Thursday, March 13, 2014

Seminar on "Archaeology of Nālandā" at Telhadā Excavation Site

Archaeology Directorate (Department of Art, Culture and Youth), Government of Bihar and Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (Deemed University), Nalanda on 4th March, 2014 jointly organized a one-day seminar on “Archaeology of Nālandā”. The seminar took place in the campus of the Telhadā excavation site.
The seminar aimed at bringing together archaeologists, historians, conservators and heritage volunteers to discuss measures needed to address the threat to the heritage spread in villages of Bihar. More than 25 heritage volunteers from different heritage villages of Nālandā and Gayā districts participated in the seminar. It was a rare opportunity for all the heritage volunteer participants to see the on-going excavations at Telhadā monastic site and also interact with scholars related to the field of archaeology, history, art and conservation. The seminar generated fruitful discussion between policy officials, academics and the heritage volunteers about how the stakeholders could take forward a priority area of work: heritage protection in villages.

Registration desk
Seminar "Hall"
Ven. Pannyialinkara (Chief priest, Chinese Buddhist monastery,Nālandā) blessing the occasion
Scholars an Heritage volunteers sharing their thoughts

Heritage volunteers from village Dubba, Gaya district
Community- Heritage interface by NNM
NNM is currently doing a photographic documentation of tangible heritage spread in villages of Bihar. Documentation work has revealed a long list of villages where the ancient sculptures are lying unprotected under the open sky. Though Government has enacted much legislation for safety and safeguarding of this heritage, but from our experience we understand that legislation alone cannot facilitate change. To maximize the efforts of the Government, we need participation of community volunteers who may facilitate effective, sustainable and durable change. Heritage volunteers can serve as “change agent” who may sustain two-way communications between the Government and the community. NNM, since 2010 has been organizing workshops and seminar to make asustainable way to facilitate the Community-Heritage Interface.
Heritage volunteers from different villages of Bihar with Dr Umesh Dwivedi and Dr S. K Jha

Heritage volunteers engaged in discussion with scholars
Dr. Atul Verma, Director, Archaeology, Government of Bihar explaining excavated site of
Telhadā to the particiants
Scholar participants in the Seminar
Dr. C P Sinha and Dr. Jagdiswar Pandey (both Former Director, K P Jayswal Research Institute, Patna), Dr. Umesh Dwivedi (Former Director, Museums, Government of Bihar), Dr Atul Verma (Director, Archaeology, Government of Bihar), Dr S. N Jha (Conservation Officer, Government of Bihar), Dr S. B Singh (Head, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Nava Nalanda Mahavihara), Dr D. Lama (Head, Department of Tibetan Studies, NNM) and others.
Heritage volunteers from Maher (Gaya), Dubba (Gaya), Beswak (Nalanda), Ayer (Gaya)

Tilaḍaka Monastery
After a hiatus of one millennia, this once famous monastic site is back on the world map thanks to the ongoing excavation at Telhadā. The travelogues of 7th century CE Chinese monks-scholars, Venerable Xuanzang and Venerable I-tsing, mention that Tilaḍaka monastery (present day Telhadā) was one of the most prominent monasteries in the entire Buddhist land. Archaeological finds excavated at Telhadā have generated the same curiosity that ancient Nālandā generated during its excavation in the early 20th century. Telhadā is another deeper revelation to the world of Buddhism and Bihar, as well as, the world over.
Tilaḍaka monastery was a very prominent centre of Mahāyāna studies. Venerable Xuanzang who was at Tilaḍaka Monastery for two months in about 642 CE spoke highly about the of priest Pragñabhadra, who was probably the chief Acārya of the Tilaḍaka Monastery;

This man had distinguished himself by his knowledge of the three Piṭakas, and of the Śabdavidyā and the Hetuvidyā śāstra-s, and others. (The Life of Hiuen-Tsiang by-Shaman Hwui Li - S. Beal, p.153)

Another 7th CE Chinese monk-scholar Venerable I-tsing who stayed at Nālandā monastery between 675-685 CE, recommended in his travelogue that these were the best institutions for collecting the true teachings of the Buddha during his time in the whole of the Buddhist World. No wonder the Tilaḍaka monastery found a place in the coveted list. In the words of Venerable I-tsing,

The most distinguished teachers who now live in west (India). Gnānakandra master of law who lives in Tiladha, in the Nālandā Monastery, Ratnasimha and Divākaramitra in east India and in southern most district Tathāgatagarbha.  (A Record of the Buddhist Religion by I-Tsing, translated by J. Takakusu- p. 184)
 On-going excavations at Telhadā have revealed beautiful structural remains of a Temple that was built during the Gupta (4th-6th CE) period and then revitalised during the Pala (8th-12th CE) period. Many beautiful stone and metal sculptures, seals, sealings and terracotta antiquities have been unearthed from the excavations.

 Beautiful sculpture from Telhadā at Museum Rietberg, Zürich, Switzerland.

A. M Broadley (Asst Magistrate in charge of subdivision Behar, in Patna) in 1870’s made extensive survey of old Behar and Patna divisions of British India. Broadley in his report has mentioned that a few of the best sculptures in his collection came from Telhadā. Broadley was among the first few people to document the antiquities of Telhadā and no wonder he declared:

Few places in India, I feel sure, would yield more archaeological treasure than this great Tillarah mound. (The Buddhist Remains of Bihar, A.M. Broadley, p-42)

Many beautiful sculptures from Telhadā have been removed and placed into different museums all over the world. One such sculpture of Bodhisattva Lokeshvara removed from Telhadā and currently displayed at Museum Rietberg, Zürich, Switzerland.

Bodhisattva Lokeshvara removed from Telhadā and currently displayed at Museum Rietberg, Zürich, Switzerland (Image by Andreas Praefcke)