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The rich history of Buddhism in Bengal

  • Published at 01:13 pm October 8th, 2017
  • Last updated at 04:01 pm October 10th, 2017
The rich history of Buddhism in Bengal
This is a sleek, coffee table hardback with glossy papers and fascinating binding that makes you open it up and once you do so, you find a wealth of well-researched information about the history of Buddhism in Bangladesh. Published by Karunangshu Barua from Nymphea Publication and edited by Bulbul Ahmed, it contains seventeen essays on several aspects of Buddhism along with rich photographs of many archaeological sites that still bear the proud marks of Buddhism in this country. It is believed that Buddhism had started its journey with the birth of Buddha in 623 BC. Bangladesh had a rich heritage of Buddhism from the early times when diverse religions and cultures co-existed. This compilation contains not only the history of Buddhism in Maynamoti (Comilla), Naogaon, Norshingdi, Mohasthangarh (Bogra), but it also has well-preserved inscriptional records of Buddhism on stones, copper-plates, manuscript paintings, stone stabs, terracotta works and the last fifteen years’ discovery of a number of sites and materials of ancient Buddhism with photographs.
One of the main objectives of the book, they explain, is to document Buddhist history in Bangladesh
The foreword by Enamul Haque, Chairman, International Centre for Study of Bengal Art, and the introduction by Bulbul Ahmed basically put the project into perspective. One of the main objectives of the book, they explain, is to document Buddhist history in Bangladesh. Any religion’s most revered public symbols are its prayer structures. The pictures of Buddhist temples and monasteries in Dhaka, Chittagong and other parts of the country along with their architectural features strengthen our belief that Buddhism once had periods of dominance in Bangladesh. The picturesque compilation has nicely framed the Buddhist festivals as well – Buddha Purnima (Full Moon of Vaisak), Pavarana, Magha Puja (Full Moon of Magh), Katin Chibardana (Yellow Robes Offering Ceremony) etc. To enrich our understanding of Buddhism through visuals, the wide range of photographs incorporates wonderful images of a mediating Buddha sitting in different mudras in sculptures collected from different places and Buddhist temples in Bangladesh. Dharmarajika Buddhist Vihara at Kamlapur in Dhaka, Misripara Buddhist Temple at Kuakata in Patuakhali, Khyang at Rajbana Vihara in Rangamati, Zero Mile Oprajita Buddhist Khyang in Khagrachari, Ram Jodi Temple in Bandarban, Buddha Dhatu Jadi (Golden Temple) in Bandarban and many more Buddhist temples extended their assistance to make this unique project a success. A huge number of artifacts – especially seals and terracotta plates portraying human body and different animals sitting in different mudras  have been discovered from various Buddhist viharas – Bihar Dhap, Bhasu Vihara, Salban Vihara and Mahasthangarh of Bogra district, and Paharpur Vihara of Naogaon district, among others. Along with photographs of rich terracotta plates, seals and sealings, meanings of many of these have been discussed in the accompanying articles which made this compilation a book worth reading. The chapter “Terracotta Ornamentation” reveals that South Asia, especially Bangladesh, is the pioneer of terracotta ornamentation. Samples of terracotta from the 6th and 13th centuries have also been photographically presented. It is interesting to note that in terracotta imagery, deities in various mudras, the Gandharva couple, deer, warriors, lion, peacock, elephant hunting etc. are found in these Viharas. These terracotta symbols do tell stories – from folk to religious. Later on, the art of terracotta carried itself through both Hindu and Muslim architectures till the mid-nineteen century. Bangladesh can take pride in the fact that it has a rich collection of Buddhist sculptures. However, many of these do not conform to the dhyanas mentioned by religious advocates of Buddhism. Under the sub-heading of “Obscure specimens of local origin,” interpretations of these controversial historical pieces have been discussed in “Iconographical Survivals.”
Buddhist Heritage of Bangladesh is an ambitious project that aims to cover almost all aspects of a religion – theoretical, practical and theological
Buddhist Heritage of Bangladesh is an ambitious project that aims to cover almost all aspects of a religion – theoretical, practical and theological. The earliest sample of Buddhist writing, Tripitaka, describes Buddha’s lifestyle and its three sections. The three sections of the sacred book of Buddhism – Vinaya Pitaka, the Sutta Pitaka, and the Abhidhamma Pitaka – which contain theological discourses, stories and accounts of Buddha’s previous births are briefly discussed in “Theological Advent and Evolution.” It also includes discussions on the Mahayana order which started from the famous Bangladeshi bhikkhus. One of them is Dipankara Srijnana who preached the Buddhist ritualistic order in foreign countries. Understanding Buddhism entails understanding its manuscript paintings in which can be found some of Buddhism’s most profound and enigmatic symbols. Though a number of these miniatures on Buddhist manuscripts are found in Bangladesh, ancient paintings from this region are rare. Different aspects of existing manuscript paintings have been discussed in “Manuscript Painting.” This book has a chapter on Buddhist forms of drama which have their roots in ancient dramatic traditions of Bangladesh. A good number of them were very well-known mainly because they were largely based on Buddha’s theological and ideological teachings through dance and music. Discussions on Buddhist mystic songs, Charyagiti, which later shaped a great deal of Bangla literature, are illuminating. The essays also introduce us to a good number of Bengali Buddhist scholars, preachers and philosophers – Silabhadra, Santaraksita, Chandragomin, Kamalasila, Dipankara Srijnana and Ramacandra Kavibharati, among others, who have shaped Buddhism in India and abroad through preaching. Writers who have contributed essays include Rudra Prasad Samaddar, Bulbul Ahmed, Md Asaduzzaman, Mohammad Abu Al Hasan, Shameem Aminur Rahman and Sharmin Rezowana, among others. Buddhism is a philosophy, a secular approach to life. It is a religion which is still alive in Bangladesh. This book offers readers a complete perspective on Buddhism in Bangladesh, from its rich history to its present ailment. This is a must-have book for all libraries, whether personal or public.
The writer is a journalist.