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A view point of Buddhism in Bangladesh

Earlier news 29 Oct 05

A view point of Buddhism in Bangladesh

Presented by Buddha Ratana Bhikkhu


The World Buddhist Sangha Council

Extra-ordinary general meeting and the 2nd of the 7th executive committee meeting

To be held On 23rd Nov. to 27th Nov. 2002, Singapore

Organized by Singapore Buddhist Federation

Dear Maha Sangha/ Ladies and Gentlemen:

First of all, I would like to take this great opportunity to express my gratitude to all Venerable Maha Sangha, representatives and participants for giving me golden opportunity to present (produce) this paper (a report) on Buddhism prevailing in Bangladesh. Here I made an attempt to trace out the state of Buddhism in Bangladesh since early period to till now.

Early period:

Bangladesh was an integral part of Vanga or ancient Bengal. Based on the Pali texts’ records, one of the foremost disciples of the Buddha, Vangisa was hailed from this part. Although we have no sufficient evidence if Buddhism was flourished in Bangladesh under the period of Emperor Asoka (3rd century B.C.). But the Nagarjuna inscriptions of Asoka dating from 3rd century A.D. are proved that this faith was followed in Bangladesh under Anoka’s rules. The name of Vanga were mentioned this inscriptions where many Ceylonese monks been to propagate Buddhism in this part.  In the 5th century A.D., the Chinese pilgrim, Fa Hien visited Tamralipti (west Bengal, India) and found 24 Buddhist monasteries, Huen –Tsang visited different parts of Bengal in 7th century A.D. In Samatata (Comilla, Noakhali district of present Bangladesh), he found 30 monasteries over 2000 monks belonging to Sthavira Sangha, in Karnasuvarna (Northern Bengal) 10 monasteries with 2000 monks belonging to Samityas School. Besides in Tamralipti, he found only 10 monasteries with 1000 monks belonging to Sarvastivada School. In Pundravardhana (according to Mr. Cunningham it is Mahastan, located 7 miles north of present Bogra district of Bangladesh, he found 20 monasteries with 3000 monks belonging to Mahayana and Sthavira School.  This fact also corroborated by many others account recorded by many Chinese pilgrims who visited Bengal in the following period of time. Some of these monasteries were turned into world famous universities such as Somapuri, Taxila, Udantapuri and Vickramasila etc.

In the Pala period (750-1150 A.D.), Buddhism reached to the height peak under the assistance of Pala Kings as Gopala, Dharmapala and Devapala etc. Generally, the reign of the Palas was called the golden age of Buddhism in Bangladesh. They were devout Buddhist and under their patronage several world famous monasteries as Somapura Mahavihara, Shalban Vihara, Paharpur Maha Vihara, Vickrampuri Mahavihara, Pandit Vihara etc. were established in Bangladesh. Under their rules, the greatest scholar, Ven. Acariya Sri Jnana or Atisa of Bengal (982-1050 A.D) played an important role to propagate Buddhism. Following the decline of the Palas, the sovereignty of Bengal went into the hand of the Senas. But their rules did not last long and Bengal soon came under the Muslim occupation.

Mughal period (13th – 1760 A.D):

Under this period, the repeat progress of Islam was commenced. Buddhism was disappearing in a hurry lack of royal patronage of the Buddhist king. The Muslim destroyed many monasteries in India as Taxila, Vickramasila, Nalanda, Udantapuri etc. prior to establishment of their rule in Bengal. (They killed many Buddhist monks and started Islamization by force.) They killed many Buddhist monks and carried out force conversion. The same tragedy took place in Bengal as well. They carried out persecution and force conversion to the Buddhist of Bangladesh, destroyed Buddhist temples and some were turned into Mosque. Even today, some Muslim prayer halls in Chittagong are called Buddher Mokkan (lit, Buddhist house or temple). Actually these categories of prayer hall have no any typical sign of Mosque. These are considered to be Buddhist temple established during the Palas rule.  Eventually, the victory of Muslims was the main reason for disappearing Buddhism from India, Bengal or Bangladesh. Today, Bangladesh is the third largest Muslims country in the world with 88 percent of 126 million populations.

