Valley of Peace
Pakistan could reap great benefits in tourism from its rich treasure of Buddhist relics spread across the Swat valley, provided a welcoming environment is extended to visitors.
Buddhism first spread in Swat when it was a part of the Gandhara civilization during the reign of Asoka. “Padmasambhava” one of the most revered Gurus in Tibetan Buddhism was born here. Legend also has it that the guru, also known as the “Precious Master”, was born in a lotus flower in the lake Dhamakosha in the valley of Uddiyana, which the Swat valley was called in ancient times.
The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousuf Raza Gilani, in a recent move to draw tourists to the valley announced celebration of the Guru’s birthday and invited Buddhist pilgrims to perform their rituals in more than 2500 of Bud-
dhist monasteries in the valley.
Recently, Swat saw one of the worst periods in its history. It was occupied by armed militants who were defeated in an army operation two years ago. Since then the valley and its people are trying hard to get back on their feet and turn things to normal again.
Swat’s unique geographical position places it within the reach of trade routes to and from China, Central Asia and India and this is why it has always been the melting pot for religion, culture and literature. Any conqueror passing by the area couldn’t have resisted stopping in this haven of peace.
“Uddiyana”, which means orchard, still has some 400 Buddhist sites dating back to ancient Buddhism within 160 km around it. It remained the center for Buddhist heritage from the third century BC to the eighth century AD. Ruined pottery, artifacts, and Buddha’s footprints in the swat museum prove these findings.
The earliest stupas of Gandhara include Harmarajika Stupa in Tazila, and Butkarha Stupa in Swat. Other important landmarks in Swat include Shingardar Stupa, Nemogram Stupa and monastery, Amluk Dara Stupa, Elephant Paw-Shahkot Pass, Nijigram Stupa and monastery, statues of Buddha, Gumbatuna Stupa and others.
When an elephant came bearing the share of King Uttarasena’s relics of Buddha, the king built the stupa of Shingardar where the elephant halted and, according to the legend, miraculously turned into stone after it died on the spot. This stupa is 3 km from the Birkot village on the way to Mardan from Mingora.
The Nemogram Stupa and monastery date back to two to 3 century AD from the Kushana period. The site has three main stupas with 56 votive ones and an adjoining monastery and sculptures that depict various phases of Buddhist mythology. The sculptures are now in the Swat museum.
Elephant’s paw is actually an ancient road which was constructed for the elephant caravan of a ruler of the Kushan period. The road is 20 feet wide and has a magnificently built queen’s throne. The throne is made of finely carved granite extending to seven storeys.
Gumbatuna is actually plural for Gumbat in Pushto which means dome. This stupa is situated 6 km from Bankot village beside the river Swat. The main stupa was surrounded by 27 votive stupas and made in the diaper masonry style.
The Janabad seated Buddha is a huge carving of Buddha on the mountain. It is seven meters in height and the Buddha sits high on a throne, deep in meditation. It is one of the most impressive works of craftsmanship that is left of the Gandhara period, dating back to seven to 8 AD along with other similar carvings of Buddha.
Another colossal statue of Buddha lies 18 km away from the city of Mingora. It is four meters tall and a typical Gandhara style Buddha. Unfortunately, the upper half of the statue is damaged while the lower half is still intact.
The Amluk Dara stupa stands in the shelter of Mount Elum in the pretty little valley of Amlokdara. It is a magnificent structure that is worth the one kilometer walk that it takes to see it. The top of the mountain on which it is built used to be a sacred pilgrimage site in ancient Buddhist times and is also connected to pious legends that form a part of current Buddhist literature.
Buddhism bloomed and flourished first in the valley of Swat. The invaders and traders then carried it to Tibet and Xingjian province of China, where it flourished after the decline of Buddhist dynasties in Gandhara. Buddhist devotees will not only help the people of Swat and Pakistan get back on its feet after fighting a fierce battle with militants but will also promote the image of Pakistan as a country which is for peace as much as anyone else in the world. The writer writes on environmental issues for various publications. She also volunteers for different climate conservation projects.
Archeological remains of Buddhist heritage in Swat Valley.