Piharpur Vihara - An Ancient Buddhist Temple in Bangladesh


Somapura Mahavihara is the largest Buddhist monastery complex in the Indian subcontinent. It is located in the northern part of Bangladesh, in the town of Paharpur. Archaeologists have been able to explore only the uppermost historical layers of this complex, but they are also dated to 781 AD. Somapura Mahavihara was built by the Buddhist ruler Dharmapala of the Pal dynasty. The monastery was captured in the 9th century, after which it is desolate.

With the advent of Islam in the territory of Bangladesh, the monastery was not rebuilt until, in the 90s, the UNESCO World Heritage Organization drew public attention to the state of the historical monument. Several million dollars were allocated for its initial restoration.

Somapura Mahavihara is a quadrangular pyramidal structure, in the center of which is a traditional stupa. Around it are 177 monastic cells, which form the outer square of the building. Around this complex are several monastery buildings, stupas and small temples of various shapes, stone columns and sculptures forming the second outer square. Around it is another ring of external walls, lined around the perimeter with terracotta tiles and bas-reliefs. The total area of ​​the complex is more than 85,000 square meters.

Phone: +880 2 812 6817

Location: Paharpur Bihar Museum, Naogaon, Bangladesh

Coordinates: N 25.03113400, east 88.97697700

What is vihara

The word vihara itself has Sanskrit and Pali roots:

  • Sanskrit - vihara,
  • Pali - Jinshe
  • in Thai - wihan,
  • in Khmer - Viher.

It was used even when the Theravada monks wandered, lived on alms, and stopped in the refuge only during the rainy season. It was such large temples in which wandering monks lived that were called viharas.

Such monastic monasteries were distinguished by luxury, splendor and grace - they were often built by wealthy people on major roads, trade routes in order to develop and enrich monasteries.

The largest in the entire Indian part of Asia was the vihara in the Bangladeshi town of Paharpur in the northwestern part of the country. She is associated with the activities of an outstanding follower of Buddhist teachings, the Atisha preacher.

A bit of history

The Pakharpur vihara is also known as the Somapura Mahavira, which translates as the Great Monastery. Archaeological research has established that it was erected during the reign of the Buddhist ruler Dharmapala of the Pal dynasty. According to various sources, this era lasted from 770-781 years to 810-821 years of our era.

Somapuru Mahavira can be called a witness to the formation of Buddhist philosophy, its transformation and development in Bengal lands. It was a major educational center that concentrated the knowledge of many generations of monks. With its architecture and forms of construction, the monastery influenced the further construction of Buddhist institutions not only in Bangladesh, but also in neighboring countries.

However, reaching the peak of its development, in the 11th century it burned in fires set up by the conquerors of Wang, originally from India. A few years later, the temple was restored, but Islam, which began to dominate in these parts, nevertheless brought the complex to desolation.

New life in the vihara was breathed in only a few centuries later, when UNESCO in the mid-80s of the last century drew attention to it. It was inscribed on the World Heritage List and allocated more than a million dollars to restore the remaining ruins.


Paharpur vihara had a huge territory - more than 85,000 square meters. On these expanses was a quadrangular wall-structure, slightly climbing upwards in the form of a pyramid.

In the central part of the complex was the main stupa. Monastic cells adjoined to it: 45 from the north side and 44 from all other parts of the world. The total number of cells was 177. In addition, there were annexes and utility rooms.

The common wall and facade of the main buildings were decorated with incredible terracotta tiles, bas-reliefs, stone sculptures, the motives of which formed one ensemble, characteristic of this vihara. Similar artistry was later borrowed in the construction of temples in Cambodia and Indonesia.

Current state

Now, on the site of the once great Somapur Mahavir, there are only ruins, according to the outlines of which you can imagine how the monks lived here more than a thousand years ago. It would seem a miserable sight? No matter how.

According to the admissions of travelers who have visited these parts, unusual energy is still felt in wide open spaces. In the center is still a giant stupa twenty meters high.

The well-groomed garden, which grew on the site of the former walls, attracts tourists, local workers - immigrants from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and neighboring states - and even grazing goats.

This is what makes the landscape original, unforgettable. The monastery is especially beautiful in the morning, at dawn, when there is not a soul around. Overgrown with greenery, the stupa rises among the ruins.

On the external walls, unimaginable sculptural bas-reliefs are still guessed: mythical creatures, figures of deities, animals, for example, a turtle or different types of birds.

If you shoot from above, you can be amazed at the clear geometry, the correctly rugged corners of the buildings. The simple-looking design carries a deep meaning - initially the structure of the vihara was made as a mandala.

Nearby is a museum where holy relics are stored. Among them are fragments of wall sculptures that miraculously survived the statues of Buddha, memorial plates, coins, fragments of bricks, figurines of deities in female and male incarnations, dishes made of clay.

These exhibits are a real time machine that can not only show the past, but also give a sense of local culture through the centuries.


We hope that we managed to at least slightly immerse you in the atmosphere of this unusual monument of history. Today we will dwell on this, but in the following articles we will definitely continue to acquaint you with interesting places in Asia.

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Somapura Mahavihara - Shompur Môhabihar - Vihara in Paharpur.

The largest Buddhist vihara in the Indian subcontinent. Located in Paharpur. In Buddhist tradition, it is associated with the name of the great preacher Atisha.

In the center of the building is a traditional stupa, around which 177 monastic cells are inscribed in a square. The total area of ​​the monument exceeds 85 thousand square meters. meters. The wall surrounding the monastery is lined with terracotta plates with Buddha images.

Archaeologists have established that the vihara was built by the Buddhist ruler Dharmapala (781–821) from the Pal dynasty. In the 11th century, aliens from the west (Wanga) put it to fire. Subsequently, the monastery was rebuilt, but with the advent of Islam in the region, it was finally abandoned.

At the end of the 20th century, UNESCO attracted the attention of the scientific community to the half-forgotten monument of Indian Buddhism and allocated several million dollars for its restoration. In 1985, the great Paharpur vihara was inscribed on the World Heritage List.

Wiki: en: Vihara in Paharpur

  • en: Somapura Mahavihara
  • de: paharpur
  • es: Somapura Mahavihara

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