Archaeological Sites and Monuments
Bangladesh is a country considerably rich in archaeological wealth, especially of the medieval
period both during the Muslim and pre-Muslim rules, though most of it is still unexplored and
unknown. In archaeological fieldwork and research this area was very much neglected for a
long time for various reasons, not the least of which are its difficult geography and climate and
remoteness from the main centres of the subcontinent. With the independence of Bangladesh
in 1971 the Government has undertaken a number of field projects including a comprehensive
survey and exploration of the hitherto unexplored areas and a fairly ambitious scheme of
excavations on selected sites. Though work at present is carried out on a limited scale, the
discoveries already made have been significant. while new information and fresh evidence are
coming out gradually. These fresh explorations are likely to add substantially to our
knowledge of the history and chronology of ancient Bangladesh and various aspects of her life
and culture. The earlier history of Bangladesh reveals that Buddhism received royal patronage
from some important ruling dynasties like the great Pala rulers. the Chandras and the Deva
Kings. Under their royal patronage numerous well-organized, self-contained monasteries
sprang up all over the country. The major archaeological sites are described below.
Paharpur is a small village 5 km. west of Jamalganj in the greater Rajshahi district where the
remains of the most important and the largest known monastery south of the Himalayas has
been excavated. This 7th century archaeological find covers approximately an area of 27 acres
of land. The entire establishment, occupying a quadrangular court; measuring more than 900
ft. externally on each side, has high enclosure-walls about 16 ft. in thickness and from 12 ft.
to 15 ft. in height. With elaborate gateway complex on the north, there are 45 cells on the
north and 44 in each of the other three sides with a total number of 177 rooms. The
architecture of the pyramidal cruciform temple is profoundly influenced by those of South-
East Asia, especially Myanmar and Java.
A small site-museum built in 1956-57 houses the representative collection of objects recovered
from the area. The excavated findings have also been preserved at the Varendra Research
Museum at Rajshahi.
The antiquities of the museum include terra-cotta plaques, images of different gods and
goddesses, potteries, coins, inscriptions, ornamental bricks and other minor clay objects.
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Mahasthan, the oldest archaeological site of Bangladesh is on the western bank of river
Karatoa 18 km, north of Bogra town beside Bogra-Rangpur Road. The spectacular site is an
imposing landmark in the area having a fortified. oblong enclosure measuring 5000 ft. by 4500
ft. with an average height of 1 5 ft. from the surrounding paddy fields. Beyond the fortified
area. other ancient ruins fan out within a semicircle of about five miles radius. Several isolated
mounds, the local names of which are Govinda Bhita Temple, Khodai Pathar Mound, Mankalir
Kunda, Parasuramer Bedi, Jiyat Kunda etc. surround the fortified city.
This 8th century archaeological site is still held to be of great sanctity by the Hindus. Every
year ( mid-April ) and once in every 12 years (December) thousands of Hindu devotees join
the ceremony on the bank of river Karatoa. A visit to the Mahasthangarh site museum will
open up for you wide variety of antiquities, ranging from terra-cotta objects to gold ornaments
and coins recovered from the site.
For visiting Paharpur and Mahasthangarh. the visitors may enjoy the hospitality of Parjatan
Motel at Bogra. Mahasthangarh and Paharpur are only 18 km. and 75 km. respectively from
Rajshahi is famous for pure silk. Silk processing industry of the Seri-Culture Board is just ten
minutes walk from Parjatan Motel at Rajshahi. Besides the Seri-Culture Board, a visit to
Varendra Research Museum at the heart of the city for archaeological finds, would be most
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An isolated low, dimpled range of hills. dotted with more than 50 ancient Buddhist settlements
of the 8th to 12th century AD known as Mainamati-Lalmai range are extended through the
centre of the district of Comilla.
Salban Vihara, almost in the middle of the Mainamati-Lalmai hill range consists of 115 cells.
built around a spacious courtyard with cruciform temple in the centre facing its only gateway
complex to the north resembling that of the Paharpur Monastery.
Kotila Mura situated on a flattened hillock. about 5 km. north of Salban Vihara inside the
Comilla Cantonment area is picturesque Buddhist establishment. Here three stupas are found
side by side representing the Buddhist "Trinity" or three jewels i.e. the Buddha, Dharma and
Charpatra Mura is an isolated small oblong shrine situated about 2.5 km. north-west of Kotila
Mura stupas. The only approach to the shrine is from the East through a gateway which leads
to a spacious hall.
The Mainamati site Museum has a rich and varied collection of copper plates, gold and silver
coins and 86 bronze objects. Over 150 bronze statues have been recovered mostly from the
monastic cells, bronze stupas, stone sculptures and hundreds of terra-cotta plaques each
measuring on an average of 9" high and 8" to 12" wide.
