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Surya-Pahar is situated about 140 km west of Guwahati in Goalpara. As reflected by its name it is a mountain with a rock-cut sculpture of Surya (Sun God), carved on a boulder, now kept in a modern unfinished temple, being constructed over
the remains of ancient one. Besides the Surya image, other deities of Hinduism and Jainism are also carved. A few boulders have been given the shape of Siva-Iinga and votive stupa. Surya-Pahar is enclosed by River Brahmaputra in north and by Meghalaya State in south. Kamroop district lies east of Surya-Pahar while Dhuburi district encloses it from the west and the River Brahmaputra flows about 1 km north of this site.
The mound is locally known as Dasabhuja after a multi-armed sculpture carved near the mound over a huge boulder. But actually this rock-cut sculpture is of Visvarupa Vishnu having twelve hands.
1. 1992-93: - The excavation was led by D. Bhengra, assisted by T.J. Baidya, S.K. Choudhary, P.M. Das, B. Sinha and T.K. Srivastava of Guwahati Circle of the Survey.
Ten quadrants (4.25 X 4.25 m) were excavated which revealed four phases of brick structures belonging to two periods, viz., sixth-seventh century and eighth-ninth century CE respectively. Early period comprises three phases of brick structure along with surkhi rammed floor, brick platform, big and small The size of the bricks varies from 22 X 24 X 6 cm to 34 X 16 X 6 cm, 21 X 10 X 6 cm, 21X 6 and 42 X 22 X 6 cm. Among the antiquities mention may be made of terracotta plaque depicting a bust of an apsara of sixth-seventh century CE , decorated terracotta fish and lion, molded tiles with mythological scenes and large quantity of carved and molded tiles bearing full and half lotus medallion and decorative motifs. Pottery from this period include button-knobbed lid, incurved bowls, knobbed-lids, basin, spinkler, chilam, diya and miniature vases of dull red in color, coarse to medium in fabric.
Late period is characterized by long walls, brick platform, surkhi rammed floor in irregular pattern. Bricks of earlier period were re-used along with the ill-fired bricks. The structure of the late period is very much disturbed. Among the important findings of this period mention may be made of terracotta torso, broken part of pranala of a yonipitha, small grinder (red stone), mutilated terracotta plaques, carved bricks and tiles besides basin, knobbed-lid, chilam and jar.
2. 1993-94: - In continuation of the previous season's work, D. Bhengra assisted by T.J. Baidya, S.K. Choudhary, P.M. Das, B. Sinha and T.K. Srivastava of the Guwahati Circle of the Survey undertook excavation with a view to tracing the extent of the exposed structures of early and late period.
Excavation revealed a small cell of early period (sixth-seventh century CE) on the western side of the mound. This brick-built cell with a rectangular plan measures (5.10 X 70 m). Original thickness of the wall is 1 m but subsequently the walls were thickened (1.50 m) on the eastern and western sides of the cell. The brick sizes vary (22 X 24 X 6 cm), (21 X 23 X 6 cm), (34 X 16 X 6 cm) and (42 X 22 X 6 cm). In the northeastern side, corner portion of a big wall was exposed. The upper portion of this wall contains beautiful decorative tiles. Among the antiquities, a terracotta human figure, molded-tiles with geometrical and floral designs are noteworthy. Ceramic assemblage comprises mainly the dull red ware with shapes like small bowls, chillam, diya, miniature vases in medium to coarse fabric. The structural remains of the later periods (eighth-tenth century) were superimposed over the earlier ones. Irregular pathways and surkhi-rammed-floor were also noticed. The structures of this period are badly disturbed.
