Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang's India visit: Bihar's 2,600-year-old structures to be excavated soon

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) recently granted permission to the Bihar Heritage Development Society (BHDS), to work in Nalanda and Vaishali. Photo: iStock/ePhotocorp

Patna: Thousands of years of Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang visited India and his stories paint an interesting picture of the society of the time. The traveller, also known as Xuanzang, travelled to various places here between 629 and 645 CE to obtain Buddhist scriptures during the reign of King Harsha Vardhana. It is said to have helped Sir Alexander Cunningham in the 1860s and 1870s identify famous sites such as Nalanda and Vaishali. The Bihar government is preparing the process for exploration of the Buddhist sites he visited in present-day Vaishali district, and excavation of the remains of 2,600-year-old structures in Banka, officials said on Monday.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) recently granted permission to the Bihar Heritage Development Society (BHDS), a wing of the state's Art, Culture and Youth department, to work in these two places. The excavations will be made in Bhadaria village with links to Hindu mythology and Buddhism, in the Banka district near the Chandan River. "It has been established that Bhadaria is a historical place. As per initial studies, the remains found there are 2,600 years old," said Harjot Kaur Bamhrah, Additional Chief Secretary of the state's Art, Culture and Youth department.

The ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey, a geophysical method that uses radar pulses to image the subsurface, has already been conducted in Banka and surrounding areas to trace ancient structures that are buried below the earth, she told PTI. "A team of experts from IIT Kanpur conducted the survey at Bhadaria village, where ancient-age brick structures were found under the ground, both in the bed and on the bank of Chandan river," Bamhrah said.

The Mandar hill in Banka has many references in Hindu mythology. In ancient Buddhist literature, Bhadaria is mentioned as a place where Buddha himself visited and one of his chief disciples, Visakha (a nun), stayed in that village. "This hill was used for churning the ocean to extract the nectar from its bosom, as per mythology," said BDHS Executive Director Bijoy Kumar Choudhary. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had visited the site in December 2020. No systematic work has been undertaken after Cunningham to follow the footsteps of Xuanzang who gave distances, directions and descriptions of several ancient sites that he visited between 630 AD and 642 AD in Vaishali and other areas in Bihar, Choudhary said. "Now, after obtaining permission from the ASI, the BHDS has decided to begin the process for the exploration of the Buddhist pilgrim sites visited by Xuanzang in Vaishali this month," said Choudhary.

The BHDS has already explored several sites visited by Xuanzang in South Bihar. Bamhrah said Xuanzang spent several years in Nalanda and Vaishali. "Buddhist pilgrim sites visited by Xuanzang in South Bihar have already been discovered in the Patna-Jehanabad-Gaya-Nawada-Nalanda sector by the BHDS. In this process, all major hills falling in the region have been explored, and its sculptures, antiquities, and archaeological features scientifically documented and studied," she said. Now, the BDHS will start exploration work in the Vaishali area. "Exploration of these sites would help us discover and piece together our great heritage," said Bamhrah.  

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