Jamal Garhi’s Buddha site

Buddha’s footsteps

The sites of Jamal Garhi and Sawal Dher in NWFP are an archaeological treasure that needs more attention

By Tahir Ali

After crossing the Rashakai Bridge on Nowshera-Mardan road, you enter Mardan with a billboard saying ‘Welcome to Mardan: The land of Gandhara.’ Mardan has been the heart of ancient Gandhara and has a huge presence of the remains of Buddhist Civilization at Takht Bai, Jamal Garhi, Shahbaz Garhi, Therelli (Sawal Dher), Mekha Sanda, Chanakai Dheri, Aziz Dheri, Sehri Bahlol and so on. Sculptures excavated from here are displayed in various museums of Pakistan and around the world.

The archaeological site at Jamal Garhi lies to the northeast of Mardan City at a distance of 15 kilometres on the Mardan-Katlang road. This road has been renamed as Rahimullah Yousafzai’s Route after the great son of the soil who has achieved worldwide fame in journalism. Located between the villages of Jamal Garhi and Shikray Baba on top of a hill at an elevation of 122 metres, this site is called ‘The Jamal Garhi Kandarat’ by the locals. The remains at the site are traced back from 1st to 5th century A.D. It is said that Kushans, Little Kushans and Hindu Parthians had inhabited the place. With the end of the Kushan rule in 225 A.D., the Gandhara civilization gradually declined. The invasion of White Huns around 450-500 A.D. put an end to this era. The Huns virtually destroyed monasteries and killed its inhabitants. Little is known about this period. But a Chinese Pilgrim Fa Hsein, who travelled through the Peshawar valley in 400 A.D. said that the Gandhara region was flourishing then. When his successor Sung Yen came to the region in 520 A.D. he reported that the Huns had destroyed the country.

A company ‘Sappers and Miners’ explored this site first in 1873. As told by Yasir Ali, the site attendant, a statue of Buddha — known as the Fasting Buddha — recovered from here in 1907 was taken to the Lahore Museum where it is kept with the information that it was excavated from a village near the site. The Chinese Pilgrims say nothing about this important place. A Kharoshti inscription discovered from the excavation conducted during 1907-08 revealed Samavat 359, which corresponds to 275 A.D. In 1836 Sikh General made it Gandaparas. The site was excavated in 1876 and later on in 1910-11, it was again excavated.

The site comprises a main round stupa, circumscribed by chapels that are closely packed together. According to Sir John Marshal, a famous archaeologist, the round stupa at Jamal Garhi is one of the oldest from the Gandhara period. There are many votive stupas which were built by votaries who had got their wishes fulfilled here at the main round stupa. The Kitchens, courtyards, meditation rooms, secret wall, a meeting hall, general and guests’ dining hall and monks’ quarters are some of the important constructions at this complex. A distinctive feature of the site is the separate quarters, probably meant for the visiting scholars and monks. All the constructions are stone-made and are still intact in some of the cases. Another salient feature of the complex is the path in the middle.

The Jamal Garhi’s archaeological site is situated in the middle of Takht Bhai and Shahbaz Garhi – the two other important Buddhist centres — at an equal distance of 12 kilometres from each side. The site is some eight kilometres away from another historical place of Therrelli (Sawal Dher) which is situated to its east and which also has many archaeological remains though they are in a very dilapidated condition and seem to have been forgotten. The Theralli Establishment was excavated by Japanese and Pakistani experts in three sessions — in 1964, 1966 and 1967. This is a large complex comprising main stupa, many surrounding votive stupas, residential rooms and other sections. This site also dates back to 1st to 5th century AD. and many of the remains have been destroyed by illegal excavators.

This monastery is easily accessible from each side. From Shahbaz Garhi you may approach it via Charguli to Sawal Dher to Katlang road. If you are at Takht Bhai, it is better you take up the Takht Bhai to Jamal Garhi route to reach here; and if you want to come straight to Jamal Garhi from Mardan, take up the Katlang-Mardan road. Here you will enjoy an easy drive right up to the site as Department of Archaeology and Museum, Government of Pakistan, has constructed a beautiful zigzagging passage with the help of Japanese engineers.

The Jamal Garhi and the Sawal Dher sites are not as yet on the world’s heritage list of UNESCO, which must be ensured. Visitors in the site told The News on Sunday that a tuck-shop, a police-post, a park, lavatories and seating arrangements with sun-cover are the immediate requirements of the place. They also urged an awareness campaign on the media about the site. Sajjad Haider, a visitor, called upon the department of Archaeology and Museums to expedite the repair work and save many of the remains from further damage. “It is our heritage. We must join hands with the government to preserve and develop the historical sites,” said a man Qayyum Khan. Bakht Raziq from Katlang suggested that power and water must necessarily be provided at the site without any further delay.

The Jamal Garhi’s site is ideally located for a picnic. It has a stream of fresh water flowing below on its northern side while the famous Lower Swat Canal and one of its subsidiaries flows close to it in the east. Despite the hot weather, cool breeze makes the weather pleasant throughout the summer.

The site affords an impressive view of the picturesque district of Mardan. Stand anywhere in the site and you will get a handsome panoramic view of Mardan and its surrounding areas. An excursion here especially at the time of sunrise and sunset is an excellent idea.

The hill on which the structures stand is part of a vast mountainous range and many tiers of mountains can be seen. Far in the west and east, the hills that house the Takht Bhai and Shahbaz Garhi’s archaeological remains are visible if the sky is blue and clear. Looking down below at the plain in the south is refreshing. But no less amusing and wonderful is the sight of the vast mountainous range in the north, east and west.

(The News, 18-05-08)

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

2 Responses to Jamal Garhi’s Buddha site

  1. A Bacha says:

    Very informative.I am impressed.There are many people who spell Takht i Bahi inaccurate.I do not know why they call it Takht Bhai?Perhaps you will know better.

    Regards

    • Thanks. Yes it is spelled differently. The one you pointed out is one of the best. Takht Bhai has, however, gained popularity not only locally, nationally but also internationally. Differences, anyhow, do exist.

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