A Question of Time
A glorious past travelling through a promising present toward a formidable future.
…………….. I remember having been overwhelmed by his (Neheru) narration of the world chronicle in his “History of the World Civilisation” at the impressionable age of fourteen. The way he took pride in being an Indian–the India that had one of world’s oldest universities–the great university of Nalanda. Incidentally, this university was also graced by a Bangali scholar from Bajrajogini in Bikrampur. A gentleman by the name of Sriggan Atish Dipankar. I remember having seen an almost innocuous road in remote Kamalapur named after him. A road that leads you to the Buddhist monastery there. As if Atish Dipankar was only a monk. As if naming of an inconsequential road was an adequate honour for him.
I read the Aly Zaker piece published in Daily Star several years ago. So this time when I visited Bangladesh, I made sure I visit his birth place, which is located within a stones throw from by ancestral home.
Who is this Atish Dipankar?
Tibetans revere Dipankar, granting him a rank second only to Gautam Buddha and refer to him as Jobo Chhenpo (a great god). The lamas of Tibet, who hold political and religious power, feel proud to be introduced as disciples and heirs of Dipankar. The influence of Dipankar is still felt in the religion and culture of Tibet. Dipankar wrote, translated and edited more than two hundred books, which helped spread Buddhism in Tibet. He discovered several sanskrit manuscripts in Tibet and copied them himself. He translated many books from Sanskrit to Bhot (Tibetan). He also wrote several books on Buddhist scriptures, medical science and technical science in Bhot. Dipankar wrote several books in Sanskrit, but only their Tibetan translations are extant now.
Dipankar was born in a royal family of Guada in Bikramapur of Bengal which is east of Bajrasana. His father’s name was Kalyansri and mother’s name was Prabhabati. His birth place, Bajrayogini reminiscent of a ‘Yogi with Bajra’, a typical Buddhist name with Mahayana traditions still bears the same name across the long stretch of a thousand years despite many ups and downs in history.
Atish Dipankar household was identified to the generations of people in Munshiganj/Bikrampur area as “Nastik Panditer Bhita” (meaning ancestral home of atheist scholar). People of successive generations particularly after decline of Buddhism in Bangladesh in 13th-14th Century may have had forgotten Atish Dipankar. Yet he had lived in public memory with veneration as a remote anonymous atheist scholar till his birth place was identified by scholars working on life of Atish Dipankar.
Anyway, going back to my visit to Dipankar birth place, As we came closer, a signboard of a’ goru chhagoler khamar ‘( Goat and cow farm) greeted us at the entrance of the mud approach road. The khamar has been erected alongside a walled compund. A signboard of ” Atish Dipankar Smriti stamva” is lying upside down in one side. Within the walled area there is a 3 feet tall brick structure with a plaque stating ” Deep Regards For His Immortal Soul. Memorial Stone Laid By“…. followed by two ministers name who apparently came to unveil the memorial(?). People living in the Khamar has hanged clothes for drying on the perimeter fence of the “memorial Stone”. It was after Eid Ul Azha, look like people have used this empty piece of land for cow slaughtering and processing. There was dried blood everywhere.
I looked at the dried blood and tried to remind myself what Atish Dipankar preached all his life.
Detail of Atish will be be found in many websites but this is the most comprehensive I came across so far.
Atish Dipankar foundation has established ADUST , the atishdipankaruniversity in Dhaka.
Ash of his body is well preserved in Kamlapur Buddhabihar in Dhaka. Late president of Bangladesh Ziaur Rahman arranged the transfer of the ash-casket from China in 1978.