Takht-i-Bahi, Ghandara’s Buddhist Monastery

The ruins of Gandhara include city ruins like Taxila’s Sirkap and Buddhist temples secluded deep in the mountains. Takht-i-Bahi is a typical example of Buddhist temples built during this time. Takht-i-Bahi is 80 km (50 miles) northwest of Peshawar and 15 km (9 miles) from the town of Mardan and has been a well-preserved archaeological site since long ago.
In the 1 – 7th Centuries AD, Gandhara art had reached its peak in the Kushan Dynasty with the flourishing Buddhist temples. The (winter) capital of this era was Purushapura, which today, is known as Peshawar.

 

The Takht-i-Bahi Buddhist site was built on a mountain, rising 150m (492 feet) above the plains. Walking up the well-maintained stairs, you will arrive at the archeological site and at the entrance of the dedication tower area.

This photo of the wall of the ruins was taken just at the entrance. The upper section is an unrestored wall from the Gandhara era, but the white line shows the lower part, which is engraved with “A.S.I 1946” by archeological teams. “A.S.I.” stands for the “Archaeological Survey of India,” which worked to excavate and restore the site back during the British Indian Empire in 1946, before India and Pakistan separated.

 

The ruins of Takht-i-Bahi still retain the structure of the typical Gandhara Buddhist Temple, which includes the Main Stupa Court, the votive Stupa court, the monastery, meditation room and other structures.
Touring this site on foot, we came to this Stupa court, as the first thing we saw. There are 35 consecrated stupas lined up in a row between the South Tower and the North Monastery. Now, only the base of the structure is left. The base is decorated with Greek styled columns.

 

The votive Stupa Court
Of the 35 holy stupas, 2 are round base and the rest are rectangular in shape.

 

This is the monastery. There were 15 small cells surrounding the courtyard, each cell having a wall with a lamp on it, and some having a second floor. There is also what looked to be the remnants of a kitchen on the edge of the courtyard.

 

This is the Main Stupa. As you go up the stairs, you will see a square, then there is a 6.2m (20.3 foot) platform for the Main Stupa. There are shrines lined up on all three sides of this stupa, and stucco statues were placed in the wall of shrines.

 

This is a shrine near the stairs to the Main Stupa. The three sides are walled off and back in those days it was probably covered with stucco statues.

 

A basement area that is most likely a meditation room. The small room is pitch-black, but it connects to the bright courtyard.

This is the base of the stupa court where the caretaker lives. You can see the stucco of an Acanthus leaf sticking out from the top of the column. There is even still some color left.

 

If you climb up the mountain a little more, it leads to the observatory overlooking the ruins of Takht-i-Bahi and the town below. There are still many other buildings visible from here, so it is impressive to think what a huge Buddhist temple Takht-i-Bahi used to be.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA

(Photos are from a trip in Oct 2019, Feb 2020)

Location : Takht-i-Bhai, Mardan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

Category : - Gandhara > - Takht-i-Bahi > ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > ◇ Heritage of Pakistan
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Taxila – Mohra Moradu

This is Mohra Muradu, one of Taxila’s historic Buddhist ruins. It’s actually a mysterious sounding name, but the ruins of Gandhara’s monastery and stupa is simply taken from the nearby village, Mohra Muradu.
This picture shows the main stupa square platform, which is 4.75m (15.6 ft) tall.

 

Mohra Muradu has two stupas. There is a main stupa and a smaller stupa to the south of it, and there are stucco statues (decorative stucco) of Buddha and elephants which remain preserved on the walls.

 

The monastery has 27 cells on all four sides of a square courtyard, and some of them have stairs, so you can see some had additional levels. The central part of the garden is empty, possibly used for ceremonial baths.

 

This is a preserved Stucco Buddha statue (decoratively lacquered) in the monastery. The coloring remains despite the many years that have passed.

 

The highlight and masterpiece of Mohra Muradu is this 4m (13 ft) tall monumental votive stupa. Found in a small cell of the monastery, it is a hemispherical bowl on a circular platform, with a flat box-shaped fixture on it (probably a place to store a sarira, a container holding the Buddha’s remains). And on top, is a decorative 7-layered umbrella-shaped structure.
When you have so many layers, it doesn’t even really look like an umbrella, but it was a must-have item during the Buddha’s day. When a king or nobleman was outside, servants held an umbrella over by his head. It became a symbol of respect as well for Buddha, and the believers donated umbrella covers stacked to the top.

 

This is the 5 layer circular platform of the votive stupa. Each panel on the sides is separated by Corinthian columns (influenced by the Greeks) and decorated with carved reliefs of Buddha.
Also supporting at the base, is the elephant and the Greek god Atlas, who was said to “carry the sky at the west end of the world.”

