Archaeological explorations have begun at Ramagrama following a stakeholder briefing event on 7 November, 2019, held to inform stakeholders, local communities and the general public about the forthcoming archaeological activities at the site. Located four kilometres south of the town of Parasi in Parasi District of Western Nepal, Ramagrama is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Nepal’s western Terai and has been on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status since 1997.
The most striking feature of the site is a large brick stupa, which is believed to be the only unopened stupa of the original eight constructed to house the cremated remains of Lord Buddha.
UNESCO funded non-intrusive geophysical surveys at the site in 1997 and in 2018, with funding from Dr Tokushin Kasai, revealed that the stupa is not an isolated monument but is associated with a large monastic complex and brick-edged tank, currently hidden below the surface of the ground. As pilgrim numbers increase and associated infrastructure is developed, there is growing recognition that this significant, yet fragile and finite heritage, could be destroyed if not fully identified, mapped and protected.
In response, UNESCO is undertaking an archaeological survey at Ramagrama with funding from the Oriental Cultural Heritage Sites Protection Alliance, in collaboration with the national and international experts team from Nepal’s Department of Archaeology, the Lumbini Development Trust and Durham University’s UNESCO Chair on Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage.
The current geophysical survey will further define the character and extent of Ramagrama’s heritage below the ground surface. The team will also be undertaking auger cores to identify the spread and depth of cultural material across the site and conducting a field survey in the land around Ramagrama to search for further concentrations of ancient artefacts just under the surface, which may indicate the presence of archaeological structures below.
The results from this survey will then be used to develop an Archaeological Risk Map for Ramagrama, which will identify areas where there is minimal risk to archaeological heritage and those that are most threatened by development. This Archaeological Risk Map will help to guide site managers, planners and government authorities in protecting Ramagrama’s heritage whilst also allowing for sustainable development that is of benefit to local communities in the present and the future.