Bihar is the only state of the Indian subcontinent that conveys many historical monuments from the early stage of its civilisation, amassed a pile of historical incidents, and allured millions worldwide for years. Every pattern of masonry of education or any other aspect represents a great history of its contemporary. It enhances the importance of venerable Indian education and rich culture to the world. The Vikramshila University was one of the five famed destinations of learning, located approximately 45 km or 50 km away from Bhagalpur District in Kahalgaon sub-division of Bihar state and about 150 km distant from Patna, the capital of the state. Rest of them are Nalanda, Odantapuri, Somapura and Jagaddala. Those five centres of learning made a network among them. Although these five centres of learning(monasteries) were under state supervision, they were still under a coordination system. The common practice was to move quickly for great scholars from one centre to another among them. The teachers of both the Nalanda and the Vikramshila could make it possible due to the patronage of both two universities by the great emperor, Dharmapala of the Pala dynasty.
It is a rumour that there was a ‘Yaksha'(A race of anthropomorphic spirits in ancient Indian texts) named ‘Vikramshil’ in this place. So, the name ‘Vikramshila’ may be derived from this historical information. In contrast, it was ‘Rajgriha Mahavir’ as its ancient identity. Historical records show that this fascinating university was set up between 783 AD to 820 AD by the Emperor Dharmapala of the famous Pala dynasty of Bengal. Since then, it carried away its fame for about four centuries until its destruction by the Islamic army led by the ruthless Turko-Afghan general Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji of Delhi Sultanate around 1193 AD.
After the destruction, it was covered in darkness, sequestered for centuries, and was ignored in patronages of several state governments of Bihar and central governments. It was Lakshmikanta Mishra who, by chance, revealed the remnants of the Vikramshila University near Antichak village, Bhagalpur District of the state, Bihar. Following the writings of Taranatha, the great Tibetan monk and historian of the 16th-17th centuries, we have acquired knowledge about the Vikramshila.
According to the evidence of this renowned university, preserved by him and named it by ‘Vikramshila Mahavir’. The subjects taught to the students by the teachers of the Vikramshila University were theology, grammar, philosophy, logic, and metaphysics. Apart from all these subjects, Vikramshila University attained its recognition from every part of the world was by ‘Vajrayana Buddhism’. At this point, Hinduism and Buddhism were both equally affected vividly by necromancy(i.e. witchcraft and magic). An academic council operated all the administrative affairs. Atish Dipankar Srigyan, the great scholar of his time, was promoted to the post of chancellor of the Vikramshila University for his spectacular knowledge and wisdom and due to the patronage of the Pala emperor, Mahipala(I), in the year 1024 AD. At last, he left this university for Tibet, being invited on behalf of the king of Tibet when Buddhism was at the edge of decline there. He founded the ‘Sarma tradition'(Buddhist schools), which prevailed in Tibet in the second millennium after Buddhism declined there. The ‘Sarma tradition'(Sarma schools) mainly was based on Buddhist teachings, exclusively received from India and Nepal.
The architectural arrangement of the Vikramshila University
The excavation of the site revealed by Lakshmikanta Mishra was started firstly by B.P.Sinha of Patna University(1960-1969) and the Archaeological Survey of India(1972-1982) later on. The excavation disclosed a giant square monastery centred with a cruciform stupa(Vikramshila stupa), a library building, a fascicle of votive stupas, a number of 108 Hindu and Tibetan temples enclosed the central stupa and finally, a life-size copy of Bodh Gaya’s sacred ‘Mahabodhi Tree'(Fig tree). So, undoubtedly this was one of the remarkable archaeological excavations in independent India.
The entire area acquires more than one hundred acres. The excavation displayed a gigantic square monastery erected specially for the Buddhist monks for lodging. It measures 330 metres equally on each of four sides along with a series of 208 cells. Of them, 52 cells are on each side, opening into a common entrance. This entrance was the connecting point between all the cells, and the flight of stairs used to be to a courtyard from the central place. Each cell contains three beds, and each block has a well-planned drainage system. A few brick arched chambers beneath some of the cells are also probably used for meditation with confidence by the monks. The central stupa, alias main stupa or Vikram Shila stupa, was set up only for worship, is a brick structure placed in mud mortar standing in the centre of the square monastery. This two-storey structure is cruciform on plan and about 15 metres high from the ground level, accessible through a flight of steps on the north side. And now come to the point of terrace walls that are beautifully adorned with terracotta panels. A lot of them have now been destroyed. The panels are embossed with Buddha, Jambala, Manjushri, Tara etc. Hindu deities like Vishnu, Parvati and Hanuman also accompany them.