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA

(Photos are from a trip in 2005)

Location : Mohra Moradu, Taxila, Punjab

Category : - Monument / Heritage of Punjab > - Gandhara > - Taxila > ◆ Punjab > ◇ Heritage of Pakistan
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Dharmarajika – Taxila

In the 3rd Century BC, there were 2 stupas built by the Mauryan Empire King Ashoka in the Ghandara region. One is the stupa at Butkara ruins in Swat, and the other is the Dharmarajika stupa in Taxila.

Today, the oldest stupa which overall retains its original shape is the one in Sanchi, India, but there are similar huge stupas in the Ghandara region, built in the same circular form. However, unlike Sanchi’s stupas, they do not have column shields or trana. Instead there are shrines and smaller stupas around the main stupa.

 

The main stupa stands at height of 15m and a diameter of 30m.
Around 500 BC, the Buddha entered Nirvana (passed away) around Kushinagar. Seven days later, he was cremated and the relics (sarira) were placed in a relic urn in eight tombs at the bottom of the center of the tomb. This was the first stupa, and the sarira and its urn were worshipped.
In 3rd century BC, the Mauryan King Ashoka collected the relics (sarira) and distributed them to place in newly built stupas. The Dharmarajika stupa enshrines the relics.

 

The Main Stupa has a path of circumambulation (a path around the temple for walking prayer) and around it, there is a group of shrines and smaller stupas that were built in the 1st century BC to 4th century AD by the Kushan Empire in Ghandara.

On the walls of the square-shaped platform, you can see the Ghandara style architecture with panels and wall tiles separated by the Corinthian columns.

 

Decorations on the base of small stupas show elephants and figures supporting the platform. These are the figure of the Greek God Atlas.

 

Atlas is a Greek myth that supports the sky at the western end of the world. In Gandhara, it appears to support the pedestal of the Buddha and the platform of the stupa. The Greek gods seem to be supporting the Buddhist world view, the beautiful expression of the fusion of Eastern and Western cultures … it’s truly romantic.

 

There are remnants of stucco Buddha status inside the shrine, but unfortunately, they were destroyed. The Stucco statue is a clay statue made in Ghandara that was popular from the 3rd to 4th century AD.

For sightseeing in Taxila, the three main attractions are the Taxila museum, city ruins of Sirkap and the Jaulian monastery, but I hope you can take time to visit the Dharmarajika, too!

Text & Photo : Mariko SAWADA
Visit : Feb 2020, Dharmarajika, Taxila, Punjab

 

Category : - Monument / Heritage of Punjab > - Gandhara > - Taxila > ◆ Punjab > ◇ Heritage of Pakistan
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Sirkap – Taxila

About 30km northwest of Islamabad, the Taxila ruins are located at the eastern edge of an area that once flourished in Ghandara art (Buddhist visual art). Taxila is a group of archeological sites, stupas, monasteries etc. but among them, Sirkap city archeological site is an important area which is a must-visit for all tourists.

 

In the 2nd century BC, the city was built by Bactrian Greeks (Indo-Greek) who flourished in northern Afghanistan. The ruins of the town are located off of the main street and they spread out in a grid pattern, the foundations of the shops, Buddhist temples and Buddhist pagodas endure.

 

Ghandara stood in a cultural intersection where it received the cultural influence of India from the east and the cultural inspirations from Greece and Persia (Iran) from the west. The iconic buildings that symbolize that remains in Sirkap.

This is the “Double-Headed Eagle Stupa” that remains in Sirkap. There are three panels separated by Corinthian wall columns with shoots of Acanthus decorations on the wall of either side of the stairs in front of the square platform.

 

The beautifully preserved panels just to the right of the stairs.

In the panel on the very left, the Greek temple style building with the triangular gables.
Decorating the central panel is a double-headed eagle-like bird perched on top of an arched building shaped like the entrance to the Indian Chaitya Temple. The double-headed eagle is a design often found in Western Asia such as in Hittite and Babylonia.
On the rightmost panel is an Indian Torana (like the Indian Sanchi stupas) with a bird-like figure on top of it.

The Taxila Double-Headed Eagle Stupa is a structure that captures your imagination, blending the architectural artistry of India, Greece and Western Asia.

 

An aerial view of Sirkap, taken by drone, shows a large circular building foundation on the left side of the main street. It is said that it is the remains of a Chaitya temple because it has the same structure of the sacred temples.

It had been quite a long time since I was last able to visit Sirkap, but this time, I could see many students from Pakistan and families coming out for a picnic. Most of the Ghandara ruins are located on mountain tops, but this one is a flat, easy to access spot where people can enjoy the family time.

 

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA

Visit : Feb 2020, Sirkap, taxila, Punjab

Category : - Gandhara > - Taxila > ◆ Punjab > ◇ Heritage of Pakistan
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