Ancient Remains at Jaimanglagarh (Begusarai, Bihar)

The present name of Begusarai, an industrial district lying north of the Ganga in Bihar, is derived from a medieval sarai (rest house) that once existed in the headquarter town. While the original historical name of the district remains unresolved or forgotten, it is seen as a confluence of three important ancient cultural traditions i.e. of Mithila, Magadha and Anga and is geographically believed as having been the southernmost part of the ancient Mithila region, which was traditionally demarcated on the south by the Ganga and on the north by the Himalayas, with the rivers Gandak and Kosi serving as the western and eastern boundaries respectively. Interestingly, the region was also known as Anguttarap in Buddhist literature, as the Anga region lay just across the Ganga. While the original historical importance of the region still remains to be fully understood, several sites dating back to the most ancient times of civilisation in the Ganga valley and abounding in antiquarian remains, do bear testimony to its imprints in time. Certain regional traditions seem to have continued almost timelessly and even today, persons hailing from Begusarai, get introduced to two religious landmarks at a very early age, the first being the banks of the Ganga, where one is taken for the Mundan sanskar (i.e. first shaving of the hair), and soon thereafter, to the highly venerated temple at Jaimanglagarh. Situated about 22 kms from Begusarai atop a mound on the edge of the Kabar lake, considered as one of the largest freshwater oxbow lakes in Asia, the ancient temple, with present structure dating back to the 9th-10th centuries A.D, is mentioned in the historical texts of Mithila and is associated with several legends in local folklore. The site, is clearly quite ancient since even without proper excavations, it has yielded artefacts dating back to the 5th century B.C. and not being very far from Pandavsthan in Samastipur, where civilisation is now known to have existed from earlier than 3000 B.C., the dating here remains as a challenge for the archaeologist.

Jaimanglagarh Temple

Even as I do retain some faint memories of my first visit to the site, which happened in early childhood days, I have very fond memories of a visit with other school-mates on an organised picnic trip in 1992, when I was in the 7th standard. The place then had a substantial population of monkeys, many of whom were quite mischievous, being habitual snatchers of food items or other belongings carried by the visitors. My parents too once had an adventure with these simians, when during a visit, a naughty one snatched away my mother’s bag and actually teased her from the branches of the tree above, before finally releasing it. Our school group too had similar adventures with the teeming simian population as we offered prayers at the temple. After the rituals, it was time for a cricket match followed by lunch, which was cooked right there. Everyone then moved around the place and tried to explore whatever was visibly interesting while some collected either snail shells or flowers from the lake as a sort of remembrance. I well remember that as the day ended, the temple and adjoining mounds had left me very curious and I wanted to learn more about them and their antiquity, since they seemed to have been quite important in the distant past. However, as I started enquiring from friends and relatives, I soon realised that there was a complete dearth of information about the site and even such people who made repeated visits for ritualistic purposes did not have much knowledge. Years passed on, but the curiosity within my mind to know more about the history of the site kept increasing and still exists.

Simian residents of Jaimanglagarh gave it the name of Monkey Island

It was thus in March, 2016, that I planned another exploratory visit to the site in order to re-examine its past remains, and this time I wanted to go with some authoritative background information. Accordingly, I scanned through several annual reports of the Archaeological Survey of India to gather any or all details available, but, however, was disappointed when I observed that not much had been written about the site in the exhaustive reports, even as a mention was made of Dr. K C Panigrahi’s visit to the site, in the season of 1958-59, and his notice of the ruins of mud-brick stupas, similar to the ones at Lauriya-Nandangarh in West Champaran. In “The Antiquarian Remains in Bihar” published in 1963, D. R. Patil had briefly mentioned the site as Kabar Tal with the “Monkey Island” in the centre, on which were noticed traces of a fort with badly burnt bricks and a number of cannon balls scattered about. It mentioned that the fort was locally known as Jaimanglagarh, due to temple of Goddess Jaimangla, and referred to the Bengal List’s description of the temple as “a small square edifice, about 15’ by 15’, with a semi-domed roof” having “a low door in the front, which when opened, discloses the painted figure of the Goddess in a niche in the wall opposite.” Patil also referred to the non-existence of any local tradition or legend about the ruins and quoted Panigrahi for the notice of Northern Black Polished (NBP) potsherds, usually assigned to about 200 B.C., at the site. In the Bengal List of 1896, I found the site mentioned as “Monkey Island”, on which existed the temple of Jaimangla, which was repaired by one Noonos Babu of Shakarpura in 1894, who also got erected a pucca house for pilgrims. It was mentioned that the temple was reputed to be very ancient and attracted pilgrims from other districts as well. No other structures then existed on the island which had traces remaining of brick walls, which seemed to have been a part of earlier fortification. The island otherwise was mentioned as having overgrown jungle and traversed only by rough paths.

