Vihara
Overview
 
Vihara is the Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 and Pali
Páli
- External links :* *...

 term for a Buddhist monastery
Monastery
Monastery denotes the building, or complex of buildings, that houses a room reserved for prayer as well as the domestic quarters and workplace of monastics, whether monks or nuns, and whether living in community or alone .Monasteries may vary greatly in size – a small dwelling accommodating only...

. It originally meant "a secluded place in which to walk", and referred to "dwellings" or "refuges" used by wandering monks
Bhikkhu
A Bhikkhu or Bhikṣu is an ordained male Buddhist monastic. A female monastic is called a Bhikkhuni Nepali: ). The life of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis is governed by a set of rules called the patimokkha within the vinaya's framework of monastic discipline...

 during the rainy season.

The northern India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

n state of Bihar
Bihar
Bihar is a state in eastern India. It is the 12th largest state in terms of geographical size at and 3rd largest by population. Almost 58% of Biharis are below the age of 25, which is the highest proportion in India....

 derives its name from the word "vihara", probably due to the abundance of Buddhist monasteries in that area. The Central Asian city of Bukhara
Bukhara
Bukhara , from the Soghdian βuxārak , is the capital of the Bukhara Province of Uzbekistan. The nation's fifth-largest city, it has a population of 263,400 . The region around Bukhara has been inhabited for at least five millennia, and the city has existed for half that time...

 also probably takes it name from "vihara".
Encyclopedia
Vihara is the Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 and Pali
Páli
- External links :* *...

 term for a Buddhist monastery
Monastery
Monastery denotes the building, or complex of buildings, that houses a room reserved for prayer as well as the domestic quarters and workplace of monastics, whether monks or nuns, and whether living in community or alone .Monasteries may vary greatly in size – a small dwelling accommodating only...

. It originally meant "a secluded place in which to walk", and referred to "dwellings" or "refuges" used by wandering monks
Bhikkhu
A Bhikkhu or Bhikṣu is an ordained male Buddhist monastic. A female monastic is called a Bhikkhuni Nepali: ). The life of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis is governed by a set of rules called the patimokkha within the vinaya's framework of monastic discipline...

 during the rainy season.

The northern India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

n state of Bihar
Bihar
Bihar is a state in eastern India. It is the 12th largest state in terms of geographical size at and 3rd largest by population. Almost 58% of Biharis are below the age of 25, which is the highest proportion in India....

 derives its name from the word "vihara", probably due to the abundance of Buddhist monasteries in that area. The Central Asian city of Bukhara
Bukhara
Bukhara , from the Soghdian βuxārak , is the capital of the Bukhara Province of Uzbekistan. The nation's fifth-largest city, it has a population of 263,400 . The region around Bukhara has been inhabited for at least five millennia, and the city has existed for half that time...

 also probably takes it name from "vihara". The word "vihara" also been absorbed in Malay
Malay language
Malay is a major language of the Austronesian family. It is the official language of Malaysia , Indonesia , Brunei and Singapore...

 which uouo is spelled "biara," and means "monastery," especially for non-Muslim places of worship in Malaysia. In Thailand
Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

 and China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 (called in Chinese), "vihara" has a narrower meaning, and designates a shrine
Shrine
A shrine is a holy or sacred place, which is dedicated to a specific deity, ancestor, hero, martyr, saint, daemon or similar figure of awe and respect, at which they are venerated or worshipped. Shrines often contain idols, relics, or other such objects associated with the figure being venerated....

 hall. It is called a "Wihan" in Thai, and a "Vihear" in Khmer
Khmer language
Khmer , or Cambodian, is the language of the Khmer people and the official language of Cambodia. It is the second most widely spoken Austroasiatic language , with speakers in the tens of millions. Khmer has been considerably influenced by Sanskrit and Pali, especially in the royal and religious...

. In Burmese
Burmese language
The Burmese language is the official language of Burma. Although the constitution officially recognizes it as the Myanmar language, most English speakers continue to refer to the language as Burmese. Burmese is the native language of the Bamar and related sub-ethnic groups of the Bamar, as well as...

, wihara , means "monastery," but the native Burmese word kyaung is preferred.

Origins

In the early decades of Buddhism the wandering monks of the Sangha
Sangha
Sangha is a word in Pali or Sanskrit that can be translated roughly as "association" or "assembly," "company" or "community" with common goal, vision or purpose...

