TAXILA: President of Jogye Order Wonhaeng, the biggest denomination of Buddhism in South Korea along with 30 Buddhist monks, visited the Archaeological Museum and other Buddhist sites to perform their religious rituals.

Mr Wonhaeng, who is the 36th president of Jogye Order along with other monks led religious rituals in front of Buddha tooth relics in the Taxila Museum and later offered religious rituals at ancient Buddhist site Dharmarajika.

The Korean monks were received by the curator of the museum Abdul Nasir Khan.

The monks took a round of the museum and were interested in artefacts and statues of Buddha and his disciples.

While briefing the delegation, Mr Khan said that artefacts displayed here were more than 2,000 years old when Buddhist monks used to live in Taxila, the centre of the ancient Gandhara civilisation.

Some members of the delegation performed religious rituals, while others took pictures.

“I am visiting Pakistan after 20 years and I am glad to come here,” said Mr Wonhaeng.

“Gandhara is a wellspring of research for soul-searching. It is my hope that we see Buddha’s message through these objects of art: the love of humanity over divinity.”

He added that Taxila Museum was also a point of attraction for Koreans as it had hundreds of masterpieces of Gandhara art.

Gandhara Art and Culture Association General Secretary Dr Park Kyo Soon speaking on this occasion said that for two decades she had worked to build a bridge between Korean Buddhists and Pakistan and this visit would help not only to promote a soft image of Pakistan but also attract religious tourists.

Dr Park said that in June 2017, she arranged an exhibition in which 40 statues of Buddha were sent from Peshawar museum to Korea. She added that the delegation is in Pakistan for eight days and has already visited Lahore and Gilgit-Baltistan and they will be travelling to other historic sites of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa including Swat, Mardan and Peshawar before leaving for South Korea on Nov 24.

She revealed that Korea’s Buddhism traces its roots to the Gandharan civilisation that thrived 2,000 years ago in the territories of today’s northern Pakistan adding that the Mahayana school of Korea’s Buddhism, one of two main branches alongside the Hinayana school was introduced to the ancient Kingdom of Baekje dating back to the 4th century by monk Maranatha who hailed from modern day Pakistan and later in the 8th century, Korean monk Hyecho travelled to Gandhara for pilgrimage and wrote a travelogue.

“To this day stupas, shrines and courtyards stand to represent the holy land of Buddhism,” she added.

Responding to a question, she said that Pakistan is an attraction for Korean Buddhist pilgrims and tourists due to the rich heritage of Gandhara civilisation. She was of the view that cultural relations between Pakistan and South Korea can be strengthened if heritage tourism is promoted.

The monks also visited Julian monastery and stupa also known as the ancient Taxila University and Buddhist monastery and Bhamala stupa dated back to 2nd century AD located at the bank of River Haro near Taxila.

Archaeology and Museums Director Dr Abdul Samad said that the provincial government is spending Rs1 billion to conserve archaeological sites in KP which will help in promoting religious tourism. He added that in a bid to promote religious tourism, the government has set up a Buddhist trail to attract followers of Buddhism and monks from across the world.

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2019