3. 1995-96: - In continuation of the previous work between 1993-94, T. J. Baidya and A. Jha of the Guwahati Circle of the Survey, assisted by P.M. Das, B. Sinha and T. K. Srivastava, resumed excavation at Shri Surya-Pahar and exposed the northwestern portion of a monastic-complex , surrounded by a boundary-wall of burnt-bricks, set in mud-mortar. The east-west running northern boundary-wall (41 xl 10m) is preserved with sixteen extant brick courses. An entrance passage (1.25 m) was provided to this wall almost at the northeastern corner. The excavation further exposed a cell, interior of which measured 5.05x3.70 m in breadth and contained thirty-two extant brick courses. The thickness of the wall of the cell measured 0.95 m. The floor found to be paved with bricks, measured 31x17x6 cm. The northern verandah and the part of the northwestern courtyard were also exposed. The verandah was exposed up to a distance of 6.45 m from the northern wall of the cell. The bricks used for construction of cell and walls of the verandah were found to be of four different sizes viz., (i) 31x17x6 cm; (ii) 32x12x5 cm; (iii) 34x17x6 cm; and (iv) 41x20x6 cm.
The area between the entrance to this complex and the northern wall of the monastery was found to be brick-paved, the level of which was found to be higher when compared to the floor of the cell. On close examination, the complex was found to have gone through several repairs and during one such repair, the height of the whole complex was raised (0.42 m) by filling the entire original working floor with the river silt, over which a new floor was laid by using bricks at the prominent places, such as at the entrance area and brick-jelly at the remaining one. This later constructional activity also resulted into providing an extra thickness of 0.84 m from the interior. The section, though much disturbed due to later constructional activities, contained 0.23 m thick layer of silt-deposit, perhaps caused by the inundated river flowing nearby.
On the basis of main constructional activities and associated finds, the habitation site was divided into two main phases viz., I and II. The ceramic industry of phase I, was represented mainly by the dominant red ware though grey ware and black ware appeared in large numbers, showing mainly the utilitarian types, such as bowls and jars with corrugated interior, handis, plates, etc. Some of the bowls of this phase showed marked similarity with knife-edged bowls of the Gangetic
plains. On the basis of this similarity, the desertion phase of the site could be assignable to circa tenth-eleventh century CE.
In phase II, ceramic assemblage comprised mainly the red ware, black ware, pale red ware and grey ware, an associated ware of phase I. The shapes were of utilitarian type which included bowls, basins, dishes, jars, miniature lota-shaped pots and lamps. Some of the dishes with stand and jars with spouts were also encountered. Decorated pots were very few but the designs executed by stamping and hatching, comprised mainly the floral and geometrical ones. Terracotta tiles having geometric, floral and human motifs were found in large number. Some of the intricately molded-tiles having grooves at the rear face were half cylindrical in shape.
The antiquities found from phase II comprised terracotta plaque, showing the figure of an apsara, standing in tribhanga posture and a head of Buddha within a circle. Among the stone objects mention may be made of a head of a deity un-identified, adorned with a karanda-mukuta, and broken pedestal having tenon for fixing a figure showing only the feet portion of a deity, flanked by a pair of feet on either side. On the basis of a terracotta plaque, depicting apsara and a head of Buddha image which betray the typical Gupta art tradition, this phase could be datable between circa fifth & sixth century and eighth century CE.
4. 1997-98: - J. Das of Guwahati Circle of the Survey, assisted by P.M. Das and T.K. Srivastava resumed excavation at the site in continuation of earlier work between 1995-96.
Excavation was confined to the southern area of the mound which has brought to light several ancient brick walls, brick paved pathways and southern enclosure wall of the temple-complex. The walls are made of burnt bricks with mud-mortar.
The enclosure walls of the complex run in cardinal directions connected with each other at right angles. Among the antiquities found, terracotta figurine, decorative bricks and terracotta plaques of both geometrical and floral designs are noteworthy.
Trenches have been laid around the recently exposed stone temple basement on the southern embankment of the tank. Excavation has brought to light the remains of rectangular brick compound walls on the east-west and southern sides respectively. The southern side wall measures 45.3 m in length and the exposed western wall measures 18 m and in the center of this wall doorsill is exposed which indicates a gateway.
The site is badly disturbed due to human vandalism. Near the recently discovered temple basement, three more badly mutilated subsidiary shrines have been found along with brick paved pathway, edges of which are strengthened by
roughly dressed stone slabs.