, dedicated to asceticism and the monastic life, had no fixed abode
No fixed abode
No fixed abode or without fixed abode is a legal term generally applied to those who do not have a fixed geographical location as their residence...

. During the rainy season (cf. vassa
Vassa
Vassa , also called Rains Retreat, or Buddhist Lent, is the three-month annual retreat observed by Theravada practitioners...

) they stayed in temporary shelters. These dwellings were simple wooden constructions or thatched bamboo huts. However, as it was considered an act of merit not only to feed a monk but also to shelter him, sumptuous monasteries were created by rich lay devotees (Mitra 1971). They were located near settlements, close enough for begging alms from the population but with enough seclusion to not disturb meditation.

Trade-routes were therefore ideal locations for a vihara and donations from wealthy traders increased their economic strength. From the first century CE onwards viharas also developed into educational institutions, due to the increasing demands for teaching in Mahayana
Mahayana
Mahāyāna is one of the two main existing branches of Buddhism and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice...

 Buddhism (Chakrabarti 1995).

In the second century BCE a standard plan for a vihara was established. It could be either structural, which was more common in the south of India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, or rock-cut like the chaitya
Chaitya
A chaitya is a Buddhist or Jain shrine including a stupa. In modern texts on Indian architecture, the term chaitya-griha is often used to denote assembly or prayer hall that houses a stupa.-History:...

-grihas of the Deccan. It consisted of a walled quadrangular court, flanked by small cells. The front wall was pierced by a door, the side facing it in later periods often incorporated a shrine for the image of the Buddha
Buddharupa
Buddharūpa is the Sanskrit and Pali term used in Buddhism for statues or models of the Buddha.-Commonalities:...

. The cells were fitted with rock-cut platforms for beds and pillows (Mitra 1971). The unwanted rock was excavated, leaving the carved cave structure. This basic layout was still similar to that of the communal space of an ashram
Ashram
Traditionally, an ashram is a spiritual hermitage. Additionally, today the term ashram often denotes a locus of Indian cultural activity such as yoga, music study or religious instruction, the moral equivalent of a studio or dojo....

a ringed with huts in the early decades of Buddhism (Tadgell 1990).

As permanent monasteries became established, the name "Vihara" was kept. Some Viharas became extremely important institutions, some of them evolving into major Buddhist Universities with thousands of students, such as Nalanda
Nalanda
Nālandā is the name of an ancient center of higher learning in Bihar, India.The site of Nalanda is located in the Indian state of Bihar, about 55 miles south east of Patna, and was a Buddhist center of learning from the fifth or sixth century CE to 1197 CE. It has been called "one of the...

.

Life in "Viharas" was codified early on. It is the object of a part of the Pali canon
Pāli Canon
The Pāli Canon is the standard collection of scriptures in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, as preserved in the Pāli language. It is the only completely surviving early Buddhist canon, and one of the first to be written down...

, the Vinaya Pitaka
Vinaya
The Vinaya is the regulatory framework for the Buddhist monastic community, or sangha, based in the canonical texts called Vinaya Pitaka. The teachings of the Buddha, or Buddhadharma can be divided into two broad categories: 'Dharma' or doctrine, and 'Vinaya', or discipline...

 or "basket of monastic discipline".

Buddhist Vihara or monastery is an important form of institution associated with Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

. It may be defined as a residence for monks, a centre for religious work and meditation and a centre of Buddhist learning. Reference to five kinds of dwellings (Pancha Lenani) namely, Vihara, Addayoga, Pasada, Hammiya and Guha is found in the Buddhist canonical texts as fit for monks. Of these only the Vihara (monastery) and Guha (Cave) have survived.

History

The earliest Buddhist rock-cut cave abodes and sacred places (chaiti) are found in the western Deccan dating back to the 3rd century BC. These earliest rock-cut caves include the Bhaja Caves
Bhaja Caves
Bhaja Caves are a group of 22 rock-cut caves dating back to 200 BC located at Karli, near Lonavala, Maharashtra. The location of Bhaja caves is not far from location of Karla Caves and these are stylistically similar to the Karla Caves...

, the Karla Caves
Karla Caves
The Karla Caves or Karle Caves are a complex of ancient Indian Buddhist rock-cut cave shrines developed over two periods – from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD, and from the 5th century to the 10th century. The oldest of the cave shrines is believed to date back to 160 BC...

, and some of the Ajanta Caves. Relics found in these caves suggest an important connection between the religious and the commercial, as Buddhist missionaries often accompanied traders on the busy international trading routes through India. Some of the cave viharas and chaityas, commissioned by wealthy traders, included pillars, arches, reliefs and facades while trade boomed between the Roman Empire and south-east Asia.

