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Cultural Landscape of Mahasthan and Karatoya River

Date of Submission: 17/05/2023
Criteria: (i)(ii)(iii)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Bangladesh to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Division- Rajshahi, District- Bogura
Ref.: 6671

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Mahasthan (literally meaning maha = great and sthan = place in Bengali) is in Shibganj Upazila of Bogura district, under the Rajshahi division of Bangladesh. Mahasthan is located on the west of the Bogura-Rangpur highway and is about 12km north of the Bogura district headquarter and to the western bank of the currently seasonally active channel of the Karatoya River. These archaeological sites and the riverine alluvial landscape at Mahasthan, featuring the Karatoya River, represent the complex interaction of cultural activity and natural landscape to an extent that the landscape, river, waterbody and cultural activities over 2400 years have become entangled. The cultural landscape in this area, moreover, represents the entwinement of tangible and intangible aspects of heritage. The landscape and rivers have continued to be part of popular imagination and local legends and myths. They are also an essential component of local religious rituals belonging to different religious traditions – Islamic, Hindu and other sects. This property can be defined under the second sub-category of the second category of cultural landscape as ‘continuing landscape is one which retains an active social role in contemporary society closely associated with the traditional way of life, and in which the evolutionary process is still in progress. At the same time, it exhibits significant material evidence of its evolution over time.’ In this place, popular folktales, legends, religious rituals, and archaeological remains have manifested inseparable association and influence of waterscape and landscape in the area, especially the Karatoya River.

The archaeological milieu of Mahasthan and Karatoya River

The archaeological context of Mahasthan can be broadly represented by a citadel and numerous archaeological sites in the form of structural and habitational mounds, monumental remains, and old tanks. The citadel is known as Mahasthangarh and it is characterized by fortified urban centres of early Bengal. The urban centre was established around the 4th-3rd century BCE on the bank of the Karatoya River. Archaeological studies since the later part of the 19th century to date have exposed several facets of the rich and evolving history of the place as an urban centre. Excavations in the citadel area and radiocarbon dating of the stratigraphic context have established that the human activity in the citadel area continued to date with several periods of transformation. The fortified citadel is the core urban centre and it measures roughly 1.52km (north to south) by 1.37km (east to west), with high and wide ramparts in all its wings. Other sites, both excavated and unexcavated, are distributed around this core citadel area. Most of the excavated sites are religious monumental remains including Buddhist monasteries, Brahmanical temples, mosques and mazars (tombs of Muslim saints).

The urban centre was known as Pundranagara according to various textual sources belonging to the 7th century CE and later. According to the excavation and geoarchaeological research in the area, the urban centre with the first fortification wall was built with mud around the 4th century BCE during the Mauryan period. A fragment of a stone inscription written in Brahmi script represents the importance of the settlement, where the administrator of the settlement was asked to help the poor during the time of calamity. Scholars think that this inscription can be dated to the time of the Emperor Asoka. The urban centre became the administrative centre and capital of Pundrabardhana bhukti, a unit under Gupta and later, Pala and Sena rulers.

During the 13th century, the capital city was partly destroyed by a massive earthquake. The human occupation continued here in various parts inside and outside the citadel area. The mazar of Sultan Mahisawar (r.) and Borhanuddin, two Muslim Sufi saints, became the hub of ritualistic gathering and ceremonial activities during the 15th-16th century CE. The mazar of Mahisawar was constructed on the abandoned citadel wall in the 15th century CE or earlier.

Among other archaeological sites around Mahasthangarh, the monastic complex at Bhasu Bihar, the temple built with a cellular technique at Gokul Medh, the temples of Bihar Dhap, Govinda Bhita, Mangolkot and several other excavated places, and more than a hundred unexcavated mounds within 15-20km of the citadel area testify to the immense significance of this area as a nodal zone of administrative, political, cultural, economic and religious activities for nearly two and a half millennia.

The landscape and its functional significance

The settlements and religious edifices around this centre in the hinterland zone of the urban core are difficult to define with regard to a specific spatial boundary, partly because of the lack of archaeological research in the hinterland zone and partly because of the nature of the archaeological remains which are spread over a considerably large space. Yet, for the purpose of proposing the property of Mahasthan and Karatoya River as a cultural landscape, the area with the highest density of the sites to the north, west and south has been taken into consideration. The most dense occurrences of the sites extend 6-8km to the north, 8km to the west and 10km to the south of the citadel. This spatial boundary is drawn as a requirement for this proposal, though considering the landscape and its use, the boundary can be extended further in these directions, and also to the east of the Karatoya River.

