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Ruins of Buddhist site in Bangladesh set to draw tourists

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-01-16 08:12
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DHAKA-A site in Bangladesh bearing unique architectural features has been jointly unearthed by a team of archaeologists from Bangladesh and China, unlocking both cultural and tourism potential.

The site contains the remains of the Buddhist town and temple of Nateshwar, the present-day location of the Bikrampur area in Bangladesh's Munshiganj district, 30 kilometers south of the capital Dhaka. The site is home to the remains of the temple and city thought to be 1,000 years old.

The ruins, which are still being excavated by the team of Bangladeshi and Chinese archaeologists, are among several major recent archaeological discoveries in Bangladesh.

The historical site was discovered about seven meters beneath the ground, at the place where venerated Buddhist scholar and philosopher Atish Dipankar was thought to have spent his life.

Deputy chief of mission at the Chinese embassy in Dhaka, Chen Wei, and Bangladeshi and Chinese archaeologists recently visited the site.

The excavation has already unearthed several valuable artifacts from the site, including a prayer hall, mortar floor, octagonal stupas, broken pottery, baked clay materials and burned bricks.

Sufi Mostafizur Rahman, who is leading the excavation team of researchers, says carbon-14 tests on 26 unearthed relics at a laboratory in the United States have proved that the site is more than 1,100 years old. Rahman has sought further Chinese support to continue the excavation activities.

He says he hopes the site, with proper conservation, will emerge as a tourist attraction since the Buddhist scholar Atisha Dipankar's ancestral house is located there.

Shahnaj Husne Jahan, a professor and director at the Center for Archaeological Studies at the leading private University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, described the site as unique.

She says it could be another world heritage site if it is conserved properly, although this may take time. But inadequate funding and technology have hindered the excavation processes.

"That's why we need more Chinese support," she says, adding that this is going to be the heart of Buddhist heritage tourism in this part of the world.

Archaeological research at the site began in 2010 and a series of significant results have been achieved since.

It is believed that this discovery will offer an interesting glimpse into the early life of Atish Dipankar. During the 10th and 11th centuries, he was known in Bangladesh, India, China and other Asian countries as a saint-philosopher by virtue of his scholarly attributes and spiritual eminence. He was called Atish Dipankar Srigyan, which means "glorious wisdom source of light".

He wrote more than 200 Buddhist texts, popularized medical science and built reservoirs. He was also known as a translator.

But the great philosopher was forgotten for centuries in the land of his birth, Bangladesh, as well as on the Indian subcontinent until the end of the 19th century. Atish Dipankar was "rediscovered" in his motherland long after he left Bangladesh for the Tibet autonomous region in Southwest China to introduce Buddhist teachings and died there.

A mausoleum has already been built in the village of his birth with the support of China.

Chen says the Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of Hunan province is involved in the excavation.

"I think it also promotes even more understanding between China and Bangladesh as well as the heart-to-heart and people-to-people contact between Chinese and Bangladeshi people."

The Chinese embassy will work together with the Bangladesh side to promote this site to become a "commonwealth" of Bangladesh and China, he adds.

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