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about sompur mahavihara

about sompur mahavihara

Somapura Mahavihara (Sanskrit; Bengali: সোমপুর মহাবিহার  Shompur Môhabihar) in Paharpur, Naogaon, Bangladesh (25°1'51.83"N, 88°58'37.15"E) is among the best known Buddhist viharas in the Indian Subcontinent and is one of the most important archaeological sites in the country.


Since its discovery in the early twentieth century the ruins of Sompur Buddhist monastery became the focus of the scholars of the architectural history of Bengal. This mega structure became a landmark in the history of architecture for two reasons. Firstly it marks an important transition between the subconscious and vernacular mode architecture to the most conscious, symbolic and metaphoric mode. Secondly, it represents a particular era when Buddhism had its last stronghold under the royal patronage of the Pala kings and gradually transformed into a more ritualistic practice than the philosophical doctrine as preached by Buddha, which is known as neo-Buddhism or Tantric’ Buddhism. Considering its cultural and historical significance, UNESCO has inscribed it as a World’s Cultural Heritage Site in 1985.


sompur mahavihara [enlarge view]

Existing view of Paharpur [for more pictures click here]



Sompur Mahavihara was one of the major learning centres during the heyday of Buddhism in Bengal under the Pala kings (8th-11th centuries AD). The quadrangular structure consists of 177 cells and a Buddhist temple in the centre. The rooms were used by the monks for accommodation and meditation. In addition to the large number of stupas and shrines of various sizes and shapes, terracotta plaques, stone sculptures, inscriptions, coins, ceramics etc. have been discovered.
The central lofty pyramidal structure lies in the middle of the 22 acres courtyard. The structure rises upward in a tapering mass of three receding terraces, which, even ruins, reaches a height of 23 meters. Each of the terraces has a circum-ambulatory passage around the monument. At the topmost terrace (of the existing ruin) there were four antechambers on the projecting arms of the cross. The overall design of this complicated architecture is cantered on a square hollow shaft, which runs down from the present top of the mound to the level of second terrace.

plan of sompur mahavihara main entry gate image shrine image shrine central temple/central shrine service [enlarge view]

Plan of Sompur Mahavihara at Paharpur




Sompur Mahavihara was visited and described by Dr. Buchanan Hamilton as early as 1807- 12, Westmacott in 1875 and Sir Alexander Cunningham in 1879. The site remained a rendezvous of the treasure hunters for a long time. Later the site came under the authority of Archaeological Survey of India and was declared as a protected monument in 1919.

Preliminary excavations of this site were undertaken by Professor DR. Bhandarkar of the Calcutta University in the year 1923. Mr. R. D Banerjee next resumed the work in 1925-26 and started a V-shaped trench along the northern facade and exactly in the middle of the northern rampart of the enclosure.

During 1930-31 and 1931-32, Mr. G. C. Chandra carried out another excavation. Later his work was continued by Mr. K. N. Dikshit and by the year 1933-34 he was able to complete the work and exposed the whole mound including the monastery and the Satyapir Bhita. In addition, a series of excavations were done from 1982 to 1990 at different parts of the site by the Department of Archaeology of The Government of Bangladesh.


plan of sompur mahavihara

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