shadow

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>>

Glimpses of Contemporary Dandabhukti

Pijushkanti Sarkar, State Govt. Employee

Dandabhukti was a prominent territorial sub-division of Ancient Bengal during the period of 6th Century A.D. to 12th Century AD that drew attraction of the historians like Acharya J. N. Sircar (1870-1958) R. D. Banerjee (1885-1931), Dr R. C. Majumder (1888-1980), Dr. D. C. Sirkar (1907-1985) and others who tried to discover epigraphic pasts and the events of the ancient times of a proud Bengal to glorify the Bengali as a race with special characteristics of its own. Bhashacharya Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyaya (1890-1977) on the other hand tried to the interpret the epigraphic discoveries of ancient Bengal in the light of Indian History from the holistic point of view.

Ancient Rarh or Radha region was divided into several smaller regions – Kankagrambhukti, Bardhamanbhukti and Dandabhukti, as parts of the Radha division. It is very much interesting to learn that the area under discussion was an integral part of that Gauda-Banga region which was a shadow zone to northern Indian society. The earliest reference to Bengal and Bengali speaking people contained in the text viz. Aitareya Aranyak written between 700 and 600 BC was indifferent to the instant society in terms of culture and civilization .‘For a long time the river Gandaka of Bihar was taken as the dividing line between civilization and barbarism and the Aryans were advised to avoid the area to its east as far as possible.. ..’ [Sen, Sukumar, 1978, vol1]

It is thus astonishing to learn as to how a non-Aryan people dominated Bengal (though not known in the name) comprising the Deltaic Ganges-Radhas region and extra Gangetic prachina Plateau region that remained neglected throughout the Greater Aryabarta [also that remained out of the limelight of the region “Shorhasha Mahajanapada” (Sixteen Great Settlements) of the Northern India] turned into region of interests with Buddhism and Jainism religions and then how rebel Buddhism and Jainism religious areas were converted into the Brahmanical settlements under the patronage of the kings of that time and it is also praiseworthy to learn as to how a settlement like Dandabhukti comprising a portion of the South Radhas and Orissa took its shape based on a national lifeline-like road passing through the western Bengal and Orissa in the environment of Buddhist culture. Classical Indian philosophers peeped into livelihood of greater Bengal and took the place of stories of Chandal Harischandra-Shaibya, Hiranyakashipu, Satyakam and so on in the life of Bengalis living in the greater Bengal while the scripts of Charyapadas were then being recorded on papers of Toolat Patra, Bhurja Patra used for Punthi (Puthi)-Patra.

Even before the invasion of the Central Asian Muslim leaders-turned-administrators at the dawn of the 13th century AD, the greater Bengal was divided into small independent states like Gouda, Radha, Banga, Sumbha, Barendri, Pundravardhana, Bardhamana-bhukti, Kankagrambhukti, Harikel, Samatata whence Dandabhukti and Tamralipti went into oblivion. Famous laureate Dinesh Chandra Sen mentioned the whole region of ancient Bengal as Brihat Banga (Greater Bengal). As far as the epigraphic study goes, before a period of one hundred year of the Gauda’s emerging as a great settlement under the Guptas, Dandabhukti settlement came into limelight. Access the Full Text>>

 

CFP: Special Issue on “Dandabhukti to Dantan: a Historical and Cultural Journey”

Special Issue (Vol. IV, No. 1)

on

From Dandabhukti to Dantan: a Historical and Cultural Journey

This is a project taken up by Chitrolekha Magazine (www.chitrolekha.com, ISSN 2231-4822) for locating the ancient janapada Dandabhukti at and around modern-day Dantan, Paschim Medinipur and for exploring its cultural history from the ancient to the modern times. This also seeks to discuss various aspects of the Moghalmari Buddhist Monastery (Sri Vandak Mahabihar), other archaeological remains of the village, and other historical sites around Moghalmari like Kakrajit, Kurumbera Fort, Satdeulia of Dantan, the ponds like Sarashanka, Bidyadhar, Dharmasagar and the Raibania Fort of Orissa, all of which at some points of time functioned through a live interconnected cultural and economic network. We have preliminarily selected certain topic/s or areas for convenience:

Topics:

General Topics:

  • Buddhism in Bengal (Bangladesh and West Bengal)
  • Buddhist Sites in Bengal
  • Tamralipta and its relation to Dandabhukti

Topics relating to Dandabhukti and Moghalmari Buddhist Monastery

1.Locating and justifying ancient Dandabhukti at and around Dantan
2. The trade and pilgrimage road from the eastern india via Dantan to the South India and Puri
3. Moghalmari Buddhist monastery

  • History
  • Architecture
  • Sculpture
  • Pottery
  • Buddhist Sect/s
  • Other Buddhist structures found at Moghalmari

4. Plan for archaeological and eco tourism centring round the Monastery.
5. Satdeulia or the place of seven temples and its surrounding areas
6. Kakrajit and its statues of Surya
7. Sarashanka and its history
8. Temples of Dantan: Shyamaleshwar, Chandaneshwar and Jagannath temples
9. Statues found at Dantan and their analyses
10. Local legends
11. Gaganeshwar, Kurumbera Fort and its historical significance
12. The shifting course of the river Subarnarekha
13. Raibania Fort of Orissa.

