Male (Maldives), May 29 (ANI): An Islander has discovered a pre-Islamic stupa, a Buddhist relic, beneath his house in Raa atoll Agolhitheemu in Maldives, while digging to build a well.
According to a report in Minivan News, Yoosuf Adam, from Gulhaam House, found the coral stupa divided into three parts.
"It looks like a pawn on a chess board," said the Island Chief Mohamed Yoosuf. "The Indian teachers here believe parts were destroyed when Islam came to the Maldives," he added.
A stupa is a mound-like structure containing supposed relics of Buddha, once thought to be places of Buddhist worship.
Yoosuf said the stupa had been slightly damaged by the digging, as the islanders did not know that it was beneath the ground.
He added that other ancient relics had been found on the island since 1999.
In 2003, large intricately-carved coral bricks were discovered when building the school and in 2006, a small statue of a Buddha was found.
But, according to Yoosuf, the statue was stolen after being taken to the school for observation and the other relics have been destroyed as islanders were unaware of their historical significance.
It was only in 2002, he said, when incumbent President Mohamed Nasheed was banished to the island that residents learned of the importance of the artefacts.
"Since then they started exploring and at that time, the president said there were seven graveyards beneath the island, which he read about in a book in a foreign library," he said.
According to Ahmed Tholal, assistant director of the centre for linguistic and historical research, officials from the centre planned a visit to the island next week to verify the find.
While he warned it was too early to be optimistic, he said it appeared to be part of a Buddhist monastery.
"Based on what we see in the photos it looks like a pre-Islamic site but we can only confirm once we have seen it," said Tholal.
"It's very well-preserved, maybe one of the best preserved sites that we have and that will help us open up to cultural tourism," he added.
"I think these artefacts give us a glimpse of the old heritage we have and the history of us Maldivians as an ancient civilization," said Tourism Minister Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad. "We want to share this little known era of our history with the wider world," he added. (ANI)