British period, (1760-1947 A.D):

On September 1760, the British East-India Company established their rule in Bangladesh. The liberal policy of the British enabled the Buddhist to re-establish themselves in Bangladesh on a solid foundation. At the beginning of their rule, the state of Buddhism in Bangladesh went into the lowest position. The few Buddhists who migrated from Myanmar, India and Nepal etc. in different period of times in Bangladesh knew nothing on Buddhism. Buddhist religious texts were not available in Bangladesh. Even Buddhist monks and monasteries were very few in number. The Buddhists were influenced by Hinduism and performed various categories Hindu rites and rituals instead of Buddhist ceremonies. In 1864, the Chakma Queen Kalindi introduced Theravada Buddhism among the Buddhist living in Bangladesh. She invited Ven. Saramedha Mahathero from Burma (Myanmar) to establish this faith. Under her royal patronage, Buddhism commence to flourish in Chittagong, Comilla and Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh. She built a Buddhist temple at Rajanagar in 1866 and established a Bhikkhu Sima (ordination hall) for propagation of Buddhism in Bangladesh. In addition to this, she built many others Buddhist temples in different parts of Chittagong. Gradually many others Buddhist temples and organizations established in Chittagong, Chittagong Hill Tracts and some other districts of Bangladesh.

Pakistan period (1947 –1971):

When the British rule came to an end this state was known to be East Pakistan. It was independent in 14th August 1947. In 1959, a Buddhist religious association named Parbatya Chattagram Bhikkhu Samiti (Chittagong Hill Tracts Bhikkhu Association) under the leadership of Ven. Aggavansa Mahathero. It played a significant role in spreading Buddhism in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), Bangladesh. Based on this organization, a considerable number of Buddhist monks and Buddhist monasteries were increased in this part. It is still prevalent in CHT and playing the same role. Now this association is widely known to be Parbatya Bhikkhu Sangha (Hill Monks’ Association) in CHT. The revival of forest meditation moment took place in this period. A Buddhist monk named Ven. Sadhanananda (Bana-bhante) hailed from CHT was forerunner for introduction of this practice. He ordained in 1949 in Chittagong Buddhist temple, which was established in 1899. He is still playing important roles to teach and practice meditation in Bangladesh. He belongs to about 30 Buddhist temples where meditation is taught and practice in CHT.

Bangladesh period (1971-till now):

In 1971, the East Pakistan came into being to be Bangladesh through a bloody war. Now the Buddhist follows Theravada Buddhism as Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand. In 1972, a Buddhist temple named Dharmarajik Bouddha Vihara was established in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. In addition to this, Shakyamuni  Buddhist Vihara, Mirpur-13, Dhaka Bangladesh was also established. At present, there are 4 Buddhist temples in Dhaka. The present Buddhists of Bangladesh are can be divided into two groups: Bengali Buddhists (Barua and Singh) and tribal or indigenous Buddhists groups (Chakma, Marma, Rakhain, Tangchagya and Chak etc.). Majority of the Buddhist communities have been (are) living mostly in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and a considerable number of them in Chittagong, Cox’s Bazaar, Comilla, Rangpore, Patuakhali, Barishal and Dhaka districts.

In 1972, a CHT Buddhist delegation group approached to the then Prime Minister of Bangladesh, demanding regional autonomy in CHT with a view to safeguard social, religious and cultural right of the Buddhist people. But no demands were met by the then Govt. of Bangladesh. In the same year, the Buddhist formed an armed group to realize their demand. And in the last 2nd December 1997 peace agreement was singed between the Govt. of Bangladesh and the said-armed group. The Buddhists of CHT, were victim of persecution, eviction and violation of Human Rights in different ways. Due to two decade of political unrest many Buddhist monasteries were destroyed or set fire by the Muslims and military personnel.

