Lankan delegation visits Pakistan to promote religious and cultural tourism

Published : 9:00 am  June 9, 2016 | No comments so far |  |  (605) reads | 

A Vesak ceremony was held last week in Islamabad with the participation of  a Sri Lankan delegation who visited Pakistan on an invitation extended by the Pakistan government with the aim to promote religious and cultural tourism and strengthen political links between the two countries.

Sri Lankans also visited the Hund Museum in Swabi, the last capital of Gandhara Civilization and the Pukhtun cultural stalls at the Museum which displayed Buddhist artifacts, statues, relics and antiques.

The Sri Lankan delegation comprising 15 Buddhist monks, a journalist and officials from the Prime Ministers’ office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs paid a visit to Pakistan last week on an invitation extended to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and Buddhasasana Ministry by the Pakistan government to participate at the first Vesak festival held in Pakistan.

Primary Industries Minister Daya Gamage who led the delegation highly appreciated the Pakistan government’s effort to preserve and protect ancient Buddhist sites in Pakistan.

Prof. S.B. Hettiarachchi praised and expressed gratitude to the Pakistan being a Muslim country for taking measures to preserve historic Buddhist sites at a time when Muslim extremists destroy almost all the ancient and cultural monuments, artefacts and statues in a wicked mission and the highlight of the carnage was the destruction of Buddha statues at Bamian a few years ago by the ISI. The visit had been organised by the Federal Secretary, National History and Literary Division and the Vesak festival was held at its office. Buddhist religious ceremonies were started after reciting the Quran by a Maulavi.  After the ceremony, the Sri Lankan delegation was taken on a conducted tour with tight security from the Police and the Army Special Task Force to visit Buddhist remains of Takht Bhai where Buddhist monks chanted ‘Seth Pirith. 

Takht Bhai was the part of Gandhara Civilization – which was one of the earliest urban settlements documented in the history of the Indian sub-continent. The heritage site has been first excavated in 1836. Since then archaeologists have excavated hundreds of impressive relics made in clay, stucco and terracotta. These structures and crafts reflect the complex iconography and 
monumental images.  

The sprawling Buddhist monastery of Takht-i-Bahi in the Mardan District of the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan is one of the best preserved and most impressive complexes attracting scholars, researchers and laymen alike.

The complex was first noticed by General Court in 1836 during the Sikh period. A large number of sculptures were recovered from the site in 1869 – 70 under supervision of General Maclagan and under official patronage in the subsequent years.  Dr. D.B. Spooner, the then curator of Peshawar Museum was the first archaeologist to excavate this site during 1907- 8 and 1908 -9 followed by his successor, H. Hargreaves in 1910 -11. Rare precious antiques were discovered during these excavations, most of which are now either on display or in the reserve collection of Peshawar Museum.

The Department of Archaeology, Government of Pakistan has spent huge funds on the restoration, preservation and maintenance of these rare and valued monuments. Improvement and restoration has ever since been a continuing undertaking by the Department.

Their efforts brought to light another huge block on the western and south-western sides of the existing complex and yielded a considerable number of antiquities. Besides concerted and strenuous efforts to restore the lost glory of the site to the maximum possible extent and to repair and preserve all important buildings in the widespread complex, the best known national expertise was enlisted to ensure conservation of the site. The conservation work has ranged from plugging potential threats to different parts of the complex, eradicating the menace of rain water penetration into structures, halting blasting for quarries in the adjoining hills, creating buffer zones and declaring the entire locations as protected area under the relevant laws. These efforts have yielded very positive results and have given a new lease of life to these ageing structures.

At the same time, archaeological excavations were also conducted by a team of seasoned archaeologists as component of an approved plan of actions under the development Project during 2002-3 to 2005-6. Efforts have also been made to provide improved tourist facilities including toilet and clean water, resting areas, green belt, parking area, electricity, better approach to the site, direction & history boards and brochures. Facilities like information and ticket counter, cafeteria, – guide maps to different parts of the huge complex, etc will be provided shortly under the ongoing development project. The comments of the visitors to the site recorded by them in the Visitors’ book are constantly reviewed to improve the facilities and also to preserve and maintain the site in good condition.

The monastic complex of Takht-i-Bhai is one of the most well-known, well-preserved, sites and the only Gandhara site in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province that is on the World Heritage List. Most of the Gandhara pieces in the Peshawar Museum were recovered from Takht-i-Bhai and Sohri Bahlol. The site of the Takht-i-Bhai is in the Mardan District, about 54 km northeast of Peshawar. It is about 1771 feet above the sea level and about 570 feet above the surrounding plains. General Court, a French Officer in the court of Ranjit Singh, first reported on the site in 1836. The site is mainly dated to the Kishan period, but some earliest structures are dated to the time of the Parthian king, Gondophares. The complex consists of the main stupa, votive stupas, monastery complex and the lower cells. The main stupa is in typical Gandharan style having an elongated dome with square plinth and surrounded on three sides by chapels. The monastery is located to the north of the complex and has a central water tank, surrounded by small rooms on all sides. The monks for meditation purposes used low-level cells in the complex. It is worthy to note that the Chinese travellers, who visited Gandhara (6th -7th century AD), have not mentioned the site of Takht-i-Bahi in their accounts; probably the site was already abandoned at the time or was off their route. The Stupa Court a cluster of stupas located in a central courtyard. The monastic chambers, consisting of individual cells arranged around a courtyard assembly halls, and a dining area. – A temple complex, consisting of stupas and similar to the Stupa Court but of later construction. – The Tantric monastic complex which consists of small, dark cells with low openings which may have been used for certain forms of Tantric meditation.

Additional structures on the site may have served as residences or meeting halls, or filled secular purposes. All of the building on the site are constructed from local stone and are mortared with lime and mud. 
The complex is regarded by archaeologists as being particularly representative of the architecture of Buddhist monastic centres from its era. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.

The word Takht-i-Bahi may have different explanations local believes that site got its name from two wells on the hill or the springs nearby. In Persian Takht means “top” or “throne” while bahi means “spring” or “water” . When combined together its meaning is Spring from the Top or High Spring and there were two springs on the top of mountains. Another meaning suggested is Throne of Origin. 

The villages of Thordher (Old name said Ghani Kalae), Ghafe, Lund Khwar, Sher Garh, Saroo Shah, Sehri-Bahlol, Pathai, Nazdoorabad, Fazl-e-abad, Gangai, Hathian, Jalala, Pirsaddi, Takkar and Mashal Khan Kalai are other historical places in the vicinity of Takhi-i-Bhai. The most historical location in the area is Sehri Bohlol. This Buddhist monastery is situated on 
Malakand Road.