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Exploring Ancient Buddhist Sites in Jambudvipa: A Journey through Jaulian and Amlukdara

September 22, 2023


Jaulian, located about 10 km from Sirkap, was constructed during the late Kushan era. Situated about 90 meters above sea level on a hill. Stupas and viharas were discovered during Mr. Natesa Aitar’s excavations in 1916–1917, which Sir John Marshall oversaw. It features three courtyards and three entrances. A stupa is located on the south side of a raised area, while the stupa is located on the north side of a lower place. A smaller courtyard connects the first and second on the west.

Historical Significance of Menander

The lower courtyard, which previously contained five sculptured stupas (only their bases remain), is currently used as the main entrance. The names of the people who commissioned the stupas are listed in a Kharosthi inscription at the foot of one of them. Buddha and Bodhisattva statues were stored in rows of little chambers next to the courtyard.

Around the second century AD, the great stupa on the upper courtyard was constructed under the Kushan dynasty. It had to have afterward been embellished with ornaments. The intriguing part of this image is the sitting Buddha, who has a hole in his abdomen where visitors can stick their fingers and make a wish for relief from illness. This makes me think of the Buddha’s role as a doctor at a later time. A Kharosthi inscription at the bottom said, “Donated by Budhamitra.” Small stupas that house the Buddha’s remains are also present. Despite the inferior quality of the artwork, they are richly embellished with valuable stones. The Mohra Moradu Monastery’s archaeological relics are highly comparable. For a comparison, see the images of the two sites below.

Gandhara Buddhist art from the 6th and 7th centuries CE, produced during Kanishka of the Kushan dynasty, has enhanced the Buddhist history in Jambudvipa’s northern region. The Maurya dynasty’s Ashoka, who ruled between the second and third Buddhist centuries, came before this. King Menander, known as Milinda in Pali-Sanskrit or Milin in Thai, ruled between the two eras.

Greek king Menander lived in a different time than Alexander. King of Yonok (Greece) Alexan-der.Invaded Jambud-vipa’s northern territory in 217 B.E. and then fled. From 221 BCE to 359 BCE, King Chandragupta established the Maurya dynasty and expanded his realm to include the majority of Jambudvipa, with Patliputra in Magadha serving as the capital. The Maurya dynasty flourished the most under King Ashoka, who expanded his realm of influence to include all of northern Jambudvipa, as well as Gandhara and Kamboja. The archaeological evidence for Buddhism, which began to flourish there, demonstrates this.

Factors Contributing to the Decline of Buddhism

Around 400 B.C.E., King Menander assumed the throne. Buddhism expanded even further. According to some archaeological records, it was during his rule that the first Gandharan Buddha sculptures were erected. Around 620 BCE, during the reign of Kanishka, Buddhism experienced tremendous growth. Kanishka, like Ashoka, was the protector of Buddhism. According to some writings, King Kanishka ascended to the throne sometime around 553 BCE in the 5th Buddhist Century. If so, the date would be ideal, given how Buddhist civilization was transmitted in the region to the north. Menander the Great, as great as Alexander, was claimed to be. He was connected to King Apollodorus of Artemita and reigned over Bactria.

To the northeast of Jambud-via, comprising Bengal (Magadha) and Vajji, the north and center of Jambudvipa, Menander placed Sagala (of the Madda Kingdom) as the center of his dominion.

Menander was a well-rounded subject expert regarded as a great scholar with whom no one could compete. According to the book “The Questions of King Milinda,” his encounter with Ngasena, who could respond to all his inquiries, marked a turning point. He consequently changed his religion to Buddhism and became a patron of Buddhism like previous Buddhist kings. The metal coins, a portion of his shoulder, and a sideways-turned visage are proof. The words “Saviour King Menander” are written above and below. The Buddhist wheel represents the other side of the coin. Additionally, a lion that resembles the one on Ashoka’s pillar is there.

Most significantly, under his rule, the first Buddha statues, also known as Gandharan Buddha Images, were erected to represent Buddhism. The statues were later used as a standard model for constructing Buddha statues. The main requirements are that the statue must depict 32 aspects of the Buddha that demonstrate his profound compassion and help others have confidence in him. The Buddhas of Gandhara are particular. They appear to be actual people, and the Greek influence may be seen in the lovely pleats on their gowns.

Menander’s Life

Towards the end of Menander’s life, various findings appear to be in conflict:

 1. He kept his position as king and died in a tent.

 2. He handed the throne to his queen and left to become a Buddhist monk to find mokkhad-hamma (salvation). After that, his son Strato would take the kingdom.

The Milinda Paha states the following about Nagasena, who converted King Menander to Buddhism.

Sangala in the Himalayas is where Nagasena was born. Sonuttara was his Brahmin father. He completed the Vedas and other disciplines when he was seven years old. He enquired whether there was anything else he should research from his father. According to his father, that is all. He met Ven one day. Rohana visited his father’s home to collect alms. Nagasena asked his father to bring Ven Rohana to supper at his home since he admired him and thought he had a lot of knowledge. He asked to be taught by him. The senior monk stated that he could not instruct someone who had received ordination. So Nagasena requested his father’s approval before becoming an ordained Buddhist monk and studying under Ven. Rohana.

