By Asmat Shah Garwaki
PESHAWAR, Nov 10 (APP): In the tranquil landscape of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where every stone speaks about Ghandhara civilization, ancient relics and Bhuddha stupas whisper tales of the Buddhist heritage soon after entering its northern districts with plenty of archeological sites reminding tourists about the lifestyle of Lord Bhuddha, the founder of Bhuddism.
Bestowed with numerous Buddhist sites including centuries’ old monasteries and stupas, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has served as a living testament to historical, cultural and religious importance where leaders and followers of different faiths came for propagation of their religions.
“These stupas, varying in size and architectural designs, offer a fascinating glimpse into the ancient Buddhist past,” said Bakht Muhammad, Assistant Director, Archealogy and Museums Department KP while talking to APP.
He said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was the 26th province of Ghandhara civilization in the region as evident of the Persian inscriptions mentioned by archaeologists and historians Rigveda and Atherveda in 2nd Millennium BC.
In 7th century BC, he said, three Chinese historians: Fahien, Xiuntsang and Sanune had talked about 1,000 stupas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where monks and archeologists mostly from east southern countries came for performance of religious obligations.
He said semi-nomadic Aryansh had entered KP from the Afghanistan side and settled along rivers Swat, Gomal, Kurram, and Kabul where Gandhara civilization gained roots after Persians conquered it and made it one of the provinces of the Achaemenid Empire.
He said reading and writing in Swat, Dir, Mardan, Charsadda, Peshawar and Malakand, famous for Ghandara civilization, were started as evidence of the inscriptions mostly made on stones by Iranians.
He said Ghandhara civilization and Bhuddha stupas witnessed construction as well as onslaught of warriors during different eras including Indo-Grreeks with 41 kings and queens, Sethians, Hindus, Parthians, Khushans, Sikhs, Turks Shahi and Muslims who marched to subcontinent for establishment of dynasties.
“The Alexander the Great invaded the subcontinent through Khyber Pass and faced tough resistance while trying to subdue Youafzai tribesmen at Swat and Kunar valleys in 327 BC. Alexander the Great constructed two new cities Wazira (Barikot) and Ora (Odigram) in Swat district in 327BC where stupas were built.
The White Huns that came from Central Asia in 558 century inflicted great losses to Bhuddists sites including stupas and monasteries while the Hindus rulers destroyed stupas in existing India in different wars,” he said.
The existing Charsadda (Pushkalavati), Peshawar and Hund Swabi were the capital cities of Ghandhara where Bhuddha stupas were constructed. He said that a Bhuddha stupa was also built at Sulthankhel in Khyber district that attract tourists from Nepal, Sri Lanka and other countries.
Bakht Muhammad said that excavation at Shahgee Kadhari, Peshawar conducted by British archaeologists in 1909 led to recoveries of bones of the Lord Bhuddha. These bones were later gifted to Myanmar while the clay pot where these bones were kept had been preserved at Peshawar Museum being the lone museam of Ghandhara art in the world.
Following death of Lord Bhuddha, he said that five stupas carrying his relics were constructed in existing Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He said Butkara Stupa in Swat constructed in 2nd century BC was an architectural masterpiece adorned with intricate carvings and motifs reflected the artistry of that ancient time. Butkara Stupa stands as a symbol of the region’s historical significance and is a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts.
In the serene town of Takht-i-Bahi (Mardan), the ruins of an ancient Buddhist monastery and stupas take visitors on a journey back in time. These structures, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are remarkably well-preserved by Pakistan and provide a unique opportunity to explore the architectural grandeur and spiritual importance of the region’s Buddhist past.
Khushan Stupa, situated near Peshawar, constructed around the 3rd century AD, is a testament to the enduring legacy of Buddhism in the area. The intricate carvings and inscriptions on the stupa narrate stories of the Buddha’s life and teachings, offering a window into the spirituality and artistry of ancient Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
As these stupas are historical treasures for many, they are also places of spiritual significance for Buddhists around the world. Pilgrims and tourists alike visit these sites to pay their respects and gain a deeper understanding of Buddhism’s roots in the region.
Despite the challenges of time and nature, the Buddha stupas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa continue to stand proudly, echoing the voices of the past and inviting curious travelers to uncover its secrets.
Incharge Sub-Regional Office Archealogy Malakand district, Nawazuddin said that there are a lot of heritage sites in Swat including Bazira, Shigardar Stupa, Ghelegay Buddhist monument, Butkara Stupa 1 and 2, Saidu Stupa and its proper projection through social and digital media can turned KP into a hub of heritage tourism.
Ikram Marwat, a tourist who visited Budha Stupas in Swat said that the government should start an awareness campaign and give the opportunity to Tik Tokers and documentary makers to shoot in these sites.
Dr Abdul Samad, Director Archealogy and Museums KP said that conservation of Bhuddha Stupa at Sultankel Khyber was underway to restore its architectural wonder.
He said conservation of stupas at Cheena, Shangal Dagh, Amlok Dara, Abassi Cheena in Swat, Takht Bhai, Jamal Ghari in Mardan, Aziz Dheri and Baja Swabi completed. He said signboards on Swat Expressway were installed to help tourists in reaching these archeological wonders of KP with ease.