The landscape context can be broadly divided into two units on the basis of their geological and geomorphological characteristics, and also, on the basis of the historic land-use pattern. The citadel and around the citadel are situated on a terrain which is recognized as Barind Terrace. This terrace is tectonically uplifted and characterized by Pleistocene deposits with yellowish-red to reddish-brown clay and sandy clay. Barind Terrace with the citadel and most of the sites to the right bank of the Karatoya River are on the bank of the Karatoya River (and its tributaries like Bangali) and the Karatoya River cuts an alluvium deposited by the Brahmaputra-Karatoya Rivers during the Holocene period. The older alluvium of Barind Terrace and the recent alluvium of the rivers played a critical role in the formation, evolution and transformations of the archaeological and cultural pattern of landscape use and modifications.

The scholarly works have suggested that the formation of the urban core was controlled by its location in the margin of the Barind Terrace, on the bank of the Karatoya River. The fortification wall gradually evolved from a mud wall into an extensive brick-built rampart that was essential for defence as well as for the protection of the core urban area from floods and inundations which were regular during the peak Indian summer monsoon (ISMR). The riverine route was, moreover, the route for communication and trade with the sub-regions to the northern, southeastern and southern parts of Bengal. The location of the citadel and the settlements sites in the hinterland were, thus, partly controlled by the fluvial network and fluvial landscape. Distributaries of the Karatoya River like the Nagar River and several other palaeo-channels have differential implications on the human activity pattern and history in this area.

The Barind Terrace, though predominantly characterized by the yellowish-red and reddish-brown old alluvium, has micro-scale variabilities in the hinterland zone. The zone is marked with moderate undulations, wetlands and lowlands characterised by dark-grey to greyish clayey soils. Several structural remains of the archaeological mounds were constructed by careful adaptations and modifications of these landforms. The formation of the settlements in Mahasthangarh was controlled by the landscape context, as the recent studies suggest. The landscape was covered densely by lowlands and wetlands before the formation of the urban core around the 5th-4th centuries BCE and it was not suitable for human occupation and construction of an urban centre as large as Mahasthangarh. The studies also suggested that it was during the expansion of the Mauryan empire, this place, with its unique location in the intersection of recent and old alluvial terrain, became suitable for the development of an urban landscape. The recent alluvium offered the suitable terrain for the agrarian expansion and the supply for surplus production for the sustenance of the urban settlement. The fluvial network, in which the Karatoya River became pivotal for communication and trade, offered the perfect landscape for the development of an urban landscape that continued until the 13th century CE and with the evident decline of the landscape and dwindled riverine network, the occupation continued in various patches in a semi-urban or rural character.

Many tanks were excavated outside the citadel area for purposes like irrigation, supply of drinking water, and for ritualistic purposes. These tanks manifest the modification of the landscape for different settlement activities for more than 2400 years. There are the remains of an earthen wall, popularly known as Bhimer Jangal, which had acted as an embankment and pathway. A major portion of the earthen wall has been destroyed by human activities during the last 50-60 years. The popular memory, however, narrates this earthen wall as a signature of the Kaivarta rebellion in the 11th century CE.

The examination of the Mahasthan and the human activity in this place overtly manifest the symbiotic relationship between culture and nature, between cultural activities and their changes and landscape-waterscape. The intimate interrelationship becomes explicit in the ways the human perception and actions are shaped by the landscape variables.

Cultural landscape as the realm of the symbolic and perception

Karatoya Mahattyam, a poetic composition belonging to c. 13th-14th century CE, belongs to the category of texts known as sthal-purana (a specific type of Purana, or mythical narration of time and events, representing the supernatural and sacred qualities and characters of a place). It was in the verses of this textual composition that the place name of Mahasthan occurred first. The text also attests to the fact that Mahasthan is the location of the great urban centre of Pundranagara. The entire composition illustrates the great sacred qualities of the Karatoya River and the place of Mahasthan. The place (and the landscape) were perceived in this purnara as possessing the power of healing, the emancipation from sins and the ascribing of merit to sincere devotees. The water of the Karatoya River was perceived as sacred and possessing miraculous powers. Bathing in the water of the river was considered as a holy and merit-gaining act. Mahasthan, in association with the river, gained equivalent miraculous power, according to the text. Living in this land was narrated as a holy achievement in human life.

