inscriptions-confirm-the-presence-of-two-medieval-monasteries

A study of inscriptions on clay tablets recovered from recent excavations at Moghalmari has confirmed the presence of two monasteries - Mugalayikaviharika and Yajñapindikamahavihara. Moghalmari is a Buddhist monastic site of the early medieval period in West Bengal’s Paschim Medinipur district.

Importance of findings

  • The monasteries at Moghalmari date from the 6th century CE and were functional until the 12th century CE.
  • The presence of two monasteries dating to the same period within a single compound is unique in eastern India. 
    • Earlier excavations had indicated the presence of two monasteries on the basis of the structural plan.
  • During one of the later seasons of excavations by the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Government of West Bengal, six tiny fragments of inscribed seals were found. 
    • Each of them contained a set of letters accompanied by the deer-dharmachakra symbols
  • The inscriptions are in Sanskrit and the script is a transitional phase between later north Indian Brahmi and early Siddha Matrika.
  • The first name Yajñapindikamahavihara, implying etymologically ‘a place of sacrificial offering’ is of special significance. The second name on the seals, Mugalayikaviharika, bears a phonetic resemblance to the modern name of the site, Moghalmari.

Evidence from travelers

  • Archaeologists and historians point out that famous Chinese traveler Xuanzang, who visited India in the 7th century CE, referred to the existence of ‘ten monasteries’ within the limits of Tamralipta. However, he did not refer to any specific name or location.
  • With the discovery of the site and the deciphering of the inscriptions, at least two of these monasteries are now identified. It was known from Buddhist texts that Buddhist monasteries have a definite hierarchy — Mahavihara, Vihara and Viharika — which is reflected in the inscriptions found.
  • The study provides the only contextual epigraphical proof for the existence of a viharika (Mugalayikaviharika in this case) as early as the 6th century in this part of the subcontinent.
  • The study of the inscribed seals suggests that the monastery was called Mugalayikaviharika. Its continuation in the modern name of the area still remains a riddle that needs more careful inspection and study. 
  • Apparently, the name Mugalayika suggests a fair connection to the modern place-name Moghalmari.
  • The name Moghalmari is said to trace its name to a medieval battle between the Mughals and Pathans, sometime in the 16th or early 17th century. It is difficult to ascertain if the name written on the seals indeed represents an early toponym of the modern village of Moghalmari.

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