From about the 8th or 9th centuries onwards a new type of Buddhism began to develop in India which later became known as the Vajrayāna, the last of the three great `vehicles' of Buddhism.
In the beginning this new interpretation met with disapproval amongst the more traditional Monks and nuns, so King Dharmapāla (775-812) founded a Monastery named Vikramaśīla especially for its study.
One Tibetan source gives us this description of the Monastery. `Sri Vikramaśīla was built on the bank of the Ganges in the north of Magadha on the top of a hill. At its centre was built a temple housing a Life-size copy of the Mahā Bodhi image.
Around this were fifty three small temples for the study of the Guhyasamāja tantra and another fifty four ordinary ones, all being surrounded by a wall. Thus the number of temples was one hundred and eight. He (Dharmapāla) also provided requisites for one hundred and eight pundits.'
From other sources we also know that there was a huge courtyard big enough to hold 8,000 Monks, that at the entrance to the main temple were two statues, one of Nāgārjuna and another of Atisa, and that the Monastery's perimeter wall had six gates.
At the main entrance there was a dharmasāla to accommodate those who arrived after the gates had been locked at night. What the monastic universities at Valabhī and Bodh Gayā were to early Buddhism and Nāḷandā was to Mahāyāna, Odantapuri and Vikramaśīla were to Varjayāna.
Some of the Monasteries `gate keeper scholars' were amongst the greatest names of this twilight period of Indian Buddhism. They included Santipa, Jetari, Ratnavajira, Jñanasrimitra and the great Naropa.
Vikramaśīla's first abbot, Buddhajñanapada, was the author of some 14 works and was described as `a great pundit learned in many fields of Knowledge.' The Monastery's greatest son however was the Bengali Monk Atisa (982-1054).
Apart from being a brilliant scholar and prolific writer, he also developed a new curriculum for the university, built more rooms for its Monks and invited some of the best pundits of the time to come and teach there.
The colophons on several of Atisa's works state that he wrote then ‘while residing at Sri Vikramaśīla MahāVihāra.'
its height during the reign of King Rāmapāla at the beginning of the 11th century there were 160 teachers and 1,000 students.
They are known to have come from all over north India as well as from Kashmir, Java, Nepal and Tibet. Vikramaśīla's connection with Tibet is of course well known, its connection with Sri Lanka less so.
However, Vajrayàna flourished in Sri Lanka for about 300 years and teachers from Vikramaśīla were sometimes invited to the island.
The Caturasitisiddhapravritti says that Santipa, one of the greatest of the legendary 84 siddhas and a teacher at Vikramaśīla, visited Sri Lanka at the invitation of the country's king and stayed for three years.
Nor was the movement one way, Lankajayabadhra, famous for his expositions of the Guhayasamàja Tantra was one of the great Sri Lankan Tantric scholars who taught at the Monastery.
Some Tantric practitioners had a bad reputation for unconventional behavior, but such things were not tolerated at Vikramaśīla. It is recorded that a Monk named Maitrigupta was expelled for bringing wine into the Monastery. As was the custom, he was ejected over the wall rather than being allowed to leave through the main gate.
At the beginning of the 13th century Vikramaśīla met the same Fate as all Buddhist centres in India.
One Tibetan source says that the Monk Prajnarakshita prayed to a Tantric deity and the Muslim soldiers who were about to attack Vikramaśīla were scattered by a great rain storm. The reality was rather different.
As the invading armies pushed further east, the king hastily fortified several of the larger Monasteries including Vikramaśīla and stationed soldiers in them.
But it did no good. In about 1206 Vikramaśīla was sacked, its inmates were killed or driven away and its foundation stone was tossed into the Ganges.
Towards the end of the 19th century European and Indian scholars began speculating about where Vikramaśīla might be.
In 1901 Nundalal Dey suggested that it might be at Patharaghat where there were several huge mounds and fragments of Buddhist statuary near a hill overlooking the Ganges.
One ancient Tibetan source says that the Monastery was situated ‘where the holy river flows northward' and indeed the Ganges does turn north at Patharaghat.
Although Dey's suggestion is now widely accepted as correct, excavations at Patharaghat have so far failed to find a single inscription or seal actually mentioning the name Vikramaśīla.
Vikramaśīla University was one of the two most important centers of Buddhist learning in India during the Pala dynasty, along with Nālandā University.
Vikramaśīla was established by King Dharmapala (783 to 820) in response to a supposed decline in the quality of scholarship at Nālandā. Atisha, the renowned Pandita, is sometimes listed as a notable abbot.
Vikramasila (village Antichak, district Bhagalpur, Bihar) is located at about 50 km east of Bhagalpur and about 13 km north-east of Kahalgaon, a railway station on Bhagalpur-Sahebganj section of Eastern Railway. It is approachable through 11 km long motorable road diverting from N.H.80 at Anadipur about 2 km from Kahalgaon.
rnam gnon ngang tshul - Vikramashila [in Magadha] [RY]
rnam gnon tshul gyis bsngags pa'i slob dpon bcu gnyis - twelve masters who were renowned at Vikramashila.
