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.

Southasia - - World no tobacco day - By Tehmina Qureshi

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.

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