In a similar way, Mahasthan is perceived and experienced as a holy and sacred place, as the location of the mazars of Hazrat Shah Sultan Mahisawar (r.) and Sheikh Borhanuddin (r.), two great Sufi saints of medieval Bengal. The grave of Mahisawar is considered by the local people, irrespective of their religious identity, as possessing miraculous powers to heal, to fulfil the desires, and to giving merits to devotees. The archaeological remains, such as khodar pathar bhita, jiyat kunda and several other features in the landscape close to the southern part of the citadel, are considered as sacred and worshipped by the local people.

The sacredness of the river, land and archaeological remains are celebrated annually, first, by the huge gathering of the people belonging to the Hindu community for bathing in the river water in the months of March-April and secondly, by the gathering of thousands of devotees during the uras (a sacred gathering and ritualistic activities to commemorate the birth or miraculous acts of a holy Sufi saint or pir in Bengal) each year on the last Thursday of the Bengali month of Baisakh (the months of April-May in the Gregorian calendar).

The existence of the tangible remains are often perceived, lived and narrated in the tales and poems representing the holy miraculous acts of the Sufi saints. The places and remains are actors in popular mythical narratives from the Manasa mangal kavya (a category of poetic narrations of different local deities among the Hindu community of Bengal). For example, the moat and the wetland to the west of the citadel are recognized as the Kalidaha sagar (a big water body name Kalidaha) where the boats of the merchant Chad anchored. The places are identified in the popular narratives as associated with these characters and events from a mythical past. Interestingly, the narratives which are constructed by the archaeological and historical discourses are not known or popular among the larger section of the people. These narratives clearly show that people may have different and heterogeneous perceptions and associations with their pasts. The archaeological places of Mahasthan are kept alive and significant by the religious rituals, popular folklores and the pluralistic relationship of landscape, river, archaeological places and the people living with the places at the present. The landscape of Mahasthan attains a very different meaning, albeit very distinct from the mainstream historical and archaeological meaning and narration style, as a living religious place and as a landscape vibrant with living religious traditions.

The tangible archaeological remains, therefore, become the sites for popular mythical perception as well as for the religious rituals, blurring the boundaries between history and myth, real and unreal, secular and religious and dead traditions and living religious traditions. The cultural landscape of Mahasthan and Karatoya River, eventually, illustrate the multivocality of the past at the present. It represents the pluralistic, heterogenous and concurrent existence and continuity of different traditions at a place that is characterized by the entanglement of cultural activities and natural processes, of the land, water and people.

Mahasthangarh (the citadel) and other archaeological sites in its hinterland associated historically and culturally with the Karatoya River System: the proposed components under the property

Although hundreds of archaeological sites and places have been recorded in the area, many of them have been destroyed and obliterated to an extent that they cannot fit within the standards of authenticity and integrity. Among these sites, sixty-two components are proposed within this property. Hence, the sites which comply with the accepted Nara Document on Authenticity are listed above. It must be stated that the Karatoya River, with its connected channels and palaeo-channels (seasonally flooded) associated with the area of the site, is also included as a component, though they have not been listed in the table. The area covers more than 80 sq. km and there are many cultural remains and features within this zone which lack intensive inspection and surveying. Subsequent research may add more properties to this list.

The Karatoya River to the south and southeast of the urban area and the Nagar River to the north of this property must be included as the landscape component of this property. As natural features, they are owned by the state authority and managed by the local communities.


Site name

State, Province or Region (Village, Union, Sub-district)