 Kabar Lake

In the absence of much information on the site in several books that I could refer, I also made searches on the internet, where I came across an interesting YouTube video in which a regional scholar had suggested the possibility of the site having been the Allakappa of Bullis in Buddhist History, wherein lay buried one of the initial eight parts of the Buddha’s holy relics. The scholar highlighted the need for a proper archaeological excavation of the site to fully verify the historicity. Other articles available on the internet mostly dealt with the unique ecological habitat of the region and some vaguely mentioned the history of the temple as being from the Pala times and renovated in 15th century AD by Oinwar families of Mithila. With all this background knowledge, after a long gap since the 1992 visit, I reached Jaimanglagarh on 26th March, 2016, accompanied by Mr. Kundan, associated with the G. D. College, who informed that several Sunga-Kushan, Gupta and Pala age relics recovered from the site were on display at the Begusarai district museum and at the College Museum, which included coinage, pottery and statues of  Buddhist  and  Hindu  deities along with other antiquities. As I entered the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, I firstly offered my prayers at the historic black stone image of Goddess Jaimangla, only a portion of which was visible, being covered with sets of decorative items and clothes. The main priest was present inside the small enclosure having only one entry door, with the dark interior lit only by a small lamp. As I came out of the temple, I could notice some fragments seemingly from the ancient temple structure in the near vicinity, including an ornamental pillar of black stone.

Pillar in front of Temple

Thereafter, I set out on my plan and toured around in the vicinity looking for other details and capturing random images with my camera. I walked alongside the ‘Kabar Tal’ and had a cursory look at the mound which displayed remnants of past settlements. The site is in fact a set of two mounds, with the western part separated by a channel from the larger eastern part, which has evidences of fortification. The temple for which the site enjoys great popularity in local tradition, is situated in this part. A variety of potsherds can be seen everywhere on both mounds (N.B.P. ware, redware etc.) and it has been suggested that the fortified part might have been the residential premises of the royal family whereas the other might have been for officials. As I entered the lake on a boat, I could see the remains of the Harsain stupa, in the form of an elevated mound, at a distance on the borders of the lake. I was informed that apart from Harsain, at least three another mounds were also located within the periphery of 2 km. Having yielded NBP potsherds, indicating an antiquity prior to 200 BC, the Harsain Stupa looked very interesting from a distance and due to the possibilities as mentioned in the YouTube video stated above, I had a strong desire to explore the remains.

The Harsain Stupa

Thus, after visiting the temple, I visited the Harsain Stupa complex consisting of four stupas with the largest being in the centre and other equidistant smaller ones in three directions, one each in the west, north and south. Only one smaller southern stupa seemed to be intact due to thick vegetation cover and the main stupa was seen to have been almost cut to half by locals probably looking for constructional landfilling. It could be seen from the remains that the completely clay built stupa used to have a hard outer surface strengthened by brick-dust (surkhi), extensive remains of which were found scattered around as we climbed upwards. I learnt that such ‘Bajralepit’ stupas are referred in the ‘Mahavansh’, and are believed to date back to the times of the Buddha. The construction of such mud stupas was in vogue only in the earlier phases of Buddhism as architecture became more advanced in the times ahead. Thus, the existence of such a remarkable stupa at the site is significant for the history of the region and needs to be understood or analysed in the context of Buddha’s visit to Anguttarap, as referred in the “Majjhim Nikaya”.