They were Jnana pada, Dipamkarabhadra, Lan.kajayabhadra, Shridhara, Bhavabhadra, Bhayakirti, Lilavajra, Durjayacandra, Samayavajra, Tathagata rakshita, Bodhibhadra and Kamalarakshita. [GM] [RY]
zhi ba 'tsho - Lobpön Bodhisattva, Shantarakshita, 'Guardian of Peace.' The Indian pandita and abbot of Vikramashila and of Samye who ordained the first Tibetan monks.
He was an incarnation of the bodhisattva Vajrapani and is also known as Khenpo Bodhisattva or Bhikshu Bodhisattva Shantarakshita.
He is the founder of a philosophical school combining Madhyamika and Yogachara. This tradition was reestablished and clarified by Mipham Rinpoche in his commentary on the Madhyamaka Lamkara [RY]
bi kra ma shi la'i byang sgo srung ba'i paN Dita mdzad pa - was given the position of pandita protector of the northern gate of Vikramashila
Located at about 40 km from Bhagalpur city of Bihar, Vikramshila is one of the famous Buddhist locations of India.
Alhough Vikramasila has no known association with Lord Buddha, it emerged as the most important center of Tantric Buddhism, in the 8th century CE. The famous 8th century CE Vikramasila University here, was the main intellectual and learning center for Tantric Buddhism.
The University was built by a famous Pala king Dharmapala (770-810 A.D.), who loved to be called as Paramasaugata (chief worshipper of the Buddha) and was a great patron of Mahayana Buddhism.
At its center, once stood a grand temple housing a life-size copy of the Mahabodhi tree. A total of 108 temples were built around it, out of which 53 were dedicated for the study of the Guhyasamaja Tantra.
At the entrance to the main temple, there were two magnificent statues of Nagarjuna and Atisha Dipamkara (one of the great scholars of the Vikramasila University). Vikramasila is also known for its proximity to Champanagar, another famous Buddhist destination in the region.
A number of Monasteries grew up during the Pāla period in ancient Bengal and Magadha. According to Tibetan sources, five great Mahaviharas stood out: Vikramaśīla, the premier university of the era; Nalanda, past its prime but still illustrious, Somapura, Odantapurā, and Jaggadala.
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.
Vikramaśīla was founded by Pāla king Dharmapala in the late 8th or early 9th century. It prospered for about four centuries before it was destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji during fighting with the Sena dynasty along with the other major centers of Buddhism in India around 1200.
Vikramaśīla is known to us mainly through Tibetan sources, especially the writings of Tāranātha, the Tibetan Monk historian of the 16th-17th centuries.
Vikramaśīla was one of the largest Buddhist universities, with more than one hundred teachers and about one thousand students.
It produced eminent scholars who were often invited by foreign countries to spread Buddhist learning, culture and Religion.
The most distinguished and eminent among all was Atiśa Dipankara, a founder of the Sarma traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Subjects like philosophy, grammar, metaphysics, Indian logic etc. were taught here, but the most important branch of learning was tantrism.
According to scholar Sukumar Dutt, Vikramaśīla appears to have had a more clearly delineated hierarchy than other mahaviharas, as follows:
Six gate Protectors or gate scholars (Dvārapāla or Dvārapaṇḍita), one each for the Eastern, Western, First Central, Second Central, Northern, and Southern Gates
Great Scholars (Mahapaṇḍita)
Scholars (Paṇḍita), roughly 108 in number
Professors or Teachers (Upādhyāya or Āchārya), roughly 160 in number including paṇḍitas
Resident Monks (bhikṣu), roughly 1,000 in number
According to Tāranātha, at Vikramaśīla's peak during the reign of King Canaka (955-83), the dvārapāla were as follows: Ratnākaraśānti (Eastern Gate), Vāgīsvarakīrti (Western Gate), Ratnavajra (First Central Gate), Jñānaśrīmitra (Second Central Gate), Naropa (Northern Gate), and Prajñā karamati (Southern Gate).
If this is correct, it must have been toward the end of Canaka's reign given the generally accepted dates for Naropa (956-1041).
Vikramaśīla was a center for Vajrayana and employed Tantric preceptors.
The first was Buddhajñānapāda, followed by Dīpaṁkarabhadra and Jayabadhra.
The first two were active during Dharmapāla's reign, the third in the early to mid portion of the 9th century. Jayabadhra was the first prominent commentator on the Cakrasamvara Tantra.
Śrīdhara was the next preceptor, followed by Bhavabhaṭṭa. The latter, also a prominent commentator on Cakrasamvara, may have been the Mahāsiddha Bhadrapāda.
He in turn was succeed by three more prominent Cakrasamvara commentators, Bhavyakīrti, Durjayacandra, and Tathāgatarakṣita. Durjayacandra collaborated with the renowned Tibetan translator Rinchen Zangpo (rin chen bzang po) and his commentary became particularly important for the Sakya school, and Tathāgatarakṣita collaborated with Rin-chen grags.
