Mahasthan means a place of sanctity and garh means fort. A Sanskrit text “Vallalcharita” of the 13th century first mentioned the place “Mahasthan”, to mean the same place the same text also mentions two more names – Pundrakshetra, land of the Pundras, and Pundranagara, city of the Pundras. In 1685, an administrative order mentioned the place as Mastangarh, means fortified place of an auspicious personage.
In 1808, F.Buchanan Hamilton first locates and visits Mahasthangarh and in 1889, Alexander Cunningham visited the site and he was the first to identify the place as the capital of Pundravardhana.
“Pundra Nagara” presently known as “Mahasthangarh” is located (Under Shibganj Upazila) at a distance of 11 km to the north of Bogra town on the Bogar-Rangpur highway. Mahasthangarh is situated on the western bank of river Karatoya, once a mighty river but now a small stream, flows on its east.
It is the oldest archaeological site of Bangladesh and the spectacular site is an imposing landmark in the area having a fortified long enclosure. It is roughly 1.523 km long from north to south, and 1.371 km from east to west, with high and wide ramparts in all its wings. With in a semicircle of about 9 km radius of fortified there are many ancient ruins.
Before excavation, the inside of the fortified was higher than the surrounding areas by over 4 meters. The rampart looked like a jungle clad mud rampart. . The rampart was 11-13 meters higher than the surrounding area.
First Systematic archaeological excavation around Jahajghata, Munir Ghon and Bairagir Bhita areas of Mahasthangarh was done under the guidance of K.N.Dikshit of India in 1928-29. Excavation of Bairagir Bhita and Govinda Bhita was down in 1934-36. Excavation around the Mazhar, Parasuramer Prasad, Mankalir Dhap, Jiat Kunda and in a part of the northern rampart was carried out in 1960s. Excavation in the area between Bairagir Bhita and the gateway was conducted jointly by Bangladesh and France in the period 1992-98. Excavation around the mazhar had been done under the same project in its second phase.
At present there are several mounds and structure inside the fortified. Of these a few are:
1. Jiat Kunda (well possessing life giving power),
2. Mankalir Dhap (place consecrated to Mankali),
3. Parasuramer Basgriha (palace of a king named Parasuram),
4. Bairagir Bhita (palace of a female anchorite),
5. Khodar Pathar Bhita (place of stone bestowed by God)
6. Munir Ghon (a bastion).
7. Govinda Bhita, a temple close to the north-eastern corner of the fortified area.
8. Khulnar Dhap, a temple 1 km to the west of the fortified area.
9. Mangalkot, a temple 400 m to the south of Khulnar Dhap
10. Godaibari Dhap, a temple 1 km to the south of Khulnar Dhap.
11. Totaram Panditer Dhap, a vihara (monstery) 4 km to the north-west of the fortified area.
12. Narapatir Dhap (Vasu Vihara), a group of monasteries 1 km to the north-west of Totaram Panditer Dhap (said to be the place where Po-shipo Vihara mentioned by Xuanzang (Hieun Tsang) was located).
13. Gokul Medh (Lakhindarer Basar Ghar), a temple 3 km to the south of the fortified area (it is a small distance off the road from Bogra to Mahasthangarh).
14. Skander Dhap, a temple 2 km to the south-east of Gokul Medh.
There are four gateways at different points:
1. Kata Duar (in the north),
2. Dorab Shah Toran (in the east),
3. Burir Fatak (in the south), and
4. Tamra Dawaza (in the west)
At the north-eastern corner there is a flight of steps (a later addition) that goes by the name of Jahajghata. A little beyond Jahajghata and on the banks of the Karatoya is Govinda Bhita (a temple dedicated to Govinda). In front of it is the site museum, displaying some of the representative findings. Beside it is a rest house.
This 3rd century B,C. archaeological site is still held to be great sanctity by the Hindus. Every year (mid- April) and once in every 12 years (December) thousands of Hindu devotees join the bathing ceremony on the bank of river Karatoya. A visit to the Mahasthan Garh site museum will open up for one a wide variety of antiquities, ranging from terracotta objects to gold ornaments and coins recovered from the site.
Together with the ancient and mediaeval ruins, the mazhar (holy tomb) of Shah Sultan Balkhi Mahisawar built at site of a Hindu temple is located at Mahasthangarh. He was a dervish (holy person devoted to Islam) of royal lineage who came to the Mahasthangarh area, with the objective of spreading Islam among non-Muslims. He converted the people of the area to Islam and settled there.