Mahasthangarh – A Window to the Past

The ancient archeological site of Mahasthangarh is believed to date back as far as 700 BC and appears to have been occupied right up to the 1700s. Mahasthangarh is located in the Shibganj Upzila (subdistrict) of the Bogra District of Bangladesh, near the village of Mahasthan. It is the oldest urban-style fortified settlement discovered in Bangladesh to date, and includes a temple with the tomb of Shah Sultan Balkhi Mahisawar, a dervish (Muslim saint) of royal lineage who traveled to the area in the 14th century with the aim of converting the locals to the Islamic religion.

The name of the site is taken from the words Mahasthan meaning a place of exceptional sacredness, and garh, meaning fort. Later discoveries have led researchers to the conclusion that the name of the area was initially Paundravardhanapura or Pundranagara, referring to the Pundra Kingdom in Indian epic literature, which was said to rule over an area stretching from West Bengal, to Bangladesh and into the area of India now known as Bihar.

The archeological site of Mahasthangarh is located on one of the highest pieces of land in Bangladesh, along the Bogra-Rangpur highway, allowing easy access for visitors. The site was discovered in the early 1800s and a number of world-renowned archeologists were instrumental in uncovering its cultural and historical significance. Visitors to the site will note that the Karatoya River flows to the east of the rectangular citadel. Although this river is currently not much more than a stream, it was once a mighty river, considered to be sacred. It has been suggested that the proximity of the Karatoya River may have been one of the deciding factors when the founders of the settlement chose the site.

Within the fortifications of the city are a number of interesting features, including a well said to possess life and impart power known as Jiat Kunda; a palace called Parasuramer Basgriha dedicated to a king by the name of Parasuram; a place of stone said to be bestowed by God known as Khodar Pathar Bhita; and a bastion named Munir Ghon. There are gateways on all four sides and a flight of steps in the north-eastern corner.

Outside the fortifications are up to a hundred mounds spread over a radius of around nine kilometers, many of which still need to be excavated. On the banks of the Karatoya River is a temple dedicated to Govinda, as well as a museum displaying some of the fascinating artifacts discovered in and around the settlement. These include a limestone slab inscribed with words in Brahmi script dating back to the 3rd century BC; silver punch market coins from between the 4th century BC and the 1st to 2nd century AD; coins of the British East India Company which was founded in 1600; shards of ceramics; a 5th century stone sculpture of Buddha; and terracotta plaques. Mahasthangarh is a fascinating place to visit from a historical and cultural perspective, and from its elevated position it offers spectacular views of the surrounding areas.