Ancient stupas on the brink of erosion after destructive rains in Taxila

Published October 5, 2022
An open air structure in Sirkap. — Dawn
An open air structure in Sirkap. — Dawn

TAXILA: One of the world’s oldest preserved stupas is on the brink of being destroyed as they have significantly been damaged by unprecedented monsoon rains in Taxila valley.

The double-headed eagle stupa located at Sirkap is crumbling fast; it is known to be an architectural marvel, made of kanjur stone and was originally plastered with lime as it is located in the open.

With torrential rains coming down hard and accumulation of water in various areas, open air heritage sites are especially becoming hard to protect.

Experts said apart from causing damage to the stupa, the rains also caused severe damage to scores of priceless stucco sculptures of the Buddhist period.

Experts say rains have caused damage to priceless sculptures from Buddhist period

Sirkap, an ancient metropolis of Gandhara civilisation, was founded by King Demetrius, who conquered the region in 180 BCE.

The city was rebuilt by King Menander and after the Bhir Mound site was abandoned, Sirkap became the main city of Taxila, in the 2nd century (BC).

Keeping in view its significance, it was enlisted by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as a world cultural heritage site in 1980.

Gandhara Art and Culture Association General Secretary Dr Park Kyo Soon said the city was influenced heavily by Grecian city planning principles introduced after Alexander the Great’s conquest in the 3rd century BC.

According to Dr Soon, Taxila’s sanctuaries reflect the multicultural nature of the Indo-Greek kingdom, which consisted not only Punjab, but also Gandhara, Arachosia and part of the Ganges valley.

Dr Park called for urgent attention towards conservation and restoration work to save the stupa from crumbling, apprehending that the site may be removed from the world heritage list if such work was not carried out.

Recent rains in the country have not only created hurdles for human life, but old heritage sites are also being affected, said Malik Tahir Suleman, a renowned culture activist who owns a small museum of ancient coins in his house.

“In the past few years, the Punjab government released funds for execution of construction and development projects like construction of hall, boundary wall and pavements but has not allocated funds for the preservation and restoration of the stupas located in the open air; they are rapidly crumbling due to natural agents especially rains,” he added.

Sirkap is significant in the archaeological history of Pakistan as it is among three of the 18 Buddhist sites of Taxila valley with intact sculptures.

“It is so revered that most state guests from Buddhist-populated countries like Thailand and Malaysia are brought here to say their prayers,” said Raja Kamran, who has been serving as site supervisor for more than 10 years.

Munaza Peerzada, president of a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), said Sirkap, the second city of ancient Taxila, has been classified as a heritage site but the government and others responsible have not taken necessary measures to preserve these sites.

“Unfortunately, we have witnessed mass destruction at the site,” she added.

When contacted, Mohammad Iqbal Manj, deputy director of the Punjab Archaeology Department, said after the 18th Amendment the site had been handed over to the provincial government.

Keeping in view the importance and significance of open sky stupas at the site, the department has got approved PC-I from the government to erect a protective roof over the endangered stupas.

Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2022

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