More than 50,000 marvellous rock carvings and inscriptions are still visible at the ten major sites between Hunza and Shatial along 1,300 km long Karakorum Highway, which connects Pakistan and China.
Rulers commit mistakes, society bears the brunt for years. This is what happened in India after Partition. A treasure of rich cultural heritage is at the verge of extinction in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The number of such sites is in thousands. Many of them have been occupied by Pak patronised jehadis while those survived are in dilapidated condition.
According to a survey conducted by All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement (PHRM), 95% of the Hindu worship places in Pakistan have been put to commercial use. Out of 428 places surveyed, 408 have been converted into toy stores, restaurants, government offices and schools after 1990. Majority of these places are in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Peshawar Cantt, Abbottabad, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Chakwal. The condition of Katasraj Temple (situated at Katas Village near Choa Saidanshah in the Chakwal District of Punjab), Hinglaj Bhawani in Balochistan too is in poor state. The condition of the places connected to Hindu heritage in Bangladesh also is no different.
The situation in Swat, Chitral, Hunza and Gilgit Baltistan Valleys of Pak occupied Jammu-Kashmir (PoJK) is alarming. These Valleys connect India with Central Asia, Russia, Afghanistan, China and Tibet and have been the main route for saints, traders or the pilgrims visiting these places for centuries. Their footprints in the form of rock carving, inscriptions can still be seen there.
These Valleys have also been witness to unparallel valour of Bappa Rawal, Hari Singh Nalwa, King Porus, wisdom of Mahatma Buddha and incarnation of Goddess Sarasawti. Apart from highly revered Sharda Peeth, the famous Mangla Devi Temple and Neelam Valley are also in these regions. The Sharda Peeth is almost in dilapidated state. The remains of the sites connected with Buddhism are also gradually vanishing. There are reports that Mangla Devi Temple has been submerged in the Mangla Dam.
The marvellous rock carvings and inscriptions along 1,300 km long Karakorum Highway, which connects Pakistan and China, catches the attention of every visitor. According to reports, there are more than 50,000 rock arts and petroglyphs all along the highway concentrated at ten major sites between Hunza and Shatial. The carvings were done by local people, Indian traders and pilgrims who passed along the trade route. They date back to between 5,000 BC and 1,000 BC. Prof. Karl Jettmar of Germany and Prof. AH Dani of Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad also discovered thousands of petroglyphs and inscriptions along Indus Valley in 1979. These are mainly concentrated in the area east and west of the village of Chilas under Diamir District (Northern Areas of Pakistan). An archive of the collected material has been created in the Heidelberg Academy. Karl Jetmar has compiled these carvings in his book, Between Gandhar and the Silk Route Rock Carving along the Karakoram Highway.
Rig Vedic heritage of Swat
Swat, which finds mention in Rig Veda also, is a district in Khaibar Pakhtunwa on Pak-Afghanistan border. Situated at the upper valley of Swat River it is connected with the Hindu Kush mountain range. It was once the most celebrated holy lands of the Buddhist excellence. Hundreds of Stupas were erected and decorated with sculptures out of the religious zeal through the centuries. Swat was ruled by Hindu Shahi Dynasty for long period and those rulers built extensive array of temples and other architectural buildings. Their ruins can be seen in the hills of Swat at Malakand Pass, Swat's southern entrance. Sanskrit was once the main lingua franca of the Swatis.
In his book The Charming Swat, Abdul Qayum Balala while compiling many elements pertaining to ancient culture of Swat writes, “Buddhism was in full bloom here (Swat). …King Kanishka shifted his capital from Peshawar to Swat so that he maybe peaceful enough to worship his deities with full satisfaction. Then Raja Ram Batti and many other great personalities ruled Swat, and worshipped their gods with full peace and meditation in cloisters. Raja Gira was the last Buddhist ruler of Swat, who was defeated by Mahmood of Ghazni.”
