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3.1. Secular Buildings

Surviving examples of secular buildings appear to be none, although from inscriptional and literary references (see chapter 4) the form and character of at least some of them may be discerned. The archaeological excavations, however, have made us known of a number of building-types, a list of which is given below. Their number is scanty in comparion to religious structures, the reason being their profane character easily prone to brick and treasure-hunters’ greed.

3.1.1 Fort and Fortifications

Of the secular buildings fort and fortifications should probably come first from descriptive point of view. The first structures in a city were no doubt the defensive walls for the protection of the inhabitants, and the entrance gate for the inner and outer movement and the dignity of the structure as well as the city itself. The original defensive walls were probably of mud with the gates in brick or brick and stone in order to have adequate defensive arrangements. The defensive method of gates and walls generally consisted of arrow-slites, oriel windows and rampart walks. The door leaves of the gates must have been of wood or iron, opened and closed by guards in sentinel duty. Little is known about these arrangements, but the discovery of at least one in Mahasthangar, the northern gate, suggests the possibilities. The protection and defensive methods used in forts are, however, as old as the history of fort buildings which must have taken the place of the primary tent-system which in India has been described as jayaskandavara and in Islam as badiya. Most of the known cities of early times grew out of this system. A further defence of the city was provided with moat excavated around the city walls, crossed in places by boats or draw bridges. The cities were built on the side of rivers, mostly on river bends which could provide not only well-defence but also water so needed for the life of the city and easy communication. The known examples of jahajghats in medieval times must also have been true of ancient time in Bengal, as is pointed out to a place between Kalidaha Sagar and Karatoya in Mahasthangarh and as is known from the mention of others in Mainamati. The river system in the absence of a well-knit road system

was the only effective means of national and international commerce. In strategic consideration whenever a city was built at a distant place from a river, large tanks were excavated to supply water for the city dwellers. In Bengal excavation of tanks both large (dighi) and small (pukur) was an important feature of town building. Many of such ancient tanks still survive today to speak of the old glories. The posterity is unfortunate in not having surviving examples of old forts, but the meagre information available from the excavation reports and extant remains is perhaps not insufficient to make hypotheses and general observations about the character of forts and fortifications of the time.

Pandu Rajar Dhibi Remains. The excavations at Pandu Rajar Dhibi in the valley of the river Ajoy in Burdwan District during 1962-65 CE have revealed that people lived in ‘well-planned towns with pavement and streets’. They lived in ‘citadels and houses built of unfired clay reinforced with reeds and having plastered walls and floors of beaten pellety laterite’. These descriptions no doubt presuppose building of fort and fortifications still need to be discovered.

A site at Dihar in the district of Bankura is probably of the same date. The excavation yielded bowls, dishes and vases of black and red burnished wares ‘similar to those found in the Pandu Rajar Dhibi’.

The site known by Kotasurgarh in the district of Birbhum also contains ‘northern black polished wares’ with other remains of later period connecting it’s history from the c. 4th century BCE to 10th-11th century CE.

Chandraketugarh Remains. The name with the end word garh (fort) suggests it’s probability of having a fortified area with necessary structures within. The settlement dimension of the site on the river Vidyadhari spreads over a wide area of several present-day villages including Devalaya, Hadipur, Berachampa, Shonpukur, Jhikra and Itakhola with a ‘huge rampart wall made of reed’ encircling the core area of the place. The fortified place is rectangular in shape and extends over roughly two square kilometres. Nothing more is known at the present state of knowledge except that the remains have laid bare ‘five occupational periods’, suggestive of the first two being Maurya or even earlier. The place is occasionally linked up with Gangaridae of Ptolemy.

