GANDHARA HERITAGE TRAIL
Pakistan, the crucible of many cultures and civilizations from the Stone Age Sites to the British era has historical remains scattered all over the country. However, the most popular are the Indus valley and the Gandhara civilizations. Almost all the major museums in the world have pieces of Gandharan art exhibited in their galleries.
Gandhara the ancient Peshawar Valley and the cradle of Buddhist civilization, which gave birth to the famous Gandharan art, is first mentioned in the Rigveda. It remained one of the provinces of the Achaemenian Empire according to the Darius period of 6th cent BC. Pushkalavati (Balahisar-Charsadda), its first capital from 6 century BC to first cent. AD was invaded by Alexander the Great in 327 BC. Later ruled in turn by Mauryans, Indo-Greeks, Skythians, Parthians and Kushans published their capital in Pushapura or Peshawar in 1st cent AD. In 7th cent AD, the shahi dynasty established its capital at Hund, which remained their centre till the invasions of Ghaznavids in 998 AD, hence ending the rule of Gandhara. The sites and antiquities of Takht-e- Bahi, Sahri Bahlol, Jamal Garhi, Rani Gutt, Aziz Derhi, Butkara, Saidu Stupa, Andan Dheri, Chat Pat, Dam kot, Khan Pur and the monasteries in the Taxila Valley provided richest collection of the Gandharan art to Peshawar, Mardan, Pushkalavati, Taxila, Dir and Swat museums through the excavation by British, Italian and Pakistani scholars.
The cosmopolitan art of Gandhara with influence from Greeks, Romans, Indians and local artists appeared in this region in the first century BC, strengthened in the 1st, flourished in the 5th and lingered on till 8th cent AD. The purpose was the propagation of Buddhism through images carved and made in stone, stucco, terracotta and bronze mostly enshrined in stupas and monasteries. Thousands of such stupas were mentioned by Chinese pilgrim, Hiuen Tsang, who visited Gandhara in 6th cent. AD. Only few of which have been excavated so far.
The main focus of the art was Buddha’s life stories and individual images, his previous birth stories ( or jatakas) or Buddhisattvas (future buddhas) Post enlightenment Buddhas. Most important is the historic buddhas and all episodes from his birth to death beautifully and liberally carved in fascinating manner. Artists inspired by the personality of Buddha took motifs from Greeks, Romans and Persians which gave Buddha an eternal life. The life stories of Buddha are carved according to the Buddhist text. These were composed during the time of Emperor Kanishka in Peshawar. Infact, the sculptors of Gandhara transformed the Buddhist Mahayana religious text and philosophy into stone thus making it more romantic whilst providing a base for expansion of religion towards Far East via Silk Route into China and beyond through pilgrims and traders. These sculptures were fixed to the bases, drums and stairs of the stupas around which the worshippers circumambulated. Also the harmika i.e, solid box in square above the dome of the stupa was carved on all sides with stories of Buddha. The stories were chiselled on the stone tablets and fixed to the stupa inside which the relics of Buddha were kept in a casket for worship. Indeed, the Gandhara art, mainly a product of land under the Kushana rulers, is far more alluring and intricate than the contemporary Mathura Art of India in comparison.
The Po-Lu-Shah of the Chinese, Pushapura of Persians and Peshawar of the Mughal rulers, the present capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan was the second capital of Gandhara under the Kushanas from 1st-5th cent AD. It is the oldest surviving city in this part of Asia. Here, once stood Asia’s biggest and most famous stupa of Kanishka at Shahji Ki Dheri outside the walled city’s Gunj Gate. The site was excavated in 1906-7 by D.B Spooner, the then curator of Peshawar Museum. The Bronze relic casket containing a crystal reliquary of Kanishka’s time was recovered from here. It is now on displayed in Peshawar Museum. The relics consisting of bones of Buddha were gifted by the British rulers to the Buddhist Association of Burma in 1910 and now housed in the main pagoda in Mandalay. The Chinese pilgrims, who visited Gadhara during 5th cent. AD, spoke of the glory and richness of the Buddhist stupas and the monasteries, especially the Kanishka stupa and the famous Alms Bowl of Buddha displayed at one time in Peshawar.
Gol khatri, Mohabat Khan Mosque, Bala Hisar, Qissa Khwani Bazaar, Mohallah Sethian, Islamia College, Edward’s College, All Saints’ Church and St. John’s Cathedral, Tomb of Nawab Sayed Khan inside Mission Hospital, Durrani Graveyard, Governor’s Graveyard, Governor’s House and Peshawar Museum are some important features of Peshawar that merit a visit.
- A colonial styled building.
- Opened in November 1907 in Victoria Memorial Hall, with the world renowned and legendary archaeologist Sir Aurel Stein as its first curator.
- Located on the main Sher Shah Suri road dividing old city and cantonment.