The stone temple basement is situated on the north-east corner of the temple-complex. The superstructure of the temple is lost and the basement is survived up to the plinth level having the plan of pancharatha order. On the northern side of the basement apranala has been provided with a head of a makara. The stone components of the basement are highly decorated. On stylistic ground the temple is datable to eighth-ninth century CE.
Later modifications were made by enlarging the small, original temple enclosed by random rubble masonry wall but the superstructure of the later phase construction is missing. Among the antiquities mention may be made of terracotta objects with floral designs, animal figurines, decorative bricks, etc., which seem to be the remains of an earlier Surya temple. The ceiling slab with twelve Aditya figures is kept near the site and is presently under worship. On the way to Jaina Cave on the eastern side of the Suryapahar hill, excavation brought to light the structural remains of a water kunda which is made of dressed stone blocks. The kunda is badly disturbed. Excavation has also yielded a few coping stone blocks along with the floor and side walls made of finely dressed stone slabs mainly of granite rocks.
5. 1999-2000: - In continuation of the earlier work in 1997-98, Excavation Branch - III, Patna, in collaboration with the Guwahati Circle, of the Archaeological Survey of India carried out excavation at the site, under the joint directorship of G.C. Chawley and Muhammed K.K., assisted by D.K. Ambastha, N.K. Sinha, S.P. Gupta, T.K. Srivastava and O.P. Pandey.
This year's excavation was carried out with the two main objectives: (a) to trace the complete plan of the structure buried under the mound and (b) to establish complete cultural sequence of the site.
Trenches were laid out in horizontal pattern and attempts have been made to trace the extension of the partly exposed structures.
General View of Excavation
In the course of excavation, the remains of a brick temple having a sanctum (garbhagriha) and a porch (mandapa) enclosed within an enclosure wall (pls. 1 -2) constructed directly over natural soil was unearthed. Though the evidence of at least two constructional phases were identified, the temple was constructed during later Gupta period or early medieval period.
The sanctum (garbhagriha) of this temple is roughly 8x8 m square. The wall of the sanctum is 2 m wide. The entrance is provided from northeast direction. The northern wall of the sanctum is considerably robbed with traces of only three courses but the walls of western and southern sides are preserved up to eight and fifteen courses respectively. The southeastern corner, from outside the garbhagirha is comparatively better preserved. Among its fifteen courses, lower three serve as foundation, the fourth course is in situ and upper four courses are out-of-plumb. In upper six courses, cavities were noticed at regular intervals which were identified as niches for decorating the outer wall by fixing terracotta plaques in it. The remains of a chandrashila was found on the northern wall of the sanctum. A square platform measuring 4.25 X 4.25m was noticed in the center of the garbhagriha. The square platform is made of 1.80m wide brick wall of which core is filled with earth. This platform is having fourteen courses of bricks. Probably the presiding deity of the temple would have been installed over this platform .
In front of the garbhagriha, the remains of a rectangular mandapa was exposed, which measures 3.70 X 2.5m. The northern and southern wall of this mandapa is 2.20 m wide, while eastern wall is 1.60 m thick. The western wall of the mandapa is 1 m wide and garbhagriha is connected to this mandapa through this wall. Northern wall is having maximum twenty courses of bricks while southern wall is having fifteen courses. There is evidence of niches in the outer southern wall of mandapa also. Fragments of terracotta plaques found from the debris suggests that outer wall of both garbhagriha and mandapa were well decorated with these plaques. From outside, the shape of the mandapa is square and there is no provision for antarala in-between garbhagriha and mandapa.
From mandapa to the main entrance, the evidence of a 5 m wide pathway was found, badly damaged by construction of a few brick structures during the next phase. One small room measuring 4.35 X 2.65m was exposed near the entrance inside the enclosure wall. Another room of 5.40 X 3.60m was traced at the entrance but outside the enclosure wall. Most probably these two rooms were perhaps open from all sides but having a roof over it. It seems that these two covered spaces, open from sides were provided for functionally polyvalent use of the temple.
