Buddhist Sites in Pakistan & Everything To Know About Them

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Pakistan is a country that hosts a large number of ethnicities and people of different faiths. This can be attributed to historical settlements by warriors and merchants from all over the world. As they came and settled in areas that now belong to Pakistan, they brought with them their customs and practices. It is through these settlements that Pakistan is a multi-religious country today, with all ethnicities and people of various religions coexisting peacefully. Pakistan has a large number of Buddhist sites in the country that are remnants of past Buddhist civilizations. 

Buddhism has had a strong basis in this part of the world. Some regard it as one of the places from where Buddhism spread to other parts of Asia. Let’s explore this in detail.

Buddhist Sites In Pakistan: History & Remains

Ancient Gandhara Kingdom has traces in Pakistan
Ancient Gandhara Kingdom

Pakistan is home to the ancient Gandhara Kingdom which historically had four capitals that spread from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Punjab. These capitals include Kapisa (Bagram), Pushkalavati (Charsadda), Takshashila (Taxila), and Purusapura (Peshawar). Gandhara translates into ‘The Land of Fragrance’ and was the central meeting point for Southern, Western and Central Asia regions. 

These four capitals have produced numerous Buddhist philosophers and together this has contributed as a center of Buddhist learning. The emperors and kings of this great empire took a number of initiatives to ensure the sanctity of this region remains preserved. King Ashoka chose Dharmarajika stupa at Taxila as one of the main sites in his empire, to preserve the remains of Lord Buddha. Later, Kushan ruler, Kanishka’s role was of paramount importance as he worked for the promotion of Gandhara sculpture, fusing Buddhist and classical Greek themes. 

It is because of these efforts that centuries later, today, these archaeological ruins have managed to retain much of their former glory. Pilgrims from India, Central Asia, East Asia and Southeast Asia regularly come to Pakistan to visit these sites. It is interesting to note that Gautam Buddha never visited the Gandhara Kingdom, however, it has played a pivotal role in the spread of Buddhism, particularly to China and Tibet. 

Newly Excavated Buddhist Sites in Pakistan

Let’s explore some of the most important Buddhist sites in Pakistan that have stood the test of time.

Aaba Sahib, Mingora City

This is one of the largest Buddhist archaeological sites that was unearthed last month in Aaba Sahib Cheena village of Najigram area of Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Experts believe that it dates back to the Kushan era, some 2000 years ago. This is a huge complex that carries a vihara, Buddhist monastery, and four stupas. Stupas are mound-like hemispherical structures, underneath which are places for meditation. 

At Aaba Sahib, a number of utensils were also found. Experts believe that this complex spreads over four to six kanals, and has separate rooms for staying, as well as chapels for placing Buddhist statues.  

It is believed that in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone, there are about 150 Buddhist sites. 

Bhamala Buddhist Site, Haripur

Haripur district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has abundant sculptures
Buddhist sculpture in Haripur

During 2015, in Haripur district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, archaeologists discovered a Buddhist complex with Buddhist sculptures and coins dating back to the 2nd to 5th centuries. 

During excavation, precious coins of the Kushan period were also unearthed. 

Later in 2017, a 1,700-year-old statue of a “sleeping” Buddha was also unearthed.  After being nominated, this site is now considered to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Buddhist Stupa, Landi Kotal

Recently, the Archeology Department started restoration work on the Buddhist stupa in Landi Kotal in Khyber Pakthunkhwa’s Khyber tribal district. This is considered to be the largest stupa of the Indian subcontinent and is one of the thousands of ancient Buddhist monuments in Swat Valley. As this is located along the Khyber Pass, it is historically significant because this is considered a gateway to the Indus Delta. 

