The bricks of Monter Mura speak to the forgotten history of communal harmony

Like Shalbon Vihara, a monastery, signs of Buddhist and Hindu cultures have been found at Monter Mura, showing that human habitation existed during the reigns of different rulers as communal harmony prevailed, archaeologists say.

The famous archaeological site of Mainamati is only 10 kilometers from the village of Italla in Pachthubi. According to archaeologists, Buddhist and Brahmin places of worship were distributed in the hilly areas as well as the plain of the Meghna-Gomti basin and the Monter Mura of Pashthubi is one such structure.

The Department of Archeology last year launched an excavation at Monter Mura led by its regional director AKM Saifur Rahman.

“There were ruins of many heritage sites including Monter Mura in the Pashthubi area, but most of them no longer exist. Yet now old bricks and terracotta objects lie underground. A Buddhist religious and cultural center probably flourished here in the 11th and 12th centuries,” Saifur said.

The Pashthubi excavations are very important, says Professor Swadhin Sen from the Department of Archeology at Jahangirnagar University. Mount Mura can provide the link lost in history which can prove that the Lalmai Mainamati region was on a network connecting the sea at Chattogram with China and Tibet, he said.

PACHTUBI

Pashthubi union is located near the Bibirbazar highway on the border between Bangladesh and India. According to the Cumilla and Chattogram Regional Office of the Department of Archaeology, five ‘Stupa’ or mounds existed in the area and many old bricks have been found there.

The famous archaeologist Abul Kalam Mohammad Zakaria mentioned the five stupas in his writings in the 1980s. The name Pachtubi is derived from five [panch] Stupa or mounds. However, none of these exist anymore due to a lack of preservation.

Archaeologists believe that these five Pachthubi mounds were Buddhist stupa or burial mounds. In Buddhism, early stupas contained portions of Lord Buddha’s ashes and hence the stupa came to be associated with the body of Gautama Buddha. Locals, however, call a brick-and-mortar structure in the area King Mahanto’s House or Monter Mura.

Previously, locals collected bricks digging the area and used those on the floor of their houses or to build a stable. Some residents were selling the bricks to earn money, said Tajul Islam, an elderly villager. He had seen this since his childhood. Monter Mura survived all these acts, he said.

The Department of Archeology conducted the excavations of Monter Mura in 2021-22 and found the ruins of different structures. He also found decorated terracotta bricks, oil lamps, small pots, saucers, spouted pots and many other objects.

Authorities have identified that the ruins belong to different periods and that Monter Mura may be the remains of a Buddhist monastery built as a fort, regional manager Saifur said.

MYTH, LEGEND AND HISTORY

The inhabitants of the village of Italla tell the story of King Monto who went to fight a neighboring king. Before leaving for the battlefield, the king told his queen that he would release his pet pigeon, a messenger, in case he lost the battle.

The war wasn’t over yet, but the pigeon somehow broke its cage and returned to King Monto’s palace. The king won the war, returned to his palace and found that all the women and children in the palace, including his queen, had sacrificed themselves to fire.

No historical evidence of King Monto or Mohanto is available and some experts believe the legend could have been intertwined with another.

“Folktales or legends may bear signs of history, but these may contain wrong or obscure information or seem inconsistent and need to be cross-checked with time and place,” said Professor Sayeed Ferdous, who teaches anthropology at Jahangirnagar University.

“The archaeological exhibit we are talking about today may represent a specific moment in this place. Again, a different myth or folklore may exist regarding the same place but at a different time. It may seem like we are talking about two different facts about one place, but in reality we are focusing on different times but the same place,” he explained.

“People living around most archaeological sites in Bangladesh talk about folklore or legends about these places. Sometimes mythological stories or characters are heard; Sometimes historical figures are seen as demigods and the stories keep changing as they pass from generation to generation,” Prof. Swadhin Sen said.

He believed this also happened with Pachthubi. The story of King Mohanto or Monto is unlikely to have any historical evidence, but it is important to know all the folklore to understand the history of the area along the Gomti River, he said .

[Writing in English by Sabrina Karim Murshed]

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