A virtual meeting of the Bangladesh cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on 27 July has approved a draft agreement between the Lumbini Development Trust of Nepal and the government of Bangladesh on the construction of Bangladeshi Buddhist monastery. The proposed monastery will be built in Lumbini, the birthplace of the historical Buddha. The construction was initiated with the personal interest and planning of the Bangladeshi ambassador to Nepal, Mashfee Binte Shams, and the first secretary consul, Asit Baran Sarkar.
“The matter came to us from the religious affairs ministry. The area under the Lumbini Development Trust is deeply connected with Gautama Buddha. Buddhists from different countries have a strong connection with this place,” said cabinet-secretary Khandaker Anwarul Islam after the meeting. “A plot was allocated after Bangladesh expressed its interest in building a monastery or a pavilion there. It was all processed through the Bangladesh embassy.” (bdnews24.com)
Anwarul Islam noted that the Lumbini Development Trust had agreed and approved all activities, including design, through Bangladesh’s Ministry of External Affairs, with an estimated construction cost of 512 million Bangladeshi taka (US$6 million). He added that since it was an agreement with another country, the matter had come before the cabinet for approval.
The Atish Dipankar Buddhist news page on Facebook posted a video of the planned design for the monastery, stating that the design has been finalized as model of the Sompura Mahavihara in Paharpur of Naogaon District, part of the world heritage of Bangladesh. Asifur Rahman Bhuiyan, chief architect and designer of the Department of Architecture of Bangladesh, designed the monastery.
Sompura Mahavihara was an educational center with residential facilities consisting of 177 rooms—45 rooms on the north side and 44 in the south, east, and west. It was built around a spacious courtyard with a cruciform stupa in the centre, covering an area of 11 hectares, including a quadrangular court measuring more than 274 meters. It is said that the mahavihara was so revered in Tibet during the 9th–12th centuries, that many influential Tibetan monks visited. The world famous Buddhist scholar Atisha Dipankara Srijnana (982–1054) stayed at the Mahavihara for many years.
Located in Rupandehi District of Nepal’s Province No.5, Lumbini is one of the most important spiritual sites in the world for Buddhist pilgrims. Lumbini is home to a number of old temples, the most sacred among them being Maya Devi Temple, marking the site that archaeologists have identified as where Shakyamuni Buddha was most likely born. Inscriptions on the nearby pillar of Ashoka also refer to the spot as the Buddha’s birthplace. In 1997, Lumbini was officially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In recent years, the Bangladeshi government has launched a number of projects to showcase the country’s Buddhist legacy. In 2015, in collaboration with United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Bangladesh for the first time hosted an international conference titled “Developing Sustainable and Inclusive Buddhist Heritage and Pilgrimage Circuits in South Asia’s Buddhist Heartland” in Dhaka. The event was an open dialogue for sustainable development and the promotion of cross-border tourism circuits and routes in South Asia and the Asia-Pacific region.
Ambassador Mashfee Binte has also engaged in Buddhist diplomacy to promote ties between Bangladesh and Nepal. Through the construction of a Buddhist monastery in Nepal, many believe that Bangladesh’s Buddhist legacy can be further linked with Nepal, in turn providing a firm foundation to explore new relationships with regional neighbors.
International Conference on Developing Sustainable and Inclusive Buddhist Heritage and Pilgrimage Circuits in South Asia’s Buddhist Heartland (UNWTO)
Bangladesh to fund construction of Buddhist monastery in Nepal (bdnews24.com)
নেপালে বাংলাদেশ বৌদ্ধ বিহার (Atish Dipankar Facebook)