Dhaka Monday August 04, 2003
Gateway to Buddhist antiquity
THE biggest single and significant Buddhist vihara, south of the Himalayas, is Paharpur in Naogaon, near the border of Joypurhat. According to inscriptions, Paharpur, previously known as Somapura vihara, was built by the great Pala emperor Dharmapala (770-810).
This huge quadrangular monastery with 177 monastic cells enclosing the courtyard and numerous votive stupas, minor chapels, extensive ancillary buildings on 22 acres is dominated by a lofty pyramidal cruciform vihara in the centre.
The main monastery of Paharpur is cruciform in style, striking a new style of architecture introduced for the first time to ancient Asia.
basement wall of the vihara is adorned with 63 exclusive stone images,
most of them belong to the Brahmanical Pantheon. The rich variety
of terracotta art of the vihara with approximately 2,100 unique pieces
including 900 still in situ, has make it distinct, although the plaques
may not have the finest quality or artistic excellence. They are rather
crude and simple.
Well-known stories from Panchatantra and Jataka and scenes from great epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana are also portrayed. The simplicity of non-elite people, human and animal motifs, floral and geometric decoration and divine and semi-divine beings represents the social dynamics and prevailing folk art of Bengal.
Available epigraphic records have shown that cultural and social life of the Somapura vihara was closely linked with the Nalanda Mahavihara at Magadha.
In 1968, Paharpur has been declared as National Cultural Heritage Property protected under the Antiquity Act 1968 (amended in 1976). In 1985, UNESCO has declared Paharpur Buddhist Vihara as World Heritage Site (WHS) [criteria: C (i) (ii) (vi)] under convention 1972.
"Evidence of the rise of Mahayana Buddhism in Bengal from the 7th century onwards, Somapura Mahavira, or the Great Monastery, was a renowned intellectual centre until the 12th century.
layout perfectly adapted to its religious function, the monastery-city
represents a unique artistic achievement.
|(C) The Daily Star, 2003.|