Epigraphic, literary and archaeological evidence testify to the existence of many Buddhist Viharas in Bengal (West Bengal
West Bengal
West Bengal is a state in the eastern region of India and is the nation's fourth-most populous. It is also the seventh-most populous sub-national entity in the world, with over 91 million inhabitants. A major agricultural producer, West Bengal is the sixth-largest contributor to India's GDP...

 and Bangladesh
Bangladesh
Bangladesh , officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh is a sovereign state located in South Asia. It is bordered by India on all sides except for a small border with Burma to the far southeast and by the Bay of Bengal to the south...

) and Bihar from the 5th century AD to the end of the 12th century. These monasteries were generally designed in the old traditional Kushana pattern, a square block formed by four rows of cells along the four sides of an inner courtyard. They were usually built of stone or brick. As the monastic organization developed, they became elaborate brick structures with many adjuncts. Often they consisted of several stories and along the inner courtyard there usually ran a veranda supported on pillars. In some of them a stupa
Stupa
A stupa is a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics, typically the remains of Buddha, used by Buddhists as a place of worship....

 or shrine
Shrine
A shrine is a holy or sacred place, which is dedicated to a specific deity, ancestor, hero, martyr, saint, daemon or similar figure of awe and respect, at which they are venerated or worshipped. Shrines often contain idols, relics, or other such objects associated with the figure being venerated....

 with a dais
Dais
Dais is any raised platform located either in or outside of a room or enclosure, often for dignified occupancy, as at the front of a lecture hall or sanctuary....

 appeared. Within the shrine stood the icon
Icon
An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern Catholic churches...

 of Buddha, Bodhisattva or Buddhist female deities. More or less the same plan was followed in building monastic establishments in Bengal and Bihar during the Gupta
Gupta Empire
The Gupta Empire was an ancient Indian empire which existed approximately from 320 to 550 CE and covered much of the Indian Subcontinent. Founded by Maharaja Sri-Gupta, the dynasty was the model of a classical civilization. The peace and prosperity created under leadership of Guptas enabled the...

 and Pala Empire
Pala Empire
The Pāla Empire was one of the major middle kingdoms of India existed from 750–1174 CE. It was ruled by a Buddhist dynasty from Bengal in the eastern region of the Indian subcontinent, all the rulers bearing names ending with the suffix Pala , which means protector. The Palas were often described...

 period. In course of time monasteries became important centres of learning.At the age of Mauryan emperor Ashoka the great the Mahabodhi Temple
Mahabodhi Temple
The Mahabodhi Temple is a Buddhist temple in Bodh Gaya, the location where Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, attained enlightenment. Bodh Gaya is located about from Patna, Bihar state, India. Next to the temple, to its western side, is the holy Bodhi tree...

 was built in the form of vihara.
An idea of the plan and structure of some of the flourishing monasteries may be found from the account of Xuanzang
Xuanzang
Xuanzang was a famous Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveler, and translator who described the interaction between China and India in the early Tang period...

, who referred to the grand monastery of po-si-po, situated about 6.5 km west of the capital city of Pundravardhana
Pundravardhana
This article is about the historical territory. For the Mahabharata kingdom see Pundra KingdomPundravardhana , was a territory located in North Bengal in ancient times, home of the Pundra, a group of people speaking languages not of the Indo-European family.-Etymology:There are several theories...

 (Mahasthan
Mahasthangarh
Mahasthangarh is the earliest urban archaeological site so far discovered in Bangladesh. The village Mahasthan in Shibganj thana of Bogra District contains the remains of an ancient city which was called Pundranagara or Paundravardhanapura in the territory of Pundravardhana...

). The monastery was famous for its spacious halls and tall chambers. General Cunningham identified this vihara with bhasu vihara. Huen-tsang also noticed the famous Lo-to-mo-chi vihara (Raktamrittika Mahavihara) near Karnasuvarna (Rangamati, Murshidabad, West Bengal). The site of the monastery has been identified at Rangamati (modern Chiruti, Murshidabad, West Bengal). A number of smaller monastic blocks arranged on a regular plan, with other adjuncts, like shrines, stupas, pavilions etc. have been excavated from the site.

One of the earliest viharas in Bengal was located at Biharail (Rajshahi district, Bangladesh). The plan of the monastery was designed on an ancient pattern, i.e. rows of cells round a central courtyard. The date of the monastery may be ascribed to the Gupta period.

