Today was a journey into the past....something we tend to forget in our busy cosmopolitan way of life.
We visited a place of great historic significance called Taxila, in Pakistan. The area itself is a living memory of the various ancient civilizations that once settled here. It also held something of great value, almost priceless: the first ever place of higher education, a university that was 2,500 years old! We were first given a tour of the museum that was established here and walked through a timeline of civilizations that once inhabited this major trade route. We then set upon the ‘Jaulian Remains’- the ancient university up on the hills, and were greeted with amazing views of the surrounding valleys. It was clear to me why the Buddhist Monks chose to build this place of education here; it was a place of peace, meditation and reflection. The remains of the university are proof that this part of Asia was far ahead of its time in higher education than any of its European rivals, who were still living in the dark ages. Historical remains such as these are gems of our past and should never be forgotten.
For mankind to progress into the future, we must look to the past for answers. Let us continue that.
Gandhara refers to a historical region and a civilisation or culture that existed, in one form or another, from the early 1st millennium BC to the 11th century AD in what is now northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. Although its geographical footprint changed over time, its heart lay in the vale of Peshawar, the Potohar plateau and along the Kabul River. The kingdom was ruled at various times from capitals at Pushkalavati (modern Charsadda), Takshashila (today the ruined Taxila), Purushapura (modern Peshawar) and in its final days from Udabhandapura (Hund) on the Indus.
Being situated on the main overland route that connected India, Central Asia (and thus China), and Persia (and thus the Middle East and Mediterranean), Gandhara was always an important crossroads for trade and culture and therefore a prized goal for many a conqueror!
The region came under Persian rule in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE as part of the great Achaemenid Empire that stretched from Greece to the Indus River, following this it was held briefly by Alexander the Great and his successors and was thereafter ruled by the Mauryan dynasty of India, when it became a centre of Buddhist learning. During the last two centuries BCE the Graeco-Bactrians of Central Asia invaded Gandhara and it became the centre of the Indo-Greek Kingdom which combined Hellenistic, Buddhist and Indian culture.
About 75 CE the Kushans from Central Asia gained control of Gandhara, and Peshawar became the capital of a great empire stretching from Bengal to Central Asia. The Kushan period is considered to be the Golden Period of Gandhara, when it became a holy land for Buddhists and from where Buddhism spread to Central Asia and the Far East as far as China. The Peshawar Valley and Taxila are full of ruins of stupas* and monasteries of this period, including those of the Jaulian Buddhist monastery which some say was the world’s first university. Gandharan art flourished and produced some of the best pieces of Indian sculpture.
In the 5th century CE the White Huns captured Ghandara, Hinduism was revived and the Gandharan civilization declined.
Gandhara is noted for the distinctive Gandhara style of Buddhist art which developed out of a merger of Greek, Syrian, Persian, and Indian artistic influence. In 1980, Taxila was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
*A stupa literally means ‘heap’ or ‘mound’ and is constructed to contain relics important to the Buddhist faith, and to act as a focal point for prayer and meditation.
Pakistan is an Islamic country with the majority of the people being Muslims but as it happens Buddhism was also part of Pakistan as much as Islam is today.
Having learnt today of the history of Taxila, I realised there is much more to this small, fairly new country then I expected. It has this big history but how many of us actually knew this fact?
The majority of people would relate Buddhism with China and Nepal. Who would have guessed that Pakistan is also part of its history?
Looking back on the day, I’ve realised how little knowledge I have of Pakistan’s history, I feel ashamed for not trying to find this out sooner, it’s part of me as it is for the next person.
Before Bangladesh came to power, there was west and Pakistan and before that it was all India. I have ancestors and families that have come and gone, it’s like they’ve been forgotten because we hardly every try to research the past.
As we entered the area of Taxila we were amazed with the scenery. We first went to visit Taxila Museum which taught us about the history of Buddhism and its traits in Pakistan. We then drove to the Jaulian Hills, which are absolutely beautiful. The river going endlessly through the bottom of the hills was very peaceful. The view from the top of the hills was stunning and the knowledge that I gained from the first ever university is unforgettable.
I have graduated from university because of Pakistan. I am educated due to Pakistan. Why? The first ever university was built in this country – who would’ve known?
In my opinion a country’s past defines them and makes the people who they are, however I feel that a lot of ignorance towards some countries is shown and I feel a lot of this originates from the media. Did you know that first ever higher education establishment was formed in Pakistan over 2000 years ago and that the people who built it built the walls so they could withstand the forces of earthquakes? It’s facts like this that the world don’t know, and it angers me that the media would rather talk about the negativity and ignore all the beauty and cultural history that the country holds.
From finding out so much about Pakistan today it has inspired me to want to find out more about myself and my family history, I think this will continue when I get back to England as gaining this cultural understanding has given me a lot of passion to do so with my family and find out the history behind my mum’s surname.
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How do we view our past?
Pakistan became a separate country in 1947. Before then, various civilizations and empires held sway in the region from Buddhist Gandhara to Alexander the Great and from the Mughal to the British Empires.
Few people know that within Pakistan’s Buddhist past, was the first higher education institute in the world at Jaulian.
How is this rich and varied past viewed in Pakistan and how does it relate to relations between the different ethnic and religious groups? What place does the region’s past have in the growth of a new nation?