|Under the earth there's a story to tell. Sitakot in Nawabganj of Dinajpur.|
|Wall with chambers, Sitakot.|
|A brilliant grass rectangle.|
|Brickwork at Sitakot.|
|The carved hillock of Sitakot.|
|Enthusiasm in the local tea shop.|
Neat mud farmhouse and chicken yard lie along the bright dirt track. Sitakot occupies its sundrenched hillock to the right. Rice field and plough: it’s quintessential rural Bangladesh and not hard to imagine one Sita found there somewhere, as a baby in a furrow. If only it had happened that way…
|The road to Sitakot.|
Despite the legend that has long mingled in the locality the site has no relation to the Ramayana.
|Mudbrick houses nearby.|
For one thing, Sita’s actual forest, the Dandaka, the Panchavati, is near Nashik, beside the Godavari River in Maharashtra. It’s not Nawabganj National Park. For another, Valmiki’s hermitage is on the bank of the Tamasa in Uttar Pradesh; not beside Ashurer Beel. So what is Sitakot, then?
|From the central courtyard of the complex.|
|A wall nice in a cell. For a Buddha image?|
Historically, Sitakot is not born of Hinduism. It’s a Pala-dynasty Mahayana Buddhist monastery from the 7th – 8th centuries. Roughly sixty-five by sixty-five metres, the site features 40 cells around a large courtyard. Its broad entrance measures 1.8 metres. Unlike many monasteries of its vintage there is no evidence of a central temple. Rather, on three sides are larger cells with pedestals that might have housed divine figures.
|Sitakot: actually an ancient Buddhist monastery.|
|The start of Nawabganj sal forest.|
It might not be that Sita was there – and the Buddhist history is impressive enough. But to think of it in another way, Bhūmi surely dwells wherever there is soil; in a landscape as idyllic as that, Valmiki’s poetic meter must find its home. In capturing village imagination Sita has nonetheless staked some claim to the place. Sitakot is of her memory, at least, if not her slated geography.
|The cycle van.|
Perhaps it’s generally true that shade follows sun. Beyond, the sal trees start and the cycle van winds into a darker, not less beautiful world. Suddenly, in the forest are faces… curious, different-looking, non-Bengali faces…