Ruins of the Buddhist Vihara at Paharpur


Brief Description

Evidence of the rise of Mahayana Buddhism in Bengal from the 7th century onwards, Somapura Mahavira, or the Great Monastery, was a renowned intellectual centre until the 12th century. Its layout perfectly adapted to its religious function, this monastery-city represents a unique artistic achievement. With its simple, harmonious lines and its profusion of carved decoration, it influenced Buddhist architecture as far away as Cambodia.

Ruins of the Buddhist Vihara at Paharpur © Syed Touhid Hassan More pictures …

Long Description

Paharpur is a small village 5 km west of Jamalganj in the Greater Rajshahi District where the remains of the most important and largest known monastery south of the Himalayas have been excavated.

The Paharpur Vihara, known as Somapura Mahavira, was built by the Pala Emperor Dharmapala (AD 770-810). The monastery is quadrangular in form, with a colossal temple of a cross-shaped floor plan in the centre of the courtyard and with an elaborate gateway complex on the north. There are 45 cells on the north and 44 in each of the other three side, making a total number of 177 monastic cells along the enclosure walls on the four sides. This layout, and the decoration of carved stones and terracotta plaques, reflect the building’s religious function, which is greatly influenced by Buddhist architecture from Cambodia and Java (Indonesia).

This 7th-century archaeological find covers an area of about 11 ha. The entire establishment, which occupies a quadrangular court measuring more than 275 m, externally on each side, has high enclosure-walls about 5 m thick and 3-5 m high.

Evidence of the rise of Mahayana Buddhism in Bengal from the 7th century onwards, Somapura Mahavira (Great Monastery) was a renowned intellectual centre until the 12th century. Its layout perfectly adapted to its religious function, this monastery-city represents a unique artistic achievement. With its simple, harmonious lines and its profusion of carved decoration, it influenced Buddhist architecture as far away as Cambodia.

A small site-museum built in 1956-57 houses the representative collection of objects recovered from the area. The excavated finds have also been preserved at the Varendra Research Museum at Rajshahi. The antiquities of the Museum include terracotta plaques, images of different gods and goddesses, pottery, coins, inscriptions, ornamental bricks, and other minor clay objects.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

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