When visiting Pakistan, you cannot miss out on going to the ancient buddhist monastery, the Takht-i-Bahi, which translates to throne of the water spring. It is located in Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and dates all the way back to the 1st Century CE. By the 1980’s, the Takht-i-Bahi was listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Takht-i-Bahi is so well known because it is one of the last surviving Buddhist sites in that region, where it escaped destruction by several Gurjaras and Hun invasions; one of the greatest migrations of of Central Asian nomadic tribes in the history of Pakistan. The Hun invasions extends during the 5th and 6th centuries, and it is the turning point in the history of Pakistan both socially and politically. It was socially a turning point because the majority, if not all, of the tribes of Pakistan and Rajputana trace back to the Huns and Gurjaras. Research by scholars has been done to find evidence of earlier dynasties, but that has been completely lost. The Afghan-Pathan tribes and most of Rajput, Jat clans of the Punjab, and Sind are descended from the Huns. The Hun invasions broke the historical chain because these clans do not go back beyond the 8th century. Existing clans were formed sometime in the 6th century.
The Hun and Gurjara invasions were also a political turning point for the people of Pakistan because they were the ruling class of Pakistan and northern India. During this time, Pakistan and India were entering the Medieval Period. The hordes of foreigners that had invaded were absorbed into the Hindu body politic and new grouping of states began to evolve. This period is also called the Rajput period, because the Medival Period was marked by the development of the Rajput clans and they began to play a permanent role after the death of Harsha, until the Muslims arrived. During the 5th and 6th centuries, when the Gurjaras and Hun expanded into Pakistan, they destroyed Buddha sites by the hundreds. Some monasteries and temples were able to escape this destruction, such as the Takht-i-Bahi monastery, because it was located in a remote location. It is one of the most preserved Buddhist sites in that region.
The history of the Takht-i-Bahi is divided into four different periods by archeologists, beginning in the 1st Century BCE. During the 1st century BCE, the monastery was built as a small stone monastery with inscriptions by Gondophares, who was king at the time. After the ruling of Gondophares, KujulaKadphises, the first Kushan king, took over. The 2nd century CE rolled in with another Kushan king, known as king Kanishka, then Parthian rulers took over, and then more Kushan kings.
It wasn’t until the 3rd and 4th centuries CE that the second construction period of the Takht-i-Bahi began; this construction included the Stupa Court and assembly hall. A third construction was done to the Takht-i-Bahi in the 3rd and 4th centuries under Kushan dynasty and KidaraKushanrulers. The 6th and 7th centuries CE saw the final construction of the monastery under Hun rulers when they invaded. This final creation was the Tantric complex.
There were several invasions that wreaked havoc around the Takht-i-Bahi, yet despite that, it remained protected from destruction because of its hilltop location. During the 7th century, the monastery saw a decline, because Buddhist influences and monastery donations were dwindling. The monks abandoned the site, but it was later rediscovered in the second half of the 19th century. Chinese monk-pilgrim Xuanzang, traveled through India and Pakistan in search of Buddhists texts, when he first identified this monastery. However, the first to mention anything about the Takht-i-Bahi was French officer named General Court in the service of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1836. The monastery was also explored by Indian-born British officer Dr. Henry Walter Bellew in 1864. During 1907, excavations were carried out and hundred of sculptures and intact statues were found. What remains to this day of the Takht-i-Bahi are:
– A cluster of stupas found in the central yard, also known as the Stupa Court.
– The Tantric monastic complex, with small, dark cells and low openings. This part of the complex may have been used for certain forms of Tantric meditation.
– The monastic chamber, which consists of a dining hall, assembly halls, and individual cells around the courtyard.
-Temple complex, made up of stupas similar to the Stupa Court, however of later construction.
The additional sites that were added were most likely for secular purposes or meeting halls. The monastery is constructed by local stone, and lime and mud are used for bondage. It is located 500 feet atop a small hill and 2 kilometers east of the TakhtBhai bazaar in the Mardan district. The surrounding area of the monastery has vegetable, maize, wheat, sugar cane, and orchard cultivation.
The Takht-i-Bahi monastery is a great place for tourists who love history, antiquity, and archaeology. If you are interested in Buddhist history, you can find much of that in this monastery. The Buddhist monastery is of symbolic architectural complexity and is a great introduction to Gandharan Buddhist architecture. Gandhara is the ancient name of a region in northwest Pakistan and is an eminent place for Buddhist theology because it is where it first reached Pakistan. This region remained a Hindu-Buddhist land until 10th century CE, when Sultan Mahmud conquered the region and introduced Islam to the people. Once the settlements of Muslims occurred, there was not a single monastery of worship for Buddhists anymore. That is why after the Hun invasion, Buddhists began migrating to Far-East Asia. It is believed that the second Buddha was born in Swat, and why the region is so rich with Buddhist relics. After tourists are done exploring the Takht-i-Bahi, they began following the historical journey to Swat.
The Takht-i-Bahi is full of rich history and not a place you can miss out on when visiting Pakistan. To have such ancient sites still standing to this day is phenomenal.
Photo credits : Umair Mohsin