names recorded in the inscriptions from the 7th century.

Three Legends about Dandabhukti and Dantan

Historians sometimes draw upon two legends while writing about Dandabhukti and the Moghalmari site: the Tooth Chronicle of Dathavamsa, a Sinhalese text and the oral epic of Sashisena or Sakhisena, written down by the Bengali poet Fakirram in the 16th century and by the Odishan poet Pratap Ray in the 17th century. Besides these, there is another story relating to the origin of the name of ‘Dantan’ involving Sri Chaitanyadeb. Let us see whether they can be used as materials for explaining Dandabhukti and Moghalmari.

Tooth Chronicle and Dantapura of Dathavamsa

Dathavamsa, “founded on an older, and …no longer extant Dalada-va?sa in Sinhalese, [written] by Dhammakitti of Pulasti-pura..in the latter part of the twelth century A.D., tells of a pseudo-historical tale of the miraculous transfer of the tooth relic of Buddha from Kalinga to Srilanka by Hemamala and Dantakumar from the port of Tamralipta:

“agamum–aturit? te pa??ana? T?malitti?.”

The location of the city of Dantapura or Dantapuri is described thus:

“Dantapure Kali?gassa Brahmadattassa r?jino.”

From the similarities in name with Dandabhukti and Dantan some historians think that Dantapur was or could be Dantan, the capital of Dandabhukti, while others locate it near Puri, Odisha (Puri<Dantapuri). Those who argue in favour of Dantan put forward that, had Dantapuri been near Puri, they would not have come to Tamralipta to sail for Srilanka as they could go there right from the port near Puri. With the discovery of the Moghalmari Buddhist monastic complex, the idea was once again floated. This is encouraging point but it does not at all validate the logic. First, the similarity in name is accidental. Secondly, Dandabhukti, as is evident from the CPIs, arose as consolidation of regional power restricted with a small geopolitical entity from the 6th century onwards and it depended heavily on agrarian economy for its sustenance. And there is neither record, nor any possibility that it could be the capital of as large a kingdom as Kalinga. The story—even if taken to be containing historical information, tells of a story which involved big powers and Dandabhukti as a small kingdom (which might not have come into existence in 3-4 century AD) could hardly lay its claim to such miraculous relic as the tooth relic of Buddha. Then again, we find a reference to Meruparbat where the relics were hidden:

ratanagirinikuñje n?gar?ja? apassi

……………………………………………………………….

abhigami bhujaginda? Merup?de nipanna?”

‘Ratangiri’ and ‘Meru-parbat’ can refer to Ratnagiri or Udaygiri (what Xuanzang described as Pushpagiri) situated on hillocks than to any other monastery like the Moghalmari monastery. As for the couple’s going to Tamralipta, it can be explained through the argument that they could leave the capital in disguise more effectively from other port than from a port where their disguise would be hardly effective. Another interesting thing to note is the movement of the couple: Dantakumar, in disguise, goes to the southern country, hides the tooth-relic in the sand and returns to the city, joins his wife and together they reach the spot and after many troubles they reach Tamalittim:

Kusumasurabhicu???ki??ahatth?hi nicca?

sakutukam-anuy?t? k?nane devat?hi
acalagahanadugga? khepayitv?na magga?
agamum-aturit? te pa??ana? T?malitti?.

(Having travelled by a path rendered difficult by hills and forests, and eagerly followed by the gods of the woods, who had their hands filled with flowers and scented flower, they slowly arrived at the city of Tamalitti.)

If one is to believe the geographical locations, hills down to the southern country along the coast can only refer to the Eastern Ghats and this will indicate a place down the southern part of Odisha, which extended in the ancient times to modern-day Andhra Pradesh. In the case of Dantan as Dantapura, such a natural setting is unthinkable. However, the description can also be just rhetorical. So far nobody has questioned the authenticity of the description of the places written by a Sinhalese writer who must have relied on others for his account. Did the poet commit an error while marking the point of departure from Tamralipta?

So far no epigraphic record bearing the name of Dantapur has been found, while ‘Danda-bhukti’ dates from the 7th century AD and logically it must have got its name from ‘Danda’ (whatever its meaning might have been) and not from ‘Danta’ etc. For ‘Danta’ (or ‘Danta-pura) is very unlikely to have degenerated in ‘Danda’, while it is very likely that after the decline and disintegration of Dandabhukti in the 12th century ‘Danda’ degenerated into ‘Dandou’, ‘Dantou’, ‘Dantoon’, ‘Danton’, ‘Dantan’ etc. But whatever the logic the present can afford now, the past is full of uncertainties and the future may have different interpretation to offer following new evidences.

 The Legend of Sashisena or Sakhisena

The oral epic of the love-story between Sashisena and Ahimanikya was very popular in Bengal and Odisha, and there is still a person living on the border of Odisha who was a singer-performer of the story. N. N. Vasu in his survey reported the popularity of the story in this part and recorded it at length. But the question is: how far one can depend on such story while looking for a history of the region? In plain analysis, the story fails to confirm to anything historical in this region. First, the story is written in the mode of fairy-tale having the basic structure of adventure, love and fulfillment without having any reference to any specific place and time. The simple reason is that it was an orally circulated epic or ballad, which the minstrels could use very effectively at any place—from Odisha to Bengal. It came to be written down in the 16th century by a Bengali poet Fakirram. But that does not confirm that the story was created by a Bengali poet or that the story refers to a historical location in Bengal or that the king Bikramjit alias Pratapaditya was a historical character as presented was by N.N. Vasu. The only vague historical element or connection, it might have, is perhaps a substitution or mixing of Sashilekha with Sashisena in folk memory. Sashilekha was a historical person who donated land for the construction of the Shaivite temple complex of Nanneshwara in somewhere in Dandabhukti-mandala which was being ruled by her husband, mandaladhipati Magalkalasa.

In fact, the story seems to have originated in Odisha, more particularly somewhere in Sambalpur or Sonepur, in the 7-8th century as a story of miracle among some tribe. Later on it was developed by wandering minstrels into an oral epic. In Sonepur one can find a temple dedicated to Sashisena, and it was built in the 20th century on the spot where its old temple stood. It has still preserved the motifs of the story relating it to the Tantric Shakti cult of the area. Historian Sudam Naik said,

“The temple was built as a memory of the eighth century eternal love story of Ahimanikya, son of a dewan and Sashisena, the princess. It was after the original temple fell that the king of Sonepur Biramitradaya Singhdeo rebuilt the temple. It is a small temple, only about seven feet high.”

It may be mentioned here that the story seems to have transmitted from Odisha with the migration of many people to this part of Bengal during the British rule. So the story cannot be relied upon as a literary source of history. But strangely enough, the Moghalmari mound has officially got a sign-board now “Sakhisenar Dipi”….Access the Full Text>>

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