A few other structures were also traced within the enclosure wall, the contour of which is yet to be emerged. In the south-east corner of the enclosure wall, the remains of separate room measuring 2 X 2m were also found. The thickness of the wall of this room is 1.25m with five courses of bricks. Another 70 cm wide wall having eleven courses of brick was found joining southern enclosure wall and pathway. The entire area inside the enclosure wall is brick paved but the pavement is missing at places.
In the north-west direction of this temple, outside the enclosure wall, another small shrine was also exposed. The size of the sanctum of this temple is 3.10 X 3.10m and entrance is 2.15 X 2.15m. The remains of this small shrine was found up to the height of 50 cm with seven courses of bricks. Lower three courses are plain, and from the seventh course, provision of niches was noticed at a regular interval. Some in situ terracotta plaques were also found in this small temple. This temple
might have been constructed for the consort of the main deity.
Perhaps the whole complex was within a second enclosure wall because the remains of another 70 cm wide wall was traced in the southern side of the site up to a length of 36 m. The bricks used for the construction of all these structures are 41 X 21 X 7 cm and 42 X 22 X 7 cm in size. Among the antiquities, fragments of terracotta plaque depicting decorative designs , different types of kirttimukhas and head of a deity probably of Vishnu in stone were recovered.
Fragmentary Head Of Vishnu Fragments of Terracotta
6. 2000-2001: - Syed Jamal Hasan, assisted by K. Lourdusamy, B. Sinha, T.K. Srivastava, P.K. Majumdar of the Guwahati Circle, of the Survey, resumed excavation at Suryapahar near the ancient tank and yielded remains of an ancient panchayatana stone temple-complex with three phases.
Phase 1 : As reported earlier, most part of the basement was exposed earlier. The garbhagriha (7.10 m x 6.75 m) of the main sanctum was a chance discovery by local people while digging a trench for construction of a new temple. The entire basement of the ancient temple is now completely exposed including its stone pavements on both sides of the garbhagriha. The temple-complex is comprised of main temple and four subsidiary shrines. On axial plan, it consist of garbhagriha
followed by antarala, mukha-mandapa and mandapa. The sikhara of the man temple appears to be that of north Indian style as evidenced from the art motifs of a small decorative piece of amalaka on top. The main shrine opens towards west. It possesses two wide stone pavements, 40m wide on each side. The pavements comprised chiseled masonry blocks of various dimensions. The garbhagriha is followed by an antarala (2 m x 1.25m), connected with a rectangular mukha-mandapa (5 m x 6 m) on the western side of the central sanctum. There are two passages for entrance into the mukha-mandapa, each of them is 1.25 m wide. There are provisions for two transepts (7.70 m x 2.05 m) found on either side of the mukha-mandapa. In front of the mukha-mandapa, there lies remains of a large maha-mandapa (10.20 in x 8.25 m), all made of chiseled stone blocks of various dimensions. It appears that a small porch in front of the mahamandapa is attached to the western side, also connected with a brick paved pathway on the western side of the complex. The deity of the main shrine was not found during the course of excavation but an image of Vishnu, discovered from the bed of the adjacent ancient tank is now preserved in the Assam State Museum, Guwahati. The four subsidiary shrines lie at four corners of was found near this subsidiary shrine. k-paved pathways. The subsidiary temple (2.05 m x 2.35 m) in the north-west corner of the temple-complex was perhaps dedicated to Lord Ganesa as a small broken sculpture of the deity was found near this subsidiary shrine. Another subsidiary shrine on the northeastern side of the complex near the basement of the sanctum proper could be associated with the temple of Mahishasuramarddini as evidenced from a beautiful sculpture of the deity in black basalt. The basement of this subsidiary shrine is rectangular (4.35 m x 2.35 m). All the masonry stone blocks were joined with the help of iron clips and pins as not iced from the remains. This subsidiary temple is connected with a brick-paved pathway and simultaneously joined with the temple of Ganesa and the maha-mandapa. Another completely exposed small shrine of rectangular plan (4.35 m x 2.35 m) lies on the southwestern side of the complex, partly excavated earlier. There appears to be an inscription in stone. A brick structure of rectangular plan (5.85m x 4.70m) perhaps served as mukha-mandapa to this shrine which exists on the western side of the subsidiary shrine. The brick sizes are 21 x 1 3 x 5 cm, 19 x 1 3 x 5 cm and 23 x 1 3 x 5 cm. The fourth subsidiary shrine, lying at the south-east corner of the complex yielded a stela portion depicting Kirttimukha surrounded by two (lying figures of Vidyadharas. Only the plan of this subsidiary temple is now survived (2.60 m x 2.50m), comprising chiseled blocks of stones. A wide brick-paved pathway, 31 m long, aligned in east-west direction, is found by the side of these two subsidiary temples located on southern sides. However, bricks of the pathway were robbed on the eastern and western sides.
