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Paharpur Buddhist Monastery: Where The Souls of Our Ancestors Roam
Buddhism spread over the ancient Bengal and its adjacent regions more than 2000 years ago. Before that people here used to follow vedic religion more popularly known as Hindu religion. in the reign of emperor Ashoka buddhism flourished in bengal and its sister regions(assam, orissa and bihar) dated 269 BC to 232 BC. Since then ancient bangla becomes a centre of Buddhism and buddhist culture. Shompur Mohabihar or Shompur Great Buddhist Monastery bears the sign of rich history and culture of Bengal. It is the ruin of a great religious place, which is situated at Paharpur, Naogaon District, Bangladesh. It is one of the oldest and the largest university(Viswavidyalaya/bisshobiddaloy) of Asia 1400 years ago. the five great universities of ancient time Vikramashila, Nalanda, Somapura Mahavihara, Odantapura, and Jaggadala were interlinked under same network and administration. it was an important centre for practicing Buddhism. Before the site was discovered and excavated, it was a "pahar" or hill thats why the village is called Paharpur.
This great monastery was build in the reign of Pala(bangla:Paal) dynasty between 600-700 AD. Paal dynasty was the ruling power of ancient Bengal who later ruled the whole Indian subcontinent stretched from Afghanistan to Assam. "The University used to teach theology, grammar, logic, philosophy, fine arts and visited by famous scholars. The residential university enrolled students free of costs and their clothing and food were also free. About one hundred adjacent villages supplied food and clothing for about 2,000 students living in 177 rooms in a 21 acre fortified complex area. Students from south-east Asian countries like Korea, Mongolia, China and Tibet came here to receive the superior quality of education provided by this University. The books preserved in the library were made of parchment paper and palm leaves. But the library was looted and ravaged after the fall of the Pala dynasty" (M. Khatun, 1997). After excavation valuables relics have been found including terracotta designs, clay ornaments, bricks depicting images of gods and goddesses, potteries, stone sculptures etc are preserved in the nearby museum.
The total area of the monastery is 27 acre, a quadrangular complex in the centre having cruciform style stupa which was 2-3 times taller than now what exists. the main complex has 177 rooms or cells where the monks and scholars used to live and study. The architecture of paharpur mahavihara is quite impressive and mysterious regarding the time when it was built. No other buddhist structure of that time resembles its style. But the Buddhist temples in the south-east Asian countries are more or less similar to its architecture, but those were made at later period, so historians think that the architecture of this monastery had a profound impact on the south-east Asian architecture which later become a common model for all buddhist temples and it was an iconic superstructure of that time. Legendary Buddhist monk Atish Dipankar stayed here as the chancellor and translated Buddha scriptures to Tibetan language. Later Buddhism was spread by him in Tibet and China. The expression used for the temple was ‘Jagatang Netraika Vishrama Bhuh’ (a singular feast to the eyes of the world).
Sompur Mahavihar bears the signature of ancient religion and culture of Bangladesh, it tells us about the people, their culture and language at that time. it reminds us of the people who used to walk around there just like us, now they are no more there, but their great works. It has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985.