Amidst the thronging crowds of commuting garment workers in Savar, is the centre of garment manufacturing in a country which is one of the world’s major suppliers of ‘affordable fashions’.It comes as something of a surprise to find, certainly one, and probably two, ancient Buddhist Viharas in this region .
The teeming outskirts of Dhaka, destined, the statisticians say, to become the world’s largest metropolis within a decade, these ‘secluded places in which to walk’, as a literal translation from Pali, and their term for monastery, may seem an odd place for such an establishment.
Vihara were both a dwelling place for monks, a place for study, and, of course, meditation, and teaching, as well as transmission of such teaching. Like monasteries of other religions across the world, they were also traditional places to offer hospitality to travellers, partly as a way of financing them. Relying on the patronage of wealthy devotees, and even rulers, was certainly a common prerequisite for establishment, but hospitality and commerce were the bread and butter of sustenance, especially for a belief group who eschewed wealth for its own sake.
And Bangladesh, of course, as one of the ancient trading centres of the world, was certainly a magnet for travellers from ancient times; just as Savar , today, is once again a magnet for garment buyers from across the world.
Over 60 sites have so far been suggested, explored or excavated in unearthing the very strong Buddhist tradition that existed since the time of Prince Gautama himself, who almost certainly spent time and preached in the lands of Bangladesh. Almost certainly more such sites per square kilometre of land than anywhere else in the world.
In Savar, there is certainly one such site of a fairly substantial Vihara, and what looks suspiciously like another, although even the more substantial site is identified, clearly erroneously, as the palace of one Haris Chandra, a mediaeval local monarch, and described on the location board as ‘Harischandra Mound’. Its distinctive form , however, of rows and tiers of monastic cells leaves little doubt about its true nature, and some excavation has turned up Buddhist art and sculpture.
The Islamic raiders along the ancient trade routes of the 12th and 13th Century, even before finally seizing control of the mouth of the Brahmaputra River, the entry to the great trade routes, were focused on looting and leveling these establishments, and, clearly, a belief set that opposes the taking of life was in no great position to defend itself. However, so substantial were so many of these establishments it will take more to eradicate them. Though it seems, sometimes, that local people make great efforts in that direction!