4th February, 2003


Dr. P.K. Mishra *

Deorkothar, on the threshold of being a world-renowned place, has been a singular site in recent times, that was surmised, predicted and actually found on exploration. Plain logic dictated the high probability of Buddhist sites being found in the triangle marked by Sarnath (where Buddha gave his first sermon), Kausambi (a town visited by Buddha) and Bharhut, again a historical site. A painstaking survey was undertaken in the plain lands surrounding the river Tamas. The reconnaissance yielded the richest bounty an archaeologist can dream of. The predictions based on probahbilities proved right-not commonly seen even in pure science. The discovery of this site in 1982 brought to light a cornucopia of four Mauryan brick stupas, thirty stone stupas and many monasteries spread over half a km area, 4 km north-west of Katra on the Rewa-Allahabad road in Madhya Pradesh.

In the year 1999-2000 further excavations revealed a panorama of unique and lesser known finds in Stupa No. 1 and 2. The Stupa No.1 was encompassed and surmounted by stone balustrades. Remarkably, different parts of the ground balustrade had differently designed pillars albeit conforming to the overall dimensions. Apparently, standardization as of the shape of pillar, a conventional pre-requisite, was not taken into account at the planning stage by the possibly different groups of artisans executing the job. In the realm of art also, the craftsmen were struggling to find expression. The simple ornamentation and paucity of animal and human figures betray this as one of the earliest attempts at art on stone railings. Motifs such as lotus with drooping petals, lotus buds with conical apex and lotus bud with partial opening are marked by characteristic simplicity being carved out from stencil drawings. One of the earliest art motifs on railings of Deorkothar is that of the lotus with seed pod shown amidst drooping petals. No attempt appears to have been made to give the motif a natural look as seen in the later depictions at Sarnath. Sanchi, Satdhara, Khandagiri, Mathura and Amravati. Again one sees that the lotus buds with conical apex, half lotuses, lotuses and partly opened lotus buds are more often with petals marked out separately unlike the curvilinear, disposition in later depictions elsewhere. Similarly, the tiered pedestal motif here is simple with faint, unsure lines.

Deorkothar today stands as the singular site showing the earliest evidence of transition of craftsmanship from wood to stone. It is the first known chapter of the people’s art movement within the later part of the Mauryan period that gave rise to the full blooming of the artistic endeavours in Sunga-Satavahana times (186 BC - 318 AD).

Historically, the art at Deorkothar receives corroboration to be the earliest of the type executed well within the Mauryan period. The outstanding discovery of the year, namely, the colossal Mauryan pillar which alludes to the times of Asoka in the 3rd century B.C. having Chakra on the abacus and many alphabets of the inscription carried over from his time is one shred of evidence. This Mauryan pillar lay in more than fifty pieces directly on the flagstone flooring along with the balustrades broken into smithereens. Even the chhatra (umbrella) lay in the rubble of systematic annihilation. The devastation continued on the brick body of the stupa which is understood by the brickbat debris uniformly overlying the fragments of the balustrade. This wanton destruction has been temporarily assigned to the first quarter of the 2nd century B.C. Deorkothar has all the characteristics of teething trouble in art portrayal. It is earlier than those at Bharhut dating back to about 150 B.C. Deorkothar has the unique distinction of showing the genesis of people’s art movement in the later part of the Mauryan period.

The excavations this time were primarily undertaken in the western part of Stupa No. 1 – this emphasis being to know the chronological aspect of the site regarding the earliest anthropogenic remains that can throw light on the primeval human endeavours that saw the genesis of the Great Stupa at Deorkothar. The western direction was taken up due to the existence of the Mauryan pillar being erected near the Western gateway hinting towards the prominence of this direction in the ancient pilgrimage town planning. For the first time in Central India two concentric circles in stupa architecture came to be noted.

Towards the west of the Stupa No.1 a large rectangular brick structure came to light in the course of excavations. A host of interesting antiquities came to light on and around this structure. Towards the eastern part of the structure the yielding of several pieces of Mauryan polished chhatra with evidence of radial ribs is significant. Some other stone pieces of caskets and bangles with exquisite polish are really marvellous. Some copper objects in a spatter form were also found. Towards the west of the structure several iron slag and an iron ore lump besides pure white nodules of lime were suggestive of an iron smelting furnace within the structure. Other antiquities included legs of terracotta animals, a lead strip coiled ear stud, iron nails and clamps. A few coins were also found.

The discovery of pieces of terracotta toys, beads, ear stud and coins hints that the site was an active centre of trade. Perhaps, the genesis of this pilgrimage site occurred amidst a vibrant mercantile community.

Curiously, the ancient tradition of lime technology noticed from some Harappan and post-Harappan sites besides Kausambi has now been observed at Deorkothar. The excavations have thrown significant light on the art and technological excellence of Deorkothar.

* Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India, Nagpur

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