Noapara-Ishanchandranagar

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Noapara-Ishanchandranagar One of the largest unexplored ancient sites in Bangladesh today lies near Chauddagram in Comilla district. Spreading over an extensive area of more than 9 sq km on both sides of the Dhaka-Chittagong highway, it lies in two distinct but unequal parts about 3 km north of Chauddagram and 24 km south of Comilla. The smaller part west of the highway now is considered to be part of Noapara village, while the larger main part, east of the highway, stretches through three villages; from south to north these are Ishanchandranagar, Rajendrapur, and Rangamatia.

The ruins spread further north, to the neighbouring village of Salukia. A short distance from the site to the east lies the Indian border and the hilly tract of Tripura (traditionally called Raghunandan). These villages, apparently on higher grounds of compact reddish soil, contain ancient ruins. Though much of the ancient remains have disappeared from the surface now, much is still in evidence, and the ancient character of the place is unmistakable. Many scholars believe that the site of the ruins in these villages represent the lost city of 'Karmanta Vasaka', the 7th century Khadga capital of samatata.

Noapara, the western part, well-known for its ancient Buddhist stupas, was evidently the religious precinct of this ancient settlement. Though an integral part of the site, this sacred area was kept separate in ancient time by a large Dighi of about 10 acres. Very recently the western part of this old dighi has been filled up to widen the road although in the process a prominent landmark of history - a 35 feet high Hindu matha - was demolished, which had stood majestically for about 300 years on the western bank of the dighi. The stupa area, alternatively called Bardhan or Bardhan Rajar Mura or Bhajan Mura, is closely associated with Bhavachandra, the very popular legendary king of the Comilla region whose historicity, however, cannot be established.

Of the two ancient Buddhist stupas at Noapara, the principal one was situated in the southern part of the village. Though in damaged and dilapidated condition and without any surface plaster or decoration, and though its lower parts are covered by dense vegetation and jungle growth, it was still standing about 25 feet high in 1976. Mr Zakariah found many terracotta plaques on its walls in 1988, which appeared to be similar to those recovered from the early (7th-8th century) levels of shalvan vihara. Unfortunately, this remarkable grand old monument was destroyed by the early nineties of the 20th century. The other stupa at Noapara, smaller in size and more damaged and dilapidated, was lying near a large modern graveyard about 500 feet north of this monument. It was standing about 12 feet high here in 1976. Subsequently, it was totally demolished, probably to establish a community health centre, which covers the area now.

A wide waterlogged depression lying along the western side of Noapara, popularly called 'Dol Samudra', extends up to Chauddagram and further to Laksam. This was evidently a large river in ancient times. Not very long ago, ferryboats used to ply regularly to Chauddagram and Laksam from here. The landing place was called Rajghat; this evidently refers to a large masonry ghat which existed here in ancient times. Local tradition also alludes to a Rajbadi (palace) and a Rajdhani (capital city) in the locality.

Of the three modern villages now occupying the ruins of the main site, Ishanchandranagar, the southern village, is the largest and most important. Two ancient water ponds, the larger one on the west facing Noapara, and the smaller on the east facing the Tripura hills, bound it on two sides. Thus confined, the settlement was well defined and well protected in ancient times. It is widely believed to contain the ruins of a palace and administrative complex of an ancient capital city. Everywhere in these villages, heaps of ancient bricks and debris are noticeable on the surface but no valuable or significant cultural objects are in evidence.

Nothing particular is known about Rajendrapur, the middle village. But Rangamatia, the last village on the north is interesting. Kailash Chandra Singha in his Rajamala(History of Tripura State) has mentioned 'Rangamatia' thrice as an ancient kingdom in this area, without giving, however, its precise location. The only thing he notes is that it was situated on the east of Kamalanka or Patikara (Pattikera) kingdom. In that case, 'Dol Samudra', the well-known silted up old channel lying on the western side of Noapara, must have served as the dividing line between these two kingdoms in ancient times. Rangamatia might have been the centre of this ancient kingdom. Rangamatia has been identified by some with Rohitagiri, the early kingdom and home of the Chandras of Bengal.

However, it must be said that the evidence, for such identification is slender and it is difficult to say with certainty whether this large site represents the lost capital of the Khadgas or not. [M Harunur Rashid]