Mainamati is only 105 km from Dhaka city and is just a day's trip by road on the way to
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The capital city Dhaka predominantly was a city of the Mughals. In hundred years of their
vigorous rule successive Governors and princely Viceroys who ruled the province, adorned it
with many noble monuments in the shape of magnificent palaces, mosques, tombs,
fortifications and 'Katras' often surrounded with beautifully laid out gardens and pavilions.
Among these, few have survived the ravages of time, aggressive tropical climate of the land
and vandal hands of man.
But the finest specimen of this period is the Aurangabad Fort, commonly known as Lalbagh
Fort. which. indeed represents the unfulfilled dream of a Mughal Prince. It occupies the south
western part of the old city, overlooking the Buriganga on whose northern bank it stands as a
silent sentinel of the old city. Rectangular in plan, it encloses an area of 1082' by 800' and in
addition to its graceful lofty gateways on south-east and north-east corners and a subsidiary
small unpretentious gateway on north, it also contains within its fortified perimeter a number
of splendid monuments, surrounded by attractive garden. These are, a small 3-domed
mosque, the mausoleum of Bibi Pari the reputed daughter of Nawab Shaista Khan and the
Hammam and Audience Hall of the Governor. The main purpose of this fort, was to provide a
defensive enclosure of the palatial edifices of the interior and as such was a type of palace-
fortress rather than a siege fort.
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Shait-Gumbad Mosque, Bagherhat
In mid 15th century, a Muslim colony was founded in the inhospitable mangrove forest of the
Sundarbans near the sea coast in the Bagherhat district by an obscure saint-General, named
Ulugh Khan Jahan. He was the earliest torch bearer of Islam in the south who laid the nucleus
of an affluent city during the reign of Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah (1442-59), then known
as 'Khalifatabad' (present Bagherhat). Khan Jahan adorned his city with numerous mosques,
tanks, roads and other public buildings, the spectacular ruins of which are focused around the
most imposing and largest multidomed mosques in Bangladesh, known as the Shait-Gumbad
Masjid (160'x 108'). The stately fabric of the monument, serene and imposing, stands on the
eastern bank of an unusually vast sweet-water tank, clustered around by the heavy foliage of a
low-lying countryside, characteristic of a seacoast landscape.
The mosque roofed over with 77 squat domes. including 7 chauchala or four-sided pitched
Bengali domes in the middle row. The vast prayer hall. although provided with 11 arched
doorways on east and 7 each on north and south for ventilation and light. presents a dark and
sombre appearance inside. It is divided into 7 longitudinal aisles and 11 deep bays by a forest
of slender stone columns. from which springs rows of endless arches, supporting the domes.
Six feet thick, slightly tapering walls and hollow and round, almost detached corner towers,
resembling the bastions of a fortress, each capped by small rounded cupolas. recall the
Tughlaq architecture of Delhi. The general appearance of this noble monument with its stark
simplicity but massive character reflects the strength and simplicity of the builder.
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About 27 km. from Dhaka. Sonargaon is one of the oldest capitals of Bengal. It was the seat
of Deva Dynasty until the 13th century. From then onward till the advent of the Mughals,
Sonargaon was subsidiary capital of the Sultanate of Bengal. Among the ancient monuments
still intact are the Tomb of Sultan Ghiasuddin (1399-l 409 AD). the shrines of Panjpirs and
Shah Abdul Alla and a beautiful mosque in Goaldi village.
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Kantanagar Temple, Dinajpur
The most ornate among the late medieval temple of Bangladesh is the Kantanagar temple near
Dinajpur town. which was built in 1752 by Maharaja Pran Nath of Dinajpur. The temple. a 50'
square three storied edifice, rests on a slightly curved raised plinth of sandstone blocks,
believed to have been quarried from the ruins of the ancient city of Bangarh near Gangarampur
in West Bengal. It was originally a navaratna temple, crowned with four richly ornamental
corner towers on two floors and a central one over the third floor. Unfortunately these ornate
towers collapsed during an earthquake at the end of the 19th Century. Inspite of this. the
monument rightly claims to be the finest extant example of its type in brick and terra-cotta,
built by Bengali artisans. The central cella is surrounded on all sides by a covered verandah.
each pierced by three entrances. which are separated by equally ornate dwarf brick pillars.
Corresponding to the three delicately caused entrances of the balcony, the sanctum has also
three richly decorated arched openings on each face. Every inch of the temple surface is
beautifully embellished with exquisite terra-cotta plaques, representing flora, fauna, geometric
motifs, mythological scenes and an astonishing array of contemporary social scenes and
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Besides those mentioned above, there are many other monuments which incite tourist interest.
Naela M. Bashar,
Anita J. Brady and BPC.
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