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Bangladesh - The Holy Land of Hindu and Buddhist Pilgrimages
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Over the millenniums several places have become famous tirthas or places of pilgrimages in Bengal. A large concentration of those places are in today's Bangladesh. Many notable monks, rishis(Hindu saints), bhikkhus(Buddhist saints), and famous personalities were born here. Many Muslim tombs of holy pirs and darbeshes exist here, notable among them is the mazar(cemetery) of Shah Jalal in Sylhet. There exist several famous Christian churches.
It is said that in the Golden Age of Bengal, Bengali Buddhist monks spread their faith in Tibet and Sri Lanka, and Hindus brought Hinduism to Shyam [Thailand], Cambodge [Cambodia], and in Jabadwip [Indonesia].

To document the religious heritage of Bangladesh, the Bangla Academy in Dhaka has published several books: on Hindu temples [Ratanlal Chaakraborty, Bangladesher Mandir, Bangla Academy, Dhaka, B.S. 1394,] Buddhist stupas and temples, and Muslim mosques and mazars.

In Bangladesh [Bengal] Hindu traditions of local, vedic, non-vedic, tribal, Mongolian along with Buddhist and Islamic, have all merged to give her a distinctive identity. Here the traditions of the Saivaites Saktas and Vaishnavs, (the predominant Hindu groups in Bengal) have merged producing many festivities from worshipping of tulshi plants and baniyan trees to snake goddess Manasa to Gods Kali, Shiv and Sri Krishna.

For the convenience of travel and for hotel accommodation, Bangladesh could be divided into six tirtha (pilgrimage) regions. For example, the Dhaka-Narayanganj-Mymansingh region of Central Bangla [Madhya Bangla, the Khulna-Jessore-Kushtia [West central Bengal], Paschim Madhya Bangla, Barisal-Faridpur's Coastal Bengal [Jal Bangla], the Chittagong-Comilla's Southeast Bengal [Dakhin-Purba Bangla], Sylhet and North Bengal [Uttar Bangla].

It is worth mentioning here that it is estimated that there are over 20,323 temples in Bangladesh [Ref: Sibsankar Chakraborty, Uddipan, Sri Ramakrishna Mission & Mott, Dhaka, 1986.] Thus it is impossible to write about all these. Many of these are in disrepair, and many have been attacked by fundamentalists. Bengal temple architecture is a special feature of Indian architecture. Most of the famous styles are as follows: shikhar, rekha or peerra deul, akchala [single slope], dochala, charchala or aatchala, pancha-rotno made out of various materials - the famous one being Bengal terracotta temples. After Lord Sri Chaitanya's birth, a new religious movement started in Bengal, and Sri Chaitanya's followers have built numerous temples throughout Bengal, notable among them in his native Sylhet, in the village of Sri Chaitanya, and in the birth places of his early disciples.

Shakti Piths: According to Hindu customs, there are a total of 51 Shakti piths (Holy sites deicated to the feminine deity of Hindusim), spread from Baluchistan to Bengal, and Kashmir to Kerala. These are the places where the parts of the body of Mother Sati [Ma Kali  Hindu religious figure] fell after her death. However, eight of those sites are located in Bangladesh. There is no such concentration of holy places anywhere else. In these sites one normally finds temples of Lord Shiv and Mother Kali [Bhabani.] Bangladeshi piths (Hindu Holi Sites) are: 1. "Shugandha," Uttar Shikarpur village, Gour Nadi thana, Barisal district; 2. "Karatoya Tot," Bhabanipur village, Sherpur thana, Bogura; 3. "Srihatta," Jainpur village, Thana & district Sylhet; 4. "Jayanti," Baurbhag village, Jaintia, Sylhet; 5. "Tripura," Radhakishorpur, Comilla; 6. "Jesssoreswari," Iswaripur, Khulna; 7. "Kirit Devi Kamala," Botnagar, Elahiganj, Sylhet, and 8. "Chattagram," Sitakunda, Chittagong. Some individuals believe that the Elahiganj temple is not a pitha but it is the temple at Devikot village, Bangarh, Dinajpur. Of all these, location of the Chattagram at the mountain top at Sitakunda is spectacular, and is in decent shape as a tourist attraction and as a pilgrimage place.