Pundranagar or Mahasthangarh. The Mahasthan citadel is oblong in plan and measures approximately 1350m from north to south and 1050m from east to west. Within it is to be seen isolated small mounds scattered particularly on the eastern side. Some of them are now excavated, and reveal remnants of both secular and religious structures of varying dates, mostly, however, of the Pala Period (c. 756-1143 CE). The fortress-wall on the north-eastern corner is fairly preserved. It is about 3m high and 3.3m broad. On both sides for about 60 cm the wall consists of brick masonry, but the inner core is built entirely of brick-rubble laid in mud mortar. In the corner are the remains of a tower the inner side of which being attached to a terrace meant probably


Mahasthangarh: sketch- plan of the site drawn by Sir Allexander Cunningham


Mahasthangarh: Bangladesh-France joint venture plan, location of excavation sites

for stairs to ascend to the tower and the rampart-walk. Nearby are the remains of a gateway, 2.4m wide, flanked by a number of small rooms suggested to have been for the guards. The area around this appears to be extremely complicated and may have consisted of several constructions ranging from the 4th to the 16th century CE. It has been suggested that the temple known as the Govinda Bhita to the north-east was originally enclosed within rampart walls which for some lengths are now traceable to the east and north of the temple. The northern wall of the citadel shows several building phases and in average measures about 4m wide and 1.5m high. Beside the gateway on the north-eastern corner which has been dated as belonging to the Pala Period, there are at present several other openingsthree on the eastern side, one on the west, two on the north and one on the south which lead to the inner areas of the citadel. All of them appear to belong to later dates.

The citadel is at present strewn with building remains of various sizes and dates. Needless to say that along with the temples there also must have been residential buildings of great beauty which unfortunately are now unidentifiable. Several reservoirs and wells have been discovered within the fortress. The largest among them near the Bairagi Bhita is a rectangular well-paved structure which measures 3m by 1.5m. It is bordered with one or two lines of slanting bricks on the edge. The circular wells are generally of 90 cm to 1.8m diameter and are occasionally bordered at the top with fluted rings.

Asurgarh. This garh is situated at a village of the same name in the district of Bankura. Asurgarh contains the remains of an impressive fort surviving to a height of nearly nine meters above the ground. The fort is oblong in plan. The area of the fort is approximately 300m by 200m. It has an opening for a gateway on each of the four sides. The other portion of the fortification wall is made of earth and kankar type of stone. Asurgarh is encircled by moats on three sides and the small stream Sandal on the fourth side.

The surface findings include a neolithic celt, microlithic cores and flakes and beads of semi-precious stones. Trial excavations carried out by the University of Sambalpur within the fort exposed a round brick structure ascribed to the 5th-6th century CE.

Kotalipara Fort. This fort is situated at Kotalipara village, 28.97 km south-east of Gopalganj in the same district. It is on the river Ghagar which rises in the marshes to the north and flows to join the Madhumoti. The chief interest of the place lies in the existence of the fort, connected through inscriptional references to Gopachandra, Dharmaditya and Samachardeva who ruled in Vanqa with their capital at Kotalipara during the 6th century CE. The fort was square in plan, measuring 23 sq.km with high and wide ramparts. The defence of the fort was strengthened by wide inner and outer ditches along the rampart wall. The fort has an approach to the river Ghagar on the west at a short distance from the fort. The walls which were made of earth were 4.5m to 9.14m high.

Nalrajargarh. It is situated in Medabari forest under Chilapata range in Jalpaiguri District. The ruins contain one of the largest fortified areas of India built during the age of the Guptas. Nalrajargarh actually guarded the valley of the Torsha as a rampart embodying the features of a vana-durga (forest-fort) against invaders.

Nalrajargarh is rectangular in Plan. The height of the extant massive fortified wall is about 4m to 7.3m. It occupies a space of about a kilometer excluding an outer defence beyond the western moat. The excavation in 1967 CE. undertaken by the Directorate of Archaeology of West Bengal had exposed some features of the fort especially regarding the plan and foundation in the context of it’s time of construction. It was found on the northern section of the fortification that the wall was originally more than 7.62m high above a stepped foundation built of dressed stones with iron dowels. The wall having an opening by a strong channel with bricks packed sidewise in symmetric order for water-tightening was strengthened by broad projecting ancillary walls which might have been once used as towers of effective height or proportions. The arch and the paved channel were used for clearance of rainwater and these openings within southern and western walls could also be used for defence by garrisons if stationed within particularly for hurling missiles.

