Buddhism and Socio-Economic Life of Eastern India

Buddhism and Socio-Economic Life of Eastern India

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Item Code: IDD099
Author: Bimal Chandra Mohapatra
Publisher: D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 1995
ISBN: 8124600554
Pages: 212 {21 Illustrations in B/W}
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.8" X 7.5"
Weight 580 gm
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From the Jacket

With the revival of Brahmanical Hinduism sometime around the fifth century AD, Buddhism had been dying out in India. But paradoxically perhaps, in Bengal and Orissa, it saw not only its resurgence, but also a spell of its climatic glory- for the rulers of these Eastern Indian regions, during 8th-12th centuries, were the devout adherents of Buddhist faith. At the secular layers, the eastern India society of the times, as elsewhere in the subcontinent, was going through a period or transition: from the ancient to medieval.

This book look at the status of Buddhism in Bengal, Orissa, and their peripheral regions in Eastern India during 8th 12th centuries AD. Yet more significantly, it is the first ever effort to gauge the impact of Buddhism on contemporary socio-economic life, ruled by the dynastic families of zealous Buddhists, namely, the palas in Bengal and the Bhaumakaras of Orissa. Contextually, Dr. Mohapatra evolves indepth, analytical perspectives on pre-medieval religion, society and economy in eastern India drawing on wide-ranging sources: both primary and secondary.

Supported by relevant visual material, extensive bibliographic references, and a glossary of non-English words, the book is invaluable to the students/specialists of Buddhist studies and Indian history.

About the Author

Bimal Chandra Mohapatra, who holds Delhi University PhD is a one-time Research Fellow of the Indian Council of Historical Research and the Indian Council of Social Science Research.

An untiring researcher, Dr. Mohapatra is currently working in the Department of Buddhist Studies, University of Delhi, on a post-doctoral project relevant to Comparative religion. Which also involves him with the Taisho University and the Eastern Institute in Tokyo, Japan.


THIS book aims at presenting a comprehensive discussion about the condition of Buddhism and its impact on the social and economic conditions of Bengal and Orissa from the eighth to twelfth century AD. The study has been restricted to two dominating dynasties of Bengal and Orissa who were great patrons of Buddhism namely the Pal as of Bengal (present Bengal, Bihar and Bangladesh) who ruled from eighth to twelfth century AD and the Bhaumakaras of Orissa who ruled from eighth to tenth century AD.

It is significant to note that when Buddhism was declining and Brahmanism was in a very affluent condition throughout India, the eastern part of India, particularly Bengal (present Bengal, Bihar and Bangladesh) and Orissa, rendered a great impetus to Buddhism in the period from eighth to twelfth century AD. This book discusses in details the condition of Buddhism and its impact on the socio-economic condition of Bengal and Orissa during that period.

Although much work has been done on the religion, society and economic conditions of this period in Bengal and Orissa, but the relation- ship between the religion and socio-economic life of the people in this area has not been done so far. An effort has been made to fill this gap. We know that Buddhism had a meaningful relation to society and economy, helping the evolution of new patterns of social and economic behaviour and attitude. I have tried to look into this aspect of religion through this book.

The methodology adopted in this study is analytical as well as comparative. It has been tried to make the analysis as objective as possible.

I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all those who have helped me to complete this task through their generous cooperation.

No amount of word can adequately convey my sense of gratitude to Dr. (Miss) Sudha Sengupta, retired associate professor, Department of Bud- dhist Studies, University of Delhi as without her invaluable guidance, motherly affection and constant inspiration the present work would not have been possible.

I am highly indebted to Prof. Mahesh Tiwari, Prof. K.K. Mittal, Prof. Sanghasen Singh, and Dr. K. T.S. Sarao of the Deptt. of Buddhist Studies, University of Delhi and Prof. K.S. Behera, Deptt. of History, Utkal University and Prof. P.K. Mishra, Deptt. of History, Sambalpur Univer- sity for their kind cooperation and encouragement.

I would like to gratefully acknowledge my indebtedness to my parents and other family members, but for whose care, affection and cooperation, it would have been difficult for me to complete this work. No word of appreciation would suffice to record my debt to my wife for her perennial love, support and understanding. I am immensely thankful to all my friends for their constant inspiration.

My thanks are due to the Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi and National Museum, New Delhi for generously providing me the necessary photographs for this book.

Last but not the least, I sincerely appreciate the highly strenuous and valuable task undertaken by Mr. Susheel K. Mittal ofD.K. Printworld for publication of the book.


