Pakistan's Buddhist Gandhara Heritage

June 18, 2008

Author: Janaka Perera

Source: Asian Tribune

Today (Poson full moon day June 18) Sri Lankan Buddhists commemorate the arrival in this country of Arahat Mahinda with the message of the Dhamma. Yet Gandhara – the pinnacle of Buddhist Civilization at the time Venerable Mahinda's father, Emperor Ashoka, ruled a greater part of the Indian sub-continent – seems to have received little attention among the majority of Buddhists here. It is from Gandhara that Buddhism spread to Sri Lanka and other Asian countries during Ashoka's reign.

With the recent appointment by Sri Lanka's Tourism Minister Milinda Moragoda of [a] Sub-Committee to work out a Buddhist Pilgrim Travel Trail programme covering the SAARC region the time has come to focus greater attention on the great Buddhist heritage of Pakistan – especially in view of the forthcoming regional summit.

The name Gandhara is virtually synonymous with Buddhist art and culture throughout the world. Yet it is the most un-explored area by Sri Lankan Buddhists. There have been very few Sri Lankan Buddhists - mostly scholars – who have visited these sites whereas a large number of Japanese, Chinese and Thai Buddhists regularly visit these areas.

During last year's Gandhara Week – part of the Destination Pakistan 2007 Programme – with the theme "Historical review of the world's ancient Buddhist civilization," Pakistan's then Tourism Minister said, "We welcome people from all over the world to see the place that our history originates from."

The lack of ordinary Sri Lankan Buddhists visiting these areas has been attributed to the lack of knowledge and effective publicity. Except for Buddhist sites in India and Nepal, the average Sri Lankan has very little knowledge of Pakistan's Buddhist sites or monuments. In fact many of them hardly know that Gandhara is in Pakistan.