About Shalban Vihara
Shalban Vihara is one of the most important Buddhist sites found amongst the Mainimati ruins in Bangladesh. It is believed that Mainimati was an important Buddhist centre between the 7th and 12th centuries.
A large monastery built under the Deva dynasty in the 8th century, these flame-coloured remains would once have housed 115 monks. Salban Vihara offers an interesting glimpse into the former grandeur of Mainimati.
Shalban Vihara history
Shalban Vihara was built during the first half of the 8th century under the reign of King Bhava Deva, the fourth ruler of the early Deva dynasty, a Hindu dynasty in eastern Bengal. The 168 square metre building was constructed to house early Buddhist students and was named for the king who commissioned it, Bhava Deva Mahavihara. The monastery was built on the outskirts of Devaparvata, the Samatata (eastern Bengal) capital, and was constructed around a large courtyard with a temple in the centre.
Students came from various places to meditate and have religious teaching. During their study the students would stay in the dormitory or cells surrounding the temple. The monastery walls were heavily embellished with terracotta plaques and ornamental bricks.
Excavations at Shalban Vihara began after road builders in 1875 uncovered what they thought was an old fortress. Discoveries from the site included 8 inscribed copperplates, around 400 gold and silver coins, multiple terracotta and baked clay seals, as well as a large number of sculptures made of bronze, stone and terracotta. An Abbasid gold coin found suggested that Shalban Vihara was inhabited until the 13th century.
Shalban Vihara today
Today, the Shalban Vihara temple and former monastery for Buddhist students remains a peaceful place surrounded by the Lalambi forest. The site is one of Bangladesh’s most popular tourist sites although it has not yet been fully excavated: the northern wing and 2 stupas are yet to be cleared.
Entry to Shalban Vihara costs 200 taka, and you can clearly see where the main temple and monks quarters were despite there being little information on site. Most of the objects found at Shalban Vihara during excavations are now held in the Moinamoti Museum.
Getting to Shalban Vihara
Your easiest option of reaching Shalban Vihara is to take a rental auto (small electric car) from Kandirpar in Cumilla to Kotbari, a small village across the Dhaka–Chittagong Highway and a 20 minute walk from the ruins. Shalban Vihara is 2 and a half hours drive from Dhaka.