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GANDHARA HERITAGE TRAIL

GANDHARA HERITAGE TRAIL

Pakistan, the crucible of many cultures and civilisations 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 Gandhara Civilisations. Almost all the major museums of the world have pieces of Gandharan Art exhibited in their galleries.

GANADHARA CIVILISATION

Gandhara, the ancient Peshawar Valley and the cradle of Buddhist Civilisation, 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 a Darius period inscription of 6th cent. BC. Pushkalavati (Balahisar-Charsadda), its first capital from 6th cent. BC to 1st cent. AD was invaded in 327 BC by Alexander the Great. Later, ruled in turn by Mauryans, Indo-Greeks, Scythians, Parthians and Kushans who established their capital at Pushapura or Peshawar in 1st cent. AD. ln 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-i-Bahi, Sahri Bahlol, Jamal Garhi, Rani Gut, Aziz Dheri, Butkara, Saidu Stupa, Andan Dheri, Chat Pat, Dam Kot, Khanpur, and the monasteries in the Taxila Valley provided richest collection of the Gandharan Art to the Peshawar, Mardan, Pushkalavati, Taxila, Swat and Dir museums through the excavations by British, Italian and Pakistani scholars.

GANDHARA ART

The cosmopolitan art of Gandhara with influence from Greeks, Romans, Indians and local artists, appeared in this region in the 1st cent. BC, strengthened in the 1st, flourished till 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 the 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) and Buddhisattvas (future Buddhas). Post-enlightenment Buddhas. The most important is the historic Buddha and all episodes from his birth to death are beautifully and liberally carved in a fascinating manner. The artists, inspired by the personality of Buddha, took motifs and technology 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. In fact, the sculptors of Gandhara, transformed the Buddhist Mahayana religious text and philosophy into stone thus making it more romantic whilst  providing a base for the expansion of the religion towards the 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 worshipers circumambulated. Also, the harmika i.e., the solid box in square above the dome of the stupa was carved on all sides with life stories of Buddha. The stories were chiselled on stone tablets and fixed to the stupa inside which 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.

PESHAWAR

The Po-Lu-Shah of the Chinese, Pushapura of Persians and Peshawar of the Mughal rulers -the present capital of Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa province of Pakistan was the second Capital of Gandhara under the Kushanas from 1-5th 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 display in the Peshawar Museum. The relics consisting of bones of Buddha were gifted by the British rulers to the Buddhist Association of Burma in 1910 and are now housed in the main pagoda in Mandalay. The Chinese pilgrims, who visited Gandhara during 5th cent. AD, spoke of the glory and richness of the Buddhist stupas and monasteries, especially the Kanishka stupa and the famous Alms Bowl of Buddha displayed at one time in Peshawar.

Gor Khatri, Mohabat Khan Mosque, Bala Hisar, Qissa Khwani Bazar, Mohallah Sethian, Islamia College, Edwardes College, All Saints’ Church and St John’s Cathedral, Tomb of Nawab Sayed Khan inside Mission Hospital, Durrani Graveyard, Governor’s House and Peshawar Museum are some important features of Peshawar that merit a visit.

PESHAWAR MUSUEM:

Houses the world’s best Gandhara Art collection.

  • A colonial styled building
  • Opened in November 1907 in the 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 the old city and the cantonment

The display covers almost all aspects of Buddhist Art. The Gandhara collection mainly comes from Takht-i- Bahi and Sahri Bahlol in Mardan located approximately 50km from Peshawar to the 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 display objects, wooden effigies from the ancient Kalash Culture of Chitral. The Islamic Gallery consists of paintings, manuscripts, inscriptions and armoury. The fabulous collection of coins in gold, silver and copper from the Achaemenian up to the British era completes the chronological profile of the region indicating its vast history.

Note: The smaller Sir Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum Museum located inside the University of Peshawar also houses a fine collection of Gandhara Art. The Museum was opened for the general public on 14th March 1998. The Museum has six galleries beginning from Pre-historic, Proto-Historic period, Gandhara, Hindu, Islamic and Coin galleries. The majority of the Gandhara Sculptures are from the Swat Valley. Being a University museum, it is open during University working hours.

PUSHKALAVATI OR BALAHISAR – CHARSADDA

  • The ruins of Bala Hisar stand 29km to the northeast of Peshawar.
  • One km north of the bridge at Jindi River, Charsadda.
  • From here 5 km down towards Takht-i-Bahi is Ghana Dheri Complex, the site of the Pushkalavati Museum.
  • Takht-i-Bahi town is located 20 km from Ghani Dheri and the Takht-i-Bahi Buddhist monastery about 3km from the town.

Identified by Alexander Cunningham as the first capital of Gandhara in the 19th cent., and excavated by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in 1958. It remained the first capital of Gandhara under the Achaemenids in 6th cent. BC and was invaded by Alexander the Great in 327 BC.

TAKHTBAHI, MARDAN

The unique stupa and monastic site of Takht-i-Bahi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The relics recovered from here are exhibited in the Peshawar Museum. On the main Malakand-Swat road and heading towards north one reaches Chakdara bridge, where the famous Churchill’s Piquet can also be seen.

