In harmony with the past

Print edition : February 22, 2013

A view of Moghalmari, one of the most picturesque villages in rural Bengal. It has extended exemplary support to the excavation project. Photo: Sushanta Patronobish

PERCHED on a mound just above the point where the latest excavation project lies, overlooking the central part of Moghalmari village, stands the village club, the Moghalmari Tarun Seva Sangha O Pathaghar (translation: Moghalmari Youth Service League and Library).

The club holds a unique tale of collaboration and understanding between the archaeologists and the villagers upon whose land the project is taking place. Rather than resenting and resisting the intrusion on their space, the villagers, led by the club, have embraced the project and, in fact, played a key role in not only helping with the excavations but also protecting the unearthed artefacts. The clubhouse itself has been converted into a museum containing various ancient artefacts that continue to pop up from time to time in different parts of the village.

Atanu Pradhan, joint secretary of the club and a resident of the village, told Frontline: “We were very curious to know how our village got its name and so we immediately gave a no-objection certificate when the proposal for the project on the club’s land came up. When we got to know this used to be a Buddhist monastery site, we requested Dr Datta [the late Asok Datta who was heading the project] to continue with the work.”

It was at Datta’s initiative that the museum was set up in 2010, and the club’s members took up the task of going from door to door asking for the ancient artefacts and pottery that the local people were in the habit of decorating their houses with. “Initially, people were a little reluctant to part with them, especially when they realised that these had value as a rarity, but we could convince most that if these were given to the museum, a lot of other people would be able to see them as well,” said Pradhan. The museum is maintained at the club’s own expense. The club even organised a seminar in the village jointly with the Buddhist Study Centre of Bhattar College at Danton in March last year.

“Though we maintain the museum independently and voluntarily take care of the security of the excavated site, we receive a lot of support from friends like the BDO [Block Development Officer] of Danton, I. Jyoti Ghosh; the principal of the Bhattar College, Pabitra Kumar Mishra; and the local panchayat samiti,” said Pradhan.

The club members and the villagers also had a special bond with Datta and are yet to come to terms with his death on July 31. “Dr Datta loved our village like a parent loves a child, now we feel like orphans. If only he could find the seal that would give the name of the monastery before he died!” said Pradhan. In October, the club organised a memorial meeting for Datta that was attended by the entire village.

Datta’s encouragement to the village youth to participate in the project has ultimately worked out well for the village. Not only has it brought about greater awareness among the local residents of the history of the land on which their village stands, but it has also allowed them greater scope and opportunity to interact with the world outside.

“It is important for our generation to know of our past and cultural heritage. There are very few villages that have this opportunity. There are many people who now come to our Moghalmari to visit the museum and go around the village. In fact, what we have gained the most is the opportunity we are getting to meet so many people from different walks of life,” said Pradhan.

Moghalmari is one of the prettiest little villages in rural Bengal. A red earthen road that swings off National Highway 60 leads right to the centre of the village. The excavation project is at an elevation from where one can look down upon the village and the green paddy fields beyond.

It is a tiny place with just a little over 200 families. The local residents seemed very shy, but not unfriendly. It is by no standards a prosperous village. Around 60 per cent of the families are landless agricultural workers. But the younger generation takes great pride in the fact that there is 100 per cent literacy in their village and the residents retain strong ties with their culture and the area’s historical past—a sentiment made stronger by the archaeological findings.

“It is a source of joy and pride that the youth of our village can appreciate and understand the enormity of the archaeological discoveries that are being made here,” said Gour Gopal Dey, a resident of the village who showed Sushanta Patronobish (the photographer) and me around. The village primary school was also vibrant with activities and the three teachers confirmed that there were no instances of children not attending school.

The village is a veritable treasure trove of ancient artefacts. In fact, the whole village seems to be sitting on top of an ancient centre of Buddhist learning and culture. The villagers showed us brick chakras (a common Buddhist relic) in different parts of the village and what appeared to be broken pieces of ancient pottery strewn around near the village pond. “We have been seeing these things in our village and in different houses ever since we were children. Now we get to know that they may be from ancient times,” said 64-year-old Kalipada Sahu.

The elders have a more restrained and indulgent attitude towards their village’s sudden fame, in contrast to the enthusiasm of the younger generation. But the village has wholeheartedly embraced the excavation project and enjoys the recognition that has accompanied it.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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