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Mahaviharas of India
A range of monasteries grew up in ancient Magadha (modern Bihar) and Bengal. According to Tibetan sources, five great mahaviharas stood out during the Pāla period: Vikramashila, 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.
The famous Nalanda Mahavihara was founded a few centuries earlier; Xuanzang speaks about its magnificence and grandeur. Reference to this monastery is found in Tibetan and Chinese sources. During the Pāla period, 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.
Odantapuri, also called Odantapura or Uddandapura, was a Buddhist vihara in what is now Bihar, India. It was established by King Gopala of the Pala dynasty in the 7th century. It is considered the second oldest of India's universities and was situated in Magadh. Recently it is known as the Bihar Sharif (Headquarters of Nalanda District). Acharya Sri Ganga of Vikramashila had been a student here. According to the Tibetan records there were about 12,000 students at Odantapuri. Odantpuri was situated at a mountain called Hiranya Prabhat Parvat and the bank of the river Panchanan.
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 neighbouring countries.
Somapura Mahavihara was located at Paharpur, 46.5 km to the north-west of Mahasthana. The available data suggests that the Pala ruler Dharmapala founded the vihara. It followed the traditional cruciform 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 CE.
Jagaddala Mahavihara was a Buddhist monastery and seat of learning in Varendra, a geographical unit in present north Bengal. It was founded by the later kings of the Pāla dynasty, probably Ramapala (c. 1077 – c. 1120), most likely at a site near the present village of Jagdal in Dhamoirhat Upazila in the north-west Bangladesh on the border with India, near Paharapur.
Mahavihara of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
The Anuradhapura Maha Viharaya (Pali for "Great Monastery") was an important monastery for Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It was founded by king Devanampiya Tissa (247–207 BCE) in his capital Anuradhapura. The Mahavihara was the place where the Mahavihara orthodoxy was established by monks such as Buddhaghosa. The traditional Theravadin account provided by the Mahavamsa stands in contrast to the writings of the Chinese Buddhist monk Faxian (Ch. 法顯), who journeyed to India and Sri Lanka in the early 5th century (between 399 and 414 CE). He recorded that the Mahavihara was not only intact, but housed 3000 monks.
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- UNESCO World Heritage website
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