Bangladesh is a country considerably rich in archaeological wealth, though most of it is not yet fully discovered.
There are 475 conserved archaeological sites in the country representing Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim eras. Of these, in 1985 two-ruins of the Buddhist Vihara of Paharpur and historical Mosque City in Bagerhat were declared World Heritage sites.
While Buddhist archaeological sites dominates the ancient past of Bangladesh, from medieval period onward, dominance of archaeological sites of Muslim period is visible.
There are also five other archaeological objects- Halud Vihar of Naogaon; Lalmai Mountains of Comilla; Mahastangarh and adjoining area in Bogura; Jaggaddal Vihara of Naogaon and Lalbagh Fort in Dhaka – are in tentative World Heritage list.
Of the Buddhist archaeological sites in Bangladesh, the most important are Paharpur in Naogaon, Mahasthan in Bogura and Mainamati in Cumilla. Each is unique in its own way. Paharpur is the largest monastery and temple. It is contemporary with the early historic sites of the Gangetic valley Vaishali, Pataliputra and Kaushambi to name only a few.
In ancient Bengal, Buddhism has left its footprint in Bangladesh. Exactly when Buddhism first came to the area that is now Bangladesh is uncertain but numerous ancient records and accounts of Chinese pilgrims who visited Bengal between the fifth and seventh centuries AD testify to the existence of extensive monasteries, temples and stupas and some scholars believe the religion was introduced before the time of Emperor Ashoka (237-232 BC).
This far, five archaeological objectives of BC (Before Christ) era- Wari-Bateshwar in Narsgingdi (4th century BC); Mahastangarh, in Bogra (4th century BC); oldest stone inscription found in Mahastangarh (3rd century BC); Dibor Digi Ashoka Pillar in Naogaon and Megalithic Monument, Jaintia in Sylhet have been unearthed.
Wari and Bateshwar are two contiguous villages in the Narsingdi area of greater and since 1940s are known for various surface finds of minor antiquities. Among them, the most significant are stone (fossil wood) tools, punch-marked coins in thousands, and also thousands of semi-precious stone beads – many of which are unfinished, indicating that they were manufactured locally.
The Department of Archaeology of Jahangirnagar University has pioneered excavation of archaeology sites in Wari-Bateswar, has established an “early historic” horizon, 4th – 3rd century BC – Mauryan, perhaps pre-Mauryan – in southeast Bengal (Vanga-Samatata) like Mahas thangarh in northern Bengal (Pundra-vardhana). Archaeological investigations at Wari-Bateshwar revealed that the site had been occupied from the 4th century BC onwards with occasional breaks.
Buddhist Vihara in Bikrampur
The excavation on the Buddhist Vihara in Bikrampur of the district was jointly conducted by the Department of Archaeology of Jahangirnagar University and the Agrasar Bikrampur Foundation, a Buddhist monastery was completely unearthed by March 2013. More than 100 statues and sculptures have been found at the monastery site. The monastery is related to Atisha Dipankara Shrijnana (980-1054), a renowned Buddhist scholar who was born in Bajrajogini, Bikrampur.
Buddhism received royal patronage in Bengal from a number of ruling dynasties and numerous well-organised, self-contained monasteries sprang up all over the country. Although no historic sites dating from the Ashoka period have so far been discovered, but more than 50 ancient sites of Buddhist temples, monasteries and stupas, and extensive remains of Buddhist establishments have been found in many other parts of Bangladesh.
The site called Halud Vihara, about 9 miles to the west south west of Paharpur, is known for containing the ruins of an extensive Buddhist establishment. A modest-sized Buddhist shrine has been discovered here and it was cruciform in design.
In 1972-73 excavations were carried out at a site in Sitakot in Nawabganj upazila of Dinajpur district in which a Buddhist monastery built on a square plan (215 sq.ft) was exposed. However, this had no central temple in the courtyard.
The central cell of the southern wing apparently served as the main shrine. There were a total of 41 cells in this monastery, each 3.66m by 3.35m. The monastery has been dated to 7th-8th century AD.
Perhaps the most important and singularly most impressive of all Buddhist sites is at Paharpur in Rajshahi district. Paharpur, is a small village 5 km. west of Jamalganj in the greater Rajshahi district where the remains of the largest monastery south of the Himalayas has been excavated.
This 7th century archaeological find covers approximately an area of 27 acres of land. The entire establishment, occupying a quadrangular court, measuring more than 900 ft. externally on each side, has high enclosure – walls about 16 ft. in thickness and from 12 ft. to 15 ft. height. With elaborate gateway complex on the north, there are 45 cells on the north and 44 in each of the other three sides with a total number of 177 rooms. The architecture of the pyramidal cruciform temple is profoundly influenced by those of South-East Asia, especially Myanmar and Java.
Mahasthangarh, the oldest archaeological site of Bangladesh is on the western bank of river Karatoa 18 km. north of Bogura town beside Bogura-Rangpur Road.