The distinguishing feature of the fort is it’s solid masonry heightened by massive buttresses. The fort mainly built of burnt bricks may easily by regarded as one of the wonders of India’s past, though the extensive ruins are now almost lost in obscurity, and the sands of the Torsha and Bania have buried down much of the fortification.

The type of fortification of Nalrajargarh unquestionably recalls some important features of the ancient Indian fortifications and reveals the military strength of the imperial Gupta authority.

Rajbaridanga. The mound adjoining Rangamati (Raktamrttika) in Murshidabad has been excavated by the Department of Archaeology, University of Calcutta. A number of official sealings have been found in the course of the excavations. On the basis of these sealings Rajbaridanga has been identified with Karnasuvarna, the capital city of Raja Œaœanka. Except the remains of a monastery, no fort remains have yet been unearthed. The capital city, however, speaks of the existence of such a fort with necessary defensive arrangements.

Bangarh (Devikot). Bargarh, more properly Kotivarsa-Bangarh, was very similar in plan to Mahasthangarh but in a smaller scale. it’s length has been measured ‘at 1800ft. and breadth 1000ft’. It was situated on the left bank of the Punarbhava river sandwitched by Atrai on the east, and was well defended on all sides by wide brick walls. Within it were ‘kingly palaces, office buildings, residences of big merchants, army barracks, bazaars and temples’ all probably belonging the Pala Period. Outside the walls ‘lived small traders, artisans, farmers and labour class of people’. All are now gone leaving only a faint memory of the living life of the people of those days.


Map of Mainamati Monument-Sites

Mainamati Palace (?). Mainamati Palace Mound marked by the Department of Archaeology of the Government of Bangladesh as Mound 1A in Mainamati lies on the north of Dhaka-Chittagong highway and west of Mainamati-Brahmanbaria road rising about 5m from the surrounding level. At the feet of two eastern mounds it spreads for

about 200m north-south and 140m east-west, sloping down towards the west with a large water tank on the north-west. Recent excavations revealed the ‘remnants of 6 long walls, two north-south and four east-west, all from one end of the site to the other giving the idea that the establishments at the site were distributed into 10 blocks. While 5 blocks, falling into eastern greater part appear to contain 5 major structures, 5 western ones, opposite to them within 5 enclosures, perhaps served as large open courtyards confronting the water tank’.


Mainamati: plan of Mound IA

The north-south eastern wall along the eastern mound which served as the eastern boundary wall of the site could be traced for a length of 24m with four breaks. The north-south western wall, however, could be found from northern end with some breaks, for a length of 144m. ‘An important feature of north-south western wall, is the existence of a gateway complex in the middle. This gateway was planned in an area measuring 13.9m 9.8m. It had a square entrance hall with 6m long sides. The complex contains two more westward projections wherein are provided two guard rooms and staircase’.

The two northern walls running parallel, one outer and the other inner, are provided with gateways supported by blocks probably meant for guards. The existence of these gateways in a double wall together with others dividing the area into several parts testify to the secular character of the building, perhaps a fort with all it’s inner buildings. Dr. Harunur Rashid, the main excavator of Mainamati sites, is of opinion that this was perhaps the site of Devaparvata, the famous capital of the Khadgas and the Devas (see the inscriptional description of the city in chapter 4.1). In the description Devaparvata has been stated to have been encircled by the river Ksiroda, a part of which in the form of a gorge again according to Dr. Rashid, still exists by the west side of the Rupban Mura. The landscape of the area suggests that this part might have a connection with the present site, also forming depressions, in the low lying slope of the Mainamati Hills connecting with the present Gumti on the east side of the Hills with a bend through the north. The description is in conformity with the inscriptional statement that the river Ksiroda encircled the jayskandavara of Devaparvata. The inscription further indicates that the city had a fortified area with camps around it.

