Visit the Intriguing Somapura Mahavira

Somapura Mahavira (Great Monastery) is a Buddhist monastery situated in the Rajshahi District in the north of Bangladesh. It was commissioned to be built by the Pala Emperor Dharmapala and was completed in 810 AD. The development of Mahayana Buddhism in Bengal from the seventh century onwards is evident in Somapura Mahavira. Although no longer occupied, the monastery has served as an important intellectual center which, in the past, was used in turn by Buddhists, Jains and Hindus.

Covering almost 27 acres of land, Somapura Mahavira is one of the largest monasteries south of the Himalayas. The design is considered to be greatly influenced by Buddhist architecture found in Java and Cambodia. It also has the distinction of being one of the few Buddhist monasteries that survived the Muslim invasion of South Asia.

The monastery has a quadrangular shape, with a huge temple in the courtyard centre and 177 monastic cells lining the four sides of the enclosure walls, as well as 92 altars of worship. The layout of the temple, along with the terracotta plaques and decorative carved stones, is a clear indication of the religious function of the building. A courtyard within the walls of Somapura Mahavira has the remains of a traditional Buddhist stupa. There are numerous remains of sacred shrines and other objects scattered throughout the grounds, bearing testimony to the influences of the three main religions that occupied the monastery at different times in the past.

In the early 19th century, British scholar Buckman Hamilton studied the remains of Somapura Mahavira, which resulted in it becoming a tourist attraction worthy of preserving. Somapura Mahavira was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1985, confirming its worth in a number of aspects as set out in the selection criteria. For a site to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List it must be considered to be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria. Somapura Mahavira met three out of the ten criteria, including being representative of a masterpiece of human creative genius.

Bangladesh has numerous places of interest to visit, making it a popular destination for adventurous travelers. Somapura Mahavira certainly qualifies as a place of interest that tourists should make a point of visiting.