Monday, May 21, 2012

Atish Dipankar’s Vihara, Dholagaon, Vikrampur, Bangladesh?

Excavation at Vikrampur, Bangladesh

One of the country’s leading archaeologists has described the vanished city of Vikrampur, at the junction of many rivers that flow into the tidal waters of the Delta, as being represented by ‘over 17 Unions(parishes), you put your spade in the ground and find 18 inches of mud, then brick’.

Digging through mud and brick to unearth Bangladesh's History

Clearly this ancient city, capitol of a large area of historic Bengal, under the benign influence of Buddhist and Hindu kings, then Islamic overlords, was once something of a booming city and trading centre.

Little of which any casual search on Google (who insist on the interchangeable Bhikrampur) would reveal.
One major fact in the city’s history, however, does stand out. That it was both the birthplace and home of Atish Dipankar, widely known in Tibet as ‘The Second Buddha’.
Pagoda built by the People's Republic of China to recognize the contributions of  Atish Dipankar

The Government of the People’s Republic of China have built a Pagoda and Auditorium to commemorate Dipankar’s ‘Social work in China’ close by the present excavation site in Vikrampur.

In the middle of the 11th Century, it is said that, whilst principal of a large Vihara in Vikrampur with over 8,000 students from across the Buddhist world including China, Japan, Cambodia, Sumatra, Sri Lanka and Thailand, Dipankar was invited by the King of Tibet to go to travel to his kingdom and help restore the Buddhist faith that had fallen into decay.
Could this be the great Vihara of Atish Dipankar?

That he succeeded in this restoration is clear from his nickname as well as Tibet’s current status as the home of Tantra and Yoga, both elements of the liberal Mahayana School of Buddhism.  In fact, the Mahayana School probably developed in the great monastic and teaching tradition of the more than 350 Vihara whose remains are scattered through Bangladesh, as is one of the few Ashokan Pillars marking where the Buddha himself taught.
Archaeologists work to unearth the history of this fascinating site.

Archaeologists in Bangladesh are presently engaged in slowly, lacking as they do many of the modern resources available to the science around the world, excavating what seems to be a huge vihara not far from the site identified as the birthplace of Dipankar.
With solid brick walls, appearing to be the result of at least two periods of development, dating prior to the 11th Century and measuring in many cases more than 3 or 4 feet thick, as well as some small pieces of Basalt sculpture and a great deal of pottery yet to be evaluated, archaeologists believe they may have finally found Dipankar’s great vihara.
Excavation at Vikrampur is slow work thanks to a lack of modern tools

However, as noticed at Mainamati and many other such sites, vihara come ‘not as single spies’ but in fact by the dozen.  This excavation then may just be the start of a lengthy process. With so little resource and so much to do, compounded by the exponential rate of urban development in this nation with a rapidly growing population, there is always the risk that much of this great history will never again see the light of day.
Categorizing bits of pottery and brick found at Vikrampur, Bangladesh.

An interesting addition to this site, which may well be built over fairly soon, is what appears to be the remains of, perhaps, a Jain Temple, adjoining a nearby British Period farmhouse.

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