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Vikramsashila

By Devik Balami at
ruins of vikramshila mahavihara

Vikramashila was one of the five great mahaviharas situated in the Indian subcontinent. This Vikramashila is located about 50 km east of Bhagallpur and about 13 km north-east of Kahalgaon, Bhagalpur districts. Along with the Nalanda Mahavihara, it was the important center of learning- the teachings of Buddha, during the Pala Empire. It was recorded that this Mahavihara was constructed by King Dharmapala in response to a supposed decline in the quality of Scholarship listed as a notable abbot.

Historical accounts of Vikramsashila

During the Pala period, Bengal and Magadha had seen numerous monasteries established and regulated. As mentioned in the Tibetan sources, a five great Mahaviharas were also established. They were Vikramashila, Nalanda, Odantapur, Jaggadala, and Somapura Mahavihara. These monasteries were well established and formed a network within themselves. This Mahavihara was under the direct supervision of the state.

Vikramshila was also established by Pala king Dharmapala in the late 8th or early 9th century. The Mahavihara was regulated and prospered for about four centuries. In around 1200 CE, Bakhtiya Khilji destroyed Vikramashila Mahavihara. He also destroyed other major centers of Buddhism in India.

Within Vikramashila, there were more than one hundred teachers and about one thousand students being one of the largest Buddhist universities. It was recorded that the Mahavihara produced eminent scholars and they were often invited by foreign countries to spread Buddhism in their country. Among, the students produced the most distinguished was Atisha Dipankara. He later founded Sarma traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Even though all subjects were taught in the Mahavihara, the most important subject was tantrism.

The Stupa at the VIkramashila Mahavihara

The stupa present at the mahavihara was built with brick and is laid in mud mortar. The stupa stands in the center of the square monastery. The stupa has two terraced and is cruciform on plan. It is recorded that the height of the stupa was about 15 meters high from the ground. The main stupa is constructed over the upper terrace. There is a chamber along the cardinal direction with a pillared antechamber and a separate pillared mandapa in front. In the four chambers, a colossal stucco Buddha image was houses earlier but at present, these images are lost and either or replaced by other.

Excavation at the Vikramashila

The site at the Mahavihara has been conducted many excavations by the Indian government and B.P Sinha of Patna University. Therefore many Buddhist artifacts- Buddha statues, murals have been collected and are now well preserved in the museum maintained by Archaeological Survey of India. The excavation done during 1960-69 by B. P. Sinha of Patna University and Archaeological Survey of India revealed a huge square monastery with a cruciform stupa in the center of the Vihara. The excavation was also successful to reveal a library building and cluster of votive stupas.

Towards the north of the monastery, the excavation team found a number of scattered structures including a Tibetan and Hindu temple. Towards the south of the monastery, a library building is attached to the main monastery through a narrow corridor. It is found that the building was air-conditioned by the cooled water of the adjoining reservoir through a range of vents in the back wall. It can understand that this mechanism was meant for the preservation of the dedicated scriptures.

Restoration work

For more than years, Vikramashila Mahavihara was neglected which made the site extensive damage. But now Archeological Survey of India has taken an active part in the excavation of the site. With the responsibility held by Archeological Survey of India, the Vikramashila Mahavihara was gradually preserved and the artifacts collected are preserved and displayed in the museum managed by Archeological Survey of India.