The display covers almost all the aspects of Buddhist Art. The Gandhara collection comes mainly from Takht-e-Bahi and Sahri Bahlol in Mardan located approximately 50km from Peshawar to Northeast on the main road to Swat. The museum also has an ethnological section, coins collection and a recently added Islamic gallery. The ethnological collection includes, besides other objects, wooden effigies from the ancient Kalash Culture of Chitral. The Islamic Gallery consists of paintings, manuscripts, inscriptions and armoury.
Mardan, District headquarter, the biggest town of Yousabzais and once the centre of Gandhara Civilization, includes Takht-i-Bahi, Sahri Bahlol, Jamaal Garhi, Shahbaz Garhi, Sikri, Chanaka Dheri and Palo dheri as major buddhist sites of Gandhara.
A museum in Mardan has been recently opened. From Mardan one can go to Shahbaz Garhi on Swabi road where the Asoka Rock Adicts are located.
The unique stupa and monastic site of Takht-i-Bahi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The relics recovered from here are displayed in the Peshawar Museum. On the main Malakand-Swat road and heading towards north one reachedes Chakdara Bridge, where the famous Churchill’s Piquet can also be seen.
- Hund in Swabi District is located near the site where Alexander The Great crossed River Indus in 327 BC.
- It has remains of a Mughal Era red brick fort dating to 16th AD from Akber’s period.
- The survey in 1996-1997 delineated its dimensions as: 3km length, 1/2 km width and 38ft depth. The material excavated in 1997-98 is at display in the museum at University Of Peshawar. Hund is known as the Ghaznavid invasion in 998 marking the beginning of Islamic era and the end of Gandhara period.
Hund museum, with a rest house, is located near the site where Alexander The Great crossed River Indus. Alexander’s memorial in the form of Greek Corinthian pillar honouring the great conqueror has been erected here which is visible from M1 motorway. From Hund one can go to Jehangira reaching the main Grand Trunk (G.T) road. This way one can visit the Kund National Park through a link road and on the way to Jehangira.
Chota Lahor, the ancient Buddhist era town of Salathura, and birth-place of Sanskrit grammarian/ mathematician Panini, is only few kilometers from Hund. From Hund one can also go to Lawrencepur via Swabi, Topi and Ghazi, the shortest and scenic route to Islamabad. The main motorway between Peshawar and Islamabad (M-1) passes near Hund. By taking the Swabi interchange one can visit the site. From Mardan one can also reach Nowshera, where one hits the main G.T. Road, by turning right one can go towards Peshawar, and by turning left one can reach Taxila and Islamabad.
- Founded in 1970 and inaugurated in 1979, located 5km beyond Chakdara Bridges on the road leading upto Dir is the Dir Museum, Chakdara.
- Chakdara Museum is 135km from Peshawar, 40km from both Saidu Sharif and Timargara and 226km from Chitral.
In about one hour one can view all three major Buddhist sites which filled the Buddhist galleries of the museum. While coming from Chakdara towrds Saidu Sharif, the capital of Swat, via the right bank of scenic Swat River, one comes across the Gumbutoona stupa.
This site is located at a distance of 16km. From here, 1km upstream at Nagoha, one can cross the Barikot River (or Bazira of Alexander The Great). Another archaeological site, excavated by the Italian Archaeological Mission. Continuing on the right bank one passes through Dandahara, Kabal and finally reaches Aligrama, located 37km from Chakdara. This is a typical “Gandhara Grave Culture” site of Aryans (1800-600 BC).
- Another 4km down one reaches Ghaligai Rock Cut Buddhas, facing the River Swat on the road side.
- Shingardar stupa is located slightly off the main road on the left side at a distance of 2km from Ghaligai Rock Cut Buddhas. 3km. Further down the road is Barikot, the ancient Bazira of Greeks.
- From Barikot on Malakand road, at a distance of 12km is the Jalala Village, where one can see Manrai, ruinss up in the mountains, visible from the main road, reminding one of the thousands of stupas mentioned by Chinese pilgrims.
- Further down the road at a distance of 3 kilometres from Jalala one comes across Thana village, famous for Gandhara Grave culture of the Aryans.
- From Thana at a distance of 6 km one reaches the point where the main Swat road bifurcates, one can cross the Swat River towards the right for Chakdara, or can go straight down to Mardan via Takt-i-Bahi.
Established in 1959 by the Wali-e-Swat who also donated his private collection to it. The museum also carries excavated material by the Italian archaeologists that was added to it in 1961. The Federal Archaeology assumed charge of the Museum which was inaugurated in 1963 and expanded in 1967. Its display was redesigned in the early 1990 by the Japanese and is one of the finest examples in the country. Beside Buddhist Art, the museum also houses ethnological collection and some proto-historic remains.
- Founded in 1918 buy the legendary archaeologist Sir John Marshall and inaugurated in 1928.
- Located about 5 km from the main GT Road, 35 km short of Islamabad.
The collection consists mainly of Gandhara art. The major sites around Taxila are Bhirmound, the Achaemenian site, Sirkup, the Indo Greek period site, Sirsukh, Kushan period site and Buddhist monasteries and stupas of Dharmarajika, Julian and Mohra Muradu. The world famous site of Taxila, located at the opening of the Silk route, remained a Central University of the Buddhist.