In Eastern margins of deltaic East Pakistan and
about 5 miles to West of Comilla town, an
isolated, low ridge breaks the monotony of the
dead plain. It extends for about 11 miles
North-south from Mainamati to Lalmai. In its
widest parts, the ridge is about 3 miles across
and its highest peaks attain height of only 150
feet or so.
Like Barind and Madhupur tract, this ridge
represent small mass of quasi-lateritic old
alluvium with the distinctive red clay, which,
where exposed, colors the hill tops
Rainfall is abundant; there are small springs near
the peaks; valleys and hill-sides are lush green
with vegetation. These highlands were formerly
thickly wooded, but land-hungry local farmers have
now pushed back the forest to the highest points
and to patches of Sal
trees on the slopes.
The ridge still retains considerable scenic beauty
and charm of its own; in early spring, when the
jackfruit and mango trees are in bloom and air is
filled with mild fragrance and the first melodies
of the song birds, the place is turned into
veritable dreamland. Here live a few scattered
remnants of the aboriginal hill people, Tipras.
Interesting material found all over Mainamati area
is fossil wood. Specimens studied by experts
reveal their relationship with the fossil wood
groups of Burma and South India. But
Lalmai-Mainamati today is more well-known for its
fascinating Buddhist remains.
Twin names have significant link with past. "Lalmai"
or Southern part is identical with "Lalmai-vana"
of Chandra epigraphs, while Northern part recalls
the name of the legendary Chandra queen Mainamati,
now immortalized in local folksongs and ballads.
There is hardly any doubt now that this was where
the political and cultural center of ancient East
Pakistan must have been.
During the course of building a road through these
hills in 1875, workers accidentally uncovered the
ruins of what at that time was thought to be
"small brick fort". This was actually
Incidentally, it was in the same area, some 72
years later, that the first Mainamati inscription,
copper-plate grant of Ranavankamalla Harikaladeva
dated 1141 Saka (1220 AD), was discovered. The
record describes the capital city of Pattikera as
'adorned with forts and monasteries'. This city
was located in Mainamati; the name survives in the
modern pargana of Pattikera which includes
Mainamati ruins were rediscovered during Second
World War. While setting up an advance camp,
troops came across ancient remains at a number of
points on the ridge. Department of Archaeology was
informed, but unfortunately, before any action
could be taken, sites were extensively damaged.
Military contractors and local brick hunters
removed an unknown quantity of ancient bricks,
callously exposing the remains to be plundered or
even totally destroyed. In hurried survey that
followed 20 sites were recognized and declared
In more regular survey undertaken since 1954, more
than 50 sites of varying size and importance were
discovered; they lie scattered on the flat tops
and slopes of the hills. Three of them have since
been excavated: Salban Vihara, Kutila Mura and
Mainamati excavations are significant: They
represent the first major investigation of its
kind in East Pakistan.
In the size and magnitude of the exposed
monuments, in the variety and richness of
recovered objects, and in the significance of the
information they have yielded, these excavations
certainly rank among the foremost in Eastern in
indo-Pakistan, and when considered together with
the many unexcavated sites in neighborhood, they
may even bear comparison with those of Nalanda and
Salban Vihara, the main site, is situated about
the middle of the ridge. The name is derived from Sal
forest, which once covered the whole area. Here,
excavation during the winters of 1955 to 1957 and
deep diggings for a few more seasons have exposed
large Buddhist establishment at Paharpur in North
Bengal and a wealth of material objects roughly
datable to a period from 7th to 12th centuries AD.
Excavated remains consist of a monastery, a
succession of central shrines and a number of
subsidiary structures, both inside and outside the
monastery, all brick-built.
Roughly square in plan and formally arranged
around central shrine, monastery is grand edifice
with four wings, each 550 feet long, containing a
total of 115 cells of more or less uniform shape
and size. Its single entrance in the middle of
North side with 74 feet wide front facade and 174
feet long brick-paved approach path is imposing.
