Thursday, March 31, 2011


Bhitagarh , Panchagarh
Every year, archaeologists reveal yet more of the very tangible evidence of the history of Buddhism in Bangladesh.
Slowly, the great flood plains are giving up their secrets, the latest being just outside Narshingdhi town just north of Dhaka, where only the beginnings of what promises to be the fifth major site in the country has begun to be excavated.
Bhitagarh , Panchagarh
The tangible history of the religion, in this, near neighbour to the birthplace of Prince Gautama, is very manifest in sites such as Mahasthangarh, Paharpur, Bhitagarh, and Mainamati. The first three of those are all in North Bengal, where there are also signs of other Buddhist establishments.
Chinese visitors, in the 7th Century CE, commented on the number of stupa and pillars observed whilst travelling through the lands of Bangladesh, erected by Emperor Ashoka, the 3rd Century Mauryan Emperor, to mark places that The Buddha himself preached.
Itakhola , Comilla
Indeed, some historians believe that the post Ashoka period saw the first of the Brahmanic persection of Buddhists in what is now India. In those last centuries BCE, and the first centuries of the Common Era it seems likely that the intensity of the development of such as Bhitagarh, and World Heritage Paharpur and Mainamati, as well as the development of already ancient Mahasthangarh, was due to Buddhists seeking refuge from such purges in lands that were less surely Vedic.
Itakhola , Comilla
Emerging evidence from the Narshingdhi excavation, located on the banks of the once enormous Brahmaputra River, with suggestion of the  ancient trade between China and South Asia and the West, also raises questions about the routes by which Buddhism reached China, Central Asia, and beyond into Japan.
Tradition has it that the mountain route to Tibet was the path, but access from North India was certainly seasonally more practical on the Bangladesh, Assam, Upper Burma route.
Mahastahgarh , Bogra
Even later, the early Islamic invaders of Bangladesh lands seem to have been more tolerant of the Buddhist tradition, perhaps, in part, because, themselves markedly educated people, inclined to scholarship, they appreciated the high level of scholarship amongst the Buddhists.
It is further suggested that, it was in that environment, that Tantric Buddhism developed, as a form of meditation offering the prospect of more rapid enlightenment.
Mahastahgarh , Bogra
Vajrayana, the name given to this more radical branch of Buddhism, itself a branch of Mahayana Buddhism, was almost certainly the originator of Yogacara.
Hindus offer the theory that such an advanced form of meditation originated within that religion, and it is certain that there was always a close connection between, particularly, Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism, but the attitude of the Brahman caste has been consistently hostile from those earliest times.
Traditional Hindu religious beliefs have their own scriptures and culture, closer, perhaps, in its purity, to the somewhat conservative Theraveda branch of Buddhist belief and teaching.
It may well be a long time before all the evidence can be revealed in Bangladesh. Both the nature of the terrain, with its severe annual flooding that has certainly engulfed most low lying remains, such as Bhitagarh, and the arrival of Islam as a serious force from 11th Century CE, which has slowly driven both Hindu and Buddhist traditions to the margins of the country, have tended to conceal much of what it is reasonable to theorise from existing and circumstantial evidence. But it can already be said that rich, tangible remains of a great Buddhist culture certainly dating back to the earliest years of the religion can be readily seen in Bangladesh.

No comments:

Post a Comment