A network of ancient Buddhist structures and caves adorned with murals were discovered at a Bengal Tiger Reserve in India.
The discovery was made by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at the Bandhavgarh Forest Reserve in the state of Madhya Pradesh (MP). The reserve is home to the Bengal Tigers, an endangered species of tigers that is also the national animal of India. The team discovered a complex network of caves, temples, and other Buddhist structures spread across 65 square miles.
While the announcement was made only now, the excavation was carried out between May and June of this year. In the end, the team discovered 26 caves and two temples. They also found other Buddhist structures, like two votive stupas (containers used for cremating Buddhist monks) and 46 sculptures, including those of Hindu deities. This is the largest discovery since an archaeological site was discovered at Bandhavgarh in 1938.
The structures and the caves also had mural inscriptions in some of the oldest languages of South Asia, including Brahmi, Nagari, and Shankhalapi. According to ASI, the Brahmi inscriptions could be dated back to the 2nd century CE. They also found a chaitya or a Buddhist sanctuary which was typical for the Mahayana sect of Buddhism. Overall, the structures discovered are dated between the 2nd and 5th century CE.
The ASI commented that the discovery of such a large Buddhist site in a region that was historically ruled by Hindu kings suggests strong religious harmony in the past. However, it is not clear who exactly built the site. ASI also called the discovery a major point in the history of Baghelkhand (the historical region that comprised present-day northeastern Madhya Pradesh and southeastern Uttar Pradesh).