The Buddhist Bihar, popularly known as Paharpur Buddhist Bihar or Somapura Mahabihar, is an ancient structure that is now almost destroyed. Paharpur Buddhist Bihar is located in Badalgachhi Upazila of Naogaon district, close to Rajshahi. It is one of the earliest sites of Bengal, where a significant amount of Buddhist statues were found.
Sri Dharmapaladeva, the second King of the famous Pala dynasty, built this Buddhist monastery in the 9th century. Sir Cunningham discovered this historical structure in 1879.
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In 1985, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listed Paharpur Buddhist Bihar as a World Heritage Site. Paharpur Buddhist Bihar was known as a centre of Buddhist practice for almost 300 years.
At that time, Buddhists from Tibet, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Myanmar also rushed to Paharpur Buddhist Bihar to practice and gain knowledge. Paharpur Buddhist Bihar extends to 922 feet in north-south direction and 919 feet in east-west direction. A temple adorns the centre of the Bihar, which is 400 feet long and 350 feet wide and the temple is about 70 feet high. On the outer walls of the temple are statues of Buddha and Hindu deities and several plaques of burnt clay.
The quadrangular Paharpur Buddhist Bihar was surrounded by a wide boundary wall. There were 92 small rooms lined up inside the boundary wall. It is assumed that all the rooms were inhabited by monks and later some rooms were used as prayer rooms. The Bihar has its main entrance through the northern side. Till 1984, there was a pond in front of the entrance. Excavations in 1985 here yielded huge silver coins from the pond,
which are kept in the museum adjacent to the Paharpur Buddhist Monastery. Also several statues, coins and inscriptions etc. were found from the Paharpur Bihar. Outside the walls of the Paharpur Bihar, a stoney-pool can be seen in the south-east corner. This pool is known as Sandhyawati Ghat. In the open courtyard within the Buddhist monastery, traces of several ruined buildings can be seen. There were scattered administrative buildings, canteens, kitchens, offering piles, wells etc.
Paharpur is an extraordinary example of Bengal’s rich and extraordinary history. It proves the intellect of people living here a long time ago. A number of monasteries grew up during the Pāla period in the eastern regions of the Indian subcontinent, comprising Bengal and Magadha. According to the Tibetan sources, five great Mahaviharas stood out; Vikramashila, Nalanda, Somapura, Odantapurā, and Jaggadala. The monasteries formed a network, all of them were under state supervision and there existed a system of co-ordination among them. Paharpur Buddhist Bihar is closed on full day every Sunday and half day on Monday. It is also closed on any public holiday.
–PHOTO by ROBIN AHMED SAGOR