Latitude and Longitude, or UTM coordinates

MAH. 1

Mahasthan Citadel

Mahasthan, Rainagar, Shibganj



Site 1a

Khodar Pathar Bhita



Site 1b

Mankalir Dhap



Site 1c

Parasuramer Bari



Site 1d

Jiyat Kunda /The wall of Life



Site 1e

Bairagir Bhita



Site 1f

The temple to the southeast of Bairagir Bhita


Site 1g

Mazar of Shah Sultan Mahisawar


MAH. 2

Skandar Dhap

Baghopara, Gokul, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 3

Burir Than & Sannayasir Than

Chandaua Haripur, Gokul, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 4


Chandaua Haripur, Gokul, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 5

Sasti Tala

Chandaua Haripur, Gokul, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 6

Lakshmindarer Medh/ Gokul Medh

Gokul, Gokul, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 7

Netai Dhopanir Dhap

Gokul, Gokul, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 8

Pir Borhan Ali Majar

Gokul, Gokul, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 9

Godar Bari Dhap

Mathura, Gokul, Gokul



MAH. 10


Mathura, Gokul, Gokul


MAH. 11

Paursuramer Sabhabati

Mathura, Gokul, Gokul

24°57'6.65"N 89°20'12.22"E

MAH. 12


Mathura, Gokul, Gokul



MAH. 13


Ramsahar (east), Gokul, Bogura Sadar


MAH. 14

Kanai Dhap

Bamanpara, Namuja, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 15

Panch Pirer Dhap

Bara Saralpur (north), Namuja, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 16

