The lost religion of Jainism in Bangladesh

The lost religion of Jainism in Bangladesh
The lost religion of Jainism in Bangladesh

Jainism in Bangladesh has been reduced to a few Jain Temples & around 8 artifacts preserved in the Bangladesh Museums

Jain Mandir in Dinajpur, Bangladesh
Jain Mandir in Dinajpur, Bangladesh

As per Banglapedia, According to Bodhisattvavadanakalpalata, Jainism was a living religion in pundravardhana (northern Bengal) in the fourth century BC.

The then leader of the Jaina temple was Bhadrabahu, a native of pundravardhana, who is credited with the compilation of a number of canons called Kalpasutra!

After his departure one of his disciples, Godas by name, took over the charge of the Jaina Temple at Pundravardhana.

His followers are called Godasgana. In course of its subsequent development, the sect of Godasgana was divided into four more sub-sects called Tamraliptikiya, Kotivarsiya, Pundravardhania and Dhasikharvatika.

So it may be considered that the whole of Bengal came under the influence of the Jainas (the preachers of the Jaina tenets) by the 4th-3rd century BC.

It Must be noted that Xuanzang, the 7th century Chinese pilgrim found numerous Digambara Jains in Pundravardhana (northern Bengal) and Samatata (southeastern Bengal) which shed light on the facts that Jainism in Bangladesh was a living Religion!

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Structural remains relating to Jain centers of religious activities in Bengal are almost nil. The Gupta copperplates found at Paharpur (c 5th century AD) refers to a Jain monastery in the village Vatagohali.

In course of digging in 1980-81 at Paharpur, vestiges of earlier structures have been traced below the 8th-9th century level.

Scholars believe that these earlier structures may be related to the Jaina monastery at Vatagohali. Two temples dedicated to the worship of Tirthankara are still to be seen at Satmatha of Bogra town and Bakshi Lane of Meherpur town.

But architecturally they are of 19th century origin. According to the local people some merchants who hailed from Gujarat of India built these.

Mostly the Jains of Bangladesh were Digambara

The most intriguing evidence however is from the Journal of Ralph Fitch, the late 16th Century English merchant who visited Bangladesh in 1586.

His vivid description of the wealthy merchants of Sonargaon leaves little doubt that they were Jains.

The proposition that ‘Peace is the natural consequence of trade’ seems to have held good in the lands of the Ganges/Brahmaputra for over 1,500 years, with clear evidence of peaceful coexistence of emerging Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, even arriving Islam, and it is hard to imagine what ended than peacefulness.

The suggestion that the Muslim Khilji raiders from Afghanistan, who raided throughout the 12th Century and then settled early in the 13th, were responsible bears consideration, but perhaps the existence of the Jain merchants in Sonargaon contradicts that view, since from Fitch’s journal it is clear these merchants operated under the benign eye of Isa Khan, the last of the Khilji rulers.

Also published on Medium.

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