Way to the top of the Main Stupa at Harsain

 

Smaller Stupa as viewed from the top of the Main Stupa
Small Stupa Mound covered by vegetation

After a visit to the temple and the stupa, I visited the District Museum and examined the excavated remains on display including coins, terracotta balls in large numbers, probably to be used for ancient defences and various statues including one of the Navgrahas from the Pala period, similar to the one available in the Indian Museum at Kolkata, indicating a high level of artisanship prevailing in the region. Subsequent to this visit, I made further revisits to the site in December, 2017 and January, 2018, when I could also find some more time to explore the lake in a boat and click photographs of the beautiful avian visitors from far off lands.

Begusarai District Museum

 

Researching the History of Jaimanglagarh

As I continued my efforts to learn more about the history of Jaimanglagarh, I discovered that probably the first detailed report on the site had been published in the 2nd Bulletin of Begusarai’s Ganesh Dutt College. It, however, had a very limited circulation and was not found available with any of the scholars or archaeologists, whom I could contact telephonically during the period of lockdown between March to May, 2020 (enforced to contain the spread of the corona virus i.e. COVID19). However, I continued my efforts to obtain a copy of the 2nd Bulletin and as the Unlock1 came into effect, with certain relaxations on movements, I again approached Mr. Kundan in Begusarai and requested him to find out from the college library whether any copy of the then published bulletin had survived. After a day long search on 16th June, 2020, I was sadly informed that the 2nd bulletin was not available in the College Library and that it had probably been lost. I nevertheless still did not lose hope and requested him to contact some other senior scholars of the district, who may have retained a copy in some manner. I was pleasantly surprised on the morning of 17th June, 2020, to see a scanned copy of the desired report booming in my WhatsApp account, having been obtained from Mr. Shailesh Kumar Sinha, who had retired after having served as the Head of the History and Archaeology Department at the College.

Exploration at Jaimanglagarh

As I laid my hands on the old report, I was overjoyed to see the spirit of learning then prevailing in Bihar, when, in 1952, in pursuance of a general appeal to the students of the G.D. College to collect information from their localities and, if possible, to bring objects of antiquarian value for the Jayaswal Archaeological and Historical Society and Museum, information reached Prof. R. K. Choudhary, the then President of the Society, about the existence of ancient mounds and images at Jaimanglagarh. On 20th April, 1952, Prof. Choudhary was deputed by the Principal to make a preliminary survey of the site as well as to collect information relating to its antiquity. The report published thereafter in the college’s bulletin admitted that a full scale and complete exploration of the area covering about 25 sq. miles, was beyond the resources of the society, and expected that such work could be undertaken either by the Department of Archaeology or the Ministry of Education, whose attention was drawn to the importance of the discovery for reconstructing the history of a forgotten period in North Bihar. It is interesting to recall that 3 students then studying in the 4th year at the college namely Messrs. Ramudgar Singh, Ramsagar Singh and Baijnath Jha had assisted in the exploration of the site in which Sri Kunjbehari Sharma of the Chitrakala Studio was the cameraman.

