About Somapura Mahavihara
Somapura Mahavihara (sometimes called Paharpur Vihara) in Bangladesh is one of the world’s grandest and most important historic Buddhist monasteries. Built under the remit of the Pala Emperor Dharmapala in the seventh century, the name Somapura Mahavihara – meaning the Great Monastery – hints at its vast size.
History of Somapura Mahavihara
Somapura Mahavihara is located in Paharpur, in the Naogaon District of Bangladesh. It is one of the most important archaeological sites in the country, and is among the best known viharas and monasteries on the Indian Subcontinent. It is also one of the earliest sites of Bengal, where a significant number of Hindi statues were discovered.
Somapura Mahavihara was the largest of five great Mahaviharas (universities) which grew durinig the Pāla period in ancient India in the eastern regions of the Indian subcontinent, comprising Bengal and Magadha.
The site houses the remains of a vast Buddhist monastery over an area of around 27 acres (11 hectares.) It was an important centre for Dharmic Traditions such as Buddhists, Jains, and Hindus.
Excavation of the site has unearthed seals which identify the second Pala king Dharmapala (c.781-821) as having built the site; however, Tibetan sources mentioned that it was his successor Devapala (c.810-850) built it after his conquest of Varendra.
The monastery was largely destroyed by fire in the 11th century during a conquest by the Vanga army.
Many monks visited the site between the 9th and 12th centuries. It was during the rule of the Sena dynasty that the monastery began to decline for the final time, with the unrest and displacement of the population after the Muslim invasion during second half of the 12th century sealing its fate.
The site is quadrangular, and consists of 177 cells and a traditional Buddhist stupa in the centre. The rooms were once used by the monks for accommodation and meditation.
Alongside a wealth of stupas and shrines that have been discovered at the site, various terracotta plaques, stone sculptures, inscriptions, coins, and ceramics have also been unearthed.
Somapura Mahavihara Today
Somapura Mahavihara continued to thrive as an academic and religious hub until the twelfth century and today it is considered to be one of the best examples of the artistic excellence of its time. Indeed, Somapura Mahavihara was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985, in great part for influencing future Buddhist architecture around the world.
The site is now open to the public and there is a small museum close by which exhibits local finds. It is recommended that you employ a local guide in order to make the most of the amazing site.
Getting to Somapura Mahavihara
From the centre of Rajshahi, Somapura Mahavihara is a 2 to 3 hour drive via the Rajshahi – Naogaon Hwy/R685 roads. From the centre of Dhaka, the site is a 7-8 hour drive via the Dhaka – Rangpur Hwy/N5 roads.