TAXILA: Buddhist rituals were performed for the first time in two millennia at the ancient Bhamala Monastery and Stupa on Friday, when Korean Buddhist monks prayed for peace in South Asia, the birthplace of Buddhism, and the world.

This was the first religious service held at Bhamala, which dates back to the 2nd century AD. The ceremony was organised by the Gandhara Art and Culture Association, the Centre for Culture and Development and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Directorate of Archaeology and Museums.

The prayer ceremony was attended by civil society members and people from a variety of religious backgrounds from across the world, including from the diplomatic community.

Bhamala has its own significance and importance in Gandhara civilisation, as the largest statue ever found in Gandhara depicting the death of Buddha was discovered here.

The statue, discovered in 2016, is 1,700 years old and 48 feet long. It was found alongside a double-halo Buddha statue, the first of its kind found in the history of the Buddhist civilisation in Pakistan.

The site was reduced to ruins for almost 2,000 years after the White Huns destroyed it in the 5th century AD. It saw only occasional visitors until Friday, when three Korean monks, Dr Neung H. Sinim, Jeok Kyung and Jeong Wei prayed there for peace and stability.

Gandhara Art and Culture Association General Secretary Dr Park Kyo Soon told the media that traditional Buddhist prayers were offered at the stupa around 2,000 years after the decline of Buddhism in the region.

She said Korean monks have joined hands with their Pakistani counterparts for the revival of Takhshila University. They are striving to rekindle the ancient reservoirs of spiritual energy through research, meditationand healing, she said.

She added that, being an expert in traditional Chinese medicine such as acupuncture, tai chi and herbal products, Dr Sinim would contribute his services for alternative medicine, hold meditation sessions and run a clinical practice to benefit Pakistanis.

Archaeology and Museums Director Dr Abdul Samad said the Bhamala Stupa is located on the ancient silk route. It resembles Aztec pyramids, he said, and this kind of construction has only previously been found in Kashmir. In addition to the main stupa, there are around 19 small votive stupas in the surrounding courtyard constructed using the diaper masonry technique.

Dr Samad said the KP government has allocated Rs1 billion to promote religious tourism in the province. He said the chief monk of Thailand is expected to visit ancient sites in Pakistan next month.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2019