Home > Bengal History, Buddhist Sites, General > Bhot Bagan, Howarah Buddhist Monastery with a tumultuous history

Bhot Bagan, Howarah Buddhist Monastery with a tumultuous history

Bhot Bagan

The Howarah Buddhist Monastery with a tumultuous history

Visitors in the Himalayas are all familiar with monasteries. They generally consist of Buddhist shrines of Tibetan origin surrounded by fluttering prayer flags with green hills or snow peaks in the backdrop. But can you imagine such a monastery in the plains of Bengal!! That too right next to the Hooghly River and bang opposite the city of Kolkata.

Bhot Bagan Monastery, Ghusuri, Howrah

Bhot Bagan Monastery, Ghusuri, Howrah

Bhot Bagan, literally meaning the Tibetan Garden, is presently located in the winding lanes of Ghusuri in Howrah. It dates back to 1780 and happens to be the oldest Tibetan Buddhist Monastery outside the Himalayas.

Bhot Bagan Monastery, Ghusuri, Howrah

 

The story of the Bhot Bagan begins with a conflict between the Kingdom of Bhutan and the princely state of Coach Bihar. East India Company under the leadership of Warren Hastings decided to help the Cocah Bihar king and together they drove the Bhutanese away. At this point, the Panche Lama intervened. He claimed that Bhutanese were Tibetan subjects and offered a peace settlement. Panche Lama went on to send an envoy, a Hindu monk by the name of Puran Giri Gosain (or Goswami).

Bhot Bagan Monastery, Ghusuri, Howrah

Bhot Bagan Monastery, Ghusuri, Howrah

Puran Giri who was popularly known as Purangir, was a member of the Dashanami Sampradaya, a Hindu monastic tradition founded by the Adi Shankara Acharya. Worshipers of Shiva, the Gosains were a unique class of trading monks, who were so rich and powerful that they often had private armies to guard trading routes.

The present temple at Bhot Bagan

The present temple at Bhot Bagan

Hastings, who was on the lookout for a trade relationship with China, took advantage of the situation and welcomed Purangir.

On the other hand for Panche Lama and the Tibetans India has always been a holy land. They always wanted to have a monastery in the plains of India, thus Bhot Bagan was conceived.

On December 1775 East India Company leased 30 bighas of land to Purangir. The land was located in Ghusari in Howrah.

Within a short time, temples and buildings started coming up and 30 bighas of land increased to 150 bighas of freehold land. From the very beginning, Bhot Bagan has been a place of mixed religion combing Hinduism and Buddhism along with tantric practices.

Idol of Tara, Bhot Bagan

Idol of Tara, Bhot Bagan

During the inception, several items were brought from Tibet by Panche Lama, which included idols of Mahakal and Tara. Along with that came 100 pieces of gold, carpets and cloth banners.

The main attraction was the idol of Mahakal, made of precious metal it had nine heads, eighteen legs and thirty-six arms, each clasping a weapon and one holding on to a female consort.

Sadly the Bhot Bagan was attacked by armed dacoits in 1795 Purangir gallantly resisted the dacoits but was killed in action. The dacoits fled with the prized idol of Mahakal. Today the idol of Tara occupies the place of Mahakal.

In 1905 the Gosain lineage ended with their last member dying without a legal heir. Presently the Bhot Bagan Math has been under the control of a court-appointed receiver.

Presently the Tiwari family serves as the caretaker of the property and a local priest daily puja following Hindu rights. Recently Bhot Bagan came under the supervision of West Bengal Heritage Commission.

Twin temples at Bhot Bagan

Twin temples at Bhot Bagan

Today Bhot Bagan is located on Gossain Ghat Street and is approachable by a complex maze of winding lanes. It is locally known as Mahakal Math. It is best reached with local guidance, which work much better than Google map.

It is locally known as Mahakal Math. It is best reached with local guidance, which works much better than Google map. (Google map location)

Sadly today nothing much remains of the famed Buddhist Monastery. The land which once measured 150 bighas had shrunk to 6 bighas. The main building with its thick pillars still stands although large portion of the roof has long collapsed. Local boys play cricket in the large field surrounding the building. Sadly they are not aware of the history of the place.

Tombs of Gossain family

The temple is located next to the main building and has been given a new look. Apart from the puja timing, the temple is locked but it is usually opened on request. The idol of Tara is placed inside a metal grill chamber and is locked. Next to the idol of Tara is another chamber housing a Shiva Linga.

Bhot Bagan Monastery, Ghusuri, Howrah

Bhot Bagan Monastery, Ghusuri, Howrah

Apart from the main building the complex also has twin Shiva temples on the western side. On the east are several temple-like structures, which are overgrown with vegetation. These are not temples but tombs. The Gosains were not cremated after death but were rather buried and temple-like tombs were erected above the graves. Today seven of the nine tombs still stand in dilapidated condition.

Sadly the oldest Tibetan Buddhist Monastery of the Indian plains is in a sad state and if nothing is done it would soon crumble into dust and in the process will wipe out an entire chunk of history.

  1. July 13, 2022 at 7:45 AM

    thanks for your efforts and like you cover parts of punjab if their is a possibility.

    • July 13, 2022 at 7:50 AM

      I have bben to Delhi a number of times but not to Punjab. But would definitely love to cover the state

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: