Buddhism in Bangladesh is nearly as old as Buddhism itself. Evidences record that Bangladesh was the cradle of this great religion. This is supported not only by contemporary literature but also displayed in the architectural remains of monasteries with large number of Buddha and Bodhisatta statues, relics, copper plates and. stone plates discovered in different f.mes in different parts of the country.
According to legends, the Buddha visited Pundravardhana with his 500 disciples at the request of Sumagadha, the daughter-in-law of Sresthi. A rich Kashmiri poet Khemedra of 11th century stated the same story in his book, Bodhisattavadana Kalpalata. The Chinese travel accounts also mentioned that the Buddha came to Pundravardhana (present Mahasthan Garh of Bogra, North Bengal) and preached his new Gospel at Samatata (south eastern part of Bangladesh). It is found in the Arakanese book Rajoang that Buddha visited Burma with his disciples and from there he visited Hastigram, Amragram and Chandranath. It is learnt that both Hastigram and Chadranath belong to Chittagong.
During the time of great Mauryan King Asoka the Great (3rd century BC), Buddhism was firmly established in Bangladesh, specially in the northern part which came under his vast empire. King Asoka erected many Stupas all around in India and one great Stupa was built in Mahasthan Garh.
From the 7th century to the end of the 12th century A.D. Bangladesh witnessed the most glorious period of Buddhism under the patronage of Buddhist kings of Kharga, Chandra, Deva and Pala dynasties. During the reign of Pala dynasty, people of this soil achieved tremendous success in the field of education, art and literature which marked a golden chapter in the history of ancient Bengal. Pala kings were Buddhists and their homeland was Barendra. Buddhism became an international religion under the patronage of Pala kings. During this g1orious and fIourishing period, many monasteries and religious centres were established of which Sompuri Mahavihara of Rajshahi, Shalban Vihara of Comilla, Pandit Vihara of Chittagong, Vikramshila Vihara of Dhaka developed like universities. Monks and students from far and near came to study Buddhism, philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, astronomy and other fields of knowledge under the supervision of eminent monk-scholars. At that time, world-famous Buddhist scholars like Atish Dipankar, SiIabhadra, Santarakshit, KamalsiIa, }etari, Yanasree, Naropa, TiIopa and Candragomin carried the message of Buddhism far beyond the frontiers of ancient India and heightened the prestige of ancient Bengal. Among the artists and sculptors names of Dhiman, Bitpal and Tathagatasara were famous. The mystic songs, namely, Charyyapada, composed by the Buddhist monks mark the beginning of ancient Bengali literature. Their songs and lyrics based on Buddhist ideals have been further developed with literary creations of later poets of Bangladesh.
But after the 12th century AD, Buddhism was challenged by the militant opposing forces in the Sub-continent. and was finally rooted out from its place of origin. At this declining time, Buddhists from Magadha and Vaisali (Bihar, India) migrated to Chittagong and settled there mixing with the local Buddhists. Greater Chittagong always kept the torch of Buddhism alive because it came several times under the Arakanase Buddhist kings from 2nd to 15th century A.D. who were the followers of Theravada Buddhism.
Bengalee Buddhists are the original Buddhists of the country but due to political, economical, social and religious changes today, the vast majority of Buddhists have become a small community. At present, Buddhists are living in Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar, Bandarban, Rangamati, Khagrachari, Patuakhali, Dhaka and Barguna districts. Other than the Bengalee Buddhists, there are tribal Buddhists in Bangladesh. Among them Chakmas, Marmas and Rakhaines are worth mentioning.
The Buddhists of Bangladesh are generally characterized by their spirit of sincerity, hospitality, charity and trustworthiness. About two million Buddhists Bangladesh are still maintaining their old tradition following Theravada Buddhism. Buddhists are playing an important role in the imitational field in forging close relationship with world Buddhists and also projecting the glorious image of Bangladesh.
The Buddhists of Bangladesh, though small in number in the context of country’s population, is a living force working for a better future in the 21st century.
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