Hiuen Tsang’s account of Karnasubarna:Karnasubarna was one of the ancient capitals of Sasanka, the first independent ruler of Bengal, who ruled over the kingdom of Gouda (old name of Bengal) from 600 – 638 AD. It also contains the ruins of the ancient university of Raktamirtika Mahavihar, a leading education institute of its time visited by the famous Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang.
The account left by Hiuen Tsang, in his itinerary Xiyu Ji, is the only written record of the flourishing urban settlement of Karnasubarna and Raktamrttika Vihar. According to his account Hiuen Tsang moved from Tamralipti (Tan-mo-li-ti), currently Tamluk in Medinipur, to the country of Karnasubarna (Kie-lo-na-su-fa-la-na), near the capital of which was the Raktamrttika (Lo-to-mi-chih) Vihar.
A glimpse of the religious life of Karnasuvarna can be guessed from the writings of Hiuen Tsang. People belonging to different religions lived there. That Buddhism was in a flourishing state is amply evident from the magnificent and famous Raktamrttika mahavihara situated in its neighbourhood. From Hiuen Tsang we also learn that Buddhists of the Sammatiya School mainly resided in the ten monasteries at Karnasuvarna. Apart from the monasteries there were also fifty Deva temples.
Thus Karnasuvarna was famous as a prosperous politico-administrative, military and religious urban centre. Its fame was however short lived. It came into prominence with the rise of Sasanka in the early part of the 7th century AD and passed into oblivion by the end of that very century. Sadly, such an important capital city did not find mention in any of the many Pala and Sena records.
Although Hiuen Tsang left a vivid account of Karnasubarna but he made a vital error in identifying its geographical location. With no other account left by the later dynasties Karnasubarna was forever lost from the historical map of Bengal.
Re-emergence of Karnasubarna:It was only in early 1960s the archeological excavation of Rajbaridanga, lying within the jurisdiction of the village of Jadupur, in the district of Murshidabad lead to the identification of the illustrious Raktamrttika mahavihar. Prolific building activities have been noticed. Structural remains having uniform patterns and sequences were uncovered in all the trenches. Though no complete plan of any building complex could be obtained, the nature and character of the structural remains indicate the existence of a Buddhist monastic establishment, comprising a platform, stupa basements, staircase, pavement etc. Terracotta seals and sealings, dating back to the 5th to 7th century AD, found from the site proved beyond doubt that the archeological findings were indeed the remains of the illustrious Raktamrttika Mahavihar. It was only then the nearest railway station of Chiruti was re-christened Karnasubarna, thus bringing it back to the historical map of Bengal.
Base of circular and square stupa, Karnasubarna.
Some of the interesting sealings found from the site are as follows:
• A seal bearing the symbol of Dharmachakra-deer with two
lines of inscription was particularly interesting.
• Another fragment sealing reads as follows
It is important to note that the period of the sealings tallies with the period of the visit of the great pilgrim.
The presence of the name Raktamrttika can also be perceived in a fragmentary slate stone inscription from the Wellesly province of Malay peninsula datable to 5th century AD. The inscription refers to a Mahanavika Buddhagupta from Raktamrttika, which may be identified with the famous Raktamrttika Mahavihara. This justifies the existence of maritime trade links between Bengal and Southeast Asia with the Bhagirathi acting as maritime channel.
Trip to Karnasubarna:
Remains of the temple, Karnasubarna.
Located on the Katawa - Azimganj rail line, Karnasubarna is best reached via Baharampur. It is best to take the afternoon bus and after spending the night at Baharampur take a local bus to Khagra Ghat followed by a local train ride to Karnasubarna. As you walk out of the station you will be greeted by lush green agriculture fields, a welcome sight for the sore eyes of a city dweller and the crisp morning air will add an extra bit of oxygen to your tired lungs.
Walk past the endless stretches of mustard fields and in about half an hour you will hit the metal road. Follow the metal road and in less than five minutes you will reach the archeological site of Rajbaridanga.
Rajbaridanga:Rajbaridanga, also known as Raja Karna’s Palace, was excavated by the Calcutta University over a period of two decades ranging from 1962-82 exposing the remains of a large Buddhist Vihar. Till date only a portion of the 8m – 10m high mound of Rajbaridanga Dhipi has been excavated. The excavated eastern part is known as Andarmahal while the unexcavated part on the west is known as Sadarmahal.
