Bangarh a brief history

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Approximately 1.7 kilometres North-East of the Gangarampur Bridge over the Punarbhaba River lies the lost city of Devkot ,locally known as Bangarh. Bangarh, since it was traditionally regarded as the capital of the demon king Banasura. Francis Hamilton Buchanan was one of the first to understand the historical significance of the ruins of Bangarh.

“The great number of stones in these ruins, and a vast many, have been removed by the Dinjapur Rajas to construct their works, show, that Bannagar has been a place much ornamented, and its wall show, that is was of considerable size and strength. The people here allege that all the stones, which are to be found in the buildings of this district, have been carried from it, and that Gaur owed its most valuable materials to the ruins of Ban Raja’s edifices.”

The ruins of Bangarh are situated over a polygon whose circumference measures 1.7 kilometres. Scattered all over the place are mounds with ancient buildings buried underneath. On observing the aerial view one can ascertain that this was a well fortified place, bordered by a moat. On the Southern and Eastern portions the walls are very prominent; there is also a causeway on the Eastern portion perhaps leading to the main town. This sort of fortification, with tall defensive towers, thick walls, and secured by water all around is mainly found in India under Islamic rule. However Kunja Govinda Goswami, who first undertook excavation from 1938-41 mentions of an early mud tower from the time of the Mauryas. He also suggested that the earth dug out of the ditch surrounding the place was perhaps used for the construction of the wall. It is clear on inspection that there are indeed two walls and in all probability one preceded the other.  The towers on the walls are cylindrical, with outlets for drainage of water not to be confused with slits for firing arrows, in which case there would have been many slits. In fact I am tempted to point that the towers of Bangarh and that of Mahasthangarh have close resemblance.  Rocks are sandwiched between bricks to form defensive walls.  The purpose of such massive construction arouses curiosity about the state of political affairs in that time. Whatever may be the complex political state all efforts were made to make this citadel absolutely impregnable. Although many important revelations were made following the excavation of Goswami yet it is to be noted that he could not reach to the earliest level, the earliest period we are made to accept is from the Mauryas, that makes this city more than 2000 years old!

While surveying the place on the ground a small lotus shaped tank is observed on the Western end. It is one of the most interesting monuments in this place. It is a square building roughly 15 metres on each side with a hollow cross inside. Alternatively it can also be seen as an eight petal flower design, where petal shaped rooms converge to the centre. “A large number of decorative bricks, bearing human and animal figurines, besides flowers and foliages”, were found in this place. Experts say that this well could have been a Pala era temple.

The Rajbari mound which was the highest mound measures 106 metres North-South and 91 metres East-West. This is surrounded by a brick fortification wall and is seen to have five occupation levels, called ‘strata’ by the excavator.  In plain words it means this structure witnessed five different periods in Indian history, beginning from the Mauryan to the Muslim period. The lowest level (named Stratum V)had a ring well, 74 cm in diameter, as also stone beads, silver punched marked and copper cast coins and of course terracotta figures. Goswami says, “The fifth stratum here is likely to be associated with the Maurya period for the reason that the top of the well is at a considerable depth (about 8 ft.) from the foundation of the buildings of the fourth stratum which has brought out distinct traces of the Sunga Period in the shape of a variety of antiquities.

Stratum IV which I just mentioned above showed signs of a prosperous city,- it had drains, cess pits and residential buildings made of burnt bricks of a very large size. There were crucibles, silver and copper punched marked and uninscribed cast coins, terracotta plaques with female figurines, terracotta sealings with early Brahmi legends and beads of various materials some of them spherical with white bands of net design. Statistics of beads here at Bangarh shows that the flat-round bead of stone is a common object of the Sunga period. In Bengal, Bangarh and Tamluk particularly felt the sweeping influences of Buddhism during the Sunga period. The two terracotta sealings found here bear the name “Buddharakhita”. This name was quite popular among the Buddhist sect and it appears in the inscriptions of the Bharhut railings constructed in the Sunga period. Goswami attributes the prosperity during the Sungas to the growth of trade and commerce which is why the antiquities found here are “many and varied”.

 

Passing through Mauryan period followed by Sunga-Kushan period is stratum three to which Gupta period is attributed showed well rammed floors of brick-bats, and brick dust mixed with lime, shoddily built small structures, the use of tiles on roofs, and a deep pit which was perhaps used for depositing used remains of Puja or worship in a temple. The burnt brick rampart wall still existed at that time.

