Heritage in ruins: Remains of a Buddhist monastery discovered

Published: March 2, 2012

The monastery’s walls, built from rugged stones, approximately 3.5 feet wide, feature a specific style of construction commonly found in Buddhist sites. PHOTOS: SHAZIA MEHBOOB

The monastery’s walls, built from rugged stones, approximately 3.5 feet wide, feature a specific style of construction commonly found in Buddhist sites. PHOTOS: SHAZIA MEHBOOB The monastery’s walls, built from rugged stones, approximately 3.5 feet wide, feature a specific style of construction commonly found in Buddhist sites. PHOTOS: SHAZIA MEHBOOB
ISLAMABAD: 

An archaeological site possibly linked to the Gandhara civilisation has been discovered near a village in Mansehra.

Spread over a deserted hillock near Karer village, some 26 kilometres from Mansehra, the site is believed to be the ruins of a Buddhist monastery, built between the first and third century AD.

A visit to the site by The Express Tribune revealed that the monastery, having over 16 pillars, has been nearly destroyed due to negligence of the archaeology department.

The foundations of its walls indicate that the monastery had multiple rooms. The walls, approximately 3.5 feet wide, are built from rugged stones. The remains feature the specific style of construction commonly found in Buddhist sites.

In addition, two tunnels in the hillock also suggest that the site was used for meditation.

Archaeologists’ perspective

According to the archaeologists, this site was occupied by a host of rulers, including Buddhists, Sikhs and Muslims. They believe Buddha used the site as a monastery and with the end of Buddhists era, the area came under the rule of Sikhs until they were defeated by Muslims.

It is believed the site was used as a fortification by Muslims due to its ideal location to keep an eye on the surrounding area. Quaid-i-Azam University Taxila Institute of Asian Civilisation Director Dr Muhammad Ashraf said the structure consists of stupas and monastic areas built in rubble, featuring diaper and semi-diaper masonry, while talking to The Express Tribune.

“The Buddhist monastery is built on the same pattern as that seen in other places, such as Jaulian in Taxila and Zar Dheri and Jinnan Wali Dheri in Hazara division,” he explained, adding that similar sites have been found in Swat, Dir and Buner.

Ashraf pointed out that the monastery was erected during the Kushan period and needs systematic excavation for preservation.

He also revealed that almost 800 archaeological sites were discovered in the area between 2005 and 2008, when Hazara University Mansehra (HUM) conducted a survey in Hazara division.

This is a fortified town for a limited community; the fortification’s walls in diaper masonry were built in the late Buddhist period, around the 5th century AD, said Shakirullah Khan, an assistant professor at HUM.

The fortification wall has bastions at regular intervals. The total covered area is about 160 X 60 feet. There is some residential construction on the side as well.

The fortification’s walls have been reconstructed in simple dry masonry, which is a reminder that the site was occupied till late by Muslim rulers. He, however, regretted that the site is in ruins.

“This monastery is of great importance for cultural heritage and requires immediate attention to save it from further decay,” he said.

“If it is properly excavated, it can become one of the most important heritage sites for tourists and historians due to its close proximity to the Karakoram Highway,” he added.

He said Hazara division, especially Mansehra has a rich cultural heritage, such as Asoka’s rock edicts and steppe sites from the Kushan period. Indo-Greek and Scythian coins  have also been unearthed from the area.

Locals’ views

According to a local resident Arshad Ahmed, the monastery has been present since the past 200 years, when his forefathers migrated to the village.”

This area served as a battlefield for Muslims and Buddhists. Local people have always believed the site was used as a place of worship by Buddhists,” he said.

While referring to the hillock, commonly known as Kot, he said it is used to describe the three hillocks in the area. The hillocks are situated close to each other so that people can easily communicate from their peaks.

He also stressed on the possibility of similar sites on other hillocks which may have been completely destroyed due to negligence.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2012.

Reader Comments (11)

  • Rajendra Rana
    Mar 2, 2012 - 9:17AM

    Buddhism actual religion of peace is your original religion, revert back to it and experience the real peace

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  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Mar 2, 2012 - 10:37AM

    Sincerely hope that the shirk argument doesn’t surface

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  • Kei Sai
    Mar 2, 2012 - 12:16PM

    @Rajendra Rana:
    Rajendra is right. Pakistanis, embrace your true religious heritage, the one before the brutal invasions of the foreigners and their foreign religion.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Mar 3, 2012 - 1:52AM

    How some one with open eyes can worship hand made rock statues how man dont make sense to me like Allama Iqbal PUT IT wo aik sijdah jo garaan guzertah hai tujey,
    bachatah hai hazar butow ke sijjdow sey
    yuri his great grand father was Hindu but god give him HADYAH.

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  • Mandeep
    Mar 3, 2012 - 12:07PM

    Fill Your Mind With Compassion(reham, hamdardi). Gautam Buddha

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  • Grain of truth
    Mar 4, 2012 - 4:59AM

    Interesting comments. However ones religion is ones own. Its not an imposed institution. As regards the original religion in these areas was probably seasonal worship. Before budhism.Hinduism etc so are the writers indicating that we should begin to worship stones wind etc

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  • rehman
    Mar 5, 2012 - 1:43PM

    @Grain of truth:
    Not agreed with the last point that the writer indicating people to begin worship stones, wind, ect, i think, the writer simply trying to make the place as part of our rich history and also wants to save it for further ruin.

