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Indian archaeologists strike gold — discover dozens of ancient temples in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve

During a major exploration of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, an ASI team found 26 temples, 26 caves, two monasteries, two votive stupas, 24 inscriptions, 46 sculptures, other scattered remains and 19 water structures (Pics. Courtesy Twitter/@ASIGoI)

Known for its large and varied biodiversity including majestic tigers, more than 250 species of birds, 37 species of mammals, 80 species of butterflies and a large number of reptiles, the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve located in Madhya Pradesh’s Umaria district has revealed yet another type of treasure trove — ancient and historic caves, temples, Buddhist structures, maths, sculptures, coins, water bodies and mural inscriptions in old scripts like Brahmi and Nagari.

Reporting about this major find, the Archaeological Survey of India’s Jabalpur Circle informed that during the exploration 26 temples, 26 caves, two monasteries, two votive stupas, 24 inscriptions, 46 sculptures, other scattered remains and 19 water structures were recorded.

The ASI team included 10 officers from the Jabalpur Circle and two Forest Department officials and they made these significant discoveries during their exploration conducted from May 20 to June 27, 2022.

This first major exploration undertaken since 1938 covered an area of 170 sq. kilometre.

Many ancient sculptures, including large monolithic sculptures of various avatars of Lord Vishnu like ‘Varaha’ and ‘Matsya’, and “board games made in natural `”, were reported. Sharing details about them, Dr. Shivakant Bajpai, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI Jabalpur who led the team observed: “This is an important exploration and documentation to know about the rich culture of Baghelkhand  A large Varaha sculpture measuring 6.4×5.03×2.77 metre of 9th–13th century CE is found. It appears to be the world’s largest sculpture.”

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Baghelkhand refers to the north eastern regions of Madhya Pradesh and south eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Most of the 26 caves that dated from 2nd BC Century to 5th Century AD belong to the Buddhists. Findings like chaitya shaped doors and cells with stone beds pointed to the presence of Mahayana sect of Buddhism. Talking about this Bajpai said: “The team found a Votive Stupa and a Buddhist pillar fragment containing miniature stupa carving. The votive stupas held the ashes of the monastic dead to be eternally in the presence of the Buddha Shakyamuni. These are roughly dated back to 2nd-3rd century CE.”

A total of 35 temples have been so far documented in the region – nine earlier and 26 temples or remains of temples of Kalachuri period, that is from 9th to 11th Century CE, in the latest exploration. Two Saiva maths of that period were also found. Besides this, 19 water bodies; various quarry sites and brick kilns were also discovered.

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Brahmi inscriptions numbering 24 which belong from 2nd to 5th Century AD too have been documented, the ASI informed. Inscriptions in Nagari and Shankhalipi were also found. The inscriptions mention names of places like Mathura, Kaushambi, Pavata or Parvata, Vejabharada and Sepatanaairikaa. Also, names of notable kings like Maharaja Shri Bhimsena, Maharaja Pothasiri and Maharaja Bhattadeva, were also mentioned.

“For me, the most startling finding is the remains of the Buddhist structures in the region where a Hindu dynasty ruled. It suggests religious harmony, but who built these Buddhist structures is not known yet,” remarked Bajpai.

Coins from the Mughal-era and Sharqi dynasty of Jaunpur Sultanate have also been found, Bajpai said.

Recalling the dangers faced during the exploration, Bajpai revealed: “Many times, we had to run away from the site due to the presence of wild animals. In Bandhavgarh, more than tiger, wild elephants created trouble for us but the forest officials supported us.”

Also read: 12,000-year-old stone tools discovered near Chennai by Archaeological Survey of India

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