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Rev Robert Fuller

ancient center of learning discovered

  • Another ancient center of learning was discovered at Telhara village in Nalanda district in Bihar during excavations.

    The state is already known worldwide for its Buddhist study centers- the famous Nalanda University, Udwantpuri near Biharsharif and Vikramshila University near Bhagalpur.

    The excavation work at nearly 40-feet high Bulandi mound at Telhara by a team of archaeologists has unearthed evidence of a three-storied concrete structure, mentioned by Hieun Tsang in his travel account.

    Evidence of prayer halls and residential cells for monks in the monastery, have now has been found in course of the recent diggings.

    The Chinese traveller, who had visited the site in the 7th Century AD, has mentioned about a three-storied monastic building at 'Teliadhaka', which is identified with the present day Telhara. In his account, the writer provided clear references to four big prayer halls at the monastery that was home to nearly 1,000 monks at the time. Hieun Tsang also provided details on the existence of seven monasteries of the Mahayana cult in this region.

    Telhara, a monastic site of Theravada tradition, was first discovered in 1872 by A M Broadley, the then District Magistrate of Nalanda, which was commented on in some detail later during 1875-78 by Alexander Cunningham, who excavated the site for a brief period. It was never excavated after Cunningham's effort.

    The recent excavation work at the site began on December 26, 2009, after Chief Minister Nitish Kumar inaugurated it at the Bulandi mound.

    "Important evidences of the ancient monastic structure have been discovered at the site within a short period of excavation. Further diggings may reveal more important facts about the past," said Culture Secretary Vivek K Singh.

    "The preliminary surface exploration at the site has revealed pottery and images, belonging to the Kushana age to the Gupta age. But the diggings have also revealed a 34-metre long floor lined by a number of cells. The vast floor is dotted with a number of platforms with images of Buddha installed on them. A 4-ft high basalt image of Buddha in Abhay Mudra and another in Dharma Chakra Pravartana Mudra have also been found in horizontal position on the floor. It appears to have been a prayer hall, mentioned by the Chinese traveller, said Atul Verma, Director of the excavation team.

    A stone plaque with 8-line inscriptions in proto-Nagri and a black-coloured terracotta seal have also been found on this floor. "This plaque and the terracotta seal may reveal the time and other details of the structure. It appears to be the official seal of the monastery and if the inscriptions are deciphered, details mentioned by Hieun Tsang could very well be confirmed. A similar kind of terracotta seal was discovered at the Nalanda University site earlier," Verma said.

    Verma said that yet another brick-paved floor has been discovered more than 15 feet below this prayer hall floor. "This confirms the existence of the three-storeyed monastery at Telhara. The size of the brick suggests it to be of the Kushana age (1st Century AD)," he said.

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                                                                                                                                                            Rev Robert Fuller