All the walls of the monastery are massive, but
the back wall is the most massive, being 16 and
half feet thick. This feature together with the
forbidding character of the gateway and the dreary
look of the outer wall must have given the
monastery the appearance of citadel. The reason
for evolving architecture of this type may be
found in the increasing wealth of such
establishments and the insecurity of the times.
Deep diggings revealed for repair and rebuilding
phases in the monastery, the earliest
corresponding to Period III of the site and
datable to 8th century AD. It was the most
prosperous and flourishing period, yielding
exceptionally rich harvest of antiquities of
considerable historical importance and artistic
During next two phases (Period IV & V),
original door passages and niches of the cells
were bricked-up and new floors and thresholds were
built on top of earlier remains, thus leaving
clear traces of the changes in the occupancy of
the monument. At the end of Period V, assignable
to Chandras (10-11th centuries AD), the structure
began to collapse; it was not reconstructed except
in North wing. Remains of the last phase (IV) are
From the evidence provided by large ensemble of
datable objects, including copper-plate inscriptions,
coins, seals and sealing, it is now possible to
say with absolute certainly that monastery was
built (together with cruciform shrine) by Sri-Bhavadeva,
fourth ruler of Early Deva dynasty, sometimes in
the early 8th century AD.
Two interesting features observed inside cells,
namely fire-place and brick-pedestals, do not seem
to have been provided in the original plan; most
of them appear from the second phase onwards. It
seems that though there was community kitchen in
the establishment, the resident monks preferred to
cook their meals individually inside their cells,
while pedestals served the purpose of private
worship, though there was central shrine for the
Unlike the monastery, central structures at Salban
Vihara represent not one but several shrines,
built successively in different periods and on
different plans. They provide interesting evidence
of the gradual transformation of traditional
Buddhist architecture and of its merging into that
of Hindu temple.
Remains of the first two periods are as yet very
inadequately known. These are roughly assignable
to Khadga and Rata dynasties, who ruled Eastern
Bengal during 7th century AD.
The cruciform shrine of Period III was apparently
built with the monastery as single complex on the
same stupendous scale. It is exceedingly
interesting piece of architecture, imposing and
yet graceful. Ringed by embellished plinth with
pointing angles and recessed corners, the
structure resembles in its ground plan Greek
Cross, 170 feet long, with chapels built in
projecting arms facing the cardinal points.
Basement walls of its Eastern and Western
projections are embellished with two courses of
beautifully sculptured terracotta plaques,
illustrating in bas-relief the mythology and
folklore of countryside. This shrine, bearing
striking resemblance to that of Paharpur,
represents fully developed and finished example of
7-8th century Buddhist architecture of East
Pakistan, which probably supplied prototypes for
the monuments at Kalasan (778 AD) in Central Java
and Pagan (1090 AD) in Burma.
The next two periods witnessed interesting
transformation in the plan of the shrine, and some
reduction in size as well, the cruciform shape
being replaced by an oblong one of smaller size.
Now fully open, spacious and functional, it is far
cry from the traditional solid stupa and is much
nearer to Hindu temple, though still lacking the
decorative elements of the latter.
The scantily preserved remains of the last phase
(Period VI) have been removed.
Excavations at Salban Vihara have exposed a number
of subsidiary buildings including community dining
establishment, oblong, pillared and votive shrine
and two chapels inside the monastery and an
interesting shrine with massive cells, columned
terrace and colonnades outside. The latter differs
from both cruciform and oblong types and seems to
represent individual style not hitherto observed.
Kutila Mura, the second excavated site, is
situated in Northern part of the ridge. Two
season's diggings here have revealed the layout of
three principal stupas dominating the site and a
number of subsidiary buildings and stupas built
around them and enclosed by massive boundary wall.
