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Excavation - The Terracota Trail

The Terracota Trail - Buddhist monastery

Unearthing of a Buddhist monastery complex by ASI makes Akhnoor tehsil in Jammu district an important centre on the Buddhist circuit in India.

Digs by the Archaeological survey of India during 2000-2001 in the hamlet of Pambarwan, Ambaran village of Akhnoor tehsil, Jammu district, have unearthed a silver casket, gold and silver leaves, coins, a tooth and other relics believed to be those of Lord Buddha. Ambaran is the eighth place in the world, where relics of Buddha have been found in a stupa. Historians are of the opinion that the place might have been an important centre of Buddhism between the 1st and 7th century B.C. A cultural sequence of four historical periods has already been unravelled at Ambaran. The search for Akhnoor terracottas was carried out in this region in 1995 followed by trial excavation in 1974.

The late Charles Fabri, then curator of the Lahore Museum (now in Pakistan) found a basket lying in a corner of the museum with no clue to its origin. In it were terracotta figurines, Buddha’s head, female torsos, draperies of almost life-size terracotta Buddha figures or monks. He called these relics: Akhnoor terracottas. After painstaking investigations spanning 20 months, including trips to Baramulla, Srinagar, Harawan (Kashmir) and lastly Akhnoor (Jammu), Fabri finally traced the place from where his finds originated-Pambarwan hamlet under village Ambaran, situated at the point where the river Chenab emerges onto the plains. He explored the area and found fragments and parts of statues of Lord Buddha and female figures, draperies, jewellery, one beautiful and near-complete head of a woman, similar in style to heads found in the Lahore Museum.

The excavations reveal that the destruction of the Buddhist monastery complex at Ambaran was caused by regular flooding of the establishment and three flash floods in different periods of time. The site seems to have been abandoned around the 6th century A.D.

The digs uncovered an entrance to some important complexes. There was a concentration of terracotta figures and their fragments at one particular spot. It seems that terracotta figures were probably used for decorating or embellishing the walls of the monastery complex. A large number of terracotta fingers, palms, hands, legs, torso parts including those of female figures with a chiffon-like cloth are quite similar to those discovered by Fabri. The moulding technique of these terracotta fingers, palms and other body parts conveys that they were made by master craftsmen who had a thorough understanding of human anatomy.

Besides these, small sculptures, copper and iron objects, red pottery with shapes prevalent in the Kushan and Gupta period were also found in the latest excavation.

A large enclosure, walls of a monastery and shrine found at the site indicate that these were originally constructed during the Kushan period but underwent repeated repairs due to the havoc wrought by periodic flash floods of the Chenab river.

Mands (about a kilometre as the crow files) a Harappan site (inside Akhnoor Fort) has already been mapped in 1975 as the northern outpost of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Later, Jafar Chak and Guru Baba Ka Tiba were also excavated on the other side of the Chenab river which proved to be proto-historic sites with evidences of Buddhist-related antiquities.

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