Navagraha Panel, 9th Century AD from Jaimanglagarh

Jaimanglagarh was mentioned as an important centre in the Buddhist period, with the whole area still being dotted with mounds. Lamentably,, much at the site had already been destroyed owing to extreme ignorance and carelessness of the villagers, even in 1952. It was suggested that the site could have been the religious centre of the ancient rulers of an adjoining site named as Naulagarh, where numerous antiquities dating from the early Buddhist period to the Muslim periods had been obtained along with two important inscriptions of the Pala period. Jaimanglagarh had retained its religious importance all through the preceding centuries and even in 1952, people assembled in large numbers especially on Tuesdays and Saturdays to worship. The site on which the temple was situated, was stated as having been mentioned as village Jaimangalpur in the revenue settlement record and was surrounded on all sides by a moat and then by the Kabar Tal (image from report – plan of Jaimanglagarh), which was about 8 miles in length and 2 miles in breadth, and connected in ancient times with the rivers Ganga, Gandak and Kamla. Also known as monkey island, the whole area had been a big jungle, but, by 1952, no jungle had remained and most mounds had already been levelled and were being used for agricultural purposes. Traces of brick structures and stray finds including but not limited to bricks of various dimensions, similar to the ones obtained at Naulagarh, along with a number of clay balls confirmed the belief that it was definitely a fort in ancient time, which tradition asserted as being the fort of king Jaimangal. The temple was located within the fortified area surrounded by the moat, which had a regular supply of water from the surrounding Kabar lake, with probable aim to ward off the enemy. The team learnt that in course of digging the land for agricultural purposes, plinths, roofs and other structures were discovered inside the fort, but, however, could not find any trace of the same during the exploration and thus surmised that either they had been destroyed or probably filled in.

Seller of Prasad Items at Jaimanglagarh

The temple at Jaimanglagarh seems to have existed since very ancient times since it is regarded as one of the important ‘Shaktipithas’ in India and even as the date of establishment of the Pitha remains unknown, the  report mentioned that the site of Goddess Jaimangla was found mentioned in Mithila-tattva-Vimarsa and Mithila Darpan. Jaimangla was also found mentioned in Mithila Mahatmya, Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Devi Bhagwat and Pran-Toshini. It was believed that Lord Shiva had killed Tripura Rakshas and established the ‘Pitha’. From folk tales, the team gathered that Jaimanglagarh and Mangalgarh (in Samastipur district at a distance of 14 miles to the east of Jaimanglagarh) were allied sites, and, were in the possession of one king named Mangal. Traditionally Mangalgarh was also known to have been connected in some way with another adjacent site named as Balirajgarh (in Madhubani district, where a Pala inscription was also recovered) and Mangalgarh’s ruler was said to have been a powerful monarch and a contemporary of king Asoka. The king of Mangalgarh was said to have extended his sphere of influence up to Jaimanglagarh and discovery of similar punch marked and cast coins at both sites led the exploratory team to believe that these were definitely connected with each other during a particular period. Sri Luro Jha, the then Panda, informed Prof. Choudhary that one Mangal was referred to as king in Devi Bhagwat. It was said that king Mangal was harassed by Asoka. The team had also learnt that the Raja of Balirajgarh had destroyed Mangalgarh, but, in absence of any authentic history of these sites, it was difficult to ascertain the facts out of these confusing statements. The folk-tales, however, did assert that Raja Mangal had established the ‘Pitha’ and named the Goddess Jaimangla.

Terracotta figurines from Jaimanglagarh

Another important piece of information gathered from the Panda revealed that in the year 1936-37, a Siamese (Thai) Buddhist traveller, who visited Jaimanglagarh, had pointed out that in ancient times Buddhist travellers from China and Siam (Thailand) used to flock there, since the place was considered as sacred. The particular traveller had also come to pay visit to the sacred Buddhist shrine and mentioned that it had later on developed as a centre of Tantric Buddhism. He stressed on its being an important Buddhist site and in support of his argument quoted reference from the Siamese Buddhist tradition. He also pointed out that there were Chaityas and Stupas at Jaimanglagarh (the report here mentions Daitadih with its four very well-preserved mounds i.e. Harsain stupa complex, which were still undisturbed and well preserved in 1952). The report noted that Jaimanglagarh was indeed regarded as an important centre of Tantric cult where Tantriks visited from far-off places and once a Bengali and a Nepali Pandit had also resided there for 3 years. Prof. Choudhary mentioned that Jaimanglagarh gradually developed as an important centre of Sakti cult.  He mentioned that the Tantric cult was a continuation of Tantric Buddhism and the ‘Pitha’ probably came to be established later on.

