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Buddhism in Bengal - Everything you need to know and beyond

Known for its rich, ancient Buddhist legacy, Bengal was a popular center of early Buddhist traditions. During the emergence of the Mahayana and Vajrayana religious institutions, the area had a stronghold over the historic Buddhist Mauryan and Palan kingdoms. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the medieval Buddhist Kingdom of Mrauk U ruled over South-Eastern Bengal. The British Raj had an impact on the development of modern communities. Bengali Buddhists now practice Theravada Buddhism.


Ancient Bengal was an important hub of Buddhist schooling, art, and hegemony; indeed, Buddhism is the foundation of Bengal's ethnic and linguistic heritage—Charyapada, the oldest poem-song in Bengali, was arranged by Buddhists Sahajiya Siddhacharyas or monk-gurus. As per modern scholars, Dharma in Bengali signifies "Bauddha Dharma" (Buddhadharma) or Buddhism, and Dharmapuja implies "Buddha Puja" or Buddha worship. When Buddhism began to deteriorate in various parts of India, it sought refuge in Bengal.


Voyagers and pilgrims have long wished to visit Bengal's marvelous monasteries, stupas, chaityas (prayer halls), and historic places of teaching. Such travelers have been a useful resource and provide interesting evidence in their travel books throughout the ages. If we all just study archaeological evidence from Buddhism's past, we may reach false inferences because the life force of Buddhism or the Buddha's knowledge cannot be interpreted correctly unless Buddhist scriptures, literature, paintings, and sculptures are also studied relatively.


Heritage sites of Buddhism in Bengal


  • Tamralipti - As the story goes, a Chinese Buddhist monk, theologian, and interpreter Xuanzang visited the historic port city of Tamralipti, considered to be one of the most essential Buddhist dynasties. He came across ten monasteries, each housing 1,000 monks. Tamluk, a newer town in Midnapur District, now stands where Tamralipti first stood.

     

  • Raktam Mahavihara - Shashanka, the first self-governing king of Bengal, prevailed over the kingdom of Gouda, and Karnasubarna was his capital town. It encloses the remnants of Raktamrittika Mahavihar's ancient institution, which Xuanzang visited. He noticed that Raktamrittika Mahavihara was a vital learning center for Vajrayana Buddhism. A vast amount of archaeologically significant relics, such as stucco heads and seals containing Buddhist symbols, were discovered at the site.


  • Jagjibanpur - Residents discovered a copper plate adorned with a royal seal at the Jagjibanpur monastery on the Eastern outskirts of Malda District, right on the border of Bangladesh. Upon surveyance, archaeologists found five important mounds all across Jagjivanpur, namely in the sites, Tulabhita, Akhridanga, Nimdanga, Nandangarh, and Maibhita. Tulabhita, the largest and most remarkable of the sites, was the first to be excavated, and a vast brick monastery facility was unearthed. According to archaeologists, the monastery resembles the great Vikramsila Mahavihara. Additionally, archaeological findings recorded the presence of a bronze image of a seated Buddha portraying the Bhumisparsha mudra, as well as a mental image of the deity Marichi and a huge number of terracotta seals, plaques, semi-precious beads, and terracotta pot shards.


  • Dum Dum Excavations - This excavation is significant in the development of Bengal's Buddhist legacy, and it has yielded so much proof that the heritage of Bengal, or more specifically, the history of nearby Kolkata, may have been re-written. The appearance of the East India Company administrator Job Charnock brought out dominated discussions about Kolkata's origins.  Traces of urban settlements were found that were a close resemblance to those of Chandraketugarh.


  • Mogalmari - Mogalmari, recognized as an ancient medieval Buddhist settlement, is home to evidence of this area’s long and rich history. Moghalmari Monastery, also widely recognized as Bandaka Monastery, was recorded in the travel journal of the monk Xuangzang was one of the most intriguing archaeological evidence. Six excavations have thus far discovered West Bengal's biggest monastery complex. A vast amount of medieval coins with Buddhist scriptures, pottery and embellished bricks, brick stupas, and Buddha and bodhisattva figures have also been discovered.


FAQs: 


Q1. Who was responsible for the onset of Buddhism in Bengal? 


The Khadga lineage is said to be the first Buddhist dynasty to gain power over Bengal. Their rule marked the beginning of the rise of the Pala Empire in India. Their reign helped in bringing Buddhism to the Bengal region. 


Q2. How many sects does Buddhism have? 


Buddhism has 3 sects, namely, Mahayana, Vajrayana, and Theravada. According to the followers of Buddhism, these three traditions are ‘vehicles’ to lead devotees down the path of enlightenment.