TAXILA: The last surviving practicing Buddhists are facing extinction due to unavailability of worship places, religious teaching and government patronage.

A five-member group of practicing Buddhists from Naushahro Feroze in Sindh is visiting the ongoing Gandhara exhibition, “Roots or routes: exploring Pakistan’s Buddhist and Jain histories”.

Talking to Dawn, they said Taxila is the holiest place of their religion as ashes of Lord Buddha are buried and his tooth relics preserved there.

“We are pleased to visit this place thanks to the organisers of the exhibition. Although we enjoy complete religious freedom and there are no bar on performing our religious rituals, the religion in Pakistan is on the verge of extinction due to different reasons,” said Lala Muneer, who is heading the delegation.

He said though the exact number of Buddhists was not known, there were around 650 families of practicing Buddhists in different districts of rural Sindh, including Ghotki, Sanghar, Khairpur, Nawabshah and Naushahro Feroze. There is no temple or Stupa for them to offer their religious rituals.

“We perform our rituals, events and festivals at our homes,” he added.

Another Buddhist Juman said they observe their rituals according to tales, old customs and limited books available with them in Sindhi language as there is no monk to teach and transform religious teachings and practices to the coming generation. Buddhism is facing extinction as we are the last surviving followers.

He said the government should establish a temple for them and hire a monk from any Buddhist country to teach them about Buddhism.

He said most of the followers of Buddhism have never visited Taxila and other Buddhist religious places in KP, especially Takhtbai, due to lack of financial resources.

Vitrant Raj, 18, who visited the ancient remains of Taxila, was excited about the pilgrimage.

“I have come to Taxila for the first time and got the Darshan (visual observance) of Lord Buddha for the first time as I have seen him earlier in pictures.”

He said he felt very proud of seeing the place from where Buddhism flourished across the globe.

Dr Nadeem Omar Tarar, the executive director of Centre for Culture and Development (CCD), said despite the fact that Buddhism had flourished in Taxila the demographic shift at the time of independence led to an eclipse of the religious heritage of world communities which once thrived here.

He said communities which were custodians of the Buddhist heritage of Pakistan were oblivious to the importance of the glorious heritage which needed to be acknowledged and celebrated.

Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2021

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