In form and style Kutila Mura monuments differ
basically from those of Salban Vihara. The former
represents traditional and the latter evolved
style. Three main stupas standing in a row
probably represent the three jewels of Buddhism:
Buddha, Dharma and Samgha.
Foundation of the middle stupa was laid in the
form of Dharmachakra, its hub being represented by
deep shaft, and the spokes were formed by 8
box-chambers, where innumerable terracotta and
clay votive stupas and sealing were enshrined.
Associated with these relics were found pieces of
a class of fine Buddhist sculpture in soft gray
shale not known from any other site. Foundation
shafts of other stupas also contained similar
relics of tiny votive stupas and sealing.
Kutila Mura monuments fall into three main
periods, the earliest dating from Khadga times
(7th century AD) or even earlier. The terminal
date is suggested by gold coin of Abbasid Caliph
al-Mutassim billah (1242-1258 AD) found in upper
level of the site.
Five epigraphically records discovered in this
area refer to certain "Ratna-Traya"
establishment, which was certainly located
somewhere on Mainamati ridge.
Charpatra, third excavated site, is situated near
Northern end of Mainamati ridge. Here, is short
season of rescue operation, remains of small
shrine, 105 feet by 55 feet, were uncovered. It
has two distinct parts, open pillared hall in the
front and cellar at the back. The exterior of
latter was given variegated effect by combination
of symmetrical projections and offsets. In this
monument, a few important objects were discovered:
Brass pot and four copperplate grants, three
issued by the last two Chandra kings (11th
century) and the fourth by local Hindu ruler, Sri
Viradharadeva, of 12-13th century AD.
Plates mention "Ladaha Maadhava (Visnu)"
temple. On the basis of available evidence, this
temple may now justifiably be identified with
Charpatra Mura shrine, which appears to have been
built by Chandra king Sri Ladahachandradeva
(1000-1020 AD); two of the land-grant were issued
by him in favor of that temple.
Mainamati excavations have yielded exceptionally
rich collection of valuable antiquities now housed
in the local museum. Most of them come from Salban
Vhiara. The collection from the other two sites is
small, but together they contribute significantly
to knowledge of ancient East Pakistan covering a
period of about 700 years, from 6th to 13th
Among the collected objects, copper-plate grants
are obviously important as original source
material for history and authentic record of past.
No fewer than 11 such plates recovered from
excavations; these were issued by Khadga, Early
Deva, Chandra and Later Deva rulers (7-13th
Ancient coins are equally valuable source of
information. In Mainamati more than 500 gold and
silver coins, including three hoards of 227
specimens have been collected. Notable among them
are two Gupta and dozen post-Gupta 'Imitation'
gold coins, a rare silver coin of Sasanka, a
fewKhadga and Early Deva gold coins, a large
number of Arakanese and hundreds of Arakan-type
local (Harikela & Akara dynasty) silver coins
and one gold and a few silver coins of Abbasid
Short dedicatory or votive inscriptions found on a
number of images and on thousands of terracotta
and clay sealing are of lesser importance, but not
the three-line inscription on a few sealing
bearing the original name of Salban Vihara and of
its royal builder. Shirter inscriptions on pottery
and other objects are of paleographic interest
The sculptural fins in stone, bronze and
terracotta represent the largest single group of
antiquities other than pottery. This is the
richest collection in East Pakistan, particularly
in respect of bronze sculpture. Stone sculpture is
rare, but it includes some fine specimen. Bronzes
primary represent religious art and show
perplexing variety of iconographic types,
revealing the gradual transformation of the
popular faith from Mahayana to Tantric and
ultimately to polytheistic forms, in which
Buddhism became inextricably mixed with Hindu and
The sculptured terracotta plaques are the most
attractive and representative of local art. they
are remarkable both for their variety and
profusion and for their crude, but vigorous style
and local character and development.
Among other finds, mention may be made of large
collection of carved bricks, bronze relic caskets,
gold silver ornaments, complete pots and a variety
of objects of art and utility in metal, stone,
bone and shell.