1000-yr old Buddhist city in Munshiganj

Nateshwar excavation area of Vikrampura Buddhist archaeological location has all the potentials to emerge as another world heritage site in Bangladesh, reports UNB.

It has got a unique combination of religious and culturally-important structures, a centrepiece of ancient Bengal and the very location of the site is close by to the country's capital, said archaeologists on Wednesday, emphasising on proper preservation and development of the area.

At Nateshwar excavation site in Munshiganj's Tongibari upazila, researchers and experts have discovered several archaeological evidences of a Buddhist city older than a thousand years. These include an entrance and walkway, prayer hall, mortar floor, octagonal stupas, pot shreds, baked clay materials, and burnt bricks.

The aesthetic of these stupas is unique in architectural style. A stupa is a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics that is used as a place of meditation.

During a visit to the site, archaeologists said an attractive tourist zone can be developed cantering the archaeological site by taking advantage of the place's smooth communication with Dhaka.

Though there is progress in terms of excavations, process of conservation seems tough as Bangladesh lacks technical and technological expertise and proper funding, said the archaeologists.

"The government should seek funding for it. China is willing to provide financial support but the cultural affairs ministry is not taking any initiative," head of the excavation expedition professor Sufi Mustafizur Rahman told UNB.

The archaeologist, who teaches at Jahangirnagar University, said no archaeologist will come forward if their request is not entertained. "That's why many remain inactive and silent. I got involved because I am a researcher and a teacher."

"We have many limitations. If proper initiative is taken, this site will emerge as a big tourist zone," professor Rahman said mentioning that China is very interested because Buddhist scholar, religious preceptor and philosopher Atisha Dipankar's house is located here.

After visiting the site, China's deputy chief of mission in Dhaka, Chen Wei, said people to people contact between Bangladesh and China is growing and this site will help strengthen cultural bonding, too.

"I am very excited. I see huge possibility, especially it can attract many Chinese tourists," the diplomat told UNB.

He said they will arrange required funding if the Bangladesh government seeks funds under a framework or under One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative.

"If this site is conserved and exhibited well it can be a world heritage site," said the Chinese diplomat.

Director of the Centre for Archaeological Studies, professor Shahnaj Husne Jahan described the site as a unique one. "It's going to be a wonderful achievement. They will now go for conservation."

She said it can be another world heritage site if it is conserved properly but it will take time.

"We have limitations in terms of funding and technology. But we will be able to complete a scientific report on the site," she told UNB.

Responding to a question, professor Shahnaj said this site is well-connected with Dhaka and people can come here through Buriganga river and Dhaleshwari river. "This can be a heart of Buddhist heritage tourism."

President of Agrashar Bikramapur Foundation Nuh-Ul-Alam Lenin said it will be one of the best heritage sites in the country and sought continued support from China.

Oitijjo Onneshon, a Jahangirnagar University-based archaeological research organisation, conducted the excavation with support from Agrashar Bikrampur Foundation and the Department of Archaeology of the government.

The archaeological research at the site was initiated in 2010 and archaeologists carried out survey and excavation at nine sites in Bikrampur region during 2010-13.

The major discovery during this period is parts of Vikrampur Buddhist Vihar at Raghurampur.

Understanding the large volume of excavation and conservation Agrashar Vikrampur Foundation invited Hunan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in China to participate in excavation and conservation, said the archaeologists.

From December 2014 to January 2018 the joint archaeological team "successfully" conducted five large scale excavations at Nateshwar.

More than five thousand square meters were exposed and a series of significant results were achieved by this time.

Finance minister AMA Muhith will visit the site on Saturday.