Local government specialists and archaeologists have unearthed an ancient stupa at the historic port site of Palur in Ganjam district that dates to the early spread of Buddhism across the Indian subcontinent and beyond: in particularly, across the Bay of Bengal, along maritime trade routes to modern countries. Today, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
The excavations were carried out by staff of the Odishan Institute of Maritime and South East Asian Studies (OIMSEAS) under the Palur Culture Department (also called Prayagi). Excavations have been underway since August and September 2023, with the initiative aimed at determining the nature of Odisha's maritime trade relations with Southeast Asia. Determining the material culture that developed and determining the trade routes that crisscrossed the Bay of Bengal are priorities for OIMSEAS.
Diana Sahu, writing for The new India Express, noted: “Although the date of the stupa located atop Palur Hill has not yet been officially established, it is believed to have been built in the 1st or 2nd century CE. » (The new India Express) On her Instagram account, she shared an image of the stupa, which resembles a mound of stones, with a series of antiquities recovered from the sites. They include: “semi-precious stones, coins, rings, terracotta figurines and conch shell bracelets and rings”. (The new Indian Express)
Sunil Patnaik, principal archaeologist and director (excavations) of the government-run OIMSEAS, said: The new Indian Express: “The stupa stands on a rectangular platform measuring 12 meters long and three meters wide. The remains of the stupa rise up to 5,5 meters (sic). . . Pieces of foreign exotic objects polished red were also found in Palur. (The new Indian Express)
The port of Palur has a long history of trade, communication and contact with various civilizations of the Indian subcontinent and beyond. The first written reference to Palur comes to us in the form of a mention by a Greek sailor called Ptolemy, who named it Paloura (Odisha Review). More broadly, Odisha has been associated with the Kalinga region, conquered by Ashoka the Great in 261 BCE. The Buddhist presence may well predate the recently discovered stupa.
Professor Monika L. Smith, Navin and Pratima Doshi Chair in Indian Studies at UCLA, is a veteran economic historian and has analyzed Palur's material finds in depth. She notes that, judging from ancient pottery finds, it was already an important port connector as early as antiquity, from the 4th to 3rd centuries BCE. “The commercial contact is clearly evident from the discovery of the Buddhist stupa. The East Coast route is old,” Professor Smith said. “The discovery of ancient port sites along this route, like Tamralipti, Manikapatana, Gourangapatana, Kalingapatana, Visakhapatam, has provided evidence of ancient Odisha's vibrant trade relations with distant lands. » (The new Indian Express)
Since classical antiquity, Palur has been a hub of international trade, as evidenced by Chinese cetadon fragments, Roman caster ceramics and amphorae pieces (Odisha Review). During the period of 1st and 2nd centuries CE, Odisha is said to have been under the rule of the local Kalingan Mahameghavahana dynasty, which succeeded Ashoka's conquest of the Mauryan Empire and ruled until the 4th century. By this time, Buddhism had ceded courtly favor to Brahmanical and Jain priests, but the Mahameghavahana royal family, like Ashoka, embraced all faiths and allowed followers of all traditions to do business. This policy most likely helped propel Buddhist influence in Southeast Asia, establishing Sanskrit and monastic influence with the courts of Indonesia, Myanmar, and elsewhere at the turn of the Common Era.
A 2-year-old Buddhist stupa discovered at the Palur port site (The new Indian Express)
Ports of ancient Odisha: historical perspective (Odisha Review)
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