The glory of Gandhara

By Qasim Ali Moini, Dawn, Aug 18, 2009

KARACHI, Pakistan -- Ancient Gandhara was a cosmopolitan confluence of cultures where East met West and where, thanks to the network of monasteries, stupas and temples as well as state patronage, the Buddhist faith experienced a golden age, exemplified by the relics of Gandharan art that survive to this day.

This view was expressed by Mahmood-ul-Hasan Shah, assistant director in the federal government’s directorate-general of archaeology and museums, while delivering a virtual presentation on Gandhara at the Goethe-Institut here on Monday.

The presentation was based on an exhibition titled ‘Gandhara – The Buddhist heritage of Pakistan: legends, monasteries and paradise’. The exhibition was on display for 10 months in the German cities of Bonn and Berlin. Mr Shah represented Pakistan during the exhibition in Germany.

Mr Shah initially gave a historical background of the area known in antiquity as Gandhara, consisting of parts of modern Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan.

Buddhism was patronised by the area’s Kushan rulers – who had originally come from Central Asia – and experienced its golden age from the first to the fifth century AD, when it was ‘dealt a death blow’, as Mr Shah put it, by the White Huns, who practised Hinduism.

He described the people of Gandhara as ‘totally cosmopolitan’, adding that the art that emerged from the area was influenced by indigenous cultures as well as Greco-Roman culture.

Mr Shah used slides that depicted the major sites associated with the Gandhara culture as well as examples of Gandharan art. He said it was the British that started excavating the Gandhara sights in the nineteenth century, adding that ‘the Peshawar valley and Mardan were the heart of Gandhara.’ He said though Taxila was outside the Gandhara region, it was very much linked to it culturally.

Notable sites included Bhir Mound, described as the first city of Taxila, founded in 600BC by the Achaemenians, Sirkap, which featured both Buddhist and Jain temples as well as Sirsukh, the ‘third capital of Taxila’, founded by Kushan ruler, Kanishka.

Interestingly, the remains of a Zoroastrian fire temple were shown from Jandial, said to have been built by the Indo-Parthians.

Several stupas were shown, said to be built by Maurya ruler Ashoka, such as the Dharmarajika stupa as well as the Butkara stupa at Saidu Sharif. The Shinger Dar stupa is said to contain a relic of the Buddha from amongst those distributed by Ashoka among the tribes of the region.

Coming to Gandharan art, Mr Shah started with slides of Macedonian ruler Alexander, moving on to Greek deities Athena and Aphrodite, who were also worshipped in Gandhara. Evidence of considerable Greek influence on local art included Corinthian pillars shown in sculptures as well as a Bodhisattva – the Buddha to be – with Greek features. Mr Shah pointed out that the image of Buddha commonly found in Gandharan art was actually that of Greek deity Apollo, which was adopted by local artisans to depict the Buddha.

Various specimens of Gandharan art traced the journey of the Buddha from birth, to enlightenment, to death. One image showed the baby Bodhisattva being bathed by deities Indra and Brahma, while a footprint of Buddha is shown with swastikas and the dharma chakra contained within. In another image, Mr Shah said the monastic robe the Buddha is wearing was typically Greek, as the style in India was to keep one shoulder uncovered, while the image had both shoulders covered.

Mr Shah ended the presentation by showing a picture of the now hollow giant alcoves of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, where the Buddhas once looked out across the Afghan landscape, before they were destroyed by the Taliban. ‘We must not let this happen again’.

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: