Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of an ancient Buddhist study centre at Telhara village in Bihar’s Nalanda district. The centre is believed to be nearly 2,000 years old.
A 34-metre-long prayer hall, residential cells for monks, images of Buddha, pottery and a stone plaque were among the discoveries made during excavation at the 40-foot high Bulandi mound over the past four months.
“Important evidence of a three-storeyed ancient monastic structure has been discovered within a short period of excavation. Further digging may reveal more facts about the past,” said Bihar’s Culture Secretary Vivek K. Singh.
The prayer hall is dotted with Buddha statues. Archaeologists believe this could be the same prayer hall Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang mentions in his accounts.
Tsang, who toured India in the 7th century, has written about a three-storeyed monastic building at ‘Teliadhaka’, which is identified as present-day Telhara. He also wrote that the monastery was home to nearly 1,000 monks at the time.
“A four-feet high basalt image of Buddha in abhay mudra (a gesture of fearlessness or protection) and another in dharmachakra pravartana mudra (turning the wheel of law) are among the many Buddha images in the hall,” Verma said.
A brick-paved floor has also been discovered more than 15 feet below the prayer hall. “The size of the brick on the floor suggests it belongs to the Kushan age (1st century AD),” said Atul Verma, director of the excavation team. Other finds include a stone plaque with inscriptions in proto-Nagri and a black terracotta seal.
Bihar is known for its three Buddhist study centres — Nalanda University, Udwantpuri near Biharsharif and Vikramshila University near Bhagalpur.