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  • Mar 15, 2012 - 6:37AM

    I am interested in the Pali term and its evidence in stone in Pakistan. ………….See my www
    seeBeal, Samuel Books

    Cunningham 1814 — 1893
    Beal 1825 — 1889
    Pali Text Society 1881
    Netti 1902, 1962, 1995

    1872…………………………….. Travel of Fah-Hian and Sung-Yun, Buddhist Pilgrims, from China to India, (400 A. D. 518) (I had this book)

    1872……………………………. The Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese
    A copy is in the Nat. Lib. Bangkok

    1876…………………………….. The Legend of Buddha
    The Nat. Lib. Has it.
    P
    1878……………………………. Texts from the Buddhist Canon, Dhammapada

    Cunningham, Bharhut Stupa 1879 Thus he never had NETTI

    1884…………………………….. Buddhism in China Prince Damrong library has it.
    I will have a copy.

    1884…………………………….. Si-yo-ku; Buddhist Records of the Western World, by Hiuen Tsiang I had it
    This text includes Travels of Sung-Yun and Fa-Hian

    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
    Was this printed after his death?

    1911……………………………. The Life of Hiuen-Tsiang, Translated from the Chinese of Shaman Hwui Li This book carries the ‘flower’ symbol on the I have a photo copy of it.

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  • Mar 15, 2012 - 9:50AM

    The comments are interesting, but all religions teach the same basic.
    I am not interested in that.

    I have shared my symbol data with Dr. Khan and others, If I had you e-mail I would share it with 500.600 more.

    I believe S. E. Asia carries data that help artifacts in Pakistan. See my Lahore article on the Lahore Buddha Footprint.

    Nandiyavatta is a Pali term and it CAN mean a flower, which is chandu in Urdo. It is all over Pakistan and tropical Asia.

    I also believe that it was an object of Gandhara Buddhists in Gandhara era. I am trying to collect such data. so far little. Contact Lahore Museum, someone should have my Nandiyavatta-vamsa. Dr. Khan, trustee, or there are so many.

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  • Mar 21, 2012 - 6:53AM

    Koji Nishikawa 01

    1.See the Bulletin of The Lahore Museum. 1996/7. One short page on Buddha Footprints. Pictures in sideways.
    2.See the Bulletihn of The Lahore Museum, 1996/7. Gandhara Buddha footprint with only Pali data. Dve Barker is a Great editor. He can take text upside down – inside out, and make a rose out of it. The drawing by His Majesty’s artist, and also mine. Excellent work. He is dead and he was NOT a sex man.
    3.See Khan/UNESCO. He may have my nandiyavatta-vamsa.
    4.See the Art History Prof at the College of Arts. He taught in CAL for 20 years. His wife does psychology (great dahl cook). Daughter. He took me on a walk to check other flowers after he read my paper.
    5.He, and several others, were at the meeting for the Buddha Footprint exhibition of His Majesty. The government man’s name I can’t recall. Very nice chap.
    6.The owner of the building of Thai Airway was going to be a part of that program too.
    7.My effort to get data from Nana where the Footprint has the same data suffered the same way. There with my student from US. All disappeared.
    8.Kahn UNESCO is/was trustee Lahore Museum too. Daughter was mys student – Sofia/My Love Bug. He knows about my exhibition of Queen Sirikit. He arranged the Swat visits and the line drawing. I saw Swat after the exhibition.
    9.The Peshawar Museum, second floor had the Penis Show, which was not necessary. Dilip Kumar Thakur, Kolkata, go in everywhere. Clever boy! Lobbie Boy!
    10.She show in Nat. Museum, New Delhi, at the Gupta Room. I read Anna Marai’s text’s and she says that the symbol ended in the 4th or so century. So I checked Gupta and found nothing. The Amaravati Pada is in front of that gallery.
    11.Anna M did mention the flower twice but I objected to the fact that it was a Royal Cremation text. Apparently it meant nothing to her.
    12.Pali in Japan is not better. But some knew of it. One Japanese professor had the daughter of the Rangoon Un. As house guest. She saw my nandiyavatta-vamsa has his home in Japan. I don’t recall his name but are you from Tokyo?
    13.The Buddha Footprint Museum for His Majesty also went down the drain. I worked with advocate Gaeow in front of Dusit Palace, but that failed too. Great work. Her father, at that time, and I love to go out and eat at streams – all local food. I can’t recall her name but I was asked NOT to see her. Su…………………. something. Her father was a general.
    14.There was a local for the group to do this work. I found it too. What happened I don’t know.
    15.Well, the lady who used to dance for the King and Queen became principal of the College. She MAY have a copy too.
    16.There are so many people in Pakistan that had it.

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  • Jai
    Apr 2, 2012 - 11:03AM

    “According to the archaeologists, this site was occupied by a host of rulers, including Buddhists, Sikhs and Muslims. They believe Buddha used the site as a monastery and with the end of Buddhists era, the area came under the rule of Sikhs until they were defeated by Muslims”.

    I think the writer has it wrong. The Buddhists were defeated by the Muslims and later the Muslims were defeated by the Hindu Marathas and after the fall of the Maratha Empire the area would have gone back to Muslims who were again defeated by the Sikhs. Would have passed into British hands from the Sikh Empire. Sikhism is only 500 years old and only came about after the advent of Islam into the Indian Subcontinent so there is no question of the Sikhs taking it from the Buddhists.

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