Bangladesh has many ancient secrets. Wari Bateshwar, this has slowly revealed itself as an ancient, pre Common Era, flourishing centre of trade and industry, Egarasindhur, which when exploratorily excavated in the 1930s gave up artefacts not dissimilar to those being unearthed at Wari, and the ancient city of Mahasthangarh, amongst them.
At the modern mouth of the Ganges/Padma, according to 16th Century visitors, once stood the ‘flourishing Emporium of trade’ ,with a large ship building industry, Sripur, apparently eroded away by the Ganges, and on the opposite bank, the ancient city of Vikrampur. Once the capital of flourishing Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms, this ancient city, too, is said to have been eroded away, and the communities left, known as Munshiganj.
All is not, it seems, as believed. Travelling towards Munshiganj, which local inhabitants still like to call Vikrampur, in the company of Professor S.M. Rahman, who has ploughed the lonely furrow to uncover the wonders of Wari Bateshwar over the past decade and a half, he told me,’ over a huge area, 13 or 17 Unions, wherever you put a spade in the ground, the first 12 or 18 inches are farmland, then you reach the archaeology’.
It is hard to imagine, but taken to visit half a dozen widely dispersed pits, you begin to understand. Bricks. Bricks everywhere, dated at 6th or 7th Century CE, together with fragments of real rock, basalt, granite and sandstone, probably from sculpture working, and pieces of architectural stonework. That there is, beneath the soil of this verdant farmland, the remains of a great community, there is no doubting. And this, we know, is the city from which Atish Depanker, the, so called, ‘Second Buddha’, left the university of which he was master, with over 8,000 students from across the known world, to head to Tibet to restore Buddhism in that troubled country in the middle of the eleventh century.
Not so hard to believe that, when you see the extent of the remains. And the colourful Pagoda erected by the Chinese Government to commemorate him is at least one contemporary piece of supporting evidence.
It would take years to fully appreciate all that is on the site, but what can a small, dedicated, well led and motivated team of students do, lacking support and resources, to reveal one of the ancient world’s great cities?
The prize, in Bangladesh, of course, is not just the archaeology. Rather, it is another part of the foundation of extraordinary archaeology for developing a sustainable tourism industry which the country so badly needs to support its social and economic development, and has so much to give to the tourist, not just in its extraordinary and rich past, and its world leading poverty alleviation and development programmes of the present, such as Grameen and BRAC, but its extraordinary natural environment, and diversity of peoples and cultures.
It has been the work of such as Professor Rahman that has confirmed what some suspected, that it wasn’t desperation that brought to the lands of Bangladesh such as Portuguese, Dutch, French, British and Danish trading companies in the 16th and 17th Centuries, it was their sure knowledge of a rich and flourishing centre of trade between the lands of Central and East Asia, and the rest of the world, for over two thousand years.