Tamralipti is a hidden gem located in the present day town of Tamluk, in Midnapur, West Bengal. An ancient copper port of India seems just like any other port which used to be a trade and commerce center, but history suggests there is more to it than meets the eye. 

The ancient town of Tamulk Credit: Twitter

Tamralipti port prospered during the period from 3rd century BCE to 8th century BCE, during both, the Mauryan and Kalinga Empires. Although the port was not known very well by the people, it was a doorway for traders and missionaries of different kingdoms on the east coast. The port had links with different geographical areas in South Asia. Since it was a center for trade and commerce, it played an important role in economic development.

The name “Tamralipta” on its own has an interesting story. The word “tamra” means copper. There are copper mines at Ghatsila in Singbhum district of Bihar, which is close to the town. Copper used to be mined and exported through the port. The exceptionally amazing aspect is, even today the copper mines are still active and copper is still mined. According to LivehistoryIndia, Ashoka invaded Kalinga to get access to the riches found in this port.

The land and sea routes from Tamralipti port. Credit: Twitter

According to Banglapedia, the Archaeological Survey of India ( ASI), after the first few excavations in Tamluk town, they found many relics such as terracotta figurines of animals and humans, pottery such as rouletted ware, grey ware, red ware, black polished ware and northern black polished ware, Roman amphorae and Greco-Roman gold coins and copper coins.

Representation of terracotta art forms from Tamluk. Credit:Shodhganga

The fascinating fact about Tamralipti port is that it is one of the most important reasons for Buddhism to spread to South and South East Asian countries. Many travelers have written about the port and the role it played in the spreading of Buddhism in Asia. King Ashoka sent his son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism through the Tamralipti port. Roman philosopher Pliny also talks about the port in his book “Natural History in 2nd century CE.” A Chinese pilgrim named Fa Hein once visited the port and came across 24 Buddhist monasteries and 1000 monks.

“A seated figure of a boy having Hellenistic characteristics, Kushana period, 1st to 2nd century CE (courtesy: Dasgupta 1958)”. Credit: Shodhganga

There was a decline in prosperity of Tamralipti from the 7th century onwards because of geographical and political factors. Besides, the silting of the river port was also a cause of it being completely forgotten. The town has a local museum in which there are objects which were retrieved from the excavation.

“A mould showing a winged figure, Sunga Period, (courtesy: Dasgupta 1958)”. Credit: Shodhganga

This is among the most important ports of India, not only known for its trade but also because it played a vital role in spreading Buddhism. Like all other ports in India, Tamralipti not only played a major role in economic development but also served as a place to gain knowledge. Even though the region seemed to have been forgotten by many, the immense knowledge spread from the port continues to enrich us all.

Tags: Asia, West Bengal, Tamralipti, Buddhism, and Port. Categories: Ancient India and Travel.

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