Ruins of the Somapura Mahavihara at Paharpur – Rajshahi, Bangladesh (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).


A number of monasteries grew up during the Pāla period in ancient Bengal and Magadha. According to Tibetan sources, five great Mahaviharas stood out: Vikramashila, the premier university of the era; Nalanda, past its prime but still illustrious, Somapura Mahavihara, Odantapurā, and Jaggadala. The five monasteries formed a network; “all of them were under state supervision” and their existed “a system of co-ordination among them . . it seems from the evidence

that the different seats of Buddhist learning that functioned in eastern India under the Pāla were regarded together as forming a network, an interlinked group of institutions,” and it was common for great scholars to move easily from position to position among them.

The excavation at Paharpur, and the finding of seals bearing the inscription Shri-Somapure-Shri-Dharmapaladeva-Mahavihariyarya-bhiksu-sangghasya, has identified the Somapura Mahavihara as built by the second Pala king Dharmapala (circa 781-821) of Pāla Dynasty. Some clay seals from the ruins bear the inscription Shri-Somapure-Shri-Dharmapaladeva-Mahavihariyarya-bhiksu-sangghasya.[7] Tibetan sources, including Tibetan translations of Dharmakayavidhi and Madhyamaka Ratnapradipa, Taranatha‘s history and Pag-Sam-Jon-Zang, mention that Dharmapala’s successor Devapala (circa 810—850) built it after his conquest of Varendra. The Paharpur pillar inscription bears the mention of 5th regnal year of Devapala’s successor Mahendrapala (circa 850—854) along with the name of Bhiksu Ajayagarbha. Taranatha’s Pag Sam Jon Zang records that the monastery was repaired and renovated during the reign of Mahipala (circa 995—1043 AD).[7]
The Nalanda inscription of Vipulashrimitra records that the monastery was destroyed by fire, which also killed Vipulashrimitra’s ancestor Karunashrimitra, during a conquest by the Vanga army in the 11th century, assumed to be an army of the Varman rulers. About a century later Vipulashrimitra renovated the vihara and added a temple of Tara. The restoration work was alluded to as jagatang netraika vishrama bhuh (a singular feast to the eyes of the world).

3d Model of Paharpur

Atisha Dipankar Srijnan stayed here for many years and translated the Madhyamaka Ratnapradipa into Tibetan. Over time Atish’s spiritual preceptor, Ratnakara Shanti served as a sthavira of the vihara, Mahapanditacharya Bodhibhadra served as a resident monk, and several other scholars spent some part of their lives at this monastery including Kalamahapada, Viryendra and Karunashrimitra.. Many Tibetan monks visited the Somapura between 9th and 12th centuries
During the rule of the Sena dynasty, known as Karnatadeshatagata Brahmaksatriya, in the second half of the 12th century the vihara started to decline for the last time. It was finally abandoned during the 13th century, when the area came under Muslim occupation.One scholar writes, “The ruins of the temple and monasteries at Pāhāpur do not bear any evident marks of large-scale destruction. The downfall of the establishment, by desertion or destruction, must have been sometime in the midst of the widespread unrest and displacement of population consequent on the Muslim invasion.”
Some photo graphs of this site given Below .

Paharpur Main Architecture
According to the Bengali Vocabulatory, the name Paharpur (Pahar = hill, pur = locality) means a locality of hill. It is a village in Badalgachi Upazila of Naogaon District. The nearest railway station os Jamalganj that lies on the Khulna-Parvatipur rail tract and is connected with Paharpur by a 5 km long brick metalled bye-way. Paharpur can also be reached from its nearest airport, Sayedpur, following a metalled road via Joypurhat. The village contains the ruins of a Buddhist monastery which was called Somapura Mahavihara (the great monastery situated in the locality of moon) in the ancient Buddhist World. It is now a World Cultural Heritage (BGD. 292)
The monastery is square in plan, being 281m on each side. Built by Dharmapala (781-821 AD) the second ruler of the Pala dynasty, and reconstructed at least twice by his descendants, each of its with has thick exterior wall with two entrance provisions on the north and one in the east. Besides, there has a row of monastic cells, fronted by a running corrider, abutting the exterior wall. Some of the cells contain solid pedestals. There has also a sub-worshipping point in the mid-most part of each wing excepting the north one. Each worshipping point, excepting the southern one, has a staircase connection with the monastery courtyard in front. In the center of the open courtyard of the monastery there stands the residual vestige of a four-faced shrine.
The central shrine is a terraced structure springing from a cruciform ground plan and expanding from a mid-pile of square configuration. The upper terrace has in its each side a sanctum fronted by an ante-chamber with circumambulatory passage around. Each of the second and first terraces has nothing but a circumambulatory passage. The passages of the lower terrace, however, is now covered under recently accumulated soil. Its wall has 63 niches at plinth level, each being provided with a stone sculpture. Whereas the unplustered wall surfaces of the lower two terraces are decorated with friezes containing terracotta plaques showing different scenes. The cornices of all terraces are turgent and lavishly relieved with carved bricks showing chain, petal, pyramidal, dental, net and lozenge motifs. Moreover, at the juncture of the cornices there are stone gargoyles ended in grinning lion faces.
The courtyard around the central shrine is dotted with several units of straggling structural ruins. Of them, Panchavede > a group of five votive stupas>near the south-eastern comer, a kitchen towards west of Panchavedi, a long paved dinning arrangement towards north-west of Panchavedi and a model of the central shrine on the north of Panchavedi are a few to note. The northeast comer is also occupied by another group of structures, They appear to have been related to office establishments. Close to the basement of the central shrine a number of wells, votive stupas, vedika cruciform model etc. are noticed. The western half of the courtyard is relatively barren in structural finding.
A good number of objects cultural have been salvaged from Paharpur, They include sculptural pieces, terracotta plaques, pottery, domestic tools, ornaments, coins, seals, sealings, votive stupas etc. They are now housed in Asutosh Museum Kolkata, Bangladesh National Museum , Varendra Museum, Paharpur Museum and other site museums in Bangladesh.
Of these antiquities sculptural pieces as well as sculptured plaques are artistically most alluring. Most of the sculptural pieces are medium in size and a few are smaller. All of them are wrought on stone save a few of metal. Stucco sculptural pieces are, however, not altogether lacking. Among the metal sculptures, the fragmentary bust of a Buddha is worth noted because of its artistic excellence. Only one stone sculpture is related to Mahayana order, the remaining being Hindu. In dating parlance, they may be placed in the 7th-12th AD time-bracket.
The next group of alluring art objects is represented by terracotta plaques. They are at least 2800 in number and appear to be contemporaneous to the 1st constructional period of the Pala monastery. Their sizes vary between 40cm x 30cm x 6cm and 18cm square. They depict diverse scenes reflecting the then socio-political, economic and martial aspects.

Md. Adnan Arif Salim Aurnab
Archaeology of Humankind

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