A Buddhist monastery is typically synonymous with peace and tranquillity, a spiritual retreat from the din of urban life and a sanctuary for those seeking enlightenment by embracing the teachings of Lord Buddha. The Gyansharan Maharanya nestled in a hill in Chattogram’s Rangunia is a striking exception.
Coated in a gorgeous combination of red and golden amid the greenery of its surroundings, the one-storey structure with tiled floors, huge columns and a large throne for the founder Bhadanta Sharanangkar Thero in one corner is a sight to behold.
But the hilltop monastery, some 65 kilometres away from the port city, in the Falaharia village in Padua is shrouded in mystery and controversy. A horde of allegations has been levelled at its founder, ranging from dubious funds, to stoking religious tension by threatening locals and using the statues of Lord Buddha to occupy public land.
Anyone can visit the village and see the statues scattered across the hill after travelling by road for around two and a half hours from the city, but the monastery is off-limits to the public, with trained German Shepherd dogs guarding its premises.
Established less than eight years ago, the monastery currently sprawls on 50 acres, with an air-conditioned chamber underground for “meditation and safety”.
After walking two kilometres along a herringbone road, a new under-construction archway can be seen at the entrance of the monastery. But Hajera Begum, a resident of the village, contends that the piece of land on which the archway is being built actually belongs to her.
Some statues of the Buddha are also being erected across the hill.
Born in Hathazari as Rony Barua, the monastery’s founder Sharanangkar grew up in Rangunia. Said to be 36 years old, he belonged to a low-income family and spent his childhood in extreme poverty, according to local media reports. He had worked as a driver before becoming a monk in 2004.
But Sharanangkar refused to share details of his life prior to monkhood. “I was active in politics and chanted slogans in processions,” he said.
He stands accused in at least a dozen cases filed by the Forest Department for occupying forest and government lands, and by the Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist communities for occupying and destroying the forest, grabbing private lands, providing shelter to citizens of Myanmar and inciting religious tension.
Fearing repercussion, Sharanangkar has moved to Dhaka from Gyansharan Maharanya, which has residential rooms and other structures on a hill, which is restricted to the general public.
The monastery has installed water tanks and supply lines at different places, but in such a way that a newcomer would easily miss it.
A structure made of tin and tarpaulin appears to be a garage capable of housing multiple vehicles. The bdnews24.com correspondent saw one car inside.
The establishment also has a kennel and tube-wells. Two dogs were in the kennel when the correspondent visited the area while its air-conditioners were covered with dirty clothes.
The monastery had 20 power connections but most of them have been cut off.
LAND GRABBING CHARGES
Sharanangkar moved to Falaharia in 2004 and began the construction of the monastery in 2012, starting with a room made of corrugated tin sheets.