Dulur Bari/Dulu majhir Bhita

Tengra, Namuja, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 17

Kutir Ara Dhap

Tengra, Namuja, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 18

Madya Para Masjid Dhap

Tengra, Namuja, Bogura Sadar

24°56'33.36"N 89°18'25.84"E

MAH. 19

Nara Dhap/Narpatir Dhap

Tengra, Namuja Bogura Sadar



MAH. 20

Sannyashir Dhap

Tengra, Namuja, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 21


Palibari, Namuja, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 22

Andhar kota

Chingashpur, Namuja, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 23

Chagannaiya Dhap

Chingashpur, Namuja, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 24

Khulnar Dhap

Chingashpur, Namuja, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 25

Madarir Than/Darga

Chingashpur, Namuja, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 26

Padmar Bari

Chingashpur, Namuja, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 27

Yogir Dhap

Chingashpur, Namuja, Bogura Sadar

24°58'25.24"N 89°19'15.57"E

MAH. 28

Chander Dhap

Hukmapur, Namuja, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 29

Gonsayer Dhap

Hukmapur, Namuja, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 30

Ojha Dhanvantarir Bhita

Hazradighi, Noongola, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 31

Chand Saudagarer Bari

Rajakpur, Noongola, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 32

Dhana Bhandar

Rajakpur, Noongola, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 33

Kutir Dhap

Chingashpur, Namuja, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 34

Singhinather Dhap

Rajakpur, Noongola, Bogura Sadar



MAH. 35


Daulatpur, Rainagar, Shibganj



MAH. 36


Mahasthangarh, Rainagar, Shibganj



MAH. 37

Kanjir Hari Dhap

Sekendrabad, Rainagar, Shibganj



MAH. 38

Lizanir Dhap

Sekendrabad, Rainagar, Shibganj



MAH. 39

Malinir Dhap

Sekendrabad, Rainagar, Shibganj



MAH. 40

Mal Pukuria Dhap

Sekendrabad, Rainagar, Shibganj



MAH. 41

Yoginir/Dakinir  Dhap

Sekendrabad, Rainagar, Shibganj



MAH. 42

Lahonar Dhap

Dakhin Syampur, Rainagar, Shibganj



MAH. 43

Dhaniker Dhap

Dakhin Syampur, Rainagar, Shibganj



MAH. 44

Govinda Bhita

Mahasthan, Rainagar, Shibganj



MAH. 45


Kazipur, Raniganj, Shibganj



MAH. 46

Bhasu Vihar

Bhasu Vihar, Bihar, Shibganj



MAH. 47

Sannasir Dhap

Bhasu Vihar, Bihar, Shibganj



MAH. 48

Bihar Dhap

Bihar, Bihar, Shibganj



MAH. 49


Panartik, Bihar, Shibganj



MAH. 50

Gokarna Rajar Bari

Gokarna, Maidanhatta, Shibganj

25° 6'35.60"N


MAH. 51

Arola Dhap 

Arola, Paikar, Kahaloo



MAH. 52

Shalban Rajar Bari

Arola (west), Paikar, Kahaloo



MAH. 53

Yogir Bhaban Cluster of Temple 

Yogir Bhaban, Paikar, Kahaloo



MAH. 54

Shalban Rajar Kachari 

Baghahali, Paikar, Kahaloo



MAH. 55

Ghopa Dhap

Pirapot, Paikar, Kahaloo



MAH. 56


Deogaon, Durgapur, Kahaloo




Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (i): From the 4th-3rd century BCE to the 18th – 19th century CE, this property represents unparalleled, innovative and flexible human activities to build a large city with numerous monuments, artificial water bodies and modified landscapes around the city. The fortification wall of the citadel represents the transformation from an earthen wall into a massive brick-built rampart with bastions, with the modification of the landscape and with the adaptation with the floodplain of the Karatoya River. The citadel and the monumental remains are located on the uplifted terrace of Barind and the moat of the citadel is connected to the Karatoya River. The western part of the citadel has a water body which is also enclosed by the fortification wall and is connected with the low land (bill), which is locally known as Kalidaha Sagar. This is an outstanding example of the use and modification of a natural water body for maintaining connectivity and communication through the water of the artificial moat and the natural fluvial network mediated by the Karatoya-Nagar and other rivers. To the west and the north of the citadel, a vast area characterized by natural wetland was brought under use for habitation and cultivation by harvesting water through tanks and the seasonal use of water in the wetlands. Several monumental remains in this zone are either enclosed by natural waterbodies or by artificial moats. Remnants of palaeo-channels connected to the Karatoya River and the Jamuna River (also known as the Brahmaputra River upstream) vividly illustrate the cohabitation of the natural and the cultural on a wide area. The area between the currently moribund channels of the Karatoya River and the Jamuna River represents an alluvial terrain that is as dynamic and changing as it is fertile. This floodplain is marked with numerous abandoned river beds, oxbow lakes and back swamps. Despite the changes in the fluvial system, the cultural activities continued to flourish with certain ups and downs in the entire city and the hinterland zone for more than two millennia. Excavated data from the citadel and outside (e.g., excavated Buddhist and Brahmanical remains of Bhasu Bihar, Bihar Dhap, Govenda Bhita Temple, Gokul Medh, etc) show that attacks from outside and natural disasters were common in this area. The evidence of the attacks and breaking of the fortification wall as well as the evidence of a massive earthquake and partial collapse of the urban area around the 13th century are well attested by radiocarbon dating. Floods and consequent changes in the fluvial environment were perpetual. In spite of all these obstacles, a formidable centre of administrative, economic and religious activity was established, maintained and continued by taking the urban area as its focal point and by adapting to the landscape-waterscape around the city. The city represents intense cultural activities both during the phases of second urbanism in the Ganges-Jamuna plains extending from the western part of present India to the east up to Mahasthangarh in the 4th-3rd century BCE. In that sense, the city and the vast hinterland represents the easternmost detectable large urban proliferation despite the dynamic landscape. Simultaneously, the archaeological evidence suggests that the city flourished after a period of decline again in the period of third urbanism in South Asia in around the 8th-9th century CE. Various studies by the Bangladesh-France joint team and their publications represent irrefutable evidence of the close and intimate interaction between human activity patterns and changes in natural features including the landscape. Human creativity cannot be better portrayed in the enterprises and actions of adapting to nature.

Criterion (ii): As has been elaborated in the justification of the criteria (i), the cultural activities in this urban area and its hinterland zone continued over two millennia. Following is a table representing the stratigraphic evidence of the continuity gleaned from the excavation by the Bangladesh-France Joint Team in Eastern Rampart Area within the citadel (Alam and Salles 2001).


Building Methods

Special Finds

Suggested Chronology

Radio –Carbon Date


Unknown probably earth-based architecture


Late 4th cent./beginning 3rd cent. BC



Unknown probably earth-based architecture


Late 4th cent./beginning 3rd cent. BC



Earth/wood clay floor

Red polished ware

Late 4th cent./beginning 3rd cent. BC



Earth/wood clay floor


Late 4th cent./beginning 3rd cent. BC



Earth-based architecture

Clay firing area

Late 4th cent./beginning 3rd cent. BC



Mud walls, probably tile roofing clay floor

Fgt of terracotta ring well (ca 9cm high); fgts of tiles

3rd cent. BC

366-162 BC


Earth-based architecture tile roofing (large tiles); clay floor; timberwork

Fgt of terracotta ring well (ca 9cm high); fgts of tiles

3rd cent. BC./beginning 2nd  cent. BC



Earth-based architecture timberwork tile roofing (large size); floor made up of fgts of bricks and clay

fgt of terracotta ring well (ca 9-11cm high); fgt of wall coating?