THE period from the eighth to twelfth century AD was significant from many points as far as Buddhism is concerned in eastern part of India. This period saw the last glory of the Buddhists in Indiaand there was a total transformation in the social and economic relations. It was the period when feudalism was raising its head in Bengal and Orissa and there was great transformation in the Buddhist faith also. Thus this period was a transitional one from ancient to medieval period which witnessed many changes in the society, economic conditions and religious faiths in Bengal and Orissa.

This work is based mainly on original sources though several secondary sources have also been consulted. We now discuss in detail about the sources which are given in two separate sections, one dealing with the sources for the history of Bengal during the rule of the Palas, another for the history of Orissa during the rule of the Bhaumakaras.


Bengal under the Palas

The sources of the history of ancient Bengal are of two broad categories, archaeological and literary. Epigraphical, numismatic and monumental records constitute the epigraphic source. The inscriptions found on stones or metals have been found in various places and they provide us a lot of informations about the period under study. The Pala monarchs were famous for issuing many land grants with inscriptions which describe them as devout Buddhists. These land grants also indicate the extent and the nature of patronage given to Buddhism by the Pala monarchs. At the same time these inscriptions proved the catholicity of the Pala monarchs towards other religious sects. The role played by Bengal in the international sphere of Buddhism is obtained from these records. These epigraphic records provide us concrete informations about the social conditions and economic activities of the people of the contemporary period.

Numismatic source, i.e., coins and seals does not constitute a major source so far as Bengal of our period is concerned, since the Pal as are not known to have issued any coin. The informations provided by some seals have ascertained the sites of the Buddhist Universities of Nalanda and Somapura.

The ruins of different Buddhist Monasteries like Nalanda and Somapura, stand silent witness to the flourishing condition of Buddhism under the Palas. The metal and stone images belonging to various sects of Buddhism discovered from various places in Bengal and Bihar (ancient Bengal) speak of the popularity of Buddhism. The affinity between Bengal and several south-east Asian sculptures has been established because of these monuments.

Literary source, though sometimes corroborative in nature is of immense value to us. This source is divided into two categories, indigenous and foreign. Indigenous primary texts which are mostly written in Sanskrit give us valuable information about the history of Bengal. The foreign texts, particularly Chinese, N apalese and Tibetan provide us informations about the evolution of Buddhism in Bengal. The discovery of a large number of manuscripts from Nepal have enriched our know ledge about the offshoots of Mahayana Buddhism like Sahajayana and Kalacakrayana. Tibetan texts have informed us about many Buddhist centres in Bengal like Nalanda, Vikramasila, Somapura, -Iagaddala, Devikota and many others. The condition of Buddhism in the pre-Pala period has been known to us because of the Chinese travelogues of Fahien, Hiuen Tsang and T-tsang.

Lama Taranath's History of Buddhism in India gives not only detailed account of the condition of Buddhism in Bengal but also the history of the Pala rulers in Bengal. In spite of some discrepancies, we must admit that Taranath had access to some historical texts, now lost to us and did not draw purely on his imagination. Taranath gathered his informations from certain old texts and either these were wrong in many details or he misunderstood them.

Another important literary source is the Subhasitaratnakosa, an anthology of Sanskrit poems compiled by a Buddhist scholar named Vidyakara in AD 1100. This book gives us a view of the village life in the early medieval Bengal. It begins with verses in praise of the Buddha followed by verses on the other Buddhist deities as well as brahmanical gods and goddesses which is an evidence of the catholic spirit towards religions. The verses are on seasons, periods of human life, love, goodmen, villains, poverty and praise of kings. Thus it served as an important source for getting a good knowledge about the village life in the early medieval Bengal.

In the course of preparation of this work all possible sources including epigraphic records, archaeological monuments, and literary texts belonging to our period of investigation have been consulted.

  Preface 7
  Abbreviations 11
  List of Illustrations 15
  Map of Ancient Bengal 17
  Map of Viharas of Ancient Bengal 18
  Map of the Bhaumakara Kingdom at its Height 19
  Map of Buddhist Centres in Orissa During Bhaumakara Period 20
1 Introduction 21
2 Position of Buddhism in Bengal and Orissa Prior to the 8th century 41
3 Buddhism in Bengal and Orissa during Palas and Bhaumkaras Period 53
4 Society in Bengal and Orissa 93
5 Economic Conditions in Bengal and Orissa 129
6 Conclusion 159
  Appendix 169
  Select bibliography 179
  Glossary 191
  Index 195
  Illustrations 201

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