Somapura Vihara - A UNESCO World Heritage Archaeological Site
After spending days visiting one temple after the next, you may find yourself wondering if you really want to see any more temples during your stay in Bangladesh. If that is how you feel, be assured that no trip to Bangladesh is quite complete without a visit to the little known but incredibly impressive Somapura Vihara.
What is it that makes Somapura Vihara such a great attraction? For starters: its size. It is generally thought that this Buddhist Monastery was the largest monastery to be found to the south of the Himalayas. The archaeological site covers some 11 hectares (27 acres) of ground and is so large that before it was found locals thought it was simply a big hill. That is why the nearby village is known as Paharpur – the name is Bengalese for “hill town”. Another factor that makes it impressive is its age: the Somapuri Vihara monastery dates back to the 8th century. The monastery is located in the northwest of Bangladesh in Paharpur and its strikingly large structure stands out above the surrounding developments from quite a distance. Unfortunately the monastery is not in perfect condition, but the ruins are fairly well cared for and you will get a good idea of what might have once been. The religious edifice was built as a quadrangle that measured about 280 meters on each side. Each of the four outer wings contained monastic cells that number 177 when counted together. The monastery complex also contained a water pit, a kitchen and a number of stupas. The center of the vast courtyard was the perfect location for the monastery shrine – a 21 meter high structure that features three gradually shrinking terraces. Impressive when you consider the sort of crude instruments that must have been made to create all of it. The walls are made of burnt bricks – some of which have been decorated with motifs of seated Buddhas or flowers. Terracotta plaques have been placed in rows around the terraces as part of the decorations.
This impressive monument to the Buddhist faith was in use until about the 12th century when it was abandoned after the monks living here suffered numerous attacks by invaders. With no-one left to sweep the courtyards and fix the brickwork, the buildings suffered a steady decline until they eventually became buried by grass and dirt. This impressive sight has been a World Heritage Site since 1985, but still it receives much less attention than it is due. The nearby village is vibrant and busy and the museum displays a number of interesting artifacts and original ornaments found at Somapura Vihara. You should definitely make the most of your stay in Bangladesh and visit this great heritage site!