3rd cent. BC./beginning 2nd  cent. BC

371-173 BC

367-85 BC


Unknown floor made up of brick fgts


2nd cent. BC

370-72 BC


Earth-based architecture, baked bricks for partitions walls; tile roofing (small size); floor of crushed bricks

First attestation of city wall in this area

2nd cent. BC/ 1st cent. BC

197-46 BC


Baked bricks probably used in the architecture; floors made up of clay and brick fgts

Terracotta ring will (ring dia. : 70cm; h: 10cm)

1st cent. BC



Complete bricks; tile roofing (small size);  floors made up of brick fgts

New city walls (complete bricks)

1st cent. BC/ 1st half 1st cent. AD




Fgtary baked bricks; tile roofing (small size); floors made up of brick fgts

ring well (terracotta, ring dia.: 90cm; H: ca 20 cm)

East/2nd Cetn. AD

60 BC-172 AD

84 BC-320 AD

84 AD-316 AD


Fgtary baked bricks; few floors made up of brick fgts

Brick platform

End 2nd Cent AD- 4th cent. AD

20 AD- 239 AD (Between 11 and 12 AD) 82 AD-242 AD

109 AD-461 AD


Fragmentary baked bricks; few floors made up of brick fgts


3rd AD- 5th Cent. AD

361 AD-594 AD


Fgtary baked bricks; few floors made up of brick fgts


6th Cent. AD-10th Cent.AD

602-776AD (Between levels 13 and 14) 


Fgtary baked bricks; few floors made up of brick fgts

New city wall (reused bricks)

6Cent. AD-10th Cent. AD??



Fgtary baked bricks; few floors made up of brick fgts

Large quadrangular building; change in circulation paths

8th Cent. AD-12th Cent. AD??



Fgtary baked bricks


16th Cent. AD- 18th Cent.AD??


The cultural materials from the excavations and the excavated monumental remains including Brahmanical, Buddhist, Jain and Islamic edifices illustrates the exchange of human values through overland and riverine routes. For example, similar and analogous cultural material including Northern Black Polished Wares (NBPW), Rouletted Wares (RW), Moulded Terracotta Plaques with specific ‘Sunga style’, Bronze objects including mirrors and sculptures, stone made religious and non-religious objects, etc. are so abundant that it is evident that trade and commercial activities and exchanges of religious ideas were continuous. Chinese Pilgrims Zuan Jang’s (Hiuen Tsang) description in the 7th century CE about the glorious and thriving religious activities in these sites is one of several examples. As an urban centre surrounded by many monastic establishments and temples, the scholastic studies suggest, the city and its hinterland zone were vibrant with pilgrimage and mercantile activities. It has also been suggested that the fluvial networks through the Karatoya-Brahmaputra River system enabled communication with the Himalayan piedmont zones in the north and to the maritime routes to the south in the Bay of Bengal.

Criterion (iii): The aforementioned text of Karatoya-Mahatyam of the 13th-14th century CE clearly indicated the sacred qualities of the land of Mahasthan and the Karatoya River. The water of the river was considered as possessing supernatural sacred qualities. This ancient text narrated the annual bathing in the river to gain merit according to Hindu tradition. The tradition of ritualistic bath in the river continues up to the present.

At the same time, the mazar of Shah Sultan Mahisawar (ra.) is the location of huge annual gatherings and pilgrimages by the adherents of various Sufi sects, pious Muslims and Hindus. In the month of April, the gathering gains special significance through various ritualistic activities and gathering, musical performances and embodied ritualistic activities. These traditions have their historicity from at least the 15th-16th century CE or earlier.

The pluralistic, tolerant and syncretistic religious and ritualistic traditions are nowhere better represented than in Mahathan and Karatoya Rivers. The religious traditions of the property similarly attest to the intimate inter-relationship between human beliefs and rituals and the natural features. The waterscape, especially the rivers, have shaped the symbolic as well as the perceptions of the inhabitants in this area for a long time. The landscape and waterscape were not only related to human activity in a functional sense. The inseparable existence of the tangible and the intangible is represented by the oral histories, folktales and legends which borrow from the rich literary traditions of Bengal. An example may be given here of the identification of the several archaeological sites and wetlands with the narratives of Manasa Mangala Kavya of the medieval period.

