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Thursday, 10 December 2009 20:12

- A Site completely lost to history
After visiting Kurkihar where I found innumerable images of the Buddha enshrined in a Hindu Temple, I decided to explore Punawan to see if any of its Buddhist antiquity still survived. The village is situated about 1.6.Kilometers south-west of Wazirgunj Railway Station and about 5 Kilometer south-west from Kurkihar. The ancient remains of Punawan were first noticed by Major Kittoe in 1847. Later in 1861-62 Cunningham explored the site. Scattered references are mentioned in the Notes on the District by Grierson and in the Bengal List as well as in the District Gazetteer.

The Buddhist Temple: "The temple is situated to the south of the village. It is handsome and the most perfect of any I have met with; indeed the only one save that of Bodh Gyah, which is comparatively of modern date, it possessed the most striking picture of the style, viz. a solid round tower with a niche to each of the cardinal points, formerly ornamented with figures of four or five Buddhas, fragments of which are strewn about and there are likewise many others and much brick rubbish, denoting the existence of some large building in former times. On the rock to the west is a fine shaft of granite, in the north face of which is an empty niche; there appears to be no inscription." It was seen by Kittoe in 1847 who noticed a "large Buddha temple . . . in ruins but sufficiently entire to enable a good plan to be made of it . . ." He also mentions the name of the place variously as Pornaha or Poonaha.

Alexander Cunningham visited the site 15 years later noticed the ruins in the form of a pillared temple of Trilokanatha, not the same as seen by Kittoe but a "modern work made of different sized pillars of various patterns, some with and others without capitals, so as to bring them to the required height." Evidently the temple seen by Kittoe had collapsed and a new one was erected on the spot using its material. A figure of the ascetic Buddha was kept in the shrine and was worshipped as Triloknath of which Kittoe made no reference. A beautifully sculptured doorframe and other door frames were noticed by Cunningham used in the new construction. Later this improvised structure was deprived of its carved material including the carved door frame which were removed by Broadley to his Bihar Museum and has now found its way to the Indian Museum, Kolkata, as mentioned in the Bengal List. By 1906, states the District Gazetteer, "whatever remains existed of the temple had all been carried away."

MOUNDS AND TANKS: - Cunningham has given a site plan of the ruins in his report of 1861-62. To the north-west of the Trilokanatha temple he noticed a mound 60 feet square, with five broken pillars and a broken image of the three-headed deity Vajra-Varahi, one of principal objects of worship amongst the Vajrayana Buddhist devotees of the Pala period. . . The ruined temple on this mound was known by the name of "Narting." Cunningham did not clarify the name or the meaning of this temple. Beside the mound he noticed several images and granite pillars of different sizes scattered about the foot of the nearby hill. Some of the images bear inscriptions containing the usual Buddhist creed formulae but no dates. Cunningham assigns them to a date about 1000 CE.

Cunningham refers to two tanks, the one, which is larger and square in shape, being on the north of the village and is known as Budhokhar Tal. The other is situated to the east of the village and is known as Karamar Tal. It may be seen from Cunningham's site-plan that in between the Budhokhar Tal and the ruins of the ancient Trilokanatha temple now stands the village Punawan where other ancient monuments are normally to be expected.
The Buddhist Heritage undertook a thorough survey of the village in search of possible ancient remains. Unfortunately none could be found as the mounds had been cut away to provide agricultural land for the villagers. We were told that any images unearthed during the process of cultivation . . . found their way to the International market via the smugglers in Metro cities. There is need to investigate the ancient Buddhist history of the village.

The Hill at the Punawan site

Part of a door - Ancient Punawan Buddhist Vihara
(Courtesy Indian Museum, Kollata)

Another Artifact from Punawan
(Courtesy Indian Museum, Kolkata)

Doorway of the Punawan Vihara
(Courtesy Indian Museum, Kolkata)

References: Kittoe, JASB, 1847, pp. 80, 276-7; Cunningham, ASI, I pp. 13-14 and plate XII; Bengal List, p. 296; BDG, Gaya, p.229

Last Updated on Sunday, 13 December 2009 13:33