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  Volume: XXIV, Issue No. 21 June 16-30, 2015  
  Paharpur - The single largest Buddist monastry
  Untitled Document

_A Monitor Report
Rajshahi : Somapura Mahavihara in Paharpur, Naogaon, is among the best known Buddhist viharas in the Indian Subcontinent and is one of the most important archeological sites in the country. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.

The quadrangular structure consists of 177 cells and a traditional Buddhist stupa in the centre. The rooms were used by the monks for accommodation and meditation. In addition to the large number of stupas and shrines of various sizes and shapes, terracotta plaques, stone sculptures, inscriptions, coins, ceramics etc. have been discovered. No other single site has yielded so many stone sculptures and terracotta plaques.

In terms of acreage, Somapura was the largest of the mahaviharas. It was also quite unusual architecturally.

The architectural remains of this vast Buddhist monastery covers about 27 acres.

It was an important intellectual centre for Dharmic Traditions such as Buddhists (Buddha Dharma), Jains (Jaina Dharma) and Hindus (Sanatana Dharma) alike.

The 21 acre (85,000 mē) complex has 177 cells, viharas, numerous stupas, temples and a number of other ancillary buildings. The outside walls with ornamental terracotta plaques still display the in-fluence of these three religions.

Apart from the central temple in the courtyard of the monastery there are many other small building remains, which were built in different phases of occupation.

The important ones are a number of votive stupas of various sizes and shapes, a model of the central shrine, five shrines, kitchen and refectory, masonry drain, and wells. Still there are some structures whose features could not be ascertained.

As many as 63 stone sculptures were found fixed in the basement of the temple, belonging to different periods. The terracotta plaques play the most predominant part in the scheme of decoration of the walls of the temple. There are more than 2,000 plaques that still decorate the faces of the walls and about 800 loose ones have been registered. The discovery of an inscribed copper-plate and some stone inscriptions has helped to determine the chronology of the different periods. The copper-plate found in the northeast corner of the monastery is dated as old as 159 Gupta Era (479 AD). Besides, a variety of numerous ancient coins, metal images, and pottery were also found.

A number of monasteries grew up during the Pla period in ancient Bengal and Magadha. The excavation in Paharpur, and the finding of seals bearing the inscription Shri-Somapure-Shri-Dharmapala-deva-Mahavihariyarya-bhiksu-sangghasya, has identified the Somapura Mahavihara as built by the second Pala king Dharmapala (circa 781-821) of Pla Dynasty.

The Nalanda inscription of Vipulashrimitra records that the monastery was destroyed by fire during a conquest by the Vanga army in the 11th century, assumed to be an army of the Varman rulers. About a century later the vihara was renovated and a temple of Tara was added. The restoration work was alluded to as jagatang netraika vishrama bhuh (a singular feast to the eyes of the world).

Many Tibetan monks visited the Somapura between 9th and 12th centuries.
During the rule of the Sena dy-nasty, known as Karnatades-hatagata Brahmaksatriya, in the second half of the 12th century the vihara started to de-cline for the last time. It was finally abandoned during the 13th century, when the area came under Muslim occupation.

Somapur Mohavihara at Pa-harpur is about 270 km by road from Dhaka and it will take about 6 hours to reach Paharpur by bus/taxi/private car if no major stoppage is ma-de along the way. If one sta-rts from Dhaka, the route shall be Dhaka-Sa-var-Chandra- Tangail-Jamu-na Bridge - Hati-kamrul - Bogra - Joypurhat - Pa-harpur. The best way to tour the site is to first reach Bogra and visit Mahasthangarh and stay at Parjatan Hotel at night and then hire a taxi to go to Paharpur via Joypurhat on the next day. There are a couple of other good hotel options at Bogra including the posh Hotel Naz Garden, Hotel Sie-sta, etc. Somapur Bihar is about 68 km from Bogra via Joypur-hat and it will take about two hours to reach the site by taxi.
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