Criterion (vi): Mahasthan and Karatoya River are entangled entities as a locus of cultural activities, symbolic perception, continuous oral traditions of narrative making, literary creation, and human experiential and phenomenological engagement with the landscape. The traditions continue with their transformations and obstacles despite various modern and colonial interventions. The living traditions of storytelling, folklore, oral history in song, poetries and dances, and performative embodied actions are quite unique as they show the deep, inseparable and juxtaposed human and non-human, human and landscape and human and river actions and mobilities. These traditions and events of celebrating these traditions have a universal significance in terms of the ways human perceptions and senses are shaped by as well as refashion the natural environment around them.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


The excavated, conserved and protected archaeological sites and their landscape at Mahasthan in relation to the Karatoya River System undeniably represent the authentic attestation of human creative and building technologies and their use of the landscape. These sites and the landscape proposed for nomination as a complex or cluster of properties were constructed mainly by burnt bricks, mud, earthworks and clay, and lime-surki mortars, with occasional use and reuse of stone blocks. Evidence of plasters of lime and clay are also recovered. The excavations revealed the architectural remains of various natures. The cellular temple of Gokul Medh, the massive brick and stone-built fortifications enclosed by a moat, the construction of habitations and monuments within wetlands, and the excavated tanks – all represent the most authentic human-landscape interaction, both functionally and symbolically. Thick and sequential successive occupation deposits and objects of innumerable types were found and preserved. The remains were found incomplete and having gone through weathering and damage done by the passage of time. The remains, nevertheless, have provided evidence based upon which the original characters and layout of the buildings and associated landscape, the traditional construction materials and techniques, and the common regional use of clay for producing bricks as well as for binding the construction material can be inferred with a high degree of precision.


Because of the recent expansion of developmental and habitational activities, many of the sites have already been destroyed. The proposed properties represent the selected sites which are well preserved and compatible with the guidelines of the World Heritage Convention. The Karatoya River with its abandoned beds is also clearly detectable and manageable through a planned river management initiative. The impact of natural processes has been reduced by the continuous protection and conservation as well as monitoring of the properties. The modification of the landscape is increasing because of human activities in a densely-populated country like Bangladesh. The continuous monitoring of the Department of Archaeology, Ministry of Cultural Affairs of these sites protected under the Antiquity Act, 1972 have retained the original nature and character of the sites when they were exposed by excavations. Several proposed sites are under private ownership and they can be protected and preserved without evicting the people living around them. The conservation of excavated remains has followed international conventions and standards in protection and conservation. These sites are major tourist destinations of the region. Proposed sites such as the mazars of Shah Sultan (ra.) and Borhanuddin (ra.) are communal properties and they are continuously being reused for living religious traditions. As communal places of worship and the continuous focus of living religious traditions, sites like these are proposed despite their changes and renewal by the communities around them. These sites represent the religious sites around the world that are recognized by UNESCO under the conventions of protecting the places of living religious traditions. The landscape around the Karatoya River which is the centre of living ritualistic traditions are well protected by the communities around the sites. The touristic activities are controlled and managed according to the accepted guidelines and as per the required accountability and community-oriented engagements.

Comparison with other similar properties

The cultural landscape of this proposed property can be compared to the Bam and its Cultural landscape of Iran. Located on the Iranian high plateau, the urban centre of Bam and the hinterland of this city can be dated back to the Achaemenid period (6th to 4th centuries BC). Its heyday was from the 7th to 11th centuries, being at the crossroads of important trade routes and known for the production of silk and cotton garments. Bam is closely connected to the arid desert environment and landscape. On the other hand, Mahasthan is intimately connected to its fluvial landscape. Arg-e Bam is one of the most outstanding examples of a fortified medieval town/city like Mahasthangarh and it represents the adaptive tradition of human activities.

The proposed property and the components are also comparable to Vat Phou and Associated Ancient Settlements within the Champasak Cultural Landscape in Laos. This World Heritage property was shaped to express the Hindu vision of the relationship between nature and humanity, using an axis from mountaintop to riverbank to lay out a geometric pattern of temples, shrines and waterworks extending over some 10km. Two planned cities on the banks of the Mekong River are also part of the site, as well as Phou Kao Mountain. The whole thing represents a development ranging from the 5th to 15th centuries, mainly associated with the Khmer Empire. The settlement pattern, urban centres and the intimate relationship between nature and human activities are illustrated, both symbolically and functionally, in both of these properties. Key characteristics in this world heritage site manifested by the relationship between the Mekong River and the cities resemble the intimate relationship between Mahasthan and the Karatoya River.