Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bara Khyang

So during my brief trip down to Cox's Bazar, we spent an afternoon visiting a couple of Buddhist temples in the Ramu district, about 15 km inland from the beach itself. Burmese influence in the whole area is palpable, from the traditional handwoven bags being sold on the streets to the children and women walking around with thanaka on their faces.

If I remember the brief history lesson correctly, the area started off with a strong Buddhist influence before Muslim conquerers came and destroyed a lot of the monasteries and temples. With this in mind, I was rather intrigued by the large number of madrasahs we passed en route to the temples.

We wanted to visit Bara Khyang (also known as Lamarpara Khyang), which (according to the outdated Lonely Planet guide we had). The CNG driver took us through narrow village lanes before we stopped in front of a rather nondescript compound.

Bara Khyang

We found it strange that there were no other visitors abount, and were greeted by a rather glum-looking woman (who is quite beautiful when she smiles, evidently) who told me that photography was NOT allowed (at least for the first 5 minutes anyway).

Bara Khyang

My friend, who had visited the place about a decade ago, was certain we were in the wrong place. There was indeed a large bronze statue inside, and even though the room was dark and dank, the size and beauty of the statue had us in silence for quite a bit.

Still, the entire place was so rundown that it didn't feel like a place which could house the celebrated "largest bronze statue of Buddha in Bangladesh". It wasn't until we visited another temple later that we found out, from the head monk there, that we had indeed seen Bara Khyang -- stripped of its former glory and beauty.

Bara Khyang's compound, now depressingly bare, was once crowded with visitors and filled with flowers and manicured lawns. The temple's interior housed not one, but three bronze statues -- two of which had since been stolen or sold off by corrupt monks, and only the largest one remained, probably because it was too large to be carried off. Other relics gradually disappeared over time.

So, the destruction over the last 10 years had rendered the place utterly unrecognisable to my friend. He was understandably rather upset over the whole thing.