In chronological order:
Layout and excavation
The remains of the ancient university have been partially excavated at village Antichak in the Bhagalpur district, Bihar state, India, and the process is still underway.
Meticulous excavation at the site was conducted initially by Patna University (1960–69) and subsequently by Archaeological Survey of India (1972–82).
It has revealed a huge square Monastery with a cruciform Stupa in its centre, a library building and cluster of votive stupas.
To the north of Monastery a number of scattered structures including a Tibetan and a Hindu temple have been found. The entire spread is over an area of more than one hundred acres.
The Monastery, or residence for the Buddhist Monks, is a huge square structure, each side measuring 330 metres having a series of 208 cells, 52 on each of the four sides opening into a common verandah. A few brick arched underground chambers beneath some of the cells have also been noticed which were probably meant for confined Meditation by the Monks.
The main Stupa built for the purpose of worship is a brick structure laid in mud mortar which stands in the centre of the square Monastery.
This two-terraced Stupa is cruciform on plan and about 15 metres high from the ground level accessible through a flight of steps on the north side.
On each of the four cardinal directions there is a protruding chamber with a pillared antechamber and a separate pillared mandapa in front.
In the four chambers of the Stupa were placed colossal stucco images of seated Buddha of which three were found in situ but the remaining one on north side was possibly replaced by a stone image after the clay image was somehow damaged.
About 32 metres south of the Monastery on its south west corner and attached with the main Monastery through a narrow corridor is a rectangular structure identified as a library building.
It was air-conditioned by cooled water of the adjoining reservoir through a range of vents in the back wall. The system was perhaps meant for preserving delicate manuscripts.
A large number of antiquities of different materials, unearthed from this place in the course of excavation, are displayed in the site museum maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India.
The Stupa is a sacred solid structure raised over the Body remains or belongings of Buddha or a distinguished Monk; or to commemorate any event associated with them.
But some stupas are merely symbolic made for worship by the Monks. A votive Stupa is a miniature Stupa erected by a devotee in Gratitude of fulfillment of his desire.
The Vikramshila Stupa built for the purpose of worship is a brick structure laid in mud mortar and stands in the centre of the square Monastery.
This two terraced Stupa is cruciform on plan and about 15 meters high from the ground level.
The lower terrace is about 2.25 meters high from the ground level and the upper terrace is at a similar height from the lower side. At both terraces there is a circumbulatory path, the lower about 4.5 meters wide and the upper about 3 meters wide.
The main Stupa placed over the upper terrace is accessible through a flight of steps on the north side on each of the four cardinal directions.
There is a protruding chamber with a pillared antechamber and a separate pillared mandapa in front, placed beyond the circumbulatory passage.
In the four chambers of Stupa were placed colossal stucco images of seated Buddha of which three were found in situ, but the remaining of the north side was possibly replaced by a stone image after the clay image was somehow damaged.
All the stucco images are unfortunately broken above the waist.
The images are placed over a brick pedestal having traces of painting in red and black pigments. The walls and floors of the chamber and antechamber were plastered with lime.
A The wall Carvings of various deities
The wall carvings of various deities
The walls of both the terraces are decorated with mouldings and terracotta plaques which testify the high excellence of terracotta Art flourishing in the region during Pala period (8th to 12th centuries).
The plaques depict many Buddhist deities like Buddha, Avalokiteshvara, Manjusri, Maitreya, Jambala, Marichi, and Tara, scenes related to Buddhism, some social and Hunting scenes, and a few Hindu deities like Vishnu, Parvati, Ardhanarisvara and Hanuman Many human figures, like those of ascetics, yogis, preachers,
drummers, warriors, archers, snake charmers, etc., and animal figures like monkeys, Elephants, horses, deer, boar, panthers, lions, wolves, and birds, are also depicted.
The architecture of the Stupa and the terracotta plaques bear great resemblance to the Somapura Mahavihar, Paharpur (Bangladesh) which, too, was founded by the same king Dharmapala. In plan both are very much alike with the significant difference that Somapura is centered around a central temple rather than a Stupa. Vikramasila Monastery is also larger and has fort-like projections on its outer wall.
Vikramaśīla was neglected for years which contributed to extensive damages to the monument A.S.I. is now planning to develop the excavated site of Vikramshila University.
Since 2009, there has been considerable work in maintaining and beautifying the place to attract tourism. There has been inflow of western tourist as well, during their river cruises on the Ganges River.
The Vikramshila site is the place for Vikramshila Mahotsav, which is held annually during the month of February.
How to reach there
The nearest big town is Kahalgaon about 13 km, It is approachable through 11 km long motorable road diverting from N.H. 80 at place Anadipur, about 2 km from Kahalgaon.
Lately river cruises from Kolkata to Varanasi have started, which also stop by the Vikramshila ruins. The river cruises are conducted by Pandaw cruises. The river curises have started from September 2009
In popular culture
An Indian Railways train recognizes this place by running a Train No. 2367/2368 Vikramshila Express that runs from Delhi to Bhagalpur, Bihar.