Relocating the Past of Ancient Dandabhukti in Dantan

Tarun Tapas Mukherjee


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 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>>


A Lesser Known Terracotta Motif Depicted in the Shyama-Raya and Madana-Mohana Temples of Bishnupur: Some Preliminary Observations

Ardhendu Ray, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

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This essay discusses the cultural significance of a lesser known terracotta motif Navanarigunjara in the temples of Bishnupur and relates it to various types of representation of the same motif found in Pata paintings. Moreover, it looks into its origin and evolution and its position in temples.

Shree Kshetra Mahuli, Satara, Maharashtra

Kane Dwijendra, Travel Writer

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Satara, 240km South East of Mumbai, is a place with very rich Cultural and Historical background, dating back right from Shivaji Maharaj era to end of Peshwai. Satara has number of religious places around. Some of the temples are 500 to 600 years old. One of such old temple complexes devoted to Lord Shiva is “Shree Kshetra Mahuli”. This is birth place of the famous Chief Justice in Peshwa regime, Mr. Ramshastri Prabhune. He was known for his straightforwardness in giving justice irrespective of who was the accused. He was known for his unbiased opinions. Ram Shastri held office during later part of 18th Century.

Shree Kshetra Mahuli is situated at confluence of rivers Krishna and Venna. Krishna being major river of the two. This place is also called as “Dakshin Kashi”. There are three major temples of Lord Shiva namely, Vishweshwar, Rameshwar and Sangameshwar. There are a few more temples as well but I could not get names and details of these. Vishweshwar side is called “Sangam Mahuli” whereas Rameshwar side is called “Kshtra Mahuli”.

Durga Idols of Kumartuli: Surviving Oral Traditions through Changes

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

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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.

Art and Architecture of the Temples of Baronagar, Murshidabad

Shyamal Chatterji

Mechanical Engineer and Researcher on Hindu Iconography

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 It was a pleasant morning in February 2010 when we visited the Baronagar temples. A couple of hours of boat-journey along the Ganges brought us from a ‘ghat’ near Hazardurai, Lalbagh to that of Baronagar. After a short climb to the shore, the magnificent sight of neatly kept four-temples complex—famously known as ‘Char Bangla’—came into our view. More were to follow.

In Search of the Temples of Daspur

Amitabha Gupta

Independent Researcher and Photographer

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 My first visit to Daspur was in September 2011. The fact that there are several temples having exquisite terracotta panels on them scattered over such a huge area in the Midnapore district of West Bengal was enough to arouse my interest. Having read some books on Daspur and consulted some knowledgeable friends, I decided to venture the area. As per David McCutchion “Daspur was one of the leading centres of temple building in 19th century”. The Artisans who built up these temples used to describe themselves as Sutradhara Temple Builders. In 1975, backed up by Gurusaday Museusem, Ranen Chattopadhyay  made a documentary film on this artistic tradition of Daspur. Once upon a time in the history around 150 Sutradhar families used to stay at Daspur.