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Composition : Somapura Mahavihara

Somapura Mahavihara

Paharpur is an important archaeological site situated in a village named ‘Paharpur’ in Naogaon district of northern Bangladesh. Naogoan is mainly plain land but in the middle of it stood a hill covered with jungle.

When the jungle was cleared and the hill excavated, there emerged a lofty ruin of an ancient temple. The temple is about 24 metre high from the surrounding level. ‘Pahar’ means hill. Hence is the name Paharpur.

The Paharpur site has been excavated and re-excavated a number of times by archaeologists. Sir Alexander visited the place in 1879. Cunningham intended to carry out an extensive excavation but was prevented by the landowner. Nevertheless, he was satisfied with whatever excavation he was permitted to carry on. He discovered the ruins of a square tower of 22 feet side with a projection in the middle of each side from the top of the central hill. The site was declared to the protected by the Archaeological Survey of India in 1919 under the Ancient Monumnets’ Preservation Act of 1904.

Systematic and regular excavation started jointly by Archaeological Survey of India, and Varendra Research Society of Rajshahi and Kolkata (at that time known as Calcutta) University in 1923. They excavated the south-west corner of the monastery. Next in 1925-26, R D Banerjee excavated the northern part of the central mound. From 1926-27 onward excavation was carried out under the supervision of K N Dikshit.

The Department of Archaeology of Bangladesh brought the site under further excavation after independence. The operations took place in two phases. The first phase was initiated in 1981-82 and continued to 1984-1985. The second phase was started in 1988-89 and continued to 1990-91.

Pre-liberation expeditions have revealed the architectural remains of a vast Buddhist monastery, the Somapura Mahavihara. It is donimated by the central shrine, attracting immediate attention by its lofty height and unusual architectural design.

Somapura Mahavihara was one of the most famous Buddhist institutions for monks of ancient Bengal and in southern Asia. The excavated complex at Paharpur has been identified with the Somapura Mahavihara built by the second Pala king Dharmapala (781-821 AD). Some clay seals from the ruins bear the inscription Shri-Somapure Shri-Dharmapaladeva-Mahavihariyarya-bhiksu-sangghasya.

The Pala rulers were devout Buddhists and they founded a number of monasteries throughout their growing empire. Some of them became great centres of learning and their reputation quickly spread throughout Asia. Somapura Mahavihara’s close relationship with the ruling dynasty implied that it shared the political ups and downs of its benefactors.

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