He became a monk when he was 20 years old. He once believed his teacher must be crazy for first making him study the Abhidhamma. Ven. His preceptor, Rohana, claimed to be able to read minds and informed him that his thinking was incorrect. Nagasena was aware that his teacher was aware of his thoughts. He asked for pardon because he was terrified. The senior monk told him he would be pardoned if he taught King Menander in Sakala how to put his trust in the Triple Gem. His teacher would only explain to him at that point. Ven. Rohana sent him to study with Ven. At the Wattniyasaenasana Vihara in Sakorn, Assa-kutta. Before being allowed to enroll as a student, Nagasena stayed there for seven days. 

He once instructed a wealthy man in the Dhamma, and the guy afterward attained Sotapanna status. After returning, Nagasena reflected on what he had taught and acquired Sotapanna. Then, he traveled from Sakala to Pataliputra, lived at Sokarama, and studied under Ven. Dhammarakkitta, finishing it in six months. Nagasena spent a considerable amount of time practicing in Rakkhittaguha before becoming enlightened. He was allowed to debate Menander by the Sangha anumodhana. Nagas-ena visited Sakala and provided all the information requested. King Menander pledged to take shelter in the Triple Gem for the remainder of his life after regaining trust in Buddhism.

Amlukdara Stupa: Unveiling an Ancient Relic

A Buddhist stupa in the Swat district, the Amlukdara stupa may be viewed from the surrounding high mountains towering in all its majestic antiquity. The majestic Mount Llam, 11 km from Barikot Bazar, protects the historic location. It gets its name from the neighboring settlement of Amlukdara, a compound term made up of the Pashto words Amluk and Dara. The phrase “wild persimmon” in Pashto is Amluk, and Dara is a mountain pass that leads to a valley. 

Amlukdara has long been known. The main stupa was one of the best-preserved examples of Buddhist architecture Sir Aurel Stein had ever seen in Gandhara when he first documented it in 1926. According to recent archaeological digs, the primary stupa and its sacred space belong to the second century CE. Around the ninth century CE, the location was abandoned.

When the Italian Mission began digging in Swat for the first time in 1956, it was one of the first sites that Italian archaeologist Tucci recorded. 1958–1959, the Department of Archaeology, Government of Pakistan, started small-scale repair work. Parts of the main stupa’s frontal and top circumambulatory have been renovated. In the 1960s and 1970s, Domenico Faccenna examined it. The Italian Archaeological Mission, based in Swat, has been documenting and revisiting the site since 1990. 

2012 saw the initiation of fresh scientific excavations at the location by Luca Maria Olivieri. This round of digs produced a lot of fresh discoveries. Among the new findings are pieces of the main stupa and its attendant temple, standing votive stupas, and shrines. The excavation also revealed a sacred precinct’s floor level, which was still intact and contained a few votive stupas.

In November 2019, DoAM began a second season of archaeological digs at Amlukdara. Numerous votive stupas, floor levels, Buddhist shrines, and an enclosing wall of the sacred precinct were discovered during these excavations.

The stucco plaster covering the religious structures was red and ochred in color. There are a few Buddha statues made of application on the bases of the central and votive stupa. The great stupa’s dome and its circumambulatory were also primarily reconstructed during these excavations. 


The site has yielded a variety of artifacts, including Buddha sculptures, stucco Buddha heads, stucco embellishments, gold-gilded relief panels (pre-birth and after-birth stories), brackets, pilasters, beads, ceramics, bangles, arrowheads, fishhooks, metallic nails, potsherds, and painted Shah Period pottery.

Questions and Answers

Q1. What are the key features of the Jaulian site, and why is it significant in Buddhist history?

Ans. Jaulian features stupas, viharas, courtyards, and Buddha statues. It is significant as it provides insights into the evolution of Buddhism in Jambudvipa.

Q2. Who was King Menander, and what role did he play in the spread of Buddhism?

Ans. King Menander was a Greek ruler who converted to Buddhism and became a patron of the faith. His reign influenced the spread of Buddhism and Gandhara Buddhist art.

Q3. What are the recent discoveries at the Amlukdara stupa, and why is it important?

Ans. Recent excavations at Amlukdara revealed votive stupas, shrines, and various artifacts. It is essential for preserving the Gandhara Buddhist heritage.

Q4. How have Italian and Pakistani archaeologists contributed to studying these ancient sites?

Ans. Italian and Pakistani archaeologists have played a crucial role in documenting and preserving sites like Jaulian and Amlukdara, enhancing our understanding of Buddhist history.

Q5. What is the significance of preserving ancient Buddhist sites in Jambudvipa?

Ans. Preserving these sites is essential for studying the history and art of Buddhism in the region, ensuring its cultural heritage endures.

Q6. Can you describe the influence of Greek culture on Gandhara Buddhist art?

Ans. Greek influence can be seen in the aesthetics of Gandhara Buddhist art, including realistic depictions of Buddha statues and intricate details on clothing.

Q7. What do the artifacts found at Amlukdara tell us about the people who once inhabited the area?

Ans. Artifacts such as Buddha sculptures, pottery, and relics provide insights into the ancient inhabitants’ material culture and religious practices.

Q8. How has studying these sites contributed to understanding Buddhism’s history and development?

Ans. The study of sites like Jaulian and Amlukdara helps trace the evolution of Buddhism and the cultural exchanges that shaped its practice in Jambudvipa.

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