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VIKRAMASILA:Excavation Report. PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 13 February 2010 05:38

VIKRAMASILA

An Excavation Report on the site

In the earlier part of the report on Vikramasila I gave the history of the site briefly. The excavation report on the site, in spite of it being an important Buddhist University in the medieval period has yet to be published by the Archaeological Survey of India. The excavation initially taken up by the Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Bihar started somewhere before 1964. Even though the work began over 4 decades ago, yet no document has been brought out on the work done. The only way we were able to piece the information together was from the brief notes published in the ‘Archaeological Review- A yearly Journal published by the ASI.

I have visited the site on a number of occasions right from 1990 onwards only to find that on every visit that the terracotta figurines that once adorned the niches of the main temple are crumbling and there does not seem to be anyway to restore them, in spite of their importance to the history of that period of time. I doubt if the ASI have developed any technology to restore these artifacts. I intend to reproduce the yearly report – though the information is very brief.

1963-67 – The Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Bihar, undertook the clearance work of the Stupa-site in the north-eastern quadrant. During the process, the core of the stupa, the wall running along the upper pradakshina-patha (circumambulation area) and brick pillars were exposed and various terracotta plaques of the Buddha, Buddhist deities, animal figurines and an inscribed terracotta seal were found from the floor of the upper pradakshina- patha.

1968-69 – The Department of Ancient Indian History and Archaeology, University of Patna, under Prof. B. P. Sinha and R. C. P. Singh resumed the work at Antichak (Vikramasila site). The whole of the south-eastern quadrant of the stupa was completely cleared. The clearance work brought to light, as in other quadrants, the drum of the stupa and the lower and upper circumambulatory paths. The latter did not reveal any new features except for a brick wall 14 meters in length, erected right on the floor of the lower pradakshina-patha in the south-western quadrant. The wall in question was made at a large stage, possibly with a view of providing support to the superstructure. Terracotta plaques, showing Buddhist deities and other scenes which could be viewed from the lower circumambulatory paths, were found fixed on the walls of the upper circumambulatory paths in both the quadrants. The Buddhist deities were invariably shown seated on a double-lotus pedestal. Other scenes represented mainly animal figures, birds and daily life. On the floor of the circumambulatory paths were found a number of inscribed terracotta votive stupas.

The most significant discovery of the season’s work, however, consisted of a 60 cm. high stone votive stupa, bearing an eight-line inscription on each of the three sides of the square base and a five-line inscription on the fourth. This was recovered from the debris overlying the floor of the lower pradakshina-patha in the south-eastern quadrant. An equally interesting discovery was that of a 60 cm. high stone stele with the image of a crowned Buddha in Bhumisparsa-mudra, seated on a double-lotus pedestal and bearing a one-line inscription at the bottom.

1970 – 79 – After a gap of one year after the excavation conducted by the Patna University, the Archaeological Survey of India launched a large scale excavation of the site which had already been subjected to nine field seasons of digging by the University. The ASI team was directed by Dr. B. S. Verma, assisted by B.N. Prasad and S.C. Saran.

The Patna University had brought to light a double terraced brick stupa, belonging to the Pala period. On all the sides of the stupa, at a radial distance of roughly 150 m. was a ring of longitudinal mounds. One of the principal objectives of this excavation was to ascertain the nature of the structures contained within these mounds. To identify what lay within these mounds an excavation was taken up at three points, located to the north, south and south-west of the main stupa. Altogether, thirty trenches, eleven to the north, five in the south, twelve in the south-western corner and two near the main Stupa were laid out. In the trenches laid out on the south and south-western section, a 3 meter wide boundary was discovered. At some places, the wall had been looted of its bricks right up to its foundation. In all the three sections, seventeen smaller shrines or monastic cells, roughly 4 meter square in size were also exposed. Of these, six were found in the northern mound and the remaining eleven in the south and south-western mounds. These cells were found to open to a spacious verandah about 3-10 meters in width while on the south-western side was exposed to a length of 40 meters. Also found during the process of digging were a large number of pillar- bases at regular spacing which indicated that the roof of the monastery was supported on stone pillars. Another discovery was that in one of the cells were about a dozen Buddha images beautifully carved in lime stone. Some of the images were inscribed with the Buddhist creed. From the south western monastic area was found a small bronze image representing Vajrapani Avalokitesvara. Another fact that came to light in the course of the clearance was the fact that this Stupa had been built over the ruins of an earlier brick structure, the traces of which were found in the north-western corner. During the process of clearance of the main Stupa, many dethatched terracotta plaques, miniature votive stupas and a large number of fragments of stone images of the Buddha, including a massive head of the Buddha with curled hair, knotted in the centre and the Ushnisha on the forehead.

