The most famous bihar (Buddhist monastery) of Bangladesh is the Shompur Mohabihar, a world heritage site known as Paharpur.
Archaeologists discovered about five bihars in Naogaon, one in Rajshahi, few others around Mahasthangar, Bogura and few more at Cumilla. But we do not know much about bihars in the whole southern region – the Khulna and Barisal division.
Vorot Vaina bihar, or the bihar of King Vorot, is one such bihar in the southern region of the country and the sudden discovery of another ancient bihar in the neighbouring village sheds new light on the history of this region.
Vorot Vaina is situated in Keshabpur, on the border of Khulna and Jashore. You need to take the main road from Khulna to Satkhira, around the Kharnia area, and then follow the signs and go a few kilometres from the main road where you will see the impressive site, which looks like a smaller version of Paharpur.
The whole area is protected by high walls and guards and there is no entrance fee. This bihar is thought to be around 1,500 years old. In the yard there is a giant banyan tree which adds an extra heft to the appearance of the whole area.
Vorot Vaina was first discovered in 1922, and according to famous archaeologist Kashinath Dixit, it could be one of the 30 bihars mentioned by Chinese globetrotter Hiuen Tsang.
Local people believe some ancient king named Vorot built this monastery, hence it is called Vorot Vaina, but there is no evidence supporting it. Bangladesh Archaeological Department started excavation in 1985 and it is still going on.
We saw at least 82 walled rooms. At the basement there are 22 rooms, on top there are only four rooms, all of different sizes. When I reached the top, all I could see were waves of bricks. Nowhere in the whole southern part of Bangladesh were such big bricks ever found.
Although the age of this bihar could not be determined for sure, some artefacts suggest it could be even 1,800 years old. All the priceless objects found here during excavation are either on display in the Khulna city museum or preserved for research.
From Vorot Vaina we took the narrow road to Kashimpur, the neighbouring village located just two kilometres away.
While preparing the ground for mango orchards in Kashimpur, the locals found many bricks in one place. Later, the archaeological department found a great ruin there, which was later confirmed as another bihar. As the exploration is ongoing, we wanted to take a look before this place is turned into a tourist attraction.
We found the place easily; though the name of the bihar is not confirmed yet, any local will help you with directions. We found the family who first found this historical ruin and so far the whole area belongs to them.
They seemed happy about the sudden fame, and informed us about the excavation works. We had the privilege to walk by the ancient architecture all alone. The experience gave us goosebumps.
There are still many years of work needed to understand this bihar properly due to its large size. Locals said they also found lots of bricks in nearby places. Maybe it was once a prosperous city.
It was a fantastic experience to have visited both bihars of Southern Bangladesh on the same day.
How to go there
From Dhaka there are flights to Jessore from where you can go to Khulna. There are buses too which regularly go to Khulna from Dhaka.
From Khulna you will find local buses to Satkhira and you can also rent cars. For those on a tight budget, there are electric auto-rickshaws available from Khulna city.
The journey from Khulna to Satkhira usually takes less than an hour and travelling around the bihars and looking into everything will not take more than two to three hours.
The Chuknagar Genocide
On our way back from the bihar, we followed the Khulna-Shatkhira main road and took one narrow road to the left in search of the Chuknagar Genocide spot. On May 20, 1971, on this very spot, one of the worst massacres in history took place.
At least 10,000 people, most of whom were helpless villagers, were brutally murdered by the Pakistani military. To remember the deceased, a memorial has been built, which is known as the Chuknagar Martyrs' Memorial.
We found the place, although no signboard or direction signs were there. It was a pity to find the memorial without any information on the genocide. We were also upset to see that the memorial had been vandalised by visitors who wrote their names on the structure.
Before green chili was brought from Mexico by the European sailors to Bengal, our cooking totally depended on pepper and chui to add spiciness. Chui has a pungent flavour and it looks a lot like cinnamon barks. If you add it to the curry it gives a wonderful aroma.
The most famous restaurant which serves food cooked with this unique ingredient is the Abbas Hotel in Chuknagar. Their signature menu is chui mutton curry and each piece of mutton costs Tk130. I taste chui curry each time I visit Khulna, but I had never been to Chuknagar.
When we stopped at the Chuknagar circle in Dumuria, we found two Abbas restaurants on each side of the road and we got confused. Later we found that both are the same restaurants, and they serve food from the same kitchen, prepared by the same chef.
Founded by local chef Abbas Morol, this restaurant has been running for over 70 years. Now his three sons are running it. For any food lover, this is a must-visit place to taste chui curry.
Now even in Dhaka there is a Chui Jhaal Restaurant in Dhanmondi, but the taste here is unparalleled.