A team of archaeologists working on excavations in the Taranga Hills in the Indian state Gujarat, have identified a new archaeological site linked to the Buddhist history of the region. Archaeologists of Excavation Branch V of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) were searching for Buddhist habitation at Gurjarasan or Bhimpur Village at the foot of the hills behind Taran Dharan Mata temple, when they found a few artifacts indicating a small settlement.
The team of archaeologists, under the leadership of Dr. Abhijit Ambekar, deputy superintending archaeologist, has been working for the past three years to uncover a number of heritage sites associated with Buddhism in Gujarat and western India.
Their excavations at Taranga Hills have so far revealed an assembly or prayer hall with votive stupas, a mahastupa on the peak of Dhagolia hill, 22 platforms, 50 rock shelters, brick structures resembling viharas, and about 54 votive stupas, all dated to between the first and seventh centuries CE. Because of the presence of an image of Taran Dharan Mata, a manifestation of the goddess Tara, experts believe that tantric Buddhism might have been practised in the region.
“Due to the size of the settlement and activity [in the hills], it was always a question how the habitation connected to outside world—from where did they get alms and help. Due to its proximity to Vadnagar, another ancient town, it was believed that there could have been a small settlement [connecting the Buddhist site in the Taranga Hills with Vadnagar],” said an ASI official. “While surveying the periphery of the hill, we stumbled upon pottery and other artifacts on surface after which we believe that there is possibility for the excavation of a mound of about three to four metres height.” (The Times of India)
Dr. Amol Kulkarni, an expert in ancient pottery from Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, in Aurangabad, said the pottery found at the spot matches findings at Vadnagar. He said the pottery should be analyzed to determine the historic sequence of habitation, but the small settlement is most likely associated with other discoveries at Taranga Hills.
“The function of this newly discovered site was to provide logistic support to the religious activities that took place in the natural habitat of Taranga Hill. This is an important discovery linking the habitational settlement and the religious practices at Taranga Hill,” an ASI official added. (The Times of India)
The Taranga Hills are situated near the small village of Timba among the hills on the west bank of the Sabaramati River in Gadhwada District of northern Gujarat. The city of Taranga is a renowned pilgrimage spot in Gujarat due to its ancient Buddhist history and Jain temples.
The team of archaeologists has already uncovered various Buddhist structures in or near the cities of Gunja, Taranga, and Vadnagar in the Taranga Hills region. Recently, for instance, they unearthed a carved Buddha head at a Ramdev Pir temple—a temple dedicated to a the local Hindu folk deity Baba Ramdev—at Negardi Village near Taranga.*
The search for other sites in the region continues as there is an indication that the hills might have housed a large monastery. It was the Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, and translator Xuanzang (602–64), who visited India and the Gujarat region in the seventh century, that reported on 1,000 Buddhist monks in “Onan To Pu Lo,” which is thought to be the Anandpur, the old name of Vadnagar.
* Buddha Head Found amid New Excavation Efforts in Gujarat, India (Buddhistdoor Global)
Ahmedabad: ASI searches for settlement at Taranga (The Times of India)
New Buddhist footprints discovered in North Gujarat (The Times of India)
Super-structure unearthed by ASI in PM’s hometown Vadnagar (The Times of India)
ASI expands scope of operations in Vadnagar (The Times of India)