MARDAN

Mardan, District headquarter, the biggest town of Yousafzais and once the centre of Gandhara Civilisation, includes Takht-i-Bahi, Sahri Bahlol, Jamal 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 Gahri on Swabi road, where the Asoka Rock Edicts are located. Many Buddhist legends are associated with this place, which is located at a distance of 15 km from Mardan. From here the road goes further up to Asota Megaliths (‘Stonehenge of
Pakistan’) near Shiwa Adda on the Swabi-Mardan road, and then to Swabi. At Swabi the road bifurcates, one leading to Hund, the last capital of Gandhara under the Shahi rulers from 7th-10th cent AD.

HUND

  • Hund in Swabi District is located near the site where Alexander the Great crossed the Indus River in 327
  • It has remains of a Mughal era red brick fort dating to 16th ce AD from Akbar’s period.
  • The survey in 1996-1997 delineated its dimensions as: 3 km length, 1/2 km width and 38 feet depth. The material excavated in 1997-98 is at display in the Museum at University of Peshawar. Hund is known for the Ghaznavid invasion in 998 marking the beginning of Islamic era and the end of Gandhara Period.

HUND MUSUEM

Hund Museum, with a rest house, is located near the site where Alexander the Great crossed the Indus River. Alexander’s Memorial in the form of a Greek Corinthian pillar honouring the great conqueror has been erected here which is visible from the M1 Motorway. From Hund one can either 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 kilometres 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.

DIR MUSEUM

  • Founded in 1970 and inaugurated in 1979
  • Located 5 km beyond Chakdara Bridge on the road leading up to Dir is the Dir Museum, Chakdara
  • Chakdara Museum, is 135 km from Peshawar
  • 40 km from both Saidu Sharif and Timargara
  • 226 km from Chitral

In about one hour, one can view all the three major Buddhist sites which filled the Buddhist galleries of the museum. While coming from Chakdara towards Saidu Sharif, the capital of Swat, via the right bank of the scenic Swat River, one comes across the Goombutoona stupa.

This site is located at a distance of 16 km. From here, 1 km upstream at Nagoha one can cross the river for Barikot (or Bazira of Alexander the Great), another archaeological site, excavated by the Italian Archaeological Mission. Continuing on the right bank one passes through Dadahara, Kabal and finally reaches Aligrama, located 37 km from Chakdara. This is a typical ‘Gandhara Grave Culture’ site of Aryans (1800-600 BC).

From Aligrama, one reaches Kanju Chowk where the road bifurcates, the left leads, along the right bank of Swat River, to Matta and Shahdheri. This area has many sites and gardens for those who like natural beauty; this road leads through Upper Swat to Kohistan. The other road at the Kanju junction leads to Saidu, the capital of ancient Udhiyana or present Swat, located at a distance of 45 km from Chakdara.

Swat Valley

  • Around Saidu Sharif in Swat one can visit the world famous archaeological sites of Butkara I, and Saidu stupa.
  • One can go further up along the Swat River to a scenic hill spot at Kalam via Madyan and Bahrain.
  • From Kalam one can further go up on a trek to Mahodhand and Chitral. From Saidu, coming down towards Chakdara along the left bank of river Swat, one reaches Odigram at a distance of 9 km, here is an Ancient Settlement Site known as Ora of the
  • Another 4 km down one reaches Ghaligai Rock Cut Buddhas, facing the river Swat on the road side.
  • Shengerdar stupa is located slightly off the main. Road on the left side.
  • 2 km from the Ghaligai Rock Cut Buddhas. 3 km further down the road is Barikot, the Ancient Bazira of Greeks. From Barikot on Malakand road, at a distance of 12 km is the Jalala village, where one can see Manrai ruins 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 km 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 Takht-i-Bahi.

SAIDU MUSEUM

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 1990s 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.

        TAXILA MUSEUM

  • Founded in 1918 by the legendary archaeologist Sir John Marshall and inaugurated in 1928
  • Located about 5 km from the main G.T 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 (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Mohra Muradu. The world famous site of Taxila, located at the opening of the Silk Route, remained a central University of the Buddhists. (To confirm museum timings Ph: 051-9314270)

Museums in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Most of the museums in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are run by the Provincial Government through the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, with main office in Peshawar.

(Note: Guided tours conducted by experts in the field of Gandhara are both informative, very interesting, and can be easily arranged by the helpful museum authorities upon special request. Publications and additional information material are also available here).

Name of the Museum City Contact No.
Peshawar Museum Peshawar Directorate of Archaeology
0092 91 9211488 & 0092 91 9211194
Peshawar Museum: 0092 91 9210690
City Museum, Gor Khatri Peshawar 0092 91 2553340
Dir Museum, Chakdara Dir 0092 945 761412
Chitral Museum Chitral 0092 943 414811
Bumburet Museum Chitral 0092 943 404108
Pushkalawati Museum Charsadda 0092 921 6512525
Mardan Museum Mardan 0092 937 9230420
Hund Museum Swabi 0092 938 490542
Swat Museum Swat 0092 936 9240305
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