Tantric Buddhism had first developed in Swat under King Indrabhuti. His son Padmasambhava, also called Guru Rimpoche (Tibetan Slob-dpon or teacher) introduced Tantric Buddhism to Tibet and is credited with establishing the first Buddhist monastery there. He is revered as the second Buddha in Tibet. Indrabhuti's sister, Lakshminkaradevi, was also an accomplished ‘siddha’ of 9th century AD. Ancient Gandhara, the Valley of Pekhawar, with the adjacent hilly regions of Swat and Buner, Dir and Bajaur was one of the earliest centres of Buddhism following the reign of Mauryan emperor Ashoka, in the third century BC. The name Gandhara first occurs in the Rig Veda and is usually identified with the region.
When the Buddha ascended, relics were distributed to seven kings, who built Stupas over them for veneration. The Harmarajika Stupa (Taxila) and Butkarha (Swat) Stupa at Jamal Garha were among the earliest Gandhara Stupas. These were erected on the orders of King Ashoka and contained the genuine relics of the historic Buddha. It is said the Swat Valley was filled with 1,400 imposing and beautiful Stupas and monasteries, which housed as many as 6,000 gold images of the Buddhist pantheon for worship and education. Archaeologists have identified more than 400 such Buddhist sites covering an area of 160 km in Swat Valley alone. One among such sites is Butkarha. A stone statue of Buddha is still there in Village Ghalegay.
Chitral is also a district of Khaiber Pakhtunwa, which falls under Malkand division close to Afghanistan border. It is at the foot of Tirich Mir, the highest peak of the Hindu Kush. In 3rd century AD, Kanishka of Kushan empire occupied Chitral. More than ten languages are spoken in this small district. But the main language is Khobar. The Kator Dynasty rulers of Chitral were known as ‘Mehtar’ who enjoyed a hereditary salute of 11 guns from Maharaja Hari Singh. Before the invasion of Islam here the entire valley was Hindu majority. Pakistan illegally occupied the region. Majority of the people claim themselves to be the followers of Vedic traditions. Some archeologists from Leicester University claimed to found more than 400 places associated with the Aryans. The Kalash people here claim to be the indigenous habitants of Chitral. They speak Kalasha language, from the Dardic family of the Indo-Iranian branch. The way of worship of the Kalash is similar to the Rig Vedic traditions.
Hunza, a mountainous valley in Gilgit Baltistan, has been an independent princely state for more than 900 years. It is famous for high literacy rate in entire Pakistan—virtually every person is educated up to at least high school standard. Gilgit’s ancient name was Sargin, later to be known as Gilit. It was known as Buddhism corridor from which many Chinese monks came to Kashmir to learn and preach Buddhism. The Dards and Shinas appear in many of the old Pauranic lists of people who lived in the region.
A corpus of manuscripts was discovered in 1931 in Gilgit containing many Buddhist texts such as four sutras from the Buddhist canon, including the famous Lotus Sutra. The manuscripts were written on birch bark in the Buddhist form of Sanskrit in the Sharada Script. They cover a wide range of themes such as iconometry, folk tales, philosophy, medicine and several related areas of life and general knowledge. The manuscripts are among the oldest manuscripts in the world, and the oldest manuscript collection surviving in Pakistan and India, having major significance in the areas of Buddhist studies and the evolution of Asian and Sanskrit literature.
Apart from many places of Buddhist significance and holy Kailash Mansarovar, one of the most neglected places in Tibet, is the samadhi of Hindu warrior General Jorawar Singh who expanded India’s boundaries upto Western Tibet, the region which has holy Mount Kailash, Lake Mansarover and lake Raksh Tal. He was killed on December 12, 1841 in the vicinity of Taklakot. In order to perpetuate the memory of a great General’s association with Tibet, the Tibetans constructed a memorial in the shape of a ‘chorten’ or samadhi wherein the remains of the dead General have been kept. The samadhi is a mere heap of stones erected at a distance of a few kilometers from Taklakot in a secluded place. Nobody has so far thought of constructing of a suitable memorial in the ever lasting memory of the great General, who created history.
India lost the control of Hunza and Gilgit-Baltistan Valleys due to own mistakes. These areas are in illegal occupation of Pakistan. Not only these areas we have lost the possession of (even after formal merger of J&K into India) Mangala, Alibegh, Meerpur town, Bhimber, Deva, Batala, Rajauri town, Chhamba, Jhangar, Kotli, etc. With these regions we have also lost the treasure of rich cultural heritage sites which are vanishing day-by-day. And in coming years perhaps we would not be able to find even their remains. Pramod Kumar