1,000-year-old Buddhist temple found in Bangladesh with links to venerated ancient scholar
The remains of an estimated 1,000-year-old temple and city have been found in Munshiganj District’s Bikrampur, one of the oldest archaeological sites in Bangladesh.
According to The Daily Star, an ancient Buddhist temple featuring unique architectural elements has been discovered 23 feet (seven meters) beneath the ground. Buddhist history sites the grounds as where Atish Dipankar (980-1053) is thought to have spent his early life. Dipankar is known as a venerated Buddhist scholar and philosopher born over a thousand years ago.
Portrait of Atish Dipankar (Atisha) From a Kadampa monastery,Tibet. Circa 1100. Public Domain
The Daily Star reports that archaeology professor Sufi Mustafizur Rahman of Jahangirnagar University, and research director of the project spoke at a press conference about the temple and excavation project.
In 2015 Rahman said, “This is one of the oldest archaeological sites in our country. We have collected a number of samples from here. After conducting carbon dating on them, we will be able to gather more information about the time when these structures were built.” And recently Xinhua has reported that the carbon-14 tests on 26 relics from the site have proven that it is more than 1,100 years old.
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A team of archaeologists from China and Bangladesh have continued excavations which began in 2013. The joint project, involving the Agrashar Vikrampur Foundation in collaboration with Hunan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of China, has unearthed the ancient city and the buried temple. In addition, several stupas (mounded spiritual sites, usually containing Buddhist relics) and a 10 foot (three meters) wide wall have been found – the first of their kinds found in the country’s history of archaeological excavations.
The Great Stupa at Sanchi, India. (Fourth - first century BCE). Joel Suganth/Wikimedia Commons
Professor Rahman said digs have also revealed two roads made of brick laid in an ‘attractive architectural design’ and many other archaeological relics, writes Bangladesh news website, BDNews24. Pottery items and ash pits have also been unearthed, denoting a busy urban area.
As of 2018, hundreds of local and foreign tourists are seen at the site daily. Meanwhile, excavations are still underway by the joint team of Bangladeshi and Chinese archaeologists. Despite the archaeological significance of the site, there has been some delay in excavations over the years. The biggest problems? Funding and access to newer technology. Shahnaj Husne Jahan, of the Center for Archaeological Studies at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, believes the site could become a world heritage location – if conservation work is completed to a high enough level. She also has stated that the site could “be the heart of Buddhist heritage tourism in this part of the world.”
Bikrampur itself is an historic locale of Bengal, a South Asian region known for its rich literary and cultural heritage. It is considered the oldest capital of Bengal since the Vedic Period.
During Emperor Dharmapala’s regime around 820 A.D, approximately 30 monasteries were built in the area. The region is said to have been the ancient center of Buddhist scholarship, with thousands of professors and students journeying to Bikrampur from as far away as Thailand, Nepal, China and Tibet.
The city and temple at the known Buddhist site with its strong links to ancient Buddhist scholar Atish Dipankar, makes archaeologists from both Bangladesh and China hopeful that further investigations will shed light on Atish Dipankar’s life and the history of Buddhism in the region. Rahman notes the evidence points to a ‘rich civilization’ in ancient Bikrampur.
Featured Image: The Bikrampur temple, estimated to be 1,000 years old. Bangladesh. Credit: Agrashar Vikrampur Foundation
By Liz Leafloor