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Precious Gandhara relics seized

Published Jul 06, 2012 08:03pm


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A man arranges seized ancient statues in a police station in Karachi.—AFP Photo
A man arranges seized ancient statues in a police station in Karachi.—AFP Photo

KARACHI, July 6: Police seized a large number of artifacts and relics dating from the Gandhara civilisation during search of a trailer-mounted container in Landhi early on Friday morning and caught two people.

Some of the heavier stone artifacts were damaged due to defective packaging, transportation and careless unloading from the container at the police station.

The haul comprised statues of Gautama Buddha, life-sized idols, plaques and utensils.

Gandhara was a Buddhist civilisation which evolved in the Peshawar valley and in parts of what is now eastern Afghanistan over 2, 000 years ago.

The artifacts enjoy protection under the Antiquities Act of 1975. The law restricts digging of and trade in protected objects, prescribing long prison terms and heavy fines, Qasim Ali Qasim, an official of the Sindh Culture Department, told Dawn.

Majeed Abbas, a police official, said the truck was intercepted on a tip-off. He said the artifacts and relics were kept in a godown in Ibrahim Haidery, a coastal fishing village near Karachi. From here they were being transported to Sialkot when the police intercepted the trailer and brought it to the Awami Colony police station.

The police have detained the driver and the cleaner. According to police, the two identified the owner of the contraband consignment as Arif Butt. No more arrests were made till Friday midnight.

In reply to queries by Dawn, National Museum chief Mohammad Shah Bokhari said till late in the evening inventory had been made of 38 artifacts while five huge boxes would be opened on Saturday morning.

Mr Bokhari had gone to the police station along with an authority on Gandhara civilisation, Ejaz Illahi. Many of the artifacts are life size and some even bigger. The pieces, mostly grey- or blue-coloured, are made out of stone. They date back to between AD 1 and 500. He said a large number of brooms and related items were used to cushion, as well as camouflage, the priceless pieces.

According to Mr Qasim, the Culture Department director, one of the statues was a Boddhisattva (Buddha before achieving Nirvana). Among others was a “Hariti” (a witch who, as the legend goes, used to kill children, but after meeting Gautama Buddha repented and was transformed into a protector of children); and a “Jataka” — a stone panel depicting the scene at the time of Buddha’s birth.

A good number of the sculptures were three to four metres long and very heavy. Since police did not realise that these were priceless gifts from antiquity, they did not bother to seek labourers’ help for unloading the relics. The objects were damaged as these were hurled down to the ground from a considerable height.

“When I saw the recklessness, I advised police to get some help, mechanical or manual. Sense prevailed and soon two mechanical lifters were pressed in,” Mr Qasim said.

He said that it was mystifying why the artifacts were brought all the way from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Karachi if their destination was Sialkot. “Probably the smugglers intended to smuggle these out of the country through Karachi port or airport, but after failing to do so, they decided to send the consignment to Sialkot dry port for eventual shipment overseas,” the director speculated.

This is not the first time that a large haul of artifacts has been seized. A few years ago over 1,500 artifacts — including over 400 Gandhara sculptures, pre-historic (Balochistan) and Islamic era relics — had been caught by anti-narcotics authorities at Karachi port.

In another seizure over 500 artifacts — including Islamic-era pottery and coins — were seized in a post office by the Customs.

AFP adds: Mr Qasim said he believed the items had been brought to Karachi a piece or two at a time.

“The thieves and mafias involved in this business dig in the northwest, which is filled with Gandhara sites with little control by the authorities,” he said.

“They dug up ancient pieces, accumulated them in Karachi and then intended to send them to Afghanistan in the garb of a Nato vehicle after Pakistan reopened the route.”


