|Taxila is the abode of many splendid
Buddhist establishments. Taxila, the main centre of Gandhara, is over 3,000
years old. Taxila had attracted Alexander the great from Macedonia in 326
BC, with whom the influence of Greek culture came to this part of the world.
Taxila later came under the Mauryan dynasty and reached a remarkable matured
level of development under the great Ashoka. During the year 2 BC, Buddhism
was adopted as the state religion, which flourished and prevailed for over
1,000 years, until the year 10 AD. During this time Taxila, Swat and
Charsadda (old Pushkalavati) became three important centers for culture,
trade and learning. Hundreds of monasteries and stupas were built together
with Greek and Kushan towns such as Sirkap and Sirsukh, both in The Gandhara
civilization was not only the centre of spiritual influence but also the
cradle of the world famous Gandhara culture, art and learning. It was from
these centers that a unique art of sculpture originated which is known as
Gandhara Art all over the world. Today the Gandhara sculptures occupy a
prominent place in the museums of England, France, Germany, USA, Japan,
Korea, China, India and Afghanistan, together with many private collections
world over, as well as a vast collection in the museums of Pakistan.
Buddhism left a monumental and rich legacy of art and architecture in
Pakistan. Despite the vagaries of centuries, the Gandhara region preserved a
lot of the heritage in craft and art. Much of this legacy is visible even
today in Pakistan.
The modern town of Taxila is 35 km from Islamabad. Most of the archaeological sites of Taxila (600 BC to 500 AD) are located around Taxila Museum. For over one thousand years, Taxila remained famous as a centre of learning Gandhara art of sculpture, architecture, education and Buddhism in the days of Buddhist glory. There are over 50 archaeological sites scattered in a radius of 30 kms around Taxila. Some of the most important sites are; Dhamarajika Stupa and Monastery (300 BC - 200 AD), Bhir Mound (600-200 BC), Sirkap (200 BC - 600 AD), Jandial Temple (c.250 BC) and Jaulian Monastery (200 - 600 AD).
The very earliest examples of Buddhist Art are not iconic but aniconic images and were popular in the Sub-continent even after the death of the Buddha. This is because the Buddha himself did not sanction personal worship or the making of images. As Siddhatha Guatama was a Buddha, a self-perfected, self-enlightened human being, he was a human role model to be followed but not idolized. Of himself he said, 'Buddha's only point the way'. This is why the earliest artistic tributes to the Buddha were abstract symbols indicative of major events and achievements in his last life, and in some cases his previous lives. Some of these early representations of the Buddha include the footprints of the Buddha, which were often created at a place where he was known to have walked. Among the aniconic images, the footprints of the Buddha were found in the Swat valley and, now can be seen in the Swat Museum.
When Buddha passed away, His relics (or ashes) were distributed to seven kings who built stupas over them for veneration. The emperor Ashoka was later said to have dug them out, and distributed the ashes over a wider area, and built 84,000 stupas. With the stupas in place, to dedicate veneration, disciples then initiated 'stupa pujas'. With the proliferation of Buddhist stupas, stupa pujas evolved into a ritual act. Harmarajika stupa (Taxila) and Butkarha (Swat) stupa at Jamal Garha were among the earliest stupas of Gandhara. These had been erected on the orders of king Ashoka and contained the real relics of the Buddha.