|Bhitagorh , Panchagarh|
The recognition that, for over two, perhaps three, thousand years the South West Silk Road runs through Bangladesh makes it possible to attempt to explain other mysteries.
What, for example, was the role of Bangladesh in the development of Buddhism?
There seems little doubt that The Buddha, himself, preached in Bangladesh. Chinese visitors in 3rd and 6th Centuries both note the Stupas and Pillars erected by the Emperor Ashoka in 3rd Century BCE, to mark places where he preached. And why wouldn’t he? Quite apart from the proximity of the lands to his own birthplace in Nepal ( at its closest point, Bangladesh is separated from Nepal by 10km), his first great convert, ally and patron, was King Bimbisara of Magadgha, whose lands included much of the land of Bangladesh up to Brahmaputra river.
It is clear that Ashoka played a part in the evolution of Mahasthangarh, one of a growing number of large and ancient cities emerging from the ground in Bangladesh. And brickwork of his period has been found to underlie Paharpur, the World Heritage site that is the ruin of the largest Buddhist community in South Asia.
It seems reasonable to suppose that the environment was not only conducive to the development of the religion, but to the great Vihara already uncovered at Mainamarti, Paharpur, Mahasthangarh, and City States at Kishoreganj, Vikrampur, Wari Beteshwar and Bhitagarh, with excavations ongoing at Noagaon, where one of the most famous of Indian Vihara recorded now seems identified, and in Narshingdhi, being the centres in which it developed.
|Mahasthangarh , Bogura|
It was, no doubt, the great wealth that the Silk Road trade engendered that could support such development, as well as the atmosphere of tolerance and non persecution that was, of course, essential to maintaining the peace in which trade flourishes.
It seems equally likely that it was this Silk Road that was one of the major routes by which the religion spread, into China, Korea and Japan, and since there is evidence of early trade with such as Malaysia, from where tin travelled to China for its great Bronze Age of more than 1,000 years BCE, and recorded trade in gems with such as Java and Sumatra, to the South east Asian countries as well.
A fascinating find at Wari Bateshwar was of a bronze dish, engraved with Buddhist, animist and shamanic symbols, a fusion that lies at the origins of Shinto, the state religion of Japan.
A Terracotta frieze at Paharpur shows people, very evidently in variations of Lotus position for meditation, a development of Vajrayana Buddhism, which, probably a fusion of Hindu and Buddhist tradition, was the origin of Yogacara. From which stems an almost universal practice of Yoga as a de- stressing exercise around the world today.
|Itakhola Murapara , Comilla|
It is likely that Tibet, now regarded as the home of Tantric Buddhism, as these exotic forms of meditation are known, as well as more exotic practices, actually received them from the Vikrampur born Monk, Atish Dippanker, revered in Buddhism as the ‘Second Buddha’.
He was invited to leave the school of 8,000 students from across the known world, at Vikrampur (now Munshiganj, close to Dhaka, and on the banks of The Brahmaputra), to go to Tibet, in the middle of 10th Century.
Travelling, no doubt, by Brahamaputra and Teesta rivers, he is known to have visited the birthplace of the Buddha, and then crossed into Tibet, where he is reputed to have restored Buddhism as the religion of the people.
In India itself, and even in Nepal, the centuries after the Magadha Kingdom, and Ashoks, were, for more than a thousand years alternating periods of support and patronage, and persecution.
|Eight petal-terracotta lotus-Lotus-Temple-Wari-Bateshwar-Narshingdi|
In Bangladesh, the peace and tolerance engendered by a great preoccupation with immensely valuable trade, provided an environment for development and growth, and facilitated a closer relationship with Hindu beliefs that are so fundamental to much of Buddhist practice. It seems more than likely that Bangladesh was, in fact, the cradle of Buddhism!