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Comments (28) Closed

asif janjua Jul 08, 2012 07:53am
Its quite concerning. If such ancient things are being stolen from Pakistan than what about our own historical leftover? Pakistani authority must take stern action to curb such activities.
Shah Jul 08, 2012 08:37pm
As a conservative PATRIOTIC Pakistani: I am 100% for protecting history.
Ahmad shah abdali Jul 08, 2012 07:02pm
i doubt it was by mistake, its Pakistan not the "soooopa pawer" india, lol
Ali Akbar Jul 08, 2012 09:38am
Dawn has done a great job by publishing a full story about Budha relics theft and smuggling. This sense of loving our past heritage must prevail to show the religious extremists we still have a sense the humans must have to differentiate themselves from bloody animals.
Sandeep Jul 08, 2012 01:17pm
Gandhar or khandahar is Ghandari's kingdom in Mahabharatha.That itself makes it Indian.
DODO Jul 08, 2012 12:37pm
Buddha was born in nepal and not india.
NN Ojha Jul 09, 2012 04:24am
@ Amir ul momin & abc: If antriquity smugglers are 'MOMINS' according to you then then Allah almighty & the Holy Prophet (PBH) save Islam (and Pakistan) from momins and so called amir ul momins like you.
B R Chawla Jul 08, 2012 02:14pm
Whether Gandhara civilization dates back to Mahbharat times,or from the time of Budha, whether Budha was born in India oe Nepal and many such questions should be left to the Historians. What is important today is that these are magnificent pieces of art by an ancient civilization that existed and flourished in this part of the world. Ir would serve a great purpose to own up our ancestry to these people rather than finding our lineage with the marauders of the desserts. The comments posted above give me hope that there are islands of right thinking in Pakistan that rise above the level of radical thought. Chawla
naveen Jul 08, 2012 12:05pm
It is funny to read in this article that "Gandhara was a Buddhist civilisation which evolved in the Peshawar valley and in parts of what is now eastern Afghanistan over 2, 000 years ago." Gandhara civilization came from Queen Gandhari who was wife of Emperor Dhrutharashtra who was ruling from Hastinapur (Delhi) 5127 years ago during the time of Mahabharatha. Also this place where Gandhari was born and brought up was a Vedic and Sanathana Dharmic empire which along with Kambhoja(Central Asia), Aryan(Persia),Yavana(Greek) kingdoms was paying tribute as satrapis to Kuru Empire ruling from Hastinapur. So please don't say that it is just 2000 yr old and evolved in some desert caves. Our history is absolutely fantastic since ancient times and we all should be proud. Pakistan in ancient times was reformed and guided well by saints like Charaka, Chanakya, Bhuhadhtaa, Vajradatta.
Bilal baloch Jul 08, 2012 10:24pm
Maybe these antiques would be safer over seas. Taliban types would love to destroy them!
Sandeep Jul 08, 2012 01:52pm
they would have done it by mistake.
Ashok Sharma Jul 08, 2012 07:20pm
I love these statues, Gandhar civilisation, Pakistan people should respect , love and protect their ancient history, may be belonging to Hindu, Budhist or Muslim invaders. They should at least realise that its their culture, Indus civilisation, Mohanjodaro or Harrappa, Taxila ( ancient TAKSHSHILA, MULTAN ( Sanskrit: Mul Sathan ); Peshawar: Sanskrit: PURUSHPUR; Swat valley: River Suwastu in Sanskrit, all having their origin from Sanatam Dharam, Hindu religion.
FarisShah Jul 08, 2012 10:54am
Just to be clear, the Ghandara civilization is not Indian. It is located in what is today called Pakistan and extended into Afghanistan. Yes, it is true that Buddha's birth was in what is today called India, but it certainly was not called India then. Also, according to Buddhist scriptures, he was rejected in the land of his birth and found solace in adjacent, different lands: read, what is afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Buddhist spread outside the place of its birth, factually speaking. If anything, this article, rightly, highlights the linkages between the Peshawar Valley, Potohar Plateau and large parts of Afghanistan.
V. Sreenivas Jul 08, 2012 03:04pm
In this world there are relics and monuments which belong to humanity as a whole and not to any one nation. A nation may have inherited them and they have to protect them as trustees. Suppose if an Egyptian government were to decide that the pyramids be dismantled and the material be used for low cost housing the whole wold will be against sucha a proposition. People have to be educated to value such relics. Religion should expand ones mental outlook and not constrict it.
abc Jul 08, 2012 10:20am
