Ramu, once the centre of a large administrative division of the ancient Kingdom of Arakan, and clearly marked by name on the Ptolemaic map of the Ganges Delta drawn in the 2nd Century CE, is still one of the centres of the Buddhist religion that once dominated Bangladesh, and appears to have coexisted peacefully alongside both the emerging Hindu religion and the Jain faith that emerged more or less alongside it in the lands of the Ganges basin.
Despite the ‘Islamification’ of the area, especially since the partition of 1947, in which it became a part of the Sunni Muslim dominated secular state of Bangladesh, Buddhism continues to be the belief set of many of the rural poor, especially those from the tribal groups who have lived in the area for millennia.
In the town of Ramu itself, which betrays little of its ancient origins, and it’s probably role as a major centre of trade, there are still a number of old Temples.
The fine, simple structure of Lamarpara Buddhist Temple, or Buddha Bihar, has been enriched by the 50 year old addition of a fine reclining Buddha, and is inhabited by both monks and bikkhu, the young ‘trainee’ monks.
An early 19th Century structure is not dissimilar, but rather more highly decorated, whilst the mid-19th Century Kawar Khol Buddha Bihar is certainly the most ornate in its fine decor, though exploring the town can certainly turn up further architectural gems, with their accompanying Banyan trees!
It is, perhaps, a little ironic that, whilst the lands of Bangladesh almost certainly saw the development of Buddhism from the earliest times when the Buddha himself almost certainly taught here, and is also where the famous liberal School of Mahayana Buddhism with its Yogic traditions evolved, and from where in the 11th Century Atish Dipankar took it to Tibet when he was asked to assist in restoring Buddhism there, the remnants in the country adhere, firmly, to the more traditional and conservative Theravada School.
Nevertheless, these fine wooden structures, upon which a few remaining traditional homes of community leaders may be modelled, are a treat to visit and explore, the lingering vestiges of an ancient devotion.