As the Buddhist ideology encouraged identification with trade, monastic complexes became stopovers for inland traders and provided lodging houses that were usually located near trade routes. As their mercantile and royal endowments grew, cave interiors became more elaborate with interior walls decorated with beautiful paintings exquisite reliefs and intricate carvings. Elaborate facades were added to the exteriors as the interiors became designated for specific uses as monasteries (viharas) and worship halls (chaitya
Chaitya
A chaitya is a Buddhist or Jain shrine including a stupa. In modern texts on Indian architecture, the term chaitya-griha is often used to denote assembly or prayer hall that houses a stupa.-History:...

s). Over the centuries simple caves began to resemble three-dimensional buildings, formally designed and requiring highly skilled artisans and craftsmen to complete as in the Ellora Caves
Ellora Caves
Ellora is an archaeological site, from the city of Aurangabad in the Indian state of Maharashtra built by the Rashtrakuta dynasty . Well-known for its monumental caves, Ellora is a World Heritage Site. Ellora represents the epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture. The 34 "caves" – actually...

. The highly skilled artisans never forgot their timber roots and imitated the nuances of a wooden structure and the wood grain.

Mahaviharas of the Pāla era

A range of monasteries grew up during the Pāla period in ancient Magadha (modern Bihar) and Bengal. According to Tibetan sources, five great Mahaviharas stood out: Vikramashila, the premier university of the era; Nalanda
Nalanda
Nālandā is the name of an ancient center of higher learning in Bihar, India.The site of Nalanda is located in the Indian state of Bihar, about 55 miles south east of Patna, and was a Buddhist center of learning from the fifth or sixth century CE to 1197 CE. It has been called "one of the...

, past its prime but still illustrious, Somapura, Odantapurā
Odantapuri
Odantapuri, also called Odantapura or Uddandapura, was a Buddhist vihara in what is now Bihar, India. It was established by king Dharmapala of Pala dynasty in the 8th century. It is considered the second oldest of India's universities and was situated in Magadha, Recently it is known as a Bihar...

, and Jaggadala
Jaggadala
Jagaddala Mahavihara was a Buddhist monastery and seat of learning in Varendra, a geographical unit in present north Bengal....

. The five monasteries formed a network; "all of them were under state supervision" and there existed "a system of co-ordination among them . . it seems from the evidence that the different seats of Buddhist learning that functioned in eastern India under the Pāla were regarded together as forming a network, an interlinked group of institutions," and it was common for great scholars to move easily from position to position among them.

Reference to a monastery known as Vikramashila is found in Tibetan records. The Pala ruler Dharmapala was its founder. The exact site of this vihara is at Antichak, a small village in Bhagalpur district (Bihar). The monastery had 107 temples and 50 other institutions providing room for 108 monks. It attracted scholars from neighboring countries.

The famous Nalanda
Nalanda
Nālandā is the name of an ancient center of higher learning in Bihar, India.The site of Nalanda is located in the Indian state of Bihar, about 55 miles south east of Patna, and was a Buddhist center of learning from the fifth or sixth century CE to 1197 CE. It has been called "one of the...

 Mahavihara was founded a few centuries earlier; Huen-tsang speaks about its magnificence and grandeur. Reference to this monastery is found in Tibetan and Chinese sources. During the Pāla period the Nālānda was less singularly outstanding, as other Pālā establishments "must have drawn away a number of learned monks from Nālānda when all of the . . came under the aegis of the Pālās." Nonetheless, the fame of this monastery lingered even after the Pala period.

Somapura Mahavihara
Somapura Mahavihara
Somapura Mahavihara in Paharpur, Badalgachhi Upazila, Naogaon District, Bangladesh is among the best known Buddhist viharas in the Indian Subcontinent and is one of the most important archeological sites in the country...

 was located at Paharpur, 46.5 km to the northwest of Mahasthana. The available data suggests that the Pala ruler Dharmapala founded the vihara. It followed the traditional cruciform
Cruciform
Cruciform means having the shape of a cross or Christian cross.- Cruciform architectural plan :This is a common description of Christian churches. In Early Christian, Byzantine and other Eastern Orthodox forms of church architecture this is more likely to mean a tetraconch plan, a Greek cross,...

 plan for the central shrine. There were 177 individual cells around the central courtyard. There were central blocks in the middle of the eastern, southern and western sides. These might have been subsidiary chapels. It was the premier vihara of its kind and its fame lingered till the 11th century AD.