Regions: In Central Bengal / Madhya Bangla one must mention the thousand-year old Ramna Kali temple. This was partially destroyed by the Pakistani Army and their fundamentalist Islamic cohorts (also known as Razakaras) in 1971, and later "cleared" by the independent government. Many Hindus still visit this site as a holy place. Then there is the 15th century Dhakeswari mandir in Dhaka. Langolbandh near Dhaka attracts thousands of pilgrims in the month of Falgun [mid-February to mid-March] for a fair and for a holy dip in the Brahmaputra river. In the west of Dhaka, near Savar Memorial, is Dhamrai. Its Rath [chariot] festival was the second most popular after Puri's [Orissa] Ratha-jatra. During the 1971 Liberation War the eight storey rath was destroyed. Now a smaller rath, Ratha-jatra and Rather-mela [fair] attracts thousands of people. Incidentally, Dhamrai has a beautiful collection of 18th-20th century buildings [dalan and jamidar barris.]

In the west there are several 3 to 4 centuries old temples dedicated to Lords Shiv, Kali and Sri Krishna. Jessoreswari of Khulna is the most famous among them. In addition there are Raghunath mandir and Gopinath mandir of Abhoynagar, Ganesh mandir of Jhenaidaha, Krishna and Durga mandirs of Mohammadpur, Shiv mandir of Magura, Kodala Mott of Khulna, Lakhsminarayan and Jorhbangla mandirs of Jessore, Pancha-Rotno mandir of Noldanga, etc. In Kushtia, Shilaidaha of Rabindranath, Lalon's tomb and Mosharaf Hossain's homestead is a must-see for all.

There are several mandirs(temples), motts(monasteries) and ashrams in Coastal Bengal / Jal Bangla. Indian freedom fighter Charonkobi [wondering minstrel] Mukunda Das has created a place of pilgrimage through the famed Kali temple in Barisal. Then there is Sugandha pitha a couple of miles north of Barisal. A few miles north is the 400 year old Maha-Bishnu temple at the Lakhsman-kathi village east of Batajore. Adjacent to that is the 16th century Mahilara leaning Mott. In Madaripur one will find the Pronob Mott, the former head quarters of the Bharat Sevasram Sangha, at Bajitpur village founded by the nationalist and reformer saint, Swami Pranavananda maharaj. A large fair is held annually during Guru Purnima [February full moon.]

In the Southeast Bengal / Dakhin-Purba, there are at least 50 famous temples and viharas in Chittagong city alone. Some of the well known are: Raj-rajeswari Kalibari, Chatteswari Kalibari, Panchanan dham, Nandan-kanan Buddhist Mandir, Brahmo mandir, Koibalya-dham, Jagatpur ashram, Sitakunda, Pancha-batika of Swami Vivekananda fame, etc. In and around Comilla there are Abhoy Ashram, Iswar Pathshala, Gandhi Ashram of Noakhali, half-a-millennium old Chandimura temple, 10th century Moynamati Vihara, and more.

Sylhet has hundreds of famous temples dedicated to Lords Kali, Shiv and Sri Krishna. Bagala Matar Mandir of Habiganj and Kalibari of Jaintiapur is known throughout the Subcontinent.

In North Bengal / Uttar Bangla kings and zamindars (landed gentry) have helped create many temples, mosques, palaces and ashrams. One of the most famous temple is Kantajir [terracotta] Mandir of Dinajpur. Two 9th and 10th century Buddhist stupas are very important attractions there. They are located at Paharpur and at Mahasthangarh. Additionally, Bogura's Karatoa Tott tirtha, Bardhan-Kuthi Mandir of Rangpur, Shiv and Gobindo mandirs of Putia is worth mentioning.


Dr. Sachi G Dastidar is a Distinguished Service Professor of State University of New York. He can be reached at dastidars@hotmail.com


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