Nestled in the enchanting landscapes of northeastern India, the 1,000-year-old Buddhist archaeological site of Pilak is set to captivate the hearts of travelers as it becomes a prominent destination in a newly introduced cultural and religious tourism circuit. The state government of Tripura has embarked on a mission to promote the rich historical and spiritual heritage of Pilak, which is located in the picturesque region of Jolaibari, South Tripura District. This ancient site is part of a network of Buddhist and Hindu landmarks situated near the tri-border region of Tripura, Bangladesh (formerly East Bengal), and Myanmar’s Rakhine State (formerly Arakan).
Pilak has already earned acclaim as a renowned tourist spot in South Tripura, drawing visitors from all corners of the country. In an effort to further showcase the region’s cultural treasures, the State Tourism Department, under the leadership of T. K. Das, has devised an enticing archaeological tourist circuit, encompassing not only Pilak but also Chhabimura and Udaipur in Gomati District. The journey commences from the state capital, Agartala, and weaves its way through the mystical wonders of Udaipur, also known as Rangamati, home to the revered Tripureswari Kali temple, counted among the 51 Shaktipithas. The circuit is incomplete without a visit to Chhabimura, famed for its mesmerizing rock carving panels lining the steep hill wall, overlooking the tranquil waters of the Gomti River.
Pilak’s historical significance is evident in its vast array of ancient Buddhist and Hindu sculptures, including terracotta and stone temple plaques, as well as two magnificent stone images of Avalokiteshvara dating back to the ninth century and a stunning sculpture of Narasimha from the 12th century. The Government Museum in Agartala proudly showcases these priceless artifacts. Notably, the site also yielded two bronze Buddha statues near Pilak, providing invaluable insights into the region’s ancient Buddhist kingdoms, which thrived before the advent of Hinduism.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has diligently overseen the preservation of Pilak since 1999. In the early 1960s, ASI-led excavations led to the discovery of brick stupas, shedding light on the site’s historical significance. Further ASI investigations in Jolaibari and neighboring mounds unearthed statues of Buddha and other Mahayana Buddhist sculptures.
Uttam Pal, the executive engineer at the State Tourism Department, expressed the government’s vision of developing Pilak as a favored destination for Buddhist tourists, not only from Southeast Asia but from all over the world. While the site enjoys the coveted status of an archaeological wonder, stringent regulations prevent permanent structures from being erected within 150 meters of it. Nonetheless, the state government has invested in creating excellent facilities for tourists just outside the restricted zone. The footfall of visitors has been remarkably positive, and a tourist bungalow has been thoughtfully constructed near the site in Jolaibari for the convenience of travelers.
A recent excavation near Pilak at Sundari Tila has unearthed a remarkable full-size Buddhist stupa, believed to have been constructed in the 11th century during the reign of the Palas of Bengal. The site’s diverse rock-cut images and sculptures exude artistic influences from the Arakan region of Myanmar, as well as the Pala and Gupta dynasties of Bengal, while the local styles bear resemblance to molded plaques from Mainamati.
Steeped in history, Pilak was once an integral part of the illustrious kingdom of Samatata in ancient Bengal. Today, it joins the league of distinguished archaeological sites in Bangladesh, including Mainamati and Somapura Mahavihara, known for their invaluable clay plaques, seals, and early Hindu and Buddhist sculptures dating back to the eighth and ninth centuries.
For travelers seeking a soul-stirring journey through time, culture, and spirituality, the newly inaugurated tourism circuit promises an unforgettable experience, with Pilak standing proudly as the crowning jewel of this ancient treasure trove.