In phase II, a brick temple of (5.40 m x 5m), just behind the main sanctum, noticed on the eastern side of the complex with sizes of burnt bricks range from (20 x 18 x 6cm), (22 x 18 x 6cm), (22 x 2 1 x 7cm) etc. A long pathway cordoned by stone members of 3.15 m wide laid in front of this brick temple was exposed in last season.
It appears that a quadrangular brick enclosure wall (23.45 m x 41.80 m x 30.90 m x 49.20 m) on east , south, west and north respectively were provided in the last structural phase, i.e., phase I. The brick temple of phase II ceased to exist in this phase as the bricks of eastern compound wall were found superimposed over the structure of this temple. The arms of the compound walls mostly exposed in the earlier season except eastern compound wall and eastern part of the northern compound wall which were exposed completely during this season. A brick paved pathway (15 m x 3.20 m) with cordoned stone members also provided in the western side of the complex. The pathway contains a small nala across its width for discharging the collected water on either side of the complex. Another noteworthy discovery is the plan of rectangular brick-built structure (8.50 m x 6.55 m), found on the southwestern corner of the complex. The superstructure of this cell might have been built with terracotta tiles as the large number of finds would indicate. The size of the bricks used in this structure measures 19 x1 2x 7 cm, 6x13x5 cm, 22 x 13 x 3.5 cm and 18 x 12 x 7 cm etc.
The most dominantly represented ceramic assemblage is the red ware although some quantity of grey ware and micaceous ware of coarse to medium fabric were also reported. The grey ware shows thin section of fine fabric, well-sorted and well-burnt. Some of the red ware sherds are decorated with wavy designs while a few are grooved. Almost all the ceramic assemblages found are wheel-turned but for the big storage-jars.
Among the notable antiquities mention may be made of the image of Mahishasurmardini in black basalt (47 x 24 x 8 cm) beautifully depicted with wavy drapery, ornamental necklace around her neck and two earrings. The deity bedecked with kiritamukuta, holds her usual weapons and stands on the lion. Another stela port ion showing kirttimukha and two flying vidhyadharas are depicted on the top. Besides, a few architectural members like amalakas, pillar bases, gajasimha and terracotta plaques of floral mot ifs were recovered. Two copper coins of Emperor George Vth were found from layer. On the basis of stylistic features of the antiquities and ceramic assemblage, this panchayatana temple-complex could be dated between circa ninth and twelfth centuries CE, while the cultural deposit of layer to the British period on the evidence of coins.
Excavation near Ganesh kund, about hundred meter south of panchayatana temple-complex yielded an ancient water channel of approximately 60 m long, which appears to be of same period. The channel originating from a water kund, and drains out through a channel of approximately 1.25 m wide. Although the existence of it can be traced at several places where the stone members along both sides of the water channel were kept. In a few places repairing of the channel was done with the help of burnt bricks.
The reports the succeeding exaction is not published yet. And a lot more excavation and research is to be done at this particular site on specific themes.
Indian Archaeology A Review(1992-2001)
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