The main centre of the Gandhara civilisation and destination for pilgrims from central Asia and China, the valley also includes the Mohra Moradu Buddhist stupa and monastery.

Mohra Moradu stands out among other Buddhist stupas as it harbours a 12 feet high spire with seven umbrellas, a sacred sign in Buddhism which depicts the seven heavens, skies, earths. It also has the Healing Buddha, so named because pilgrims used to stick their fingers in its naval in hopes of being cured of various ailments.

It also has the Healthy Buddha, whose belly button one was supposed to rub for physical well being. There is also a replica of the Buddha seated in Dhyana Murda, or meditation.

Once a place of meditation for Buddhists, the Mohra Moradu monastery is located in a small valley between Sirkap and Julian in Taxila. The monastery is was unearthed during excavations under the supervision of eminent archaeologist Sir John Marshal in the early 20th century.

The lower portion or the base of the stupa is still intact and venerated by Buddhists. The site is distinguished from the many other stupas and monasteries in Taxila due to the presence of stucco relief, with which its walls are decorated and many of them are relatively well preserved.

According to Dr Mohammad Ashraf, former director Taxila Institute of Asian Civilisation at the Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), the monastery and stupa were built during the rule of the Kashans, and were renovated in the third and fourth centuries. The monastery consists of 27 rooms for students and teachers built around a courtyard with a pool.

Like other monasteries of Gandhara, a large water pond is also found here which , according to archaeologists, would meet drinking water requirements and was used by monks to grow lotus flowers in.

The structure also contains figures in stucco and terracotta representing the Great Buddha in various attitudes, surrounded by subsidiary gods, heavenly creatures and worshippers.

A stupa was discovered in one of the cells as well with elephants and atlases alternating in the lowest tiers and Buddha seated in the niches alternating with pilasters in the tiers above. One side of the base of the votive stupa still has the stucco relief representing Buddha and Bodhisattvas, which is well preserved.

The stucco plaster sculptures of the Buddha around the base of the main stupa are also worth seeing.

The tallest one-stone sculpture of Bodhisattva Maitreya was also discovered at the same complex. Due to its strategically secure location, most of the stucco sculptures were intact, which Sir John Marshall moved to the Taxila Museum.

There are many well-preserved Buddhas, albeit headless and at Mohra Moradu, one of the most elaborate stupas containing the ashes of monks was also uncovered. It was found off a courtyard surrounded by numerous meditation cells.

A PhD scholar from QAU, A.G. Lone, who is the curator of the Islamabad Museum, said the stupa stands on a double rectangular terrace with an offset projection for steps on the east. The monastery consists of a square court with cells around it, and additional halls of assembly and rooms for the kitchen, refectory and guards’ room.

Mr Lone added that there are a number of niches in the outer wall of the cells, which contain Buddhist figures.

A nearly 2,000-year-old well at the Mohra Moradu stupa still serves as a source of water for over a hundred families living nearby.

The stone-paved well is several meters deep, located at the back of the assembly hall of the Mohra Moradu stupa.

The museum’s curator, Abdul Nasir Khan, said a square bronze seal was discovered from stupa, whose erotic iconography indicated that spiritual treatment for childless couples was carried out at the site. He added that some of the stucco masterpieces have also been moved to the museum.

The Mohra Moradu Buddhist stupa and monastery has also been enlisted on the Unesco World Heritage List.

Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2018

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