very true. i'm sure 90% of pakistinis, will absolutely agree with you.
Scott Jul 09, 2012 02:11pm
Here we go again. A neutral topic like this brings hate from both sides. Good job maturing up...
Sk_piscesian Jul 08, 2012 09:21am
In the response to Amir ul Mominin . I do not know but looks like our society will take many decades to understand core values of humanity . Why Allah has always to punish muslims/Pakis? what about hundreds of thousands of peoples who do some good in everyday life for betterment of other peoples? It is basic principle of any civilized nation : Give respect and take respect , but we are far from a civilized nation but rather a nation in civil and religious war within the country and around the globe.
Utkarsh Jul 08, 2012 12:50pm
@FarisShah Just to be clear, the Gandhara civilization is as much part of the Indian culture as Buddhism is. To make your statement more complete, it should be written as follows: "If anything, this article, rightly, highlights the linkages between India and the Peshawar Valley, Potohar Plateau and large parts of Afghanistan." Gandhara is a prominent part of literature such as Mahabharata.
Sandeep Jul 08, 2012 01:16pm
Pakistan came into existence only after 1947 before that it was India.
Sandeep Jul 08, 2012 01:14pm
Ghandara civilization is very much indian.Ancient universities of Nalanda and thakshashila were jewels of India.Later came invaders who did damage to these universities and people there.
Shehzad Jul 08, 2012 03:35am
When will they rid Pakistan of thieves and robbers ( are we talking about half the population here? or more?)
Krishan Jul 08, 2012 04:13am
It is funny to read in this article that "Gandhara was a Buddhist civilisation which evolved in the Peshawar valley and in parts of what is now eastern Afghanistan over 2, 000 years ago." Is it too much to mention the truth in Pakistan - that Buddhism spread from India where Buddha lived and preached almost 2500 years ago? It DID NOT EVOLVE in the Peshawar Valley, Afghanistan (Gandhar) and in lands beyond west of it! Tragically, the "Pakistan" thinking encouraged the destruction of whatever was left of Buddhist relics ( as of Hindu temples now) to cleanse Pakistan of any Kafir influence of its past. The report reveals the sad level of ignorance in "Since police did not realise that these were priceless gifts from antiquity, they did not bother to seek labourers’ help for unloading the relics. The objects were damaged as these were hurled down to the ground from a considerable height." I thank Dawn for publishing this news and, thereby, shine a light into the darkness - that is ignorance and its twin, the intolerance of those who are different.
moazzam abbasi Jul 08, 2012 04:51am
shame on all of us that we smuugle ourown heritage but then like OLX pakistan mein sub kuch bikta hai
Amir ul Mominin Jul 08, 2012 05:23am
Pakistan is protecting and making money out of kuffar idols and arresting momin muslims.Pakis must hang their head in shame.How much low will pakistanis stoop?This is the reason Allah is punishing pakis for not conforming to the islamic standards.
Nitin Jul 08, 2012 07:01am
As a Buddhist I thank Pakistani authorities for saving these priceless artifacts.. I hope the Gandhar region will be soon as peaceful as it was during Buddhist era..... May the path of Buddha lead Pakistan to peace and prosperity.
Tahir Jul 09, 2012 07:12am
I thing the moderator should delete "Amir ul Mominin's" post. It's highly inappropriate and give bad vibes to the commentsection.
zafar Jul 09, 2012 07:57am
The name India was derived from the name of river Indus (biggest river of Pakistan). India means "land of Indus". In fact the name India didn't exist a few hundred years ago, it was either Bharat or more commonly Hindustan. If you read history of other places of the world then you'll know what this piece of land was called (Hind, Hindustan).
Saad Jul 10, 2012 06:08am
For those Indians saying Gandhara originated in India is true but it DID start in Peshawar at that time. Here is the exerpt from Wikipedia and it is not a Pakistani website. So for those indians who are upset check your facts before you comment. Gandh?ra (Sanskrit: ?????? Gand??r?, Urdu: ??????? Gandh?ra, Pashto: ??????, Punjabi: ???????, Persian: ??????) is the name of an ancient kingdom (Mahajanapada), located in modern day northern Pakistan and parts of eastern Afghanistan.[1] Gandhara was located mainly in the vale of Peshawar, the Potohar plateau (see Taxila) and on the Kabul River. Its main cities were Purushapura (modern Peshawar), literally meaning "City of Man"[2], Varmayana (modern Bamyan) and Takshashila (modern Taxila).[3]