|Eight petal terracotta lotus, Lotus Temple, Wari Bateshwar, Narshingdi|
The site of this ancient community, with its massive 5.3km ramparts, and its 600x600metre citadel, on the banks of the ancient Brahmaputra River, in Narshingdi, Bangladesh, is rated by Professor Dilip Chakrabarti of the Dept of Archaeology, Cambridge University, in his ‘Oxford Companion to Indian Archaeology; The Archaeological Foundation of Ancient India’ as one of the most important archaeological sites in the entire subcontinent.
|Excavation site of the Lotus temple|
Despite the fact that, thus far, excavation of only 43 individual sites within the rampart and surrounding area have been undertaken in the period of about 16 years that Professor S.M. Rahman of Jahangirnagar University has been ‘working’ the site, both excavated and surface finds are sufficient to suggest that Professor Chakrabarti’s judgement is not misplaced.
In itself, the site is clearly a major one in the history of civilisation in the region. But it is the setting, the location, that makes it far more interesting.
It isn’t hard to wonder why the Portuguese, the French, the British and the Dutch took such an interest in this remote corner of southern Asia. And the curious might speculate why the Afghan people should make the move to invade the lands to the east of the Brahmaputra in 11th and 12th Centuries CE, or the great Mughal invaders of 16th Century should not only come to an accommodation with the Afghans, but also reinforce the extension of the Grand Trunk Road, that in early 16th century was extended to Kabul on the West, and Sonargaon, Bangladesh, in the East.
|Findings of the excavation site|
Then there is the matter of the fabulously wealthy Zamindari, administrators and tax collectors, both under the Mughals, and the British, although under the latter, their duties seem to have been primarily tax collection.
Despite the fertility of the rich, deltaic soils, this wealth seems unlikely to have derived solely from agriculture, from rice, jute and indigo.
Thus far, excavation has failed to reveal how Wari Bateshwar fell into disuse, to be buried for centuries, until, in the 1930s, a local schoolmaster, Hanif Pathan, began to take an interest in the significant quantities of surface finds in the area around his village. His son, Habibullah Pathan, continued the interest, and added to his father’s already extensive collection of artefacts, from pottery to beads, from weaponry to iron ingots, and coins to money cowries.
|A Silver Coin from about 600 BCE|
For it seems that Wari Bateshwar may have been the earliest gateway to one of the most ancient trade routes in the world.
The Chinese civilisation was built on Bronze, and tin for that bronze has been identified as originating from Malaysia. In 3rd Century tombs in Yunnan Province of China have been found Money Cowries from Maldives. It is clear that there was, indeed, early trade from China to South Asia, and that trade was carried by a few possible routes. But that the Brahmaputra was central to two of the major routes is beyond doubt.
Near the northern border of Bangladesh, the great Brahmaputra meets the Teesta, and the Teesta led to one of the routes, through Sikkim and across into Tibet. This route was subject to winter weather.
|A sitemap of Wari Bateshwar, Narshingdi|
The most famous of the Silk Routes, of course, is that across Central Asia, but as Alexander the Great found, and later, the great Roman Army that tried to force a passage through Parthia, and lost every soldier to death or slavery, and as traders through subsequent centuries were also to discover, Central Asia was a problematic route.
More useful, more accessible, even to such as Phoenician sailors who shared their travels with Ptolemy, the 2nd Century CE cartographer, who gazetted and mapped their journeys, found, was the ancient canal from Nile estuary to Red Sea, and across the Arabian Sea to Indus, or around the sub continent to Brahmaputra.
That the original Grand Trunk Road was built from Indus to Patna on the Ganges, in 3rd Century BCE by the first Mauryan Emperor, was probably not only a matter of Administrative and Military convenience, but with the junction of Ganges and Brahmaputra, a commercial one as well.
A route for traders from Arabia and Mediterranean, by land or by sea, with simple access up the mighty Brahmaputra, probably explains the treasures unearthed at Wari Bateshwar. It also, incidentally, probably explains the ruins of an early 8th Century mosque near the junction on Brahamaputra/Teesta, where whether using the Sikkim/Tibet crossing, or the Assam/Myanamar route, Arab converts to Islam could make their devotions.
|Description of pit-dwelling|
From the ancient riches of Wari Bateshawr, through the great Merchant houses and palaces to 16th and 17th Century Sonargaon, to the 200 and 300 room 18th and 19th Century palaces of the Zaminders that line the river banks of Bangladesh, and even the ‘stately homes of Britain’, built on the wealth of Eastern trade, from the earliest minerals, fabrics and medicines, to the silks and satins, muslins and linens, the gems, the bullion, the perfumes and spices, the learning and religions, and together with weaponry, and even ‘secret weapons’ like saltpetre, the basis of gunpowder, runs a line that is now known as the Southwest Silk Road. And Wari Bateshwar may yet prove to be the most enduring of the gateways, through which, perhaps, passed great religions, great learning, great wealth and even the earliest weapons of mass destruction. Not to mention such great ideas as money!