The Stratum II which represents the Pala period has the small lotus shaped tank that I mentioned above. Goswami mentions about the Pala period as, “The peculiarity of the architecture of the second stratum or the Pala period is that when any important or large house was constructed, the general practice was to make its side-walls stout and massive and in the interior, stone pillars with octagonal body and square at the top and bottom placed on decorative stone pillar bases were provided to support the roof.” In fact stone pillars are a unique feature in the Pala period architecture in Bengal. The most common type of stone pillar that we get to see is the octagonal pillar, which may be divided into three sections- the base, the shaft and the capital. The base and the capital were square shaped whereas the shaft was octagonal with reliefs (triangular) at the top and bottom. Four such pillars can be seen just few hundred metres from the fort of Bangarh. The locals fondly call the pillars as, “banana plants” and adore it as the mandapa where the daughter of Bana was married. But on the other side, historically, the Bangarh pillars have remarkable resemblance with the ruined pillars of Banda, Purulia district of West Bengal. From engineering point of view it is worth saying that it was a magnificent architecture, the four stone pillars had to support the bulky roof above, which was composed of stone slabs crosswise. The whole structure probably rested on brick base, topped by precisely cut stone blocks, above which the floor was made of brick. From the brick floor the four stone pillars came up to support the roof. At each side there are two gargoyles of different shape also made of stone.

click on the photos to enlarge

The findings may certainly stimulate the curiosity of the readers, but unfortunately a great deal is not known about how this magnificent city passed on from Mauryan to Islamic times. For the time being we know that Devkot existed from the Maurya period, the basis of this hypothesis is the presence of Mauryan artefacts. Then of course it survived through the Sunga, Gupta and the Pala period, until the arrival of the Turkish commander Ikhtiyar ad-Din Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji. Bakhtiyar Khilji was a general in Qutb-ud-din Aibak’s army and once he had amassed an army he went into a spree of conquest. He sacked Bihar; demolished the Nalanda University there, and turned his sword to Bengal. Bengal was then under the Sena dynasty, with Laxman Sena the ruler, the veteran King found no option other than to run for his life when Bakhtiyar Khilji attacked his capital Nabadwip with a handful of followers. With this historic victory he became the founder of the Islamic rule in Bengal. However these marvellous victories did not calm his nerves, and he went on to conquer Gour the western capital of the Senas.

For two years he relished his conquests by engaging in consolidating the Empire and building of mosques. Then out of nowhere a weird dream of conquering Tibet sprang up in his mind. By then he had made Devkot his base, from this place he marched onto conquering Tibet under the guidance of Ali, a Mech tribal leader. His forces marched alongside of the Brahmaputra River, and reached a place where there was a stone bridge with twenty arches. Neither Bakhtiyar nor any men in his army had seen a bridge of this kind, Bakhtiyar posted some officers to look after the bridge till the main army returned. With the remaining army he crossed the Bridge and entered the territory of the King of Kamrup. When Bakhtiyar revealed his plans to the King along with the request to join his campaign, the King humbly declined and asked for more time and better preparations. Bakhtiyar was too restless to hear his advice; he was itching to go to Tibet. On reaching Tibet he faced the worst disaster of his life; for it proved to be an organised underworld for the invaders. The Khilji army were smacked, hacked, butchered everywhere and all throughout the nobles lamented about the huge mistake that they had done. Tibet was not Nabadwip certainly, the hill army armed with bamboo spears, bows and arrows, routed the Turks completely. The only route was a long road to home, but that was not rosy either, when the Turks turned their back not a blade of grass raised its head. The inhabitants had fled from the place burning everything which could be taken as food. The Turks ate their horses on the way, and somehow this tired bunch of raiders who had lost the pride of being called an army reached the bridge which they had crossed so haughtily. But loo, the bridge was broken; some indulged in repairing the bridge others hunted boats to cross the river. There were no boatmen; no boats that could take them other side, the only thing which appeared were enemies like swarm of bees from all sides. It was a remarkable act of fate which denied the inhabitants the chance to bury Bakhtiyar Khilji in their own soil, and the destroyer of Nalanda somehow managed the way to home, to Devkot.

 Bakhtiyar Khilji was not the same man again, he became sick, and would never go out. Not for the fear of enemies, but he could not raise his head in shame before the thousand of widows whose husbands were butchered in an unknown land. Wherever he went, he was greeted by cries, lamentations and curse, the great conqueror was conquered in disgrace. Ultimately one of his chief Ali Mardan by name took the trouble to put an end to all this embarrassment; he achieved this by thrusting a knife into the ill stricken body of the Conqueror of Nabadwip!

This might be an abrupt end to the whole story of Bangarh but in a way it is quite fitting, actually we are yet to know a lot about Bangarh and that is not an easy task!

Acknowledgments:

1. Archaeological Geography of the Ganga Plain: The Lower and the Middle Ganga, Dilip K. Chakrabarti

2. An Encyclopaedia of Indian Archaeology:edited by Amalananda Ghosh

3. Excavations at Bangarh, 1938-41,Front Cover Kunja Gobinda Goswami

4. Land of Two Rivers: A History of Bengal from the Mahabharata to Mujib By Nitish K. Sengupta

 

Sumit Soren is the founder of Livelystories. Basically an Agricultural Engineer, Sumit has interest in varied topics. He regularly writes on tribal history, internet and science related topics.

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