Dharmarajika Stupa — left to decay

Published November 30, 2014
The main structure of Dharmarajika Stupa. It is believed to have been built around holy relics of the Buddha in 3rd century BC.
The main structure of Dharmarajika Stupa. It is believed to have been built around holy relics of the Buddha in 3rd century BC.

The historic Dharmarajika Stupa is located just 3km from Taxila Museum. It is not merely a stupa but a complex, having a central stupa, with several small stupas, temples and other ancient remains. Dharmarajika, commonly known as ‘Chir Tope’, is considered one of the eight largest Buddhist stupas in South Asia built around the holy relics of the Buddha by Maurya Emperor Ashoka in 3rd century BC. It is located on the bank of Dharma rivulet.

Remains of the 1st century AD double-chambered chapel standing on a high plinth, access to which was provided by a flight of steps on the northern side.
Remains of the 1st century AD double-chambered chapel standing on a high plinth, access to which was provided by a flight of steps on the northern side.

According to historic details, the name Dharmarajika is derived from ‘Dharmaraja’, a title given to Maurya Emperor Ashoka due to his services to Buddhism. According to British archaeologist John Marshall, it was actually the title of the Buddha, who was the true Dharma Raja or Lord of Law. The first excavation at the site was carried out from 1912-16 under the supervision of John Marshall.

The statue of Buddha in thechapel is in a dilapidated state. / This small chapel at Dharmarajika Complex contains figural reliefs in stucco.
The statue of Buddha in thechapel is in a dilapidated state. / This small chapel at Dharmarajika Complex contains figural reliefs in stucco.

Later in 1934-36, another excavation was conducted. Dharmarajika Complex is spread over a wide area with the main stupa about 15 metres high and 50 metres in diameter. Several round-shaped stupas were constructed around the circular structure. Another square shape medium size stupa is also located at a side of the complex, which bears the engraved small structures of Buddha on its outer walls - now in bad shape.

The open passage around the foot of the stupa served in ancient days as the procession path (Pradakshinaya). / One of the small round stupas built around the main structure.
The open passage around the foot of the stupa served in ancient days as the procession path (Pradakshinaya). / One of the small round stupas built around the main structure.

There are several Buddhist temples located in the complex. It is assumed that different structures were constructed around the stupa during different periods. The stupa was badly damaged during the earthquake in 40 AD.

Defaced statues on the outer wall of a medium-size stupa. / Another defaced statue of Buddha.
Defaced statues on the outer wall of a medium-size stupa. / Another defaced statue of Buddha.

However it was rebuilt twice by the Khushana rulers. Today, the Dharmarajika Complex is in ruins. Most of the artwork and engraved statues are badly damaged and in need of preservation work. Other parts of the complex seem to have been totally ignored and abandoned.

The disfigured statues of Buddha on the outer wall of a medium-size stupa.
The disfigured statues of Buddha on the outer wall of a medium-size stupa.
The raised terrace around the foot of the stupa.
The raised terrace around the foot of the stupa.
A square-shaped stupa at Dharmarajika. It is thought to have been constructed in 2nd century AD— Photos by the writer
A square-shaped stupa at Dharmarajika. It is thought to have been constructed in 2nd century AD— Photos by the writer

Published in Dawn, November 30th , 2014

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