ISLAMABAD: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is pushing the federal government to return some 3,150 ancient Gandhara artefacts currently housed in museums in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Taxila.
“If the federal government obliges, Taxila Museum, the National Museum of Pakistan in Karachi and the Lahore Fort Museum, will be left almost empty,” former Lahore Museum director general Salimul Haq told Dawn.
Gandhara art makes up some of the oldest and most significant collections in all major museums, he said, and was more important than artefacts from the Mughal and British periods.
“The statue of Fasting Siddharta alone is the most expensive ancient Gandhara article in Lahore Museum to give you one example,” Mr Haq added.
Dr Fazal Dad Kakar, the former director general of the Department of Archaeology and Museums in Islamabad, said that Gandhara art “unites the country”.
“The National Museum Karachi, Taxila Museum and Lahore Museum are home to some of the most significant Gandhara articles ever discovered,” he said.
If federal govt obliges, Taxila Museum, National Museum in Karachi and Lahore Fort Museum will be almost empty, former Lahore Museum official says
These museums have thousands of Gandhara articles in stores and on display. Between 1860 and 1902, all the excavated items were kept in regional offices of Department of Archaeology in Lahore and were also shifted to Calcutta. After Sir John Marshal took over the department small and large discoveries were kept in stores in Taxila.
Dr Kakar explained that after the 18th Amendment, the ownership of items and setups on the concurrent list, such as sites and monuments, were handed over to the respective provinces.
“However, all the museums, libraries and laboratories and such institutions listed in the federal list were retained by the federal government under constitutional law,” he said.
The Harappa Museum, Javed Manzil in Lahore and Sikh and Mughal galleries in the Lahore Fort are, among others, legally properties of the federal government. The National Museum in Karachi is also owned by the federal government.
There are more than 1,180 Gandhara art pieces in the National Museum of Pakistan in Karachi, and some 1,600 articles ar the Exploration and Excavation Branch in Karachi.
The Lahore Fort Museum houses around 343 Gandhara art pieces, while the Taxila Museum has a collection of more than 4,610 Gandhara period artefacts and there are more than 160 in the Islamabad Museum.
According to a source in the National History and Literary Heritage Division, the KP government has its eyes on the Fasting Siddharta in the Lahore Museum.
“It is a prized possession. Although the statue of Fasting Siddharta in Peshawar Museum is a lot more beautiful, intricate and detailed, it is in three pieces. Recently the Korean embassy asked to borrow the Fasting Siddharta statue from the Lahore Museum for an exhibition in Korea,” the official said.
The last time the Lahore Museum loaned Fasting Siddharta was during Gen Ziaul Haq’s regime, for an exhibition in the United States, the official said, adding: “Punjab has always been hesitant to loan Fasting Siddharta for displays abroad. No other statue of Buddha comes close to its elegance and magnificence.”
Nonetheless, the KP Department for Sports, Youth Affairs, Tourism, Culture, Archaeology and Museums, in a letter to the Ministry of Inter Provincial Coordination, said that it is making “tremendous efforts to implement the vision of the prime minister in promoting tourism and developing cultural and archaeological assets”.
In order to achieve its goals, KP has demanded that federal government hand over all the Gandhara antiquities of KP origin lying in museums of the different provinces as well as the federal government.
Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2019