Since 1978 not only armed less Buddhists innocent people in CHT were killed but also many monks in different period of times. We can obtain clear picture about persecution from a memorandum of Parbatya Bhikkhu Sangha carried out in protest against killing and destroying of Buddhist temples in CHT. A part of it was as follows:

In 1978: A Buddhist monk named U Chandya Chara Bhikkhu was seriously beaten at No, 04 Robber garden Buddhist temple in Khagrachari district. And in the same year, Ven. Barnitananda Bhikkhu was slaughtered and dead body was hidden. It happened at Longadu under Rangamati Hill District.

In 1980: An attacked was made on the Kalampati Buddhist Vihara. The abbot of this temple was injured and was under treatment for many days at the Rangamati Sadar hospital. In addition a similar attack had also been carried out on the lay people of the concerned temple where 70 or 80 tribal were killed. It was protested at the news conference organized by a member of the Parliament of the Govt. of Bangladesh (Mr. Upendra Lal Chakma).

In 1984: A Buddhist monk Ven. Purnananda Bhikkhu was killed and Vihara was burnt. At the same time, the Shantipur Buddhist Vihara and Karmapara Buddhist Vihara of the same region were also burnt into ashes. This brutality had taken place at Panchari area in Khagrachari hill district.

In 1986: All residential houses and the temples of Dighinala area in the Khagrachari Hill District were set on fire. About 600 hundred residential houses belonging to tribal families and 20 Buddhist temples were destroyed in this attack. This atrocity took place on the 13th June 1986 and more than 50,000 tribal people fled to India accompanied by a hundred Buddhist monks.

In 1987: The Venubana Buddhist Vihara of Babuchara of Dighinala area in the Khagrachari Hill District was burnt into ashes. And the same year, Ven. Ratna Jothi Bhikkhu, a Buddhist monk of Dhamaipara Buddhist temple and his disciple named Ven. Chandra Pala Shraman were physically tortured. It took place at Mitinga Chari of Jurachari police station in the Rangamati Hill District.

In 1988: Prohibition was made on religious function in Rangamati Hill District at Mitingachari village. A member of the Union Parisad, Mr. Gyana Ranjan Chakma and his two colleagues were physically tortured while they were collecting money for the purpose of a religious ceremony.

In 1989: Seven Buddhist Viharas were demolished and the Buddha’s statues were broken by setting fire and shooting and a dreadful genocide was committed on Buddhists at Tindila area under Rangamati Hill District.

In 1992: A police personal tortured Ven. Basumitra Bhikkhu who was principal of the Balukarama Buddhist temple at Baghaichari in Rangamati Hill District. In the same year, on 30th April the chief monk named Ven. Kauisara Mahathero of the Satta-Durung Para Buddhist temple was chopped by the Muslim attackers and left him behind, dead.

In 1993: On 17th November a massacre was committed at Naniarchar the in the broad day light in Rangamati Hill District. It was awful because these atrocities happen under the very nose point of police administration and the local army commander 40th infantry. Basically such a dreadful genocide was possible due to silent role played by the police and the law enforcing authorities.

In this incident not only the innocent and armedless people were killed and injured but also a Buddhist monk is still missing and another one seriously injured. The injured is still under treatment in Dhaka. Witnessing the Naniarchar genocide following the Logong genocide, which was committed in 1991, all members of the “Parbatya Bhikkhu Sangha (Hill monks’ association) was psychologically affected, astonished and are at a loss.

It is mentioning here that killing of unarmed people, be it Tribal or Muslim, make us deeply shocked and overwhelmed with sorrows. In our eyes, there is no difference between Bengalis and tribal. We become overwhelmed with sorrow, when we see not only the killing of any human beings but also the animals. We follow in our daily life “Sabbe Satta Sukhita Bhavantu”(i.e. let all living beings be in peace and free from danger and fear).

