to its geographical situation the entire region of Bengal, including
the Paharpur Buddhist Vihara, has been one of the vital links
between India and Southeast Asia since ancient times.
the flourishing of trade and cultural exchange Buddhism entered
from India in the 5th century and its religious influence gradually
region witnessed the ascendance of the Pala Dynasty in the 8th
century, whose rule continued until the 12th century. The first
King Gopala of the Pala Dynasty established a unified power in
the Bengal region. Then the most prominent political power in
India at that time was achieved under the rule of the succeeding
second King Dharmapala. Later, in the period of the third King
Devapala, the region experienced the peak of its prosperity.
attained its last major developments in India at that time under
these Pala Dynasty Kings, who embraced and protected the Buddhist
ideals. The successive kings established many Buddhist temples.
The Vikrashiya temple in the Bihar State of northern India and
the Paharpur Buddhist Vihara were built under the second King
Dharmapala. It is said that when Buddhism was the prevailing religion
in the area, practicing Buddhist monks gathered in their endeavours
for enlightenment, but Buddhism itself was gradually being forced
out by the increasing influence of the Hinduism and it started
to show signs of decline.
of the rise of Mahayana Buddhism in Bengal from the 7th century
onwards, this monastery, known as Somapura Mahavira, the Great
Monastery, was a renowned intellectual centre until the 17th century.
Its layout perfectly adapted to its religious function, this monastery-city
represents a unique artistic achievement which influenced Buddhist
architecture as far away as Cambodia, with its simple and harmonious
lines and its many carved decorations.
monastery is distinguished by its unique uniform style of architecture.
The terracotta plaques of musicians, snake charmers and animal,
etc., decorating the outer walls of the temple depict the life
of common people who lived a thousand years ago.
Then with the advancing influence of the Islam from the last part
of the 12th century to the 13th century, the Buddhism in this
area reached its point of devastation. The ruins of the Buddhist
Vihara were discovered by Buchanan Hamilton, who visited the site
in the early 19th century whilst surveying this area for the East
India Company. After that Alexander Cunningham, the first Director
of the Archaeological Survey of India and often called "the father
of the Indian Archaeology", had a plan to excavate the Vihara
in 1879, but the landlord did not give him his permission.
1923 the excavation was started at last by the initiative of the
Archaeological Survey of India. This excavation continued until
1934 and the devoted work of K. N. Dikshit, one of the senior
officers of the Survey, and others achieved the tremendous result
to clarify the whole structure of the Vihara. Continued excavation
and conservation activities showed that the degradation was becoming
a problem, so the Government of Bangladesh started to request
assistance and contribution to such kinds of activities from international
resources. At the 21st UNESCO General Conference held in November
1980, a resolution was adopted to take up the ruins of the Buddhist
Vihara at Paharpur and the Historic Mosque City of Bagerhat, Bangladesh,
as target heritage sites for the UNESCO's international campaign
to safeguard the cultural heritage. In accordance with this decision
a UNESCO mission visited Bangladesh from February through March
1982 with the support of the United Nations Development Programme
(UNDP) and a master plan for the conservation of both heritage
sites was completed in 1983. The international safeguarding campaign
officially commenced in 1985 when Paharpur Buddhist Vihara was
included in the World Heritage List.