Rare discoveries made at Bhamula Stupa site

Published March 5, 2015
A terra cotta head of Buddha discovered during excavation.
A terra cotta head of Buddha discovered during excavation.

TAXILA: Archaeologists have discovered the largest statue ever found in Gandhara depicting the death of Buddha as well as a ‘double-halo’ Buddha statue, the first of its kind to have been found at the Bhamala Stupa site.

The rare discovery was made during excavations at the Buddhist stupa and monastery dating back to 4th century AD.

Dr Abdul Samad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa director, Department of Archaeology and Museums, told Dawn that the latest discoveries by the archaeologists have opened new chapters in the history of the ancient Taxila valley civilisation.

“This is one of the few sites in the world to have the cruciform Stupa which was reserved for Buddha himself.”

Discussing details of the new discoveries, he explained that the death of the Buddha scene is known as ‘Maha Pari Nirvana’. The statue depicting the scene, measures 14 metres in length, and is the largest ever statue of its kind found in the archaeological history of Gandhara civilisation. The image is placed on a 15 metre long platform.

Dr Samad said Buddha’s head is missing as the site appears to have been targeted by illegal treasure hunters.

“Other parts of the statue such as the left leg and arms were also found in a damaged condition,” he said.

He said other images in terracotta have been found near the Par Nirvana scene. He added that Pari Nirvana scene was exposed from a long chamber to the west of the main Stupa facing towards east. He added that access to this chamber is given through three openings at regular intervals. The chamber is made of stone in semi ashlars masonry.

Largest ‘death of Buddha’ statue and first double halo statue found in Gandhara

He explained that the statue of Buddha with double halos was unique and such a statue had never been found at this site.

In the past statues, heads of Buddha statues and coins from the Kushan period had been found at the site.

“In the first leg of this excavation, archaeologists have opened a new chapter in the archaeological history of the Taxila valley. Through the recent discoveries, it has been confirmed that the site dates back to 3rd century CE. Recently discovered Buddha heads are made in baked soil which dates to the third century, rejecting archaeologist John Marshal’s claim from 1930 that the site was from 12th century CE.”

Dr Samad said during this leg of excavations, other relics such as a carnelian seal depicting what appears to be the Gaja Lakshmi deity, one of the forms of Hindu goddess Ashta Lakshmi have been discovered.

An archaeologist examines a head of Buddha discovered during excavation. — Dawn
An archaeologist examines a head of Buddha discovered during excavation. — Dawn

Other relics with Kashmiri influence have added new dimensions to what we know about these ancient civilisations.

“Several terracotta and stucco Buddha statues and copper coins were discovered at this site which date back to the Kidara-Kushan period (4 to 5 CE). This indicates that Bhamala was not isolated from main Taxila,” he said.

He said the material found in Bhamala could improve our understanding of Buddhist culture, development and contact in this region.

“The success of the Bhamala Stupa study would also encourage other archaeologists to come to Pakistan,” he said.

Dr Samad elaborated upon the importance of this site. He said the Bhamala complex was different from other sites in Taxila valley.

“The stupa, shaped like a cross, resembles Aztec Pyramids and such constructions had only been found in Kashmir, in the past. He said the main stupa was cruciform and there were about 19 small votive stupas in the courtyard surrounding the main stupa.

He further revealed that during the recent excavation, a total of 510 relics were discovered, which included terracotta, stucco sculptures as well as iron objects including nails, hooks, door fittings, hair clips, copper artifacts and 14 coins from the late Kushan period.

He said that samples of organic materials were also taken for radio carbon dating by Professor Dr Mark Kenoyer, Director of the Centre for South Asia and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin Madison in the US.

Published in Dawn March 5th , 2015

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