To the best of my knowledge, about 1200 Buddhists were killed in Logong genocide, which was committed in 1991. The political unrest situation in CHT that prevailed more then two decades terminated in the year of 1997, 2nd December. But the religious persecution has not been yet stopped in Bangladesh.

The Parbatya Chattal Bouddha Dasabala Anatha Ashram at Dighinala, Khagrachari Hill District where I had my primary education also burnt into ashes in 1986. There were 150 residential orphans and 15 monks during the attack. In this year, about 52000 tribal from CHT fled to Tripura, India as refugee. The said orphanage is still occupied by the Muslims and there were established a Madrasa (Islamic School).

In 1998: On 13th January two Buddhist monks named Ven. Nandiyo Bhikkhu and Ven. Sujit Baran Bhikkhu were seriously injured, by the Muslim attackers. This incident took place at the college gate in Rangamati Hill District.

Recently, in April 2002 the Chief monk of Warapanna Buddhist Vihara, Ven. Gnana Jothi Mahathero was brutally killed by the Muslims extremists at Raozan police station, Chittagong. His cremation has taken place within two days by force of local administration. He would provide education and accommodation to nearly 100 Buddhist students in his orphanage.

The Islamic fundamentalism is one of a major impacts in Bangladesh, which are being made attempt to spread in largely Buddhist populated area CHT as well. According to a statistic report, there are more than 300 Madrasas (Islamic schools) in Khagrachari district of the CHT alone.

The Government of Bangladesh and foreign Islamic NGOs, Islamic Foundation and Al Rabeta etc. provide financial assistance to spread Islamic faith and construction of these Madrasas. Many places in the CHT have been re-named after Islamic tradition. And the Muslims have occupied many cremation and burial grounds and religious sites which we consider sacred and where we find our mental solace.

On the other hand, the financial conditions of the Buddhist of CHT were collapsed due to two decades of political unrest, persecution and eviction etc. In such situations, the Buddhist neither got any financial assistance nor any favorable suggestions from Buddhist countries and NGOs to spread Buddhism in Bangladesh. The Christian Missionary is actively involved to spreading Christianity in CHT under the financial assistance of foreign Christian based organizations as well. They are providing jobs in many NGOs and supporting the financial assistance to many young Buddhists students in the Schools and Universities with a view of this evil motive.

This aim and objective were well understood by the Buddhist monks of CHT. As a preventive measure to be taken in future many young Buddhist monks from CHT are doing religious studies in Sri Lanka, some Thailand, Myanmar and Korea.

It is a matter of great regret that some Buddhist monks studying in abroad go back to Bangladesh bearing unable to their educational expenses. Under the situation this subject should also be taken into consideration to consolidate Buddhism all over the world.

Eventually, I would like to pay my gratitude, felicitation to the Great Sangha Community and best wishes to the members, delegations, representatives and all participants of this meeting. I would also like to thank all of you for your initiative to spread Saddhamma to all corners of the world.

Thank you.

Sabbe Satta Bhavantu Sukhitattà!

May All Beings Be Well and Happy in the World!

Notes: –

·     Bangladesh an introduction: External publicity Wing, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, 2nd Edition May 1999.

·     Chaudhuri, S. Contemporary Buddhism in Bangladesh, Calcutta, 1982

·     World Buddhist Directory, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1984

·     Chakma, N. K. Chittagong Hill Tracts and Buddhism, Dhaka 1983.

·      Chakma, S. Buddhism in Chittagong Hill Tracts- past, present and future, January 2002

·     Press release: Parbatya Bhikkhu Sangha Bangladesh, Dhaka 1993

·     Life is not ours: Land and Human Rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh: organizing Committee of CHT, Nether land & Denmark.

·     CHT peace accord is not for ours- it is just for the Settlers: A report on the Post-Conflict Situation in Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh, Peace Campaign Group, New Delhi, February 2000.

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