We Visit The Ruins Of The Buddhist Vihara In Paharpur

His name is Somapura Mahavira. An ancient Buddhist temple in Bangladesh that came to be of great importance, and not just within Buddhism.
We visit the ruins of the Buddhist vihara in Paharpur

Somapura Mahavira are the ruins of the Buddhist vihara in Paharpur, Bangladesh. A unique place that is worth visiting. In fact, it has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. Are you interested in knowing more? Next, we give you all the information you need so as not to lose detail of this treasure.

History of the Buddhist vihara in Paharpur

The first thing to explain is that the word “vihara” refers to a monastery or temple. Constructions that were evolving from small shelters to large enclosures that in some cases even housed university centers.

Detail of the Buddhist vihara of Paharpur
Temple detail

To know the origin of this place we have to go back to the period between 781 and 821. The second Pala king, Dharmapala, was its first builder and great patron of Buddhism. And it is that his is also the Vikramashila monastery, located in Bihar and one of the most important learning centers in India.

The monastery flourished in the following years, becoming a famous intellectual center. The Buddhists, but also the Jains (followers of a doctrine originating in India) and the Hindus traveled to it.

In the 12th century  the building was destroyed as a result of a fire, which occurred during the conquest of the Vanga army. About a hundred years later the monastery was restored. However, it was abandoned when the region came under Muslim domination in the 13th century.

In 1919 Somapura Mahavira was declared a protected archaeological site and excavations began four years later. In the works, several inscriptions were discovered that allowed us to know the origin of this unique enclosure.

Already today, it can be said that the Buddhist vihara in Paharpur is the most spectacular monument in all of Bangladesh. It can also boast of being the second largest Buddhist monastery in the southern Himalayas.

Somapura Mahavira architecture

Buddhist Vihara of Paharpur
Buddhist Vihara of Paharpur

Somapura Mahavira, which means “great monastery”, is an exceptional artistic achievement. Its simple lines and ornamentation sculpted in terracotta demonstrate this. What’s more, all of this influenced the Buddhist architecture of other buildings even as far away as Cambodia.

Going further into the matter, the Buddhist vihara in Paharpur  has a pyramidal structure on three levels and is square in shape. This is made up of no less than 177 cells, used by monks to meditate and rest. Of these, 92 have ornamental pedestals whose function is still unknown.

In the complex we can also find evidence of a possible temple in the center of the main courtyard. There are also several stupas, shrines, or auxiliary buildings, such as the kitchen or the refectory. The latter are in the southeast corner.

Practical information for the visit

Decorative detail of the vihara of Paharpur
Decorative detail

The Buddhist vihara at Paharpur is located in northwestern Bangladesh. There are other religious buildings there, such as the Gondeswari temple, with an octagonal pillar and a bathhouse that is attached to the central part of the complex.

To get to this place we can take as a reference the industrial cities of Naogaon and Badalgachhi. Both are located an eight hour drive from Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

Already in Paharpur we have the possibility of staying in a hotel near the monastery, so that we can start the visit first thing in the morning. The tour will take us about two or three hours  if we include a visit to the site museum, which houses different pieces and reproductions, as well as terracotta plates.

On the other hand, to learn more about the Buddhist vihara in Paharpur,  you can hire the services of a guide, even if it is not official. And although we see that there are people who climb to the top of the stupa due to lack of vigilance, it is something that should not be done.

As you have seen, Somapura Mahavira, the Buddhist vihara in Paharpur, is a place of great importance and interest. Feel free to include it in your list of places to visit. Of course, you will not regret the decision.

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