The main courtyard of the university complex, with the ruins of small monks’ cells. — Photos by the writer
The main courtyard of the university complex, with the ruins of small monks’ cells. — Photos by the writer

Gandhara, the cradle of the great Buddhist Civilisation, was the main centre of the Gandhara kingdom more than 3,000 years ago.

This city was home to many splendid Buddhist establishments important among them being Julian, the oldest university, a centre of learning from the 5th century BC to the 5th century AD. The site has been included in Unesco’s world cultural heritage list.

Jaulian was once a thriving ancient city and centre of learning, especially regarding the Buddhist art and architecture of Gandhara.

A group of visitors by the information board.
A group of visitors by the information board.

According to Abdul Nasir Khan, the curator of Taxila Museum, in the Buddhist texts, which is known as Jatakas, it is specified that Taxila was the city where Aruni and his son Setaketu received their education.

Mr Khan said Jaulian was constructed between the 2nd and 4th centuries in the early days of Buddhist expansion out of the Indian subcontinent in the ancient state of Gandhara. It played a key role in the spread of Buddhism along the Silk Road.

An intact statue of Buddha in a meditation pose.
An intact statue of Buddha in a meditation pose.

In 2 BC Buddhism was adopted as the state religion which flourished and prevailed for more than 1,000 years, mainly from this area.

According to A.G. Lone, a senior archaeologist from the Department of Archaeology and Museums, Jaulian consists of the main stupa and 27 subsidiary stupas located around it, and two adjacent courts. An additional 59 chapels are located around the courts and feature scenes from Buddha’s life.

A seated Buddha made of stucco in a niche is in dilapidated condition.
A seated Buddha made of stucco in a niche is in dilapidated condition.

“Today, remains of this ancient university comprise mainly structures related to monastic life, including monk cells, an assembly hall and kitchen and store rooms.”

According to Mr Lone, 27 votive stupas (small practicing stupas) surround the main stupa and feature square bases topped by circular drums and domes.

He said that despite the passage of centuries, inscriptions in the Kharosthi script are still intact at the bottom of some of the stupas which feature the names and titles of their donors.

Space for a Buddha statue along the wall of the monastery, which was moved to the Taxila Museum. — Photos by the writer
Space for a Buddha statue along the wall of the monastery, which was moved to the Taxila Museum. — Photos by the writer

Former director of the Taxila Institute of Asian Civilisations, Dr Ashraf Khan said Julian was the significant seat of learning during the ancient Kingdom of Gandhara. History shows that this place attracted scholars from India, Afghanistan, China, Persia and Greece. He said excavations made by Sir Johan Marshal showed the place as a masterpiece of architecture.

According to Gandhara Art and Culture Association General Secretary Dr Park Kyo Soon, hundreds of coins recovered from this site displayed an amalgamation of imagery featuring Kushan royalty, Greek lettering and Buddhist imagery.

She said cultural fluidity was also visible in the blend of architectural features on the various stupas preserved at Jaulian, which proves Greek, Persian and Roman characteristics within the Buddhist complex.

Massiullah Bacha, a former site attendant, said its significance and importance for practicing Buddhists could be judged from the fact that many important dignitaries had visited the site, including in October 2014 when Buddhist monks from South Korea came to offer special prayers for world peace.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2019

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