All You Need To Know About The University of Vikramshila

The Vikramshila University remains are located near Antichak in Bhagalpur district of Bihar. The Photographs are from my visits to the Site during 2005 and recently in 2016. During my recent visit I found the site to be much better maintained, and with a nice garden. The boundary wall was also complete and the entrance now is via a gateway.

Terracotta Plates, Vikramshila

Survived the ravages of time

Excavated remains represent the ruins of Vikramasila Mahavihara the celebrated university founded by Pala king Dharmapala in late 8th or early 9th Century A.D. It prospered for about four centuries before it collapsed in the beginning of 13th Century A.D. It is known to us mainly through Tibetan sources specially the writings of Taranath, the Tibetan monk historian of 16th-17th Century A.D.

Vikramasila was one of the largest Buddhist universities having more than hundred teachers and about one thousand students. It produced eminent scholars who were often invited by foreign countries to spread Buddhist learning, culture and religion. The most distinguished and eminent among all was Atisa Dipankara, the founder of Lamaism in Tibet. Subjects like theology, philosophy, grammar, metaphysics, logic etc. were taught here but the most important branch of learning was tantrism.

A view of the ruins with more mounds in the background

Meticulous excavation at the site conducted initially by Patna University (1960-69) and subsequently by Archaeological Survey of India (1972-82) revealed a huge square monastery with a cruciform stupa in its centre, a library building and cluster of votive stupas. To the north of monastery a number of scattered structures including a Tibetan and a Hindu temple have been found. The entire spread is over an area of more than hundred acres.

A few brick arched underground chambers beneath some of the cells have also been noticed which were probably meant for confined meditation by the monks.

The main stupa built for the purpose of worship is a brick structure laid in mud mortar and stands in the centre of the square monastery. On each of the four cardinal directions there is a protruding chamber with a pillared antechamber and a separate pillared mandapa in front. In the four chambers of the stupa were placed colossal stucco images of seated Buddha of which three were found in situ but the remaining one on north side was possibly replaced by a stone image after the clay image was somehow damaged.

The walls of both the terraces are decorated with mouldings and terracotta plaques which testify the high excellence of terracotta art flourishing in the region during Pala period (8th to 12th Century A.D.).

About 32 metres south of the monastery on its south west corner and attached with the main monastery through a narrow corridor is a rectangular structure identified as library building. It was air-conditioned by cooled water of the adjoining reservoir through a range of vents in the back wall. The system was perhaps meant for preserving delicate manuscripts.

Terracotta Plaques

The architectural style of the stupa and the themes of terracotta plaques of Vikramasila Mahavihara are comparable to the contemporary Somapura Mahavihara, Paharpur (Bangladesh). However, Vikramasila monastery is larger and has fort like projections on its outer wall.

A large number of antiquities unearthed during the excavations are displayed in the site museum maintained by the ASI

Main Stupa

Remains of the Monastery, Vikramshila University —

Met several scholars in Bhagalpur and discussed about the History of Vikramshila. I am making readings and will soon come up with a write-up at silentpagesindia.blogspot.in

Source : Silent Pages : Lesser Known Stories from the History of India

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