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Archaeologists in Bangladesh Unearth Ancient Buddhist University Pandit Vihar

Ruins of the ancient settlement, likely that of Pandit Vihar. From thedailystar.net

A team of archaeologists from Bangladesh’s Archaeology Department of Chattogram, Sylhet, and Comilla has unearthed the ruins of an ancient settlement, believed to be the renowned Buddhist university Pandit Vihar, in Biswamura area of Karnaphuli in the district of Chattogram. 

According to a report by The Daily Star newspaper in Bangladesh, the team, which is composed of 10 trained archaeologists, began excavations on 16 September.

“The findings show that the area was inhabited dating back to between the eighth and 12th centuries,” said A. K. M. Saifur Rahman, regional director of the Archaeology Department in Chattogram. “These bricks are similar to those found in Mahasthangarh, one of the archaeological sites in Bangladesh, in Shibganj upazila of Bogura.” (The Daily Star)

The Bengali-language newspaper Dainik Janakantha stated that the excavation work was ongoing daily from 8 a.m.–2 p.m., with studies being conducted from afternoon until evening. Senior Archaeology Department officials provided guidance on their progress via video conference.

Inauguration of the excavation of Pandit Vihar. From archaeology.comilla.gov.bd

Pandit Vihar was one of the epicenters of learning in India. According to historians, the institution was founded in the eighth century in the Karnaphuli region of Bara Uthan and Juldha. Many eminent scholars—mostly Buddhist monks from the Pala Empire (r. 750–1161)—studied at this university. The reasons for the demise of Pandit Vihar are unknown.

Historians have postulated that the situation for Pandit Vihar worsened under the Bengal Sultanate (1332–1539, 1554–76). Later, due to conflicts between the Mughal and Arakanese kingdoms, the old port city of Chattogram, Deyang, was devastated and Pandit Vihar was eventually destroyed.

The Dainik Janakantha reported that the lost university was first discovered around 1927 by a man named Safar Ali, who was digging the foundations for a new home in the region when a major landslide occurred. Sixty Buddha statues were subsequently found in the area. The statues were placed on display in museums, including the British Museum and the Kolkata Museum. Nandankanan Buddhist Vihar of Chattogram also houses some antique sculptures.

“The artifacts are preserved in various museums around the country, which all were found from Deyang hill in Chattogram’s Anwara Upazila many years ago,” said Venerable Jinabodhi Bhikkhu, professor of Pali at Chittagong University, who has been studying the matter deeply. (The Daily Star)

“The vihar was also rich with various invaluable artifacts from the Pala dynasty,” said Ven. Jinabodhi, quoting a text on Bangladesh’s Buddhist artifacts from 4th–12th centuries published in 1999 by the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. (The Daily Star)

From dailyjanakantha.com

Ven. Jinabodhi wrote to Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wazed, emphasizing the need for archaeological excavations. He later traveled to China with Sheikh Hasina in 2010 and stated his ambition to build an “International Pandit Vihar University” during a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Following her return from China,  Sheikh Hasina granted the university in-principle permission.

In 2012, a team from the University Grants Commission visited the remains of Pandit Vihar and submitted a report in favor of establishing a university. Later, local and international inspection teams visited the site with a view to implementing Pandit Vihar University and establishing museums. However, the project encountered numerous issues and delays. Although plans were drawn up to re-establish the institution on 60 hectares of hilly land with combined financing from China, Japan, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, excavation work could not begin.

Faruk Chowdhury, the chairman of Karnaphuli Upazila council, said: “We are helping them with all our heart as they are finding out about our rich history.” (The Daily Star)

Meanwhile, the archaeological team is preparing a full report based on their findings.

“The structure of the vihar could be found if the area can be excavated and studied properly,” Ven. Jinabodhi emphasized. (The Daily Star)

Site visitors with Ven. Jinabodhi Bhikkhu. From archaeology.comilla.gov.bd

See more 

Unearthing 8th century Buddhist vihar in Ctg (The Daily Star)
পণ্ডিত বিহার বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের ধ্বংসাবশেষ উদ্ধারে চলবে খননকাজ (Dainik Janakantha)

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