The first hilltop Buddhist monastery of the Gangetic valley has been found at Lal Pahari in Lakhisarai, Bihar. Excavation team director Anil Kumar told the media that the monastery might have been a great centre of Mahayana Buddhism. A joint collaboration of the Bihar Heritage Development Society, a part of the department of art, culture and youth affairs and the Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, West Bengal, excavated the site.
“Monasteries have been discovered at many locations in this area. But this is the first set up located at the top of a hill. Seems the Mahayani Buddhists set up the monastery far from the hustle and bustle of the human population to practise Mahayana rituals in isolation,” said Anil Kumar from Visva Bharati University.
The Lakhisarai site was a vihara named Srimaddharmaviharik Aryabhiksusanghasya. Translated, it means ‘this is the sealing of the council of monks of Srimaddharma Vihara’. Besides, two burnt clay seals carrying the name of the monastery have been discovered at the site,” Kumar said.
The Visva-Bharati teacher said the discovery of the monastery in Lakhisarai has proved what the Chinese traveller Hieun Tsang had written in his travel account. He had mentioned that the area had a number of monasteries and caves and that even the Buddha used to stay here.
“This area was known as Krimila. This name is mentioned in Buddhist literature,” Kumar said. During the Pala period this area turned into a great trade point and was the administrative centre of the Pala rulers, he added.
“Importantly the great archaeologist Alexander Cunningham too had discovered many monasteries and temples in the area and had discussed it in his book. But excavation was not conducted here,” Kumar added.
The state government has made elaborate conservation plans to preserve the monastic structure.
To stop Natural decay of the excavated structures because of exposure to extreme weather conditions and weathering, the state archaeology has planned to erect a shed over the remains of the monastery. While a pathway will be created to reach to the hilltop, the area around the monastic remains will be barricaded to stop unwanted movement at the excavated site.