The Buddhist Circuit’s Significance and the Legacy of Buddhism in Bangladesh

By Kamal Uddin Majumder

To foster goodwill and understanding between Bangladesh and India, the foreign minister of Bangladesh, Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen, suggested creating a Buddhist circuit between the two countries. Dr. Momen presented five ideas at a symposium in Dhaka on 2 August with the intention of utilizing Buddhism and its traditions to strengthen regional ties.

Dr. Momen stressed that the Buddha’s teachings, and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s philosophical outlook, both emphasized the necessity of world peace for the survival of humanity. In order to encourage this harmonious cohabitation and prosperity in the area, the growth of the Buddhist circuit could be extremely important.

The Five Proposals of the FM:

  1. Using Buddhism and its heritage as a tool for bonding and friendship among the countries
  2. Adopting a regional-level approach within South Asia and expanding it to Southeast Asia
  3. Strengthening activities within regional organizations like Saarc and Bimstec to conserve and promote the cultural diversity in the region, especially a Buddhist circuit.
  4. Fostering a united effort to ensure sustainable tourism development
  5. Organizing regular regional forums and conferences on cultural heritage and tourism development in South Asia

Peaceful Coexistence and the Buddhist Circuit

Buddhism is the world’s fourth-largest religion with over 520 million followers, or over 7 per cent of the global population. It has a deep-rooted heritage and a significant cultural circuit in the South Asian region. South Asia is recognized as the heartland of Buddhism. Dr. Momen emphasized how Bangladesh and India can strengthen their relationship by taking advantage of Buddhism’s rich cultural history and the South Asian region’s wide cultural circuit.

In addition, a number of Buddhist archaeological sites and monuments can be found in both Bangladesh and India, demonstrating the common cultural and historical ties between the two nations. Dr. Momen underlined that both countries’ identities may be strengthened by acknowledging their shared Buddhist background.

A trigger for fostering friendship and understanding, particularly in the field of people-to-people contact, can be found in the South Asian region’s deeply ingrained tradition and enormous cultural circuit. Traveling pilgrims establish relationships and make memories that last a lifetime across national boundaries. By encouraging respect and admiration for many religions and traditions, these exchanges aid in the advancement of secularism.

Creating a Buddhist circuit between Bangladesh and India is an innovative and creative way to use shared cultural history to enhance bilateral ties. It is a move in the right direction toward fostering international harmony, mutual respect, and teamwork, which will help the area grow and prosper as a whole.

Legacy of Buddhism in Bangladesh

It is estimated that there are around 1 million Buddhists in Bangladesh. They form about 0.6% of the total population of Bangladesh. Over 65 per cent of the Buddhist population is concentrated in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region. Despite what it may seem now in such a predominately Muslim nation, Buddhism has played a significant role in Bangladesh’s history and culture. Although Buddhism is the third most popular religion in the entire country, it accounts for an amazing 12 percent of the population in some places, including Chattanooga.

However, it is Bangladesh’s history that gives it significance in the Buddhist world, not only its population. Bengal, which is not distant from Bodhgaya, has played a significant role in the development of Buddhism. Buddhist academics in Bangladesh hold that the Buddha delivered his teachings in the Indian kingdom of Majjhimadesh, which extended up to the town of Kajangal and beyond which was the city of Mahasal in present-day Bangladesh

Buddhism had established itself as Bengal’s primary religion by the time of Ashoka the Great (304–232 BC), and it remained popular there well into the 12th century AD, making Bengal the last bastion of Buddhism in the subcontinent’s increasingly Hindu and Muslim-dominated territory.

Bangladesh was an essential component of ancient Bengal, or Vanga. According to the records found in the Pali texts, Vangisa, one of the Buddha’s important pupils, was a native of this region of the subcontinent. According to the Nagaruna inscriptions from the 3rd century AD, Buddhism was practiced in Bangladesh under Anoka’s administration. The inscriptions make multiple references to the name Vanga.

The Chinese pilgrim-monk Faxian discovered 24 Buddhist monasteries in Tamralipti (west Bengal, India) in the 5th century AD. Xuanzang traveled throughout Bengal in the seventh century. He discovered 30 monasteries with more than 2000 monks in Samatata (in the Noakhali district of modern-day Bangladesh) and 10 monasteries with 2000 monks in Karnasuvarna (Northern Bengal). He also discovered 10 monasteries with 1,000 monks in Tamralipti. He encountered 20 monasteries with 3000 monks in Pundravardhana (Mahastan, in the contemporary Bogura area). Salvana Vihara, the remains of the old Kanakastupa Vihara that Xuanzang saw, was found during archaeological digs in Mainamati in the Cumilla area.

These facts are also supported by numerous additional testimonies provided by numerous Chinese pilgrims who later traveled to Bengal. Some of these monasteries, including Taxila, Udantapuri, and Vickramasila, were transformed into renowned super-monasteries.

With the help of Pala kings like Gopala, Dharmapala, and Devapala, Buddhism in Bangladesh reached its zenith between 750 AD and 1150 AD. They were devoted Buddhists, and under their sponsorship, a number of renowned monasteries were founded in Bangladesh, including Somapura Mahavihara, Shalban Vihara, Paharpur Maha Vihara, Vickrampuri Mahavihara, and Pandit Vihara.

Buddhism started to fade from Bangladeshi soil between 1150 and 1760. After the Palas’ decline, Hindu senis (armies) seized control of Bengal. Buddhist survivors relocated to the Chittagong region. Less than a century later, Islamic conquerors swept over the Senas.

When the Muslims established their dominance in Bengal, they demolished a large number of monasteries. Some Muslim prayer rooms still go by the name Buddher Mokkan (Buddhist house or temple) in Chattogram. These are thought to have been built during the Pala era as Buddhist temples.

The British East India Company began ruling over the area of modern Bengal and Bangladesh in the 1700s. Despite being fewer in numbers, Buddhists were able to reestablish themselves in Bangladesh on a strong foundation thanks to the British government’s liberal policies.

East Pakistan was the name given to Bangladesh when British authority ended in 1947. Under the direction of Ven. Aggavansa Mahathero, a Buddhist religious organization known as Parbatya Chattagram Bhikkhu Samiti was established in 1959. It significantly contributed to the spread of Buddhism in Chattogram. Based on this framework, the number of Buddhist monasteries and monks in this area expanded significantly. It is still common and still serves the same purpose in Chattogram. During this time, forest meditation saw a revival.

After a brutal conflict, the modern configuration of Bangladesh was created in 1971. Dharmarajik Bouddha Vihara, a Buddhist temple, was founded in Bangladesh’s capital city of Dhaka in 1972. The Shakyamuni Buddhist Vihara in Dhaka was also established. Currently, Dhaka is home to four Buddhist temples.

Today, Bangladesh is a nation where there is religious harmony, although this assertion occasionally has to be qualified. However, according to the government, Bangladesh has enough history and culture to foster interfaith and intercultural tolerance.

See more

Dhaka makes 5 proposals to develop Buddhist circuit between Bangladesh, India
Nagarjuna inscriptions
Buddhists in Bangladesh
Pala dynasty

Kamal Uddin Majumder is a freelance columnist, entrepreneur and social activist

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