Experts extol legacy of Gandhara Buddhist heritage

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BY KEDAR BHATTARAI,Islamabad, Pakistan, Mar 30: Researchers and experts in Buddhist heritage and traditions have agreed on the need to preserve common heritage sites related to Buddha and pass on the knowledge to new generations for peace and shared prosperity.

They expressed such opinion at a two-day Gandhara symposium titled ‘From Gandhara to the World: The Legacy of Gandhara Buddhism’ organised by Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Gandhara is considered the birthplace of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. The University of Ancient Taxila, now known as Takshashila, is also located in the region. 

At the symposium, experts emphasised the coordinated operation of ancient Buddhist heritage sites in South Asia and other countries while seeking new dimensions of peace and prosperity and developing Buddhist tradition. Establishing a connection between Lumbini (the birthplace of Buddha) in Nepal, and Gandhara could lead to the integration of other Buddhist heritage sites, they said.

Gandhara’s Buddhist heritage serves as a gateway to establishing relations with Europe and China. The region is known for its ancient Silk Road and Greco-Buddhist sculptures. It is believed that the first statue of Gautama Buddha was carved here along with the development of the Buddhist statue tradition. 

Senior researcher at the Takshashila University Nadeem Omar Tarar from Austin of Texas said that the whole world was interested in such heritages. He said, “We should package all these elements and present them to the world.”

Minister of Buddhasasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs of Sri Lanka Vidura Wikramanayaka called for harnessing the values of Budhha and promoting cultural diplomacy to bring the people and nations together. He said, “Let us make Gandhara a bridge to serve the purpose. We have to make Gandhara a living legacy.” 

Pakistan’s Minister of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, Chaudhry Salik Hussain, emphasised the concerted efforts to promote tolerance and understanding as well as unity to fight the menace of extremism posing threats to the world’s peace and security. He also said that Pakistan was ready to develop an action plan for this purpose.

Senior monk Dr. Anil Shakya from Thailand’s Buddhist Organisation advised ending politics associated with Buddhist traditions to preserve and promote them. He said that Pakistan’s name itself signified a sacred place and suggested reviving the Gandhara civilisation could connect the global community through the Silk Road and Uttarapath.

Professor Shakirullah Khan, head of the Archaeology Department at Hazara University in Pakistan, said that not only Gandhara but almost all areas in Pakistan had Buddhist heritage sites. However, these sites had not been sufficiently studied, researched, excavated or preserved.

Kedar Vasistha, scholar on Nepalology, suggested establishing a relationship between Lumbini and Gandhara to rebrand Buddhist heritage following Buddhist teachings. He also suggested creating an action plan with 3R (Research, Reconstruction and Revival).

Mariam Madina Aftab, Acting Foreign Secretary of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, said that Gandhara was a strategic site for the development of intercultural relations and the symposium was organised to preserve, promote, and publicise this heritage amid the global community.

Zahoor Durrani, Chief Executive Officer of the Youth Tourism Facilitation Network, said that Pakistan International Airlines, the national flag carrier, should take special initiatives to develop this region by establishing direct air services to countries with Buddhist traditions.

Interaction at the Nepali Embassy

Meanwhile, the Nepali Embassy in Islamabad organised an interaction with the delegation attending the symposium and the Nepali community in Pakistan. Various stalls showcasing Nepal’s Buddhist heritage and traditions were placed there.

On this occasion, Nepal’s Ambassador to Pakistan, Tapas Adhikari, said that the integrated development of Buddhist heritage sites could benefit the related countries through tourism. He said that starting direct air service between Nepal and Pakistan would be beneficial.

Former Minister and head of the Nepali delegation, Dr. Keshavman Shakya, emphasised the need to educate the new generation based on the significant stages of Buddha’s life and Buddhist philosophy. 

Nepali delegation including Omcharan Amatya, Dr. Sugandha Mahasthavir and Kedar Vasistha and monks were present on the occasion.

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