The Vikramshila excavation also revealed animals, yogis, drummers and bird figurines and some symbolic representations. Along with those, a few small bronze statues of Buddhist deities like the Buddha, Maitreya, Vajrapani, Avalokitesvara and Manjush came under the spotlight. A rectangular-shaped library building is a monument of about 32 metres south of the monastery on its southwest corner, attached with the main monastery through a narrow corridor. The precious manuscripts were kept in this library building, which was air-conditioned with cold water from the reservoir, was placed near that library building through several emissions in the back wall.
A museum was built to show all the objects revealed from the excavation site. The museum is located 36 km east of Bhagalpur district in the village Antichak near the river Ganga. The museum building has two storeys of housing all the antiquities dug so far. The ground floor houses the objects for the visitors to exhibit are stone sculptures of the idols such as Buddha, Avalokitesvara, Bodhisattwa, Lokenath, Marichi, Jambala, Tara and Aparajita. Images of Shiva, Parvati, Ganesh, Kartikeya, Chamuna, Mahisasurmardini, Krishna and Sudama, Surya, Vishnu are also displayed. According to the Pala school of art, some of these statues were made out of black basalt and had been polished to make them perfect and glitter. The ground floor of the museum is also adorned with some earth moulds, collectables and iron objects. Next, the first floor which has housed a scaled model of the excavated site of Vikramshila. It also has fascinating things, i.e., antiques like pendants, finger rings, lockets, art figures, utensils, coins (a few silver and copper), weapons, handmade terracotta animals, and bird figurines.
An annual festival is organised at the Vikramshila site during February. From Kolkata, you have options of three modes of communications to be at Vikramshila: air, bus, and train.
From Kolkata to Patna: by flight (469kms) (60minutes) | From Kolkata to Patna: by bus(582kms) (4hrs 30minutes)
From Kolkata to Bhagalpur: by train(400kms) (8hrs 05minutes)
From Patna to Vikramshila: Distance: 238kms(147.9miles) Time Taken: 4hrs 45minutes (by car)
The departure time can change based on situation but so far Train timetable from HWH and SDAH – Kolkata is below:
(1) HWH Gaya Express(Daily) 19:50(HWH)———04:10(BGP) (431kms—-08hrs 20minutes)
(2) HWH JMP Express(Daily) 21:35(HWH)———05:40(BGP) (419kms—08hrs 05minutes)
(3) KABIGURU Express(Daily) 10:40a.m.(HWH)———–09:10p.m.(BGP) (400kms–10hrs 30minutes)
(4) SDAH ANVT Express(Sunday & Thursday) 09:15p.m.(SDAH)———06:40a.m.(BGP) (421kms—09hrs 25minutes)
(5) SDAH BSB Express(Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday) 09:15p.m.(SDAH)———06:40p.m.(BGP)(421kms—09hrs 25minutes)
Address: Vikramshila Ruins, Antichak village, Kahalgaon Block, Bhagalpur, Bihar, 812001.
Nearest Airport: Patna | Nearest Rlystn: Bhagalpur | Nearest Bus station: Bhagalpur Bus Station or Purnia Bus Station.
The Entry fee for Indians, citizens of SAARC and BIMSTEC countries are Rupees 20 (20p), and for the rest, it is Rupees 250 (£2.5).
Except for the summer and the monsoon, the other seasons are suitable for you if you plan to visit the Vikramshila University or the Vikramshila ruins. To spend a couple of days there, you may avail some of the following hotels that are waiting eagerly to serve you. They are:
(1) Hotel Rajhans International(0.9km away from the ruins of the Vikramshila University)
(2) M S Hotel (2.9kms away from the ruins of the Vikramshila University)
(3) Hotel Galaxy 16(1km away from the ruins of the Vikramshila University)
(4) Max Clarks Inn Bhagalpur(1.1km away from the ruins of the Vikramshila University)
(5) Hotel Vaibhab(0.8km away from the ruins of the Vikramshila University)
Vikramshila museum opens its door for the visitors daily at 6:00 a.m. and closes its door for the day at 6:00 p.m., and defines its entry fee as Rs. 5 for all.
Image courtesy: Prataparya