Terracotta balls from Jaimanglagarh

However, what is certain is that development of the site as a Pitha must have been quite early due to specific references in the texts of Mithila as noted above and since it is well established that the Pandas were granted rent-free land for the worship and maintenance of the temple and had held it rent free during the Hindu and Muslim periods, and in 1952, were in possession of three Sanads dated 1794 A.D. One of these Sanads stated that the Pandas had  re-obtained their rights from the Emperor, after being once dislodged by one Sheikh Rafi, and reiterated that the Pandas had been enjoying the area rent-free since time immemorial and as such Sheikh Rafi had no right to dislodge them. Prior to that in 1793, when the Permanent Settlement was concluded, Jaimanglagarh was allowed to remain revenue-free and the government made an annual grant for the purpose of feeding monkeys and keeping alight a lamp which burnt day and night in the temple. In 1852, it was discovered that the light had been extinguished and monkeys had not been fed and the money was appropriated by the priest. This annual grant for that purpose was thus stopped in 1852.

The History of Jaimanglagarh

Prof. Choudhary attempted to reconstruct a History of Jaimanglagarh based upon the stray finds even as he mentioned that nothing tangible could be said on the basis of the limited exploration. From the archaeological standpoint the site was mentioned as very promising. He mentioned that in Buddhist literature, the area of North Bhagalpur and North Monghyr was known as Anguttarapa, being a small ‘Janapada’, with the area even today represented linguistically by the eastern variety of Maithili (Vidyalankar and Mehta, Bihar, P12). Interestingly, it shows the unique identity of the region, which being a part of traditional definition of Mithila and still represented linguistically by a variant of Maithili, but, however, as the name of Anguttarap shows, was nevertheless also connected culturally with the Anga Janapada, south of the Ganga. Prof. Choudhary mentioned that the Vedic culture had extended upto Mithila and had made sufficient progress during the hey-day of Janaka dynasty. Later on Videha was converted into a republic and as Vaishali grew into prominence, Buddhism became a driving force in this part of Bihar. Anguttarap seems to have been an important Janapada, with stray coins, found in abundance and belonging to a period ranging from the 5th century B.C. to 2nd century B.C., and beads of Jaimanglagarh confirming the belief. Some cast coins found at the site were mentioned as being in possession of the college museum while most others got either lost or misused. Some of them were then in the possession of the Panda, Sri Luro Jha.

Recoveries from Jaimanglagarh

 

Punchmarked Coins

 

Punchmarked Coin from Jaimanglagarh

 

Prof. Choudhary mentioned that the stray finds were certainly helpful in ascertaining at least a part of the history and it was clear that the site continued to be a centre of Buddhism for a pretty long period. Tradition asserted that a large number of Chinese and Siamese travellers visited this place, and he enumerated that travellers including 1. Hieun-Chiu (Indian Name Prakasmati), who spent his time in Sin-Che temple and other temples and returned by way of Nepal and Tibet, 2. Taou-Hi (Indian name-Sridev), who dwelt in Kusi country, 3. Sin-Chiu (Charita Varma), who lived in the Sin-Che temple, 4. Chi-Hing (Prajnadeva), who visited the Sin-Che temple,  5. Tang, who visited Vaishali and Kusi country and 6. Hwui-Lun (Prajna Varma), who visited Sin-Che temple, besides Hieun Tsang had visited North Bihar. As seen from the details of the travellers, it emerges that there was an important Buddhist temple known as “Sin-Che”, in Chinese terminology, which lay somewhere north of the Ganga in Bihar. Prof. Choudhary mentioned that even though the exact location of Sin-Che temple was not yet rightly known, it could be conjectured that this temple was situated somewhere between Vaishali and Kosi country. He suggested that since Anguttarapa region lay between Videha on the one hand and Kosi country on the other, the Sin Che temple must have been situated somewhere in Anguttarapa region and must have been an important Buddhist shrine.

“Sin-Che” Temple or Original Relic Stupa – Possibilites ! The Meaning of Allakappa !

