TAXILA: Since the past two years, the Dharmarajika stupa and monastery located near Taxila, had been a rather quiet spot. Apart from the footsteps of occasional visitors and rustling of leaves, the site had been closed due to the pandemic.
On Wednesday, a 14-member delegation of Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka visited the site to perform their religious rituals, bringing back life to it. The visitors are in Pakistan for a week-long pilgrimage; their visit was arranged by the High Commission of Pakistan Colombo with a view to promote religious tourism in the country through showcasing historic sites. Pakistan is home to an ancient Buddhist civilisation that remained hidden from the eyes of the world over the years. The Sri Lankan delegation was led by Dr Walpole Piyananda (abbot and president, Dharmavijaya Buddhist Vihara)
Dr Piyananda said that Pakistan had always helped Sri Lanka in the hour of need, adding, every religion promotes peace and harmony. He hoped that the Pakistani government would take further steps to promote religious tourism and appreciated efforts of the government in this regard.
“The sites in Taxila are well-preserved and are one of the largest ancient monasteries in the world,” a member of the Sri Lankan delegation said, adding: “It was our privilege to visit these sites as we have always dreamt of being here.”
The ancient kingdom of Gandhara, particularly near Taxila, holds historical significance in spreading Buddhism in the region. Buddhists who get a chance to travel to the site consider themselves the luckiest people in the world as the area is the birthplace of Buddha and where Buddhism originated. Pakistan is home to the glorious Gandhara civilisation and the Gandhara Buddhist civilisation.
The delegation will visit other Buddhist sites including Shahbaz Garhi, Takht-i-Bai and Jehanabad near Swat.
Taxila Museum Curator Abdul Nasir Khan said the aim of arranging this visit was to portray a softer image of Pakistan.
He added that monks should be taken along the holy Buddhist trail so they can see most sacred Buddhist sites and pay their homage. “In line with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision to promote religious tourism to earn valuable foreign exchange, we planned to make Buddhist clergy visit Pakistan and see the historical treasures that the country has,” he said.
Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2021