The state government of Tripura in northeastern India is promoting Pilak, a 1,000-year-old Buddhist archaeological site, as part of a cultural and religious tourism circuit. Located in Jolaibari in South Tripura District, Pilak is a part of a chain of Buddhist and Hindu sites at the tri-border region of Tripura, Bangladesh (formerly East Bengal), and Myanmar’s Rakhine State (formerly Arakan).
“It is a famous tourist spot in [South Tripura] which is visited by people from different parts of the country,” said the director of the State Tourism Department, T. K. Das. “We have created an archaeological tourist circuit, including Chhabimura and Udaipur in Gomati District, and Pilak in South Tripura District. There is a package tour connecting the three sites.” (Hindustan Times)
The tourism circuit begins from the state capital Agartala and connects Pilak with Udaipur, a temple city formerly known as Rangamati, where the Tripureswari Kali temple, one of the 51 Shaktipithas, is located. It also includes Chhabimura, famous for its rock carving panels on a steep hill wall on the banks of the Gomti River.
Pilak is home to a multitude of ancient Buddhist and Hindu sculptures, including temple plaques made of terracotta and stone, two large ninth-century stone images of Avalokiteshvara, and a sculpture of Narasimha from the 12th century. All of these objects are on display in the Government Museum in Agartala. Two bronze Buddha statues were also found at Rishyamukh near Pilak. These discoveries have helped to show that the area originally had Buddhist kingdoms before the spread of Hinduism in the region.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has supervised the site since 1999. The ASI carried out excavations in early 1960s, when brick stupas were discovered. As a result of further ASI investigations, statues of the Buddha and other Mahayana Buddhist sculptures were found in Jolaibari and adjacent mounds.
State Tourism Department executive engineer Uttam Pal said the government planned to develop the site for Buddhist tourists from Southeast Asia and elsewhere.
“Since Pilak is declared an archaeological site, no permanent structure can be built within 150 meters of it, but many facilities have been created for tourists outside the restricted zone,” he noted. “Footfall of visitors is remarkably good. The state government has built a tourist Bungalow at Jolaibari, near the site.” (Hindustan Times)
A senior ASI official added that a stupa had been excavated at Sundari Tila near Pilak, under the supervision of ASI superintendent P. Kumaran. “This is a full-size Buddhist stupa built in the 11th century on the pattern of architecture during the reign of Palas of Bengal,” the official explained. (Hindustan Times)
According to author and historian Panna Lal Roy, the predominant style among the rock-cut images and sculptures at Pilak shows influences from the Arakan region of Myanmar, the Pala and Gupta dynasties of Bengal, and local styles resemble molded plaques from Mainamati.
Pilak was formerly part of the kingdom of Samatata in ancient Bengal. It forms part of a series of archaeological sites in Bangladesh that include Mainamati and Somapura Mahavihara. The clay plaques, seals, and early Hindu and Buddhist sculptures discovered at the location have been dated to the eighth and ninth centuries.
Pilak (South Tripura District)
1000-yr-old Tripura archaeological site, two others beckon two others beckon tourists (The Times of India)
Pilak, a 1000-year-old Tripura archaeological site, 2 others part of historical tourism circuit beckon tourists (Hindustan Times)
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