Nothing much remains of this historic city and although declared a monument of National Importance the ruins lie in utter neglect. Only the remains of a temple, part of the Vihar, are enclosed by barbed wire, but large sections of it are also missing. While the scattered remains of the Vihar along with that of Sasanka’s palace are not enclosed at all and the local boys play cricket all round it.
The 7th century centre of Buddhist learning and
religious practice is one of the earliest material evidence
of existence of Buddhism in Bengal. Although the ruins of
the temple unearthed offers no legible plan but the a
rcheologist suggest it to be a trirath (ratha - segments
produced upon the face of the temple wall by projecting
part of it to a more forward plane; tri- wall divided into
three segments) and panchayatan (5 shrined) temple
surrounded by a boundary wall.
The main temple measures 8m x 7m, with a garbha-griha
(inner-sanctum) measuring 6m x 4.5m with four smaller
temples located at the four corners. A boundary wall
measuring 14.5m x 22m encloses the whole temple.
The site also contains an abundant well, probably built
by the British at a much later period.
Rakashi Dhipi (Female Demon Mound):Biding farewell to Rajbaridanga follow the metal road to the Rakashi Dhipi. Located 0.5 km from Rajbaridanga and on the same side of the road lie the 8m high Rakshi Dhipi roughly measuring 215m in circumference. Excavated in 1928 – 29 by the ASI reveled remains of a Buddhist Vihar. According to historian Nikhil Roy the ruins are the one of the four Vihars built by Ashoka, the great and described by Hiuen Tsang. But sadly today no structural remains are seen at the historical site. The blue board of ASI, declaring it as a monument of national importance, stands as a mute spectator. There is no historical description of the site, but the board further says that any one found to damage the site would be punished under several sections of several laws but during my own visit I came across two kids digging on the top of the mound. When enquired they replied that they need the mud for their agricultural field. This is the sad story of archeological conservation in our country and may be Karnasubarna is again on its way of being lost from the pages of history.
Nil – Kuthi Dhipi (Indigo – Bunglow Mound):Located about 1 km east of the Rakashi Dhipi this site was excavated in 2006 but reveled no structural evidences but several artifacts were found, which were removed to Calcutta. From the metal road follow the mud path through the village and past a primary school to the archeological site. In front of the school lie the remains of huge bunglow, probably belonging to an indigo or silk trader, of East India Company. Apart from the foundation nothing remains of this notorious building. Walk past the school and past an abundant brick kiln and across a football field to the Nil – Kuthi Dhipi, located on the edge of a huge marshy land.
The pits dug ar Nil-Kuthir Dhipi, Karnasubarna.
Here also the blue board of ASI declares it as a monument of national importance but it is not followed by any historical account of the place. About 30 shallow pits measuring about 3m x 3m have been dug but no structural evidence had been found. All that remains of the past are a mound of bricks.
Apart from these sites artifacts have been unearthed from all over the region and several regions needs to be excavated to get a better glimpses of our glorious past, but sadly nothing much has been done.
Although the ruins of Karnasubarna lie in total neglect but a visit to this ancient capital will definitely bring you closer to your roots.
Trip Tips:Getting there: Calcutta – Baharampur bus (Rs70/80 time 5 hours). Baharampur - Khargra Ghat bus (Rs4). Khargra Ghat – Karnasubarna train (Rs5). Karnasubarna – Baharampur trekker (Rs7). Places to stay: Karnasubarna has no place to stay, so it is best to stay in Baharampur. Places to eat: Karnasubarna has no place to eat, so it is best to eat in Baharampur, which has all shorts of eateries.
• Paschim Banger Purasampad (Murshidabad) by Bijoy Kumar Bondopadhay edited by Amiya Bondopadhay.
• Bhraman Sangi Weekend Tour (Travel Guide)
Rangan Datta's Contributions
Chandraketugarh - First Page
Chandraketugarh - Second Page
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State Archeological Museum Exhibition
Collection of Dilip Kumar Maite
Collection of Asad-uj Jaman
Photos from ASI Reviews
Temporary Exhibition at Indian Museum
My photos of Khana-Mihirer Dhipi
My photos of Chandraketugarh area (trees, ricefields...)
Courtesy: Asad-uj Jaman
Last Revised April 25, 2007