After having a look at the brief report about the Sin-Che temple, I decided to have a relook at the account of Hieun Tsang’s travels. However, even as Hieun Tsang did visit North Bihar, I could not clearly relate to any reference to this particular site. However, as I scanned through Samuel Beal’s translation of the life of Hieun Tsang by Hui Li, I could see the note on the account of I-Tsing, the Chinese traveller who happened to visit some years after Hieun Tsang. In his reference to earlier Chinese travellers, the references included the names as quoted by Prof. Choudhary. It mentioned that Hieun-Chiu, a master of the law, a native of Sin-Chang, in Ta-chau, with the Indian name as Prakashmati, had stayed at the Sin-Che temple. Sin-Chiu, a doctor of the law, whose Sanskrit name was Charita-varma, had also lived in the Sin-Che temple, where in an upper room, he had constructed a sick chamber and left it for the use of sick brothers. He is said to have died in the same temple, where some days before his death, he had remarked that the Boddhisatva was reckoning him to his holy abode. Another traveller Chi-Hing is also said to have lived and died in the same temple. Hwui-Lun (otherwise called Prajnavarma), a Korean, is also said to have lived for some time in the Sin-Che temple, north of the Ganges. Wong-po or Matisimha had also visited the temple accompanied by the priest Sse-pin. From the accounts it was clearly established that the Sin-Che temple must have been an important temple, which was held in high esteem and was located north of the Ganga.

Damage caused by locals to Main Stupa at Harsain

Due to the continuous history and local traditions at Jaimanglagarh regarding earlier visits having been made by Chinese and Siamese travellers, the site of Harsain Stupa near Jaimanglagarh seems to have been the very site of the Sin-Che temple. The probability of its having existed since the times of the Buddha is quite high, owing to it being a mud-brick stupa. As stated earlier, my attention to the probability of the site having been one of the original 8 relic stupas of Lord Buddha was drawn by a video on YouTube, which was documented during a seminar held by Sai Society in Begusarai. Interestingly, the local historians in the video mentioned that out of the original 8 relic stupas, 6 had been identified so far and 2 remained to be identified. It was proposed that the Harsain stupa could be the one made by the Bullis of Allakappa and of the cogent reasons proposed for such identification was the very name of Allakappa, which signifies a lake, that never dries and since the Kabar lake exactly fitted the descriptions. The Bullis were a powerful clan in the times of the Buddha and may have enshrined the holy relics at their capital Allakappa. The stupa at Harsain is also seen to be very similar to the one at Piprahwa, where the Archaeologist W.C. Peppe had discovered the relics of Lord Buddha during a chance digging of the neglected mound in the late 19th century.

Damage caused at Harsain

Looking at the descriptions in the video, the proposal looks promising keeping in mind that the initial stupas erected soon after the passing of the Buddha, were actually made of mud-bricks and were not of the latter types constructed with baked bricks (as at Nandangarh or Kesariya) or stone (as at Sanchi). Also, what exists at Harsain is not just one stupa, but a complex of 4 stupas, which indicates the ancient importance of the site. The site continued to be important till the Pala period as indicated by some very fine blackstone images including of Varaha, Badri Narayan, Ganga, Shiva-Parvati and a column in blackstone, which are some of the best specimens of plastic art of the Eastern School of Medieval Sculpture (c. 800 – 1200 A.D.).   However, such identification can be confirmed only through scientific excavation, which needs to be initiated at the earliest. Further delay in protection of the site may actually lead to the loss of precious heritage, since the site is seen to be continuously under the threat of locals looking for earth filling in other constructions. Moreover, in the process of such digging if anyone unfamiliar with the importance of the relic, would accidentally obtain it, there is a high probability of its being permanently lost.

Ancient Bridge at Jaimanglagarh !