Archaeological Remains of Gandhara

Pakistan has numerous Buddhist sculptures
Buddhist sculptures in Pakistan

It is also widely believed by Buddhists of this region that Pakistan’s Swat Valley has the statue of Lotus-born Buddha, who is known as  Master Padmasambhava or second buddha. He is revered as the father of Tibetan Buddhist. This adds to Pakistan’s prominence in being the central place for Buddhism, and highlights the need for more concerted efforts for the conservation and preservation of such heritage sites. 

Apart from the newly-discovered sites, there are many that have already been preserved and are considered exciting tourist sites. 

Taxila City

Buddha Carving, Taxila
A Buddha Carving in Taxila

This entire city is a historical heritage site. This city is located in present-day Punjab, and was established under the Kingdom of Gandhara. It, therefore, is of special significance for Buddhism. Originally, it was called Takshashila, meaning the ‘City of Cut Stone’, and had been governed under several different empires, with each wanting to benefit from the convenient trade route it offered within South and Central Asia.

There are a number of excavated sites and attractions in this city that the tourists visit regularly. These sites include Bhirmound, Sirkap, Sirsukh, Dharmarajika Stupa, Kunala Stupa, Mohra Moradu Stupa, Jaulian Stupa, Jandial Temple, and Taxila Museum. In 1980, Taxila City was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the government has made concerted efforts to keep its sites protected.

The rich Gandharan heritage is spread widely in Peshawar and Mardan in areas such as Shpola Top, Shah ji ki Dheri, Charsadda, and Shaikhan Dheri, Takht-e-Bahi, Sahri Bahlol, Jamal Garhi, and Gangu Dheri. In Taxila valley, Sirikup, Dharmarajika, Bhirmond, Bhallar, Sirsukh, Pipplian, Jaulian and Mohra Moradu are the major sites that even today carry hundreds of stupas and monasteries. However, most of these sites are not demarcated and so, are prone to theft and illegal excavation. 

Fasting Buddha in Lahore Museum
Sculpture of Buddha in Lahore Museum

But, over the years, the excavated remains have been displayed at various museums across the country. These include Lahore Museum, Peshawar Museum, Mardan Museum, Swat Museum, Dir Museum, Hund Museum (Swabi), Pushkalavati Museum (Charsadda) and Taxila Museum. Of these, Lahore Museum is considered to have the biggest collection of Gandharan Art, and rare antiquities such as Fasting Siddhartha. It has slates of carved stones that tell stories of Buddha and their pupils. 

Apart from KP and Punjab, Buddhist heritage sites are also present in Sindh’s Harappa, which are remnants of the great Indus Valley Civilization. The ancient stupa of Mohenjo-daro has acquired an iconic status for Buddhist heritage, and is one of the many situated in Sindh. These include: 

  • Brahmanabad at Sanghar 
  • Siraj-ji-Takri at Khairpur
  • Kahu-Jo-Darro at Mirpur Khas
  • Sudheran Jo Thul at Hyderabad
  • Thul Hairo Khan 
  • Bhaleel Shah Thul at Dadu
  • Thul Mir Rukan at Nawabshah 
  • Kot Bambhan Thul at Tando Muhammad Khan 
Indus Valley Civilization in Pakistan
Sculptures from Indus Valley Civilization

The most prominent museums for excavated artifacts are: 

  • The National Museum Karachi
  • Mohenjo-daro Museum, Larkana 
  • Archaeological Museum Umerkot 
  • Sindh Museum, Hyderabad 

In order to keep the rich heritage of Buddhism alive, leading universities in KP province are teaching Gandharan Archaeology in Pakistan. To date, there is only one functional Buddhist temple in Pakistan which is situated inside the Diplomatic Enclave in Islamabad. This was a gift and is being managed by the Sri Lankan High Commission.

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These Buddhist sites in Pakistan are a testament to Pakistan’s rich history and significance in terms of its historical regional linkages. If you have any comments or suggestions, write to us at blog@zameen.com. Also, keep checking Pakistan’s largest property blog, Zameen Blog, for all kinds of lifestyle, tourism and property-related updates.

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