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Tripura relics spark rethink on history

Agartala, May 30: Archaeological excavations at Boxanagar in Sonamura subdivision of West Tripura have unearthed a large Buddhist complex, including relics of a stupa, teaching centre, a bronze image of Buddha and seals in Brahmi script, triggering a controversy over the history of the state.

The excavation commenced in 2003 under the supervision of Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI) Guwahati circle.

In the second phase under archaeologists Bimal Sinha and B.K. Pande, remains of walls and burnt bricks were recovered.

Indigenous historians believe that the state’s history had commenced with the arrival of Tibeto-Burman groups from the Bodoland areas of Assam, leading to the rule of the Manikya dynasty, which had ruled Tripura till October 15, 1949, for more than 500 years.

But rival schools differently interpret the excavations at Boxanagar in West Tripura and Pilak in South Tripura, which have yielded telltale evidence of the peaceful co-existence of the Hindu-Buddhist culture.

This school attributes the derivation of the name Tripura to a Kokborok (indigenous language) compound of twi (water) and pra (near), justifying the name with reference to Tripura’s proximity to the vast water resources of the then East Bengal (now Bangladesh).

The Manikya dynasty’s court chronicle Raj Mala says Tripura’s authentic history had actually commenced from the year 1432 when Maha Manikya had ascended the throne.

In the subsequent centuries, the Manikya dynasty’s domain had extended well into Bangladesh, encompassing the entire Comilla district and parts of Noakhali and Sylhet districts.

“The Hindu-Buddhist culture at Pilak had flourished from the 8th to the 12th century. The findings there are very significant — a stone image of the sun god, Tathagata Buddha in meditation, Lord Vishnu and the mother goddess; remains of a Buddhist stupa and a temple,” said Jawahar Acharjee, Tripura’s leading numismatist and historian.

Acharjee now infers that Tripura’s plains had been under the Kharg and Harikel dynasties of Eastern Bengal at the time, not under the Manikya dynasty.

He also asserted that the ancient name of Pilak was Pirok and that coins in Brahmi script had been discovered from the area.

“My interpretation is that Pilak was a temple town and religious centre for both Hindus and Buddhists at a place, which could lead a tourist or pilgrim to interiors of Bangladesh, Budddhist Arakan through Chittagong Hill Tracts and parts of Tripura,” said Acharjee.

“Both Pilak (Pirok) and Boxanagar (Birak) stand very close to the border with Bangladesh and bear a close resemblance to the Buddhist culture that flourished in Maynamati and Paharpur areas in Comilla district of Bangladesh,” said Acharjee.

The former archaeologist and director of the state museum at Agartala said Buddhism had flourished in Tripura under the patronage of the Kharg dynasty rulers of East Bengal that had ruled the Bikrampur-Dhaka and neighbouring areas from the year 664, between the 5th and 12th centuries.

The dynasty had later overthrown the Raat dynasty of Maynamati and Comilla before facilitating the growth and expansion of Buddhist culture across the border.

“Chinese traveller and pilgrim Hieun Tsang had visited Assam at the invitation of king Bhaskar Barman in 643 AD and had passed through Sylhet but his account known as Si-U-Ki never refers to a kingdom called Tripura. Naturally, we cannot take the claims of the Manikya dynasty, as recorded in Raj Mala, regarding the antiquity of their lineage extending back to the epic age of the Mahabharat, very seriously,” said Acharjee.

He added that he had 150 coins of Eastern Bengal and Harikel kingdoms as evidence and claimed that Tripura’s indigenous people had arrived in batches not earlier than the 12th or 13th century and the Manikya dynasty had commenced its rule from the 15th century.

Historian Sukhendu Debbarma of Tripura University challenges Acharjee’s inferences. “Archaeological findings unsupported by literary, numismatic and other evidences should not lead to any conclusion. Moreover, the findings at Pilak and Boxanagar do not necessarily mean that Manikya dynasty rulers did not have any control in the area. Maybe the Buddhist culture there had flourished under the patronage of Tripura’s kings,” said Debbarma.

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