At Jaimanglagarh, a very interesting discovery was pointed out by Dr. R. C. Prasad Singh. An excursion to the site was arranged under the joint leadership of Principal S N Sinha and Prof. R. K. Choudhary in honour of Maharaj Kumar Dr. Raghubir Singh, M.P. and Dr. R. S. Sharma of the Patna University, who, probably in 1957, had come to preside over the annual function and to inaugurate the Bulletin No. 4 of the Jayaswal Archaeological and Historical Society and Museum of the College respectively. The team was taken round the settlement site and reached a point where people were then sinking a well. Prof Choudhary was fortunate enough to find the rim of a broken vessel which probably came from the depth of 20’. From the appearance of the rim, it could be guessed that the vessel was wheel-thrown and baked under proper heat. Proceeding further, they came across the moat where local authorities were excavating a tank of about 300’ length and 100’ width for public use. The western bank of the tank cut through the outer wall of the settlement site. Three rows of wooden posts, five posts in each row and each at a distance of 7.5’ were seen approximately in the middle of the tank. In addition to this two outer posts, one in the left and other in the rear, were also visible. After a brief survey of the area Dr. R S Sharma observed that these posts were remains of an ancient bridge constructed probably to connect the settlement site with Stupas in the north-east. Dr. Singh remarked that if so, it would prove to be an unique discovery in the history of Indian Archaeology, with no remains of ancient bridge having been found elsewhere in the subcontinent and thus requested the Archaeological Department to take every possible measure to preserve and clear the monument. Not much is known about the current status of the remains then seen by the team.

Plate showing location of the ancient bridge

 

Connection with Naulagarh and other sites

To understand the importance of Jaimanglagarh, it is pertinent to correlate the discoveries from adjoining sites like Naulagarh, Mangalgarh and others. Prof. Choudhary mentioned that the exploration of Jaimanglagarh and other adjoining sites indicated that taken together, all these sites constituted a great area of historical importance. Black (Gaya) stone images, ranging from the Gandhar School down to the Eastern School of Medieval Sculpture, pottery pieces and huge amount of cowries etc. were discovered from Bihat, Birpur, Naulagarh and Jaimanglagarh, and thus collectively pointed to the existence of a big ancient establishment in the region. A detailed report on the findings at Naulagarh was made in the first Bulletin of the college and a further report was published in the second. Vast materials including inscriptions, seals, coins and terracottas, which were very important from the perspective of numismatic and epigraphic evidences, were obtained from Naulagarh, which suggested that it had been an important administrative centre in North Bihar in the Pala times. Prof. Choudhary pointed out that in the Pala period, Birpur could have been the place of residence of administrative officers and Jaimanglagarh the religious centre. An important inscription at Naulagarh along with a silver coin indicated it as having been the administrative centre during the rule of Vigrahapala, and that Tirhut was also then a part of the Pala empire. Naulagarh was seen to have a continuous history from the beginning of the Buddhist period to the Muslim period, since some Muslim coins were also found from the site and was mentioned as a small village in Aini-Tirhut.

In 1952, fortifications were still visible both at Naulagarh and Jaimanglagarh. Naulagarh seemed to have been a well-planned ancient fort, the construction of which could be traced back to the Mauryan period. The ruined fort, as it existed, was on the bank of river Bainti and it was said that there was a lake or tank inside the fort area. It was surrounded by an artificial canal of water on three sides and the bed of that old moat was still then visible. Such construction of forts was described by Kautilya and the same model was true for the fort at Jaimanglagarh as well. It was a very well planned fort with a thick rampart within which clay balls are found in abundance. It appears that both mud-bricks and burnt bricks were used in the construction of the fort, which seems to have been in a good condition upto a very late period. The explorations convinced the team that the greater part of the rampart had been robbed off and huge pits had been created in those parts. Prof. Choudhary mentioned that it was very difficult to say how or when exactly the site came to be destroyed, due to absence of clear correlative historical references. The team opined that a scientific excavation of the site was most necessary and recommended for its declaration as a protected site. Proper excavation at all these sites will surely shed more light on the history of this region, which looks very promising.

An Ecotourism Destination !

