Thirty four years ago on June 23, the sacred ashes of the mortal remains of ever immortal Atish Dipankar Srigana were handed over by China to Bangladesh. Atish, the name given by Tibetans more than a thousand years ago, means great scholar, and man of supreme knowledge and wisdom. Atish Dipankar was indeed the loftiest preacher of love and happiness, purity and peace, kindness and humility, benevolence and humanity. People believed Atish to be Lord Buddha incarnated. He was most revered, most respected in the whole of South Asia, Southeast Asia and China, nay the whole of Asia.
We are proud that Atish was the son of our soil, a son of Bengal. He was born in 980 at Bojrojigini of Bikrampur, very near to Dhaka. Though he was a prince of a royal family he, in pursuit of knowledge and religious wisdom, left home and accepted monkhood. He travelled to all the big religious universities (Bihars) of the region and as far as Subarana Dwip of Malaya and Indonesia. He went to Sri Lanka and Nepal. He was the greatest scholar of Buddhism of the time. It was then the golden period of Pala dynasty of Bengal and Pala king Mohipala the First, made him the Chancellor of the greatest university, Mohabihar of Vickramshila. From there, on repeated invitations from Tibet Lama Chang Chub, he went to Tibet.
He preached Buddhism and brought purity and morality to the Tibetan society. He was taken as a symbol of God. The successive Lamas of Tibet claimed themselves the disciples and descendents of Dipankar. He earned the hearts and souls of the Tibetan people. He sacrificed everything for them. He wrote, translated, and compiled more than 200 books in Tibetan language. His Sanskrit and Bengali writings are no more available, but his writings in Tibetan language are still well preserved. He lived 13 long years in Tibet and at the age of 73 died at a village named Lethan near Lhasa in 1052.
Dr. Dinesh Chandra Sen, Professor in Calcutta University and renowned historian and writer, wrote about Atish Dipankar: “Here is a Bengali from East Bengal who at that time earned fame and eminence beyond imagination. He was unparalleled in knowledge and wisdom and their practice and communication. The king of Nepal became his obedient disciple. The prince, at the behest of the king, took up monkhood and became his all-time companion. The ruler of Tibet sent his envoys to bring him to Tibet. The king of Shubarna Dwip (Java and Sumatra) used to write him letters seeking solutions and advice on complicated religious and social issues. King Naipal, the ruler of Gourha, was in regular communication with him through letters. Atish Dipankar was the most respected and revered person by all the kings, princes, rulers and emperors of Asia. Even the mighty Chinese emperor used to stand up and pay respect at the very mention of his name.”
As we remember Atish today and pay homage to him, we also remember and pay our respect to the great ancient friendship bridge builders of China and Bangladesh. We pay respect to Fa Xien (Fa Hien), Xuang Zang (Huen Shang). We also recall the greatest voyager of the time Admiral Zhang He who all traveled to Bangladesh in ancient times and contributed significantly to strengthen the ties of relationship of the two countries and two peoples.
On June10, 1978, a 6-member delegation headed by Mr. Asafoddowla, DG Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, was sent by General Zia to China to receive the holy relics of Atish. On January16, 1978, after performing all the religious rites, the holy relics were handed over to Veneral Vishuddha Nanda Mahathero who represented the Buddhist community of Bangladesh in the ceremony. The head of the Buddhist community of China, Veneral Chao Puchow, said that the transfer of the holy relics of a great scholar to another scholar would further cement the traditional bonds of friendship between the two countries.
On June 23, 1978, Sangbad reported that, while opening the casket of the holy relics Dr. Syed Ali Ahsan, the then minister of culture, said that in the realm of knowledge, vision and wisdom, Atish will be remembered throughout the whole world and for all the ages to come.
Atish is a symbol of Sino-Bangla relations. The example that Bengal-born Atish set in dedication to the service of the Chinese people will be ever remembered. The spirit of Atish like the waters of our common river the Brahmaputra and the Yarlong Zangpo will flow incessantly from eternity to eternity and so will the friendship of our two countries.
The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff.