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Asalha Puja Celebration in Gandhara: Time and Buddhism

September 9, 2023

Reviving the Asalha Puja Celebration in Gandhara: A Journey Through Time and Buddhism

Considering the big picture or how civilization has changed over time is crucial. The armies of King Alexander of Bactria constructed Sirkap, the second capital of the Taxila Valley, in 190 BC. The Greek grid pattern was used in the city development. Thus, it is called the Acropolis of Taxila. It is shaped like a rectangle and the major road runs from north to south. On both sides of the street are rows of residences, stores, gathering spaces, and places of worship. The massive, lofty walls are built using masonry rubble.

We visited historic Sirkap in Taxila Valley as part of our field trip.

The king’s palace, wonderfully placed on a small hill and offers sweeping views of Sirkap, may be reached by passing the community area and turning north. It was believed that Kunala, who was at the time the King of Sirkap, had resided there.

As a result, archaeologists gave this historic site the name King Kunala’s Royal Palace. He was the son of King Ashoka the Great and the governor of Magadha. 

Tracing Ancient Roots in Sirkap

We need to go back to the second and third Buddhist centuries, when the Maurya dynasty governed Maghada and other kingdoms in Jambudvipa, to connect the aforementioned facts to the time of King Ashoka of Taxila, Gandhara1. The third Mauryan ruler, Ashoka, reigned between 268 and 311 B.E.

His reign saw the most significant expansion of his empire in the annals of ancient India. Now, the Republic of India, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, some regions of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and the Republic of the Peoples of Bangladesh would all be under his rule. He was regarded as one of the world’s foremost spiritual leaders and one of Buddhism’s most incredible supporters. He was an Upsaka who had a solid belief in the Triple Gem. 

According to evidence from Buddhist archives, King Ashoka organised the Third Buddhist Council at Moggaliputta Tissa Thera’s request in 234 B.E. (according to a Mahawong source) or 290 B.E. (according to a Tiwayawadana source). He sent missionary teams to spread Buddhism in Jambudvipa and elsewhere after inviting Buddhist monks to the Third Council. The Council, presided over by Moggaliputta Tissa Thera and supported by King Ashoka, met in the Asokarama Monastery in Pataliputra, Magadha. It lasted for nine months. All 10,000 participating monks were arahants.

Nine Groups of Missionary Monks

At the third Buddhist Council, the Sangha, led by Moggaliputta Tissa Thera, unanimously dispatched nine groups of missionary monks to nine far-off places to disseminate the noble Dhamma and Vinaya of the Buddha.

  • The first group, led by Majjhantika Thera, was established to spread Buddhism northwest of the Republic of India (Maghada) in places like Gandhara and Kashmir.
  • The second group, led by Mahadeva Thera, was established to spread Buddhism in Mahismandala and Mysore in the southern region of the Republic of India (Maghada).
  • A third group, led by Rakkhita Thera, was formed to advance Buddhism in the Maghada and Vanavasi regions of the Republic of India (modern-day Bombay and Mumbai).
  • The fourth group, led by Yona Dhammarakkhita Thera, works to spread Buddhism in the western coastal region of Aparantakajanaka (by the Arab Sea, north of Mumbai).
  • Fifth group led by Maha Dhammarakkhita Thera, they work to spread Buddhism in Maharattha, a region of Maharashtra to the northeast of Mumbai.
  • The sixth group, led by Maharakkhita Thera, spread Buddhism in Yona, Persia (now the Islamic Republic of Iran).

          Majjhima Thera is in charge of the seventh group, which is working to spread          Buddhism throughout Nepal’s Himalayan region.

  • Eighth Group Sona Thera and Uttara Thera are in charge of spreading Buddhism in Suvarnabhumi, which includes parts of Burma and Thailand (Nakornpathom).
  • Ninth Group led by Mahindra Thera and Sanghamitra Thera are in charge of spreading Buddhism in Lankadvipa.

King Ashoka’s Legacy in Gandhara

In Jambudvipa and beyond, Buddhism flourished and expanded during his rule. Additionally, he took special care to reunite the Buddha’s relics, which had previously been distributed to eight separate locations, including Rajgir, Varanasi, Kapilavastu, and Kushinagar. For people to pay respects to the Buddha, King Ashoka ordered those stupas to be built all over Jambudvipa and gave the relics of the Buddha to the towns where the stupas were located. As a result, Suvarnabhumi (Nakornpathom) adopted the Sanchi stupa’s architectural style. 

