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In a one-of-its-kind discovery, the first hilltop Buddhist monastery of the Gangetic Valley has been found at Lal Pahari in Lakhisarai district, Bihar. There are many monasteries located in the area but the recently discovered one was excavated by 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.
Believed to be an important centre of Mahayana Buddhism, it is articulated that the Mahayani Buddhists set up the monastery far from the chaos and hustle of the city to practice Mahayana rituals in isolation. It is a vihara, called Srimaddharmaviharik Aryabhiksusanghasya, which can be roughly translated as ‘this is the sealing of the council of monks of Srimaddharma Vihara’. In addition to this, two clay pots carrying the name of the monastery have been key finds.
In his accounts, Chinese traveller Hieun Tsang had mentioned a number of monasteries and caves located in the area which serve a key purpose in practicing Buddhism. He also mentioned that the Buddha himself had stayed here.
During the Pala period, this area was believed to be a trading hub and the administrative center of the Pala rulers. The area is mentioned as Krimila in the Buddhist scriptures. It also finds a mention in the great archaeologist Alexander Cunningham’s discovery. Although no excavations were made before, the monastic structure will be richly preserved by the state as elaborate conservation plans are already in progress.
The state archeology department has planned to erect a shed over the remains of the monastery to further prevent the natural decay of the structure and protect it from exposure to extreme weather. Although a pathway will be constructed to reach the hilltop, the area pertaining to the monastic remains will be barricaded so as to not allow further damages.
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