Sanjay Godbole

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Buddha at Jahanabad (Swat)

By Sanjay Godbole

In ancient literature, there is a frequent reference to River ‘Suvastu’. Valley of Suvastu River is today’s Swat river valley. This is on the banks of River Swat. The river Swat flows through towns of ‘Malla' and 'Saidu’ etc. and ultimately merges with the waters of River ‘Sindhu’. People belonging to ‘Usufzai’ tribe of Pakhtoon Community are settled in this region. ‘Khush hal khan khatak' is a famous Afghan poet. He quotes, “The swat region is the most charming one in the whole of the world and by the natural beauty, the kings also derive heavenly bliss. After Partition, Swat became a part of Pakistan and at present it is included in the North -West Province of Pakistan. The Swat valley has many famous ancient spots, which include ancient caves, indicative of hall marks of Aryan settlements, Buddhist Monasteries and stupas. Hieun-Tsang the famous Chinese traveller has mentioned that more than 1400 Lama series existed in this region during ancient time.

Saidu Sharif and Bhingora are twin cities in ‘Swat’. ‘Saidu Sharif is the administrative capital of ’Swat’ and is at a height of 3250 feet from Mean sea level. Bhingora has a weekly market, selling gems of various types, Precious stones, Woollen hosiery items and tribal artifacts. The tradition of selling and purchase of these items in the weekly market here is more than two thousand years old.

During the British regime, they carried out an exploratory survey of the region, which threw light on all the ancient remains, which surfaced there. A treatise titled ‘exploration of Swat' is considered as the Best reference work on Swat. At present, the remains of ancient Buddhist stupa explored at ‘Butkara’ are carefully preserved at the Swat Museum at ‘Saidu Sharif'. During the winters, the Swat valley is totally covered by snow and when snow starts melting this ‘Swat’ region right upto ‘Chitral’ where ‘kalash' tribals, who are descendents of the Greeks are settled, gets dolled up with the unique natural beauty which is simply superb.

The ‘Swat’ valley has witnessed innumerable events that took place in ancient India. This region saw the rise and fall of many monarchs. On account of many invaluable and precious remains surfacing from time to time, the ‘Swat’ region has always been the central point for scholars and researchers. Many Mathas, Stupas and ancient structures have been brought to light during the excavational exercises carried over here. The ancient name of ‘Swat’ was ‘Uddiyan’. Uddiyan  means Garden.

The Akhmeniyan Emperors ruled this province. Subsequent to this, Alexander- the great arrived here in the year 327 B.C. During this period ‘Swat’ became a cultural link between India and Iran, ‘Chandra Gupta Murya’ conquered this territory from the Greek Emperor Asoka, the grandson of “Chandragupta Murya” apostated Hinduism and adopted Buddhism. He deputed his religious propagandists and canvassers to every nook and corner of his kingdom. In Afghanistan at Shahbazgadhi, many inscriptions belonging to Emperor Ashoka in ‘Kharoshti’ have been found.


The Kushans ruled ‘Swat’ for more than 100 years. Hieun Tsang, the famous Chinese traveller arrived here around the year 600 A.D. He has given in his report that at Butkara there were about six thousand golden idols. He has further stated in his report the king Uttersen the ruler of Swat belonged to the shakya community and he (Uttersen) erected a stupa in memory of Buddha. The journal recently published by the Royal Asiatic society of London gives a vivid description of the Lamps carved out of Schist stones surfaced from 'Dir'--a town in Swat valley. These Lamps carry some informative description in Kharoshti script .One such Lamp carries the words Deep thal and the other carries the name Bheemas. Between the 2nd and the third century A.D such Lamps were in vogue and in regular use by the Buddhist monks and ascetics. In this connection one Buddhist folk-tale confirms that lord Gautam Buddha had personally visited this place and had given a discourse and preached sermons to his disciples.

The Buddha statue which has been detailed by Hieun Tsang in his elaborating descriptions of his travels is situated at Shekhudai a place at a distance of 16 K.M. in the North-West direction of Saidu Sharif.

This town of shekhudai is today known as Jahanabad. At Jahanabad a huge Buddha idol has been carved out of seven meters in the size in the mountain. Here the Buddha has been displayed in a meditative posture called Padmasana (Lotus shaped Seating position). This Sculpture there has been carved out in the 1st Century during the regime of Kushana rulers. This Buddha statue at Jahanabad like the one at Bamiyan has also become a centre of attraction for the students of the Gandhar culture. Many tourists from Japan, Thailand and Sri Lanka visit Jahanabad annually Dr. Fida- Ullah Sahrai, the ex-director of Peshawar Museum is an authority on subject of Gandhar culture and history of Gandhar. In his opinion till 11th century Buddhism flourished in swat and the remains found here testify this. The Buddha statue at Jahanabad is next to that of Bamiyan in size and is considered to be one of the. best artifacts of Gandhar tradition. Dr. Sahrai further states that the Swat valley was a witness to the many sects in Buddhism such as Hinyan, Mahayan and Vajrayan and the development thereof.

After swat achieved the position as the main centre of Buddhism the king of Tibet in the 7th century invited Padama Sambhav Swaty, the chief Bhikkhu (lama). Accordingly, Bhikkhu Padasambhau went to Tibet. Dr. Saharai states that the great tradition of Buddhism now present in Tibet has its roots in the Bhikkhu tradition of Swat.

After Emperor Ashoka his noble mission of spreading of Buddhism was carried on by Emperor kanishka. This kushan emperor deputed his canvassers to many countries. He had also conveyed an international conference for furthering the cause of Buddhism. The Buddha Idol in Jahanabad most probably was sculpted in the regime of Kanishka as an everlasting memorial and monument in memory of lord Buddha.

The followers of Taliban arrived on the scene in Swat. This has disturbed the peaceful atmosphere of Swat which is full of ancient remains. Jenab Riyazkhan has informed that Talibans exploded some detonaters near the mountain of Jahanabad on 10th of Sept. 'Dawn' has also confirmed that Talibanis also repeated this explosion on 29th September. Dawn reports that the archaeological department of Pakistan has requested the Govt of Pakistan to preserve the historical heritage of Swat but no concrete steps seem to have been taken so for in this respect.

Postscript: Lately it has been destroyed by Taliban.

*(The author is a noted Archeologist, based in Pune)

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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