Kabar Lake is one of the largest freshwater oxbow lakes of India, which is spread in a vast area of 64 square kilometres and acts as a shelter for hundreds of species of domestic and migrant birds. It lies between Burhi Gandak, Old Bhagmati and Kareh rivers. The lake is formed by the meandering action of Gandak River and is now a residual ox-bow lake. In years of average rainfall, it gets connected with Burhi Gandak (a tributary of River Ganga) and with nearby Nagri Jheel and Bikrampur chaurs, which unitedly form a lake of about 7400 ha. By late summer however, the water is confined to the deeper depressions and only about 300-400 ha of Kabartal remains flooded and cut off from the adjacent floodplains (chaurs). As the water level recedes, over 2800 ha of the exposed mudflats are converted into rice (paddy) fields. In 1951, a drainage channel was excavated to expose additional areas for agricultural purposes, but the channel silted up in few years, and the lake reverted to its former condition. In recent years, further siltation of the overflow channel has resulted in slight fluctuation in water levels throughout the lake. As the lake area remains wet and submerged for a major period, it has developed special wetland vegetation along with the other inhabiting species. Perhaps, that also suggests why the identification of Allakappa is being proposed for it by some scholars.

Board put by the Forest Department

Perspective 

The emergent, submerged and floating plants present unique flora and fauna making it a spectacular wetland habitat and perhaps which, if managed well, has the potential to emerge as a wonderful ecotourism destination in addition to the importance due to heritage. The area is notified as a bird sanctuary and apart from the numerous indigenous species of birds, those from the cold Siberian and Himalayan regions can also be seen here during the winter season. The famous bird specialist, Salim Ali, had also resided here for sometime and was highly influenced by the diversity of avian population. The birds including different species of Cranes, Doves, Hawks, Fowls, Quails etc. and a variety of aquatic plants create a wonderful scene here in the winter and spring. After March, 2016, I had the opportunity to visit the site again in December, 2017 and in January, 2018, when I was also serving in the additional capacity as the DIG of Munger Range. It was during those visits that I could take a round of the lake on a boat during the migratory winter season and could capture some images of birds in the lovely weather.

Birds at Kabar Lake

Even as Jaimanglagarh retains its religious importance, the flow of tourists is confined mostly to those from the local region. Since the vast Kabar lake in itself with its diverse avian population and unique wetland vegetation along with its precious heritage surely present a remarkable excursion for visitors, it has enormous potential to attract tourists from far and wide, if properly preserved and promoted. The poaching of birds by some active gangs also needs to be fully controlled by the local forest and police authorities.  At present, the nearest Airport is at Patna, from where the site can be reached after a drive of about 3 hours. Begusarai is also well connected with railways and roadways with the rest of the country and local conveyances or time bound local buses can also be  taken to reach the site. However, what is most lacking at the site is proper infrastructure for accommodation and sightseeing. A guest house of the forest department is available but has only the bare minimum facilities, with only 2 rooms and no permanent kitchen or restaurant, which surely would not serve to attract the modern tourist looking for a cosy stay and for creating lifetime memories. The lake requires modern ecotourism boating infrastructure along with some watchtowers for sightseeing. As most important sites lie in a periphery of only four square kilometres, they can collectively be integrated into a day long itinerary which could include refreshments along with a guided tour.

Birds at Kabar Lake

 

Birds at Kabar Lake

Having tracked developments at the site over the years, I strongly feel that a systematic excavation and proper protection is urgently required. If such excavation leads to the discovery of a relic stupa, as suggested above, the potential thereafter can only be imagined. At present, most people who visit Jaimanglagarh visit it for the temple or for boating and bird watching in the Kabar lake, but if proper excavation sheds more light on the history of the Sin-Che temple or towards an early connection with the Buddha’s visit to Anguttarap, the Buddhist identity of the site would also get clearly established along with the existing religious identity as a shaktipitha and that would surely serve to develop the site in the future as a famous international tourist destination. To sum up, one can surely envisage the development of the site as a promising ecotourism and heritage destination if arrangements are made for better accomodation and sightseeing and most importantly if scientific excavations are conducted to properly understand and establish the unique history of the region.

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