Pakistan’s Best Kept Secret: Apsidal Temple, Swat

Pakistan’s Best Kept Secret: Apsidal Temple, Swat
Published On: 31-Jan-2022

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Archeologists have discovered an Apsidal temple from the Buddhist period in the Bazira area of Barikot Tehsil, Swat. According to reports, the well-preserved four-meter-high temple is 2300 years old and is from the Buddhist period. Ca’ Foscari University and the Italian Archeological Mission in collaboration with the provincial department of archeology and museums discovered the ancient site and the project is being called The Italian Mission.

Andreas Ferrarese, Italian Ambassador to Pakistan, told Dawn that he was excited that the discovery was also made by Italian archeologists. He said, “it is so impressive to find something common between the archeology of Pakistan and that of Italy. It is something that shows that even in antiquity we have a kind of globalization where people had an exchange of certain techniques and ideas of culture and religions which is astonishing. The more we search for the past, the more we find that we have a future together.”

According to Prof Luca M Olivieri, head of the Italian Mission, the Buddhist sacred structure’s foundation may be traced back to the Mauryan period, most likely to the 3rd century BC. Which was then followed up by major reconstruction in the 2nd century, BC. This was followed by a major reconstruction undertaken in the 2nd century BC. When the Greeks arrived and refortified the city of Bazira, known to them from the times of Alexander the Great, they found an existing structure constructed during the Mauryan period at the time of Ashoka.

Since then, after the rule of King Menander in the mid-second century, the monument was enhanced and kept in function for centuries till the third and fourth century when it was eventually abandoned, as the Kushan city of Bazira was razed by an earthquake. “This is an astonishingly important discovery as it attests a new architectural shape of Buddhist structure in Gandhara. We only have one other example of apsidal temple in a city at Sirkap, Taxila.”

The region, once part of Gandhara, is famous for playing a critical role in the spread of Buddhism across Central Asia as well as the germination of Buddhist art and iconography. Not only do the ruins demonstrate that Bazira hosted the Indo-Greeks since at least Menander I Soter (165/155 BCE–130 BCE), who was most famous for his support of Buddhism, but also that Buddhists had been influential here since the 3rd century BCE. This seems to have been the period in which Bazira entered a true Buddhist golden age.

Interestingly, archeologists have also discovered coins, an onyx-made seal, and many other pots and plates with ancient inscriptions on them. “We have found coins, among which a silver specimen issued by King Menander, an onyx-made seal decorated with a Hellenistic intaglio depicting the image of a youth in Greek attire with a Kharosthi inscription, a monumental Kharosthi epigraph, many other Kharosthi inscriptions on pots, and potsherds belonging to the Indo-Greek cultural horizon such as fish plates and polished black pottery that imitates Attic models,” said Dr Michele Minardi, another Italian archeologist. The site has been plundered by illegal excavators between 2008 and 2010. If it was not plundered, the scientific output would have been even more important, said the archeologists.

Dr Abdul Samad Khan, Director Archeology, said that the new discovery was important in different ways, especially in connection with religious harmony, tolerance, and multiculturalism in the Gandhara period. “The entire province and Swat are extremely rich in archeological treasure. So far, archeologists have only explored about five per cent sites and the remaining 95 per cent are still unexplored,” he said.

Imagine, if only 5 per cent has been unearthed, and 95 per cent has not, as of yet, imagine the possibilities of what is yet to come, and the curiosity that keeps us at bay. This can surely and verily enhance the attention towards tourism and particularly for the people around the world who have a thing for history and fancy archeology.

Zara nam hou tou mitti bohot zarkheiz hai saqi!

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