In the next season of the Vikramasila Excavation, Dr. B.S. Verma was assisted by Sarvashri B.N. Prasad and S.C. Saran. This time altogether seventy trenches (each 10 m. x 10 m.) were dug on the quadrangular mound towards the north-west and south-west. The excavation showed a well defined layout of the monastic cells of which a total of fifty-two were discovered. Also brought to light in that year were four chambers outside the outer wall just east of the Northern Gate. It was by far the most outstanding discovery of the season. It has a 14.30 meter wide passage with double flight of stone staircases paved with stone and bricks of irregular shapes and sizes beyond which was another broad stone staircase of single step or flight. There, the entrance narrowed down with the construction of a raised brick platform on either side. The roof of the entrance was supported on stone pillars. The work done that year, without doubt, established that the Vikramasila monastery was indeed a University which accommodated a large number of Teachers and students.

In the third consecutive season of the Vikramasila excavation the team undertook the exposition of a fairly large area around the Buddhist monastery, measuring 330 meters square on plan of the spacious courtyard around the central shrine. The northern outer wall 3.60 meters in width which runs to a length of 330 meters was completely exposed.

In all, one hundred and twenty monastic cells, including fifty-two cells exposed the year before and the common verandah in the front of the cells had been unearthed. It was found that the cells and the common verandah were resting on three parallel walls. The thickness of the middle and inner walls were 2.50 and 1.50 meters respectively. The gaps between the walls were filled with earth. The highest part of the plinth of the structure was 2.10 meters. The floor of the cells and the verandah was made of rammed surkhi (red mud compound) and lime. Each cell was provided with a 1.35 meter wide doorway in the front wall. The cells were provided with a long stone drain fashioned by cutting a channel, discharging outside the outer walls of the monastery. Six more cells, in a group of three each, projecting from the western and southern outer walls, were also exposed. An underground chamber was partly unearthed in the centre of the southern mound.

During the excavation, some of the antiquities found were of Avalokitesvara in black basalt stone, two Avalokitesvara and one standing Buddha in bronze; two terracotta sealing with inscriptions; miniature stupas, and two copper ring-cum seals. On one, the legend read ‘Sri Purushohamyalah’, and the other read ‘Vikramasya.’ Innumerable pottery was also unearthed and represented by red, grey and black ware; sometimes slipped and decorated. On the bases of the findings, the structure was ascertained to have existed between the 9th to 12th century A.D.

In the fourth consecutive season, the ASI excavation team unearthed (i) the northern mound outside the monastery complex; 100 meters north of the northern gate; (ii) in the north-eastern corner of the monastery; and (iii) in the area between the central shrine and the northern gate in the inner court yard of the monastery. It was found that the bricks of the early phase of construction had been re-used when the earlier buildings had collapsed to re-build it again. The structures of the second phase however are represented by small shrines. The third phase (built at a much later period) is represented by shoddy walls constructed of stone rubble and bricks taken from the ruins of the main monastery nearby. In this part of the excavation, both Buddhist and Brahmanical deities were recovered. The Buddhist images included a mutilated Avalokitesvara, Maitreya, Shadakshari – Lokesvara, Simhananda Lokesvara, Avalokitesvara, intricately-carved in black basalt and a bronze image of the Buddha. Another interesting find was a corner- stone carved with two lions having one common head, stupas of various sizes, door – sills; sculptures; door jambs; railings and pedestals.

In the fifth season the team continued their work by excavating the Southern wing. It was more a continuation of the work from the year before. One revealing fact that came to light was that the main shrine was built over sixty-nine courses of a brick-built foundation, raising it to a height of 6.35 meters.

In the sixth season further excavation of the area outside the monastery complex yielded structures of different periods of time. In one of the trenches outside the monastery area, four human skeletons 1.5 meters apart, oriented north to south with head turned towards west and the left hand resting on the chest and were buried 1.0 meters below the surface. The length of the skeletons varied from 1.0 to 1.73 meters. These skeletons however could not be dated in the absence of any associated findings.

The excavation continued for another three seasons. During this period work was devoted to the area outside the monastery area and though it did yield some antiquities and portions of walls etc., nothing of significance was found.

It is unfortunate that in spite of all the time and labour spent in excavating the site, the site has not been promoted as a venue for pilgrimage. For one the site is off the pilgrimage route and even if a pilgrim would like to visit the site, he/she would encounter immense difficulties as no hotels or monasteries exists near the site.     

 


A view of the main shrine


Map of the Excavated site



Plinth of the Monastery on the Northern side


Remains of the temple outside the Main Vihara
 

 References: Indian Archaeology Review: 1966-7, p.6; 1968-69, pp.4-5; 1971-72, pp.4-5; 1972-73, pp.3-6; 1973-4, pp. 8-9; 1974-5; pp.7-8; 1975-6, pp.6-7; 1976-77, pp.10-11; 1977-78, pp. 14-15; 1979-80, pp.12-13;

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 February 2010 11:55