We cordially invite your opinions, suggestions for inclusion of other topics and contributions to the topics. The issue will be published online and hopefully in hard paper format as a volume.

Word-limit: 2000-5000 words (including notes and references)

Style-sheet to follow: APA

Contact: Tarun Tapas Mukherjee & Sreecheta Mukherjee at editor@chitrolekha.com and ttm1974@gmail.com

Submission Deadline March 31, 2014.

Expected Schedule of Publication: May 2014.

Durga Idols of Kumartuli: Surviving Oral Traditions through Changes

Dr. Lopamudra Maitra, Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication (SIMC- UG), Pune

 Download PDF Version

Introduction

As the torrential rain gushes down the plastic and tarpaulin sheets of the narrow alleys in Kumartuli, covering the half-made clay idols, the smell of wet earth emanates, reverberates, encircles and rises up to announce the arrival of the auspicious occasion— Durga Puja. Finally, as the dawn of Mahalaya announces the arrival of the Devipaksha and the last ablutions are offered to seek blessings from one’s forefathers on the banks of the sacred river Ganga, the artisans of Kumartuli pronounce the occasion through invoking the powers of the female goddess by painting the eyes of the idols of Durga, famously known as Chokkhudaan or bestowing of the eyes. A popular and annual sight in the region every year, this relatively small, yet largely famous and well-renowned region of Kumartuli stands tucked within the narrow lanes and by-lanes of Sovabazar area of the northern region of the present city of Kolkata (West Bengal, India) and the relatively recent construction of the underground metro-railway station of the same name.  A busy place for idol-makers, the kumbhars, their small and narrow workshops, aligned against their crowded tenements, hum with the buzz of activities at most times of the year, especially during the time of the Durga puja. Over the years, the region has experienced a surge and witnessed changes in the style of the clay idols, their expression and depictions, especially the ones made for Durga puja. Carrying forth a string of history within itself, as these depictions represent a strain of continuity of the famous worship of female deities of the region, the changes and alterations in visual depictions of the idols made in Kumartuli also help to reflect new ideas and ideologies in the age of new-media, forming an important part of Visual Anthropology. Based on an extensive fieldwork in the region of Kumartuli and various parts of Kolkata throughout the month of Aswina (September-October) between 2011-2012, this paper tries to look into the significant aspects of the representations of the idol-making formats of Kumartuli, their changing presentations and new reflections and how the local history, oral traditions and lores still manifest themselves through these changing representations.

In the Footsteps of Hsüan-tsang, in karnasubarna

Sumit Soren

Independent Researcher


Download PDF version

 In those days when there was no discovery channel or BBC; people learnt about distant lands through the travels of brave travelers who undertook perilous journey across thousands of miles. Travelling was certainly not easy in those days when there were no airplanes, motor vehicles or diesel powered ships. Travelling was also not possible through personal endeavor only; often travelers undertook voyage under the patronage or sponsorship of religious institutions or funding from Kings. For these travelers who mainly travelled on foot, caravans or by ships, India was always a favored destination for number of reasons. Stories of the great wealth of India had reached far and wide, the abundance of Buddhist literature and monasteries also invited the travelers to come to India. So we may say India was an attractive destination because of both material and spiritual reason, and thus we find a number of travelers visiting India at different times. Hsüan-tsang, Ibn Batuta, Jean Baptiste Tavernier, Francois Bernier all visited India in different times and left for us a reliable picture of life in India in those times.

Bonokathi’s Mystic Deul and the Legend of Echai Ghosh

Somen Sengupta.

Freelance Writer


Download PDF version

In Bengal school of temple architecture Deul style has its own place. Divided mainly between Bongiyo deul and Oriya deul this particular shape of temple or place of worship are few in this part of Bengal but each of them are unique and enrich. Deul temples are tower like structure with expansion on the either side. It is simple but majestic in presence. Jatar deul of South 24 Parganas and Bahulara deul of Onda village in Bankura are two most famous deul structure temple in Bengal. With this we have another lesser known deul temple in a small village near Burdawan and Birbhum border. This one known as Echai Ghosher deul holds an equal importance in the study of Bengal temple.

The Mystery of Indian Floor Paintings

Swarup Dutta

Dean Academics, Indian Institute of Crafts and Design


 As a child one of my fondest memories is of Lakshmi Puja. The whole household seemed transformed. There was activity all around the household. I could sense a joyous mood in everyone. But the most remarkable reminder of this day to me was alpona – the beautiful floor decorations which my mother and sisters made on the threshold of our household, on the doorsteps leading to the prayer alter…”, remembers Narayan Sinha, a renowned sculptor, who has spent his childhood in rural Bengal.

Facebook Iconfacebook like button