The name of the Odantapuri monastery is traceable in Pagsam jon zang (a Tibetan text), but no full-length description is available in the Tibetan source. Gopala I (?) built it near Nalanda. This was the monastery invaded by Bakhtiyar Khalji.
Jagaddala was situated near Ramavati in Varendra (North Bengal).

Other notable monasteries of Pala period were Traikuta, Devikota (identified with ancient kotivarsa, 'modern Bangarh'), and Pandita vihara. Excavations conducted in 1972 to 1974 yielded a Buddhist monastic complex at Bharatpur in the Burdwan district of West Bengal. The date of the monastery may be ascribed to the early medieval period. Recent excavations at Jagjivanpur
Jagjivanpur
Jagjivanpur or Jagajjibanpur is an archaeological site in Habibpur block of Malda district in West Bengal state in eastern India. This site is located at a distance of 41 km east from English Bazar town...

 (Malda district, West Bengal) revealed another Buddhist monastery (Nandadirghika-Udranga Mahavihara) of the ninth century. Unfortunately, nothing of the superstructure has survived. However, a number of monastic cells facing a rectangular courtyard have been found. An interesting feature is the presence of circular corner cells. It is believed that the general layout of the monastic complex at Jagjivanpur is by and large similar to that of Nalanda. Beside these, scattered references to some monasteries are found in epigraphic and other sources. Among them Pullahari (in western Magadha), Halud vihara (45 km south of Paharpur), Parikramana vihara and Yashovarmapura vihara (in Bihar) deserve mention.

Other important structural complexes have been discovered at Mainamati
Mainamati
Mainamati is located almost 8 miles from the town of Comilla, Bangladesh. It is the home of one of the most important Buddhist archaeological sites in the region. There are a number of Buddhist sites in this region, dating approximately from 7th to 12th centuries CE...

 (Comilla district, Bangladesh). Remains of quite a few viharas have been unearthed here and the most elaborate is the Shalvan Vihara. The complex consists of a fairly large vihara of the usual plan of four ranges of monastic cells round a central court, with a temple in cruciform plan situated in the centre. According to a legend on a seal (discovered at the site) the founder of the monastery was Bhavadeva, a ruler of the Deva dynasty.

See also

  • Bhaja Caves
    Bhaja Caves
    Bhaja Caves are a group of 22 rock-cut caves dating back to 200 BC located at Karli, near Lonavala, Maharashtra. The location of Bhaja caves is not far from location of Karla Caves and these are stylistically similar to the Karla Caves...

  • Brahma-vihara
  • Ellora Caves
    Ellora Caves
    Ellora is an archaeological site, from the city of Aurangabad in the Indian state of Maharashtra built by the Rashtrakuta dynasty . Well-known for its monumental caves, Ellora is a World Heritage Site. Ellora represents the epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture. The 34 "caves" – actually...

  • Kanheri Caves
    Kanheri Caves
    The Kanheri Caves are a group of rock-cut monuments, located north of Borivali on the western outskirts of Mumbai, India, deep within the green forests of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. It is 6 km from the National Park Main Gate & 7 km from Borivali Station. Tourists can go in after...

  • List of Buddhist temples
  • Mahabodhi Temple
    Mahabodhi Temple
    The Mahabodhi Temple is a Buddhist temple in Bodh Gaya, the location where Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, attained enlightenment. Bodh Gaya is located about from Patna, Bihar state, India. Next to the temple, to its western side, is the holy Bodhi tree...

  • Nava Vihara
    Nava Vihara
    Navbahar was a Buddhist stupa or monastery near the ancient city of Balkh in northern Afghanistan. The temple may have been an old Zoroastrian fire-temple, or it may have been converted to a Zoroastrian temple .-Rise to prominence:Navbahar, the main monastery at Balkh became the center of higher...

  • Wat
    Wat
    A wat is a monastery temple in Cambodia, Thailand, or Laos. The word "wat" means "school".- Introduction :...

     - a Buddhist temple in Cambodia, Laos or Thailand.
  • Chaitya
    Chaitya
    A chaitya is a Buddhist or Jain shrine including a stupa. In modern texts on Indian architecture, the term chaitya-griha is often used to denote assembly or prayer hall that houses a stupa.-History:...

  • Vihara Vajra Bhumi Sriwijaya - a Buddhist temple in Palembang Indonesia

External links

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