This was because honoring the Buddha by constructing a stupa or large pagoda to keep his relics would be highly beneficial. We can also make out the stone pillars that mark Buddhist holy sites, including those at Lumbini, where the Buddha was born, Bodhgaya, where he attained enlightenment, and numerous other locations. 

This demonstrated how Buddhism grew under King Ashoka. Large pagodas and pillar edicts may still be seen in Kosambi, Sanchi, Kesari, and Vaishali in the Republic of India. The Dharmarajika Stupa in Taxila, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, attests to the prevalence of Buddhism at that time.

Following the Third Buddhist Council, King Ashoka dispatched missionary monks to nine provinces in 290 BE to spread the Dhamma Vinaya. One of these was Taxila, a city in Gandhara governed by him. He appointed Prince Kulana to lead Taxila as its governor in 308 BC, according to Mahawong and Tiwayawadana sources, and he died in 311 BE. (He had been king for 38 years. However, if we start counting from the moment he ascended to the throne at the age of 21, it would be his 42nd year in power.

Three ancient towns were discovered during Sir John Marshall’s excavations at Taxila in 1913–1934 (2456–2477 BE). There was one in Sirkap. Three hundred years were spent with this settlement under successive Greek, Sitian, Patian, and Kushan control. The objects that were discovered reflect their influences. Sirkap is thought to have existed somewhere in the second century BC.


The Dhammarajika Stupa or Maha Stupa of Taxila in Gandhara is thought to have been constructed to store the Buddha’s relics when Buddhism first arrived in Gandhara following the Third Buddhist Council in 290 BCE (or 234 BCE), according to significant events that occurred during King Ashoka’s reign. The stupas’ shapes matched those of the Sanchi Stupa. Afterward, large monasteries were constructed in Gandhara to house numerous monks. When King Kanishka the Great of the Kushan dynasty ruled, Buddhism reached its height in the sixth and seventh centuries and declined in the seventeenth Buddhist century.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: When was Sirkap, the second capital of the Taxila Valley, constructed, and by whom?

Ans: Sirkap was constructed in 190 BC by the armies of King Alexander of Bactria.

Q2: What architectural pattern was used in the development of Sirkap, and why is it called the Acropolis of Taxila?

Ans: Sirkap was developed using the Greek grid pattern, and it’s called the Acropolis of Taxila due to its layout. It features a rectangular shape with a major road running from north to south.

Q3: Who is believed to have resided in King Kunala’s Royal Palace in Sirkap?

Ans: It is believed that King Kunala, the son of King Ashoka the Great and the governor of Magadha, resided in King Kunala’s Royal Palace.

Q4: During which period did the Maurya dynasty, under King Ashoka, rule in Magadha?

Ans: The Maurya dynasty, under King Ashoka, ruled in Maghada during the second and third Buddhist centuries, between 268 and 311 B.E.

Q5: What significant expansion did King Ashoka’s reign witness?

Ans: King Ashoka’s reign saw the most significant expansion of his empire in ancient India, encompassing present-day India, Pakistan, parts of Afghanistan, and Bangladesh.

Q6: What role did King Ashoka play in the propagation of Buddhism?

Ans: King Ashoka was a remarkable supporter of Buddhism and organised the Third Buddhist Council, sent missionary teams to spread Buddhism, and promoted the construction of Buddhist stupas.

Q7: How did King Ashoka reunite the Buddha’s relics?

Ans: King Ashoka ordered the construction of stupas all over Jambudvipa (Indian subcontinent) to house the Buddha’s relics and distribute them to various towns.

Q8: What architectural style was adopted by Suvarnabhumi (Nakornpathom) in honouring the Buddha?

Ans: Suvarnabhumi adopted the architectural style of the Sanchi stupa to honour the Buddha.

Q9: Where can one find evidence of Buddhism’s prevalence during King Ashoka’s time?

Ans: Evidence of Buddhism’s prevalence during King Ashoka’s time can be found in the form of large pagodas and pillar edicts in places like Kosambi, Sanchi, Kesari, Vaishali, and the Dharmarajika Stupa in Taxila.

Q10: What was the significance of the Third Buddhist Council, and what were its outcomes?

Ans: The Third Buddhist Council, organised by King Ashoka, aimed to preserve and spread Buddhist teachings. It resulted in the dispatch of missionary monks to various regions to disseminate the Dhamma and Vinaya of the Buddha.

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