Mainamati Ranir Bangalow (?). Mainamati Ranir Bangalow Mound situated to the north-east of the Mound IA on the bank of the river Gumti, is represented by a 12m high hillock which has almost a flat surface. The central higher part was occupied by a modern Bungalow built by a Tripura Maharaja, some years back removed. Excavation in the area in 1965, 1967 and 1988 revealed the remains of a massive defence enclosure wall 10.45m wide extending 153m from north to south and 165m from east-west suggesting the existence of a ‘secular structure’ in the first period of construction out of a total of three. The excavation in 1998-99 however appears to nullify the theory suggesting that the results (still unofficial reports) testify the existence of a cruciform temple there instead. Since the legend speaks of a ‘Palace and Temple’ of Rani Mainamati in the area, a final conclusion will probably need further excavation reports. The height of the site together with it’s position in relation to the river very near about, however, conforms to the rule of the building of forts and palaces in an easily protected and defensible area.

Savar Kotbari. It lies on the eastern bank of the river Bansi and consists of ‘an earthen fort, measuring 250m east-west and 180m north-south’. Savar was probably

an administrative center during the time of the Khadgas and Devas ruling from the Mainamati region of Samatata in the 7th-8th century CE. The discovery of a medium- sized stupa along with a Vihara in the so-called Harischandra Rajar’s Badi, and ‘a brick built cruciform stupa in Dagurmara’ indicate their connections with Mainamati and it’s architecture.

Ancient Gaur. The name ‘Gaur’ is of considerable antiquity. It is situated in the district of Maldah, West Bengal. The name of the site was changed through the ages but the original name– Gauda has never been lost or forgotten completely. The exact location of the ancient city of Gauda as well as of the kingdom which bore this name is yet to be fully defined. A city of ‘Gaudapura’ is mentioned by Panini and Gauda, as a name of the country, occurs in the Arthasastra of Kautilya and other ancient Sanskrit texts.

Ptolemy and Strabo also mention Gaur as ‘Gouro’. According to Jaina writers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries Gaur included Laksmanavati in the present Maldah district. The much emphasized Ramavati of Rampala (1077-1120) preceded Laksmanavati near it, and must have been within Gaur. Innumerable fragments of Buddhist and Hindu pillars and sculptures used in the monuments of Gaur and Pandua under Muslim rule in Bengal indicate that these two once prosperous cities owe their origin to pre-Muslim times. The Palas were succeeded by the Senas and it is definitely known that Vallalsena ruled his kingdom with his imperial capital at Vallalbari at the northern part of Gaur. It was ‘the metropolis of Bengal’, under it’s Hindu kings. The site of Gaur was a narrow strip of land between the Ganges and the Mahananda river, and would appear to have been selected chiefly for the convenience of water communication with all parts of the country. ‘Phulwari’ and ‘Patal Chandi’two native names, are still applied to two of the gates which may easily be taken as the evidence of the pre-Muslim city of the Sena ruler. It would thus be centred within an area spreading over from the Vallalbari at the north to the Patal Chandi Gate to the south with Phulwari Gate in the middle. In this area there are other pre-Muslim Hindu remains ‘Ganga Snan’ (Bathing Ghat) at the north-west corner on the bank of the Bhagirathi (Old Ganga), and the ‘Lohagarh’ (Red Embankment) on the south may be taken as a testimony of the location of the site.

Vallalbari (the fort?) after the name of Vallalsena, the father of the last Sena ruler Laksmansena, according to Cunningham, was situated about 4 miles (6.44 km) to the north of the Phulwari Gate, on the outskirts of the city of Gaur. It is an irregular square area surrounded by a massive embankment of 15.24m broad at the top and 45.72m broad at the base with a height of 6.10m. It has on every side, internally and externally, a deep ditch of 22.86m. There are no remains of structures within. There were some causeways crossings at right angles which seemed to have been pathways within the fort.

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