The spectacular site is an imposing landmark in the area having a fortified, oblong enclosure measuring 5000 ft. by 4500 ft with an average height of 15 ft. from the surrounding paddy fields. Several isolated mounds, the local names of which are Govinda Bhita Temple, Khodai Pathar Mound, Mankalir Kunda, Parasuramer Bedi, Jiyat Kunda etc. surround the fortified city.
An isolated low, dimpled range of hills, dotted with more than 50 ancient Buddhist settlements of the 8th to 12th century A.D. known as Mainamati-Laimai range are extended through the centre of the district of Comilla.
Salban Vihara, almost in the middle of the Mainarnati-Lalmai hill range consists of 115 cells, built around a spacious courtyard with cruciform temple in the centre facing its only gateway complex to the north resembling that of the Paharpur Monastery.
Kotila Mura situated on a flattened hillock, about 5 km north of Salban Vihara inside the Comilla Cantonment is a picturesque Buddhist establishment. Here three stupas are found side by side representing the Buddhist “Trinity” or three jewels, i.e., the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
Charpatra Mura is an isolated small oblong shrine situated about 2.5 km. northwest of kotila Mura stupas. The only approach to the shrine is from the East through a gateway, which leads to a spacious hall.
In mid-15th century, a Muslim colony was founded in the inhospitable mangrove forest of the Sundarbans near the seacoast in the Bagerhat district by an obscure saint- General, named Ulugh Khan Jahan. He was the earliest torchbearer of Islam in the South.
Khan Jahan, adorned Bager-hat with numerous mosques, tanks, roads and other public buildings, the spectacular ruins of which are focused around the most imposing and largest multi-domed mosques in Bangladesh, known as the Shatt-Gumbuj (means- sixty domed) Masjid.
The mosque roofed over with 77 squat domes, from which springs rows of endless arches, supporting the domes. Six feet thick, slightly tapering walls and hollow and round, almost detached corner towers, resembling the bastions of fortress, each capped by small rounded cupolas, recall the Tughlaq architecture of Delhi.
The capital city predominantly was a city of the Mughals. In hundred years of their vigorous rule successive Governors and princely Viceroys who ruled the province, adorned it with many noble monuments in the shape of magnificent places, mosques, tombs, fortifications and ‘Katras’.
The Lalbagh Fort occupies the south-western part of the old city, overlooking the River Buriganga on whose northern bank it stands. Rectangular in plan, it also contains, within its fortified perimeter, a number of splendid monuments, surrounded by attractive garden.
The most ornate among the late medieval temples of Bangladesh is the Kantana-gar temple near Dinajpur town, which was built in 1752 by Maharaja Pran Nath of Dinajpur.
The monument rightly claims to be the finest extant example of its type in brick and terracotta, built by Bengali artisans. The central cells are surrounded on all sides by a covered verandah, each pierced by three entrances, which are separated by equally ornate dwarf brick pillars.
Every inch of the temple surface is beautifully embellished with exquisite terracotta plaques, representing flora fauna, geometric motifs, mythological scenes and an astonishing array of contemporary social scenes and favourite pastimes.
About 27 km. from Dhaka, Sonargaon is one of the oldest capitals of Bengal. It was the seat of Deva Dynasty until the 13th century. From then onward till the advent of the Mughals, Sonargaon was subsidiary capital of the Sultanate of Bengal. Among the ancient monuments still intact are the Tomb of Sultan Ghiasuddin (1399-1409 A. D), the shrines of Panjpirs and Shah Abdul Alia and a beautiful mosque in Goaldi village.
Saat Gumbaz Mosque
This is a Mughal Mosque of actually three domes and four hollow octagonal towers popularly known as Saat Gumbaz Mosque. Built by great Mughal subadar Shaista Khan in C. 1680 A.D. Situated in city, the mosque is still in good condition and is well preserved.
There are a large number of attractive historical mosques, scattered all over Bangladesh. Notable among these are: Chhota Sona Masjid or Small Golden Mosque at Gaur in Rajshahi, built between 1493-1519; Mosque of Baba Adam, located near Dhaka, built in 1483 A.D; Shrine of Hazrat Shah Jalal in Sylhet, built in 1303 A.D and Shrine of Sultan Bayazid Bostami in Chittagong, who came early in the last century.
On the bank of river Buriganga in city, Ahsan Manzil, the former palace of Nawab of has been renovated and turned into a museum. This renovated palace has 31 rooms, now turned into 23 galleries displaying of traits, furniture and household articles and utensils used by the Nawab.
Along with Ahsan Manzil, there other 19th century historical buildings including mosques, temples and churches in city.
These archaeological sites and historical monuments are scattered all over the country. But all these can be visited separately from Dhaka, Rajshahi, Bogura, Dinajpur, Chattogram and Sylhet. Combining in groups as per location, these archaeological sites and historical monuments make special interest tours potentially worthwhile.