Rain takes its toll on Buddhist heritage site in Taxila

August 20, 2019

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The double-headed eagle stupa at Sirkap has crumbled in the rain. — Dawn
The double-headed eagle stupa at Sirkap has crumbled in the rain. — Dawn

TAXILA: The recent rains have played havoc with the ancient Buddhist heritage site in Taxila as the double-headed eagle Stupa located at Sirkap is crumbling fast.

Sirkap, the second city of ancient Taxila, has its own significance and importance in the archaeological history of Pakistan as it is among three of the 18 Buddhist sites of the Taxila valley with intact sculptures. Classified as World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), the site consists of several parts which belong to the Achaemenid, Greek and Kushan periods.

“Sirkap was founded by the Bactarian King Demetrius, who conquered the region in the 180s BCE, and was the second city of Taxila and this city was expanded by Gondophares who also built the famous double-headed eagle Stupa and the Temple of the Sun,” said Abdul Nasir Khan, the curator of Taxila Museum.

“The double-headed eagle Stupa is in Kanjur stone originally plastered with lime,”said Irshad Hussain, the deputy director of the archaeology department.

He added that there two theories the Scythian tribe especially used it on their flags: the one head was watching incoming devotees and the other going ones.

The recent torrential rains caused severe damages to scores of priceless stucco sculptures of the Buddhist period (2–5th century AD) in the Taxila valley but the worst affected is the double-headed eagle images that could have been saved had the archaeology department taken necessary steps to protect them.

The double-headed eagle stupa at Sirkap has crumbled in the rain. — Dawn
The double-headed eagle stupa at Sirkap has crumbled in the rain. — Dawn

“Today, the mother nature is taking its turn at finishing the job and tends to be more thorough than thieves and White Huns at this Buddhist site which is sharply losing its glorious treasure for which these sites are known across the globe,” said Ayaz Kiyani, a scholar while visiting the site with some local and foreign tourists. He said this loss to national and international heritage should be avoided for future generations by taking protective measures.

There’s still time and Unesco has received a distress call. He said during a tour to different sites he observed that the recent rains had caused severe damages to scores of priceless stucco sculptures and stupas showing signs of crumbling.

Sources in the archaeology department’s sub-regional office said senior officials were aware of the situation but they never contacted national as well as international donor agencies for preparing any contingency plan to save the site.

When contacted, Irshad Hussain, the deputy director of the archaeology department, said the department was facing paucity of staff as from the last 15 years no recruitment had been made and employees were retiring every year after attaining the age limit. He said after the 18th amendment the site had been handed over to the provincial government. Responding a question about preservation of the stupa, he said the department had planned to erect a protective roof over such endangered stupas at various sites to save them from natural elements such as rain.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2019