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Exploring Swat Valley’s Buddhist Heritage Sites

September 14, 2023

Introduction to Swat Valley’s Buddhist Heritage Sites

Consider this proverb on the Northern school of Buddhism, which dates from the fourth to the sixth century of Buddhism, and the Buddhist World Heritage sites in Gandhara: Without addressing the Buddhist civilization in the Swat, Taxila, and Peshawar valleys, a discussion of the famed Gandharan Buddhist art would be lacking.

From the mountain range to the rivers and tributaries that flow into the Suvastu River (later known as the Swat River), Swat covers an area of more than 5,000 square kilometers. Stupas, monasteries, singhara-mas, and viharas (temples) are only a few of the many Gandharan Buddhist heritage sites that may be found there.

Amluk-Dara: A Journey into Swat’s Buddhist Heritage

Even though they are not Buddhists, people in the Swat Valley have long known about Buddhism. They are pleased to see Buddhist visitors visiting these hallowed locations, Pakistan’s most incredible riches, while on educational excursions.

Neither the residents nor the kids bothered to bother us! In other places, pilgrims are frequently harassed by beggars, which contributes to the disorderly behavior that has discouraged some people from returning.

A local town and its remarkable residents, representing various races, have a certain allure. With a population of 200 million, Pakistan is home to ethnic groups like the Punjabis, Pathans, Sindhis, Baluchis, Muhajirs (Indian Muslims), and others. 77% Sunnis and 21% Shia comprise Pakistan’s 97% Muslim population; the remaining 3% are Christians and Hindus. Their official language is Urdu.

I requested permission from the rain retreat site at Taxila Museum (Punjab) to conduct a religious ceremony and install the Bell of Peace at the Swat Museum (between July 23–29, 2022). I was invited to perform this in 2019 by Miangul Adnan Aurangzeb, but COVID-19 forced me to postpone my travel to Pakistan.

The Bell of Peace was officially inaugurated on July 28, 2022, at eight in the morning. This was an exceptionally fortunate day because it was Thai King Vajiraklaochaoyuhua’s birthday.

A field excursion to some of the Buddhist civilization sites in Swat Valley, classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, was another significant purpose aside from the Bell of Peace’s inauguration at such a time and place. This is why we will visit the Amluk-Dara on July 26, 2022.

‘Amluk’ is a type of fruit, a persimmon, according to a curator of the Swat Museum. In this valley, many people cultivate them. You will witness amluk trees and orchards everywhere you turn.

Restoration Efforts at Amluk-Dara Stupa

The Amluk-Dara Valley is teeming with trees, vegetation, and year-round flowing streams. The term “amluk” has a similar pronunciation to the Indian gooseberry “amla.” The Hindu pronunciation for Jambudvipa would be A-M-LA. Due to its therapeutic qualities, amla is one of the silane (medicine) fruits that Buddha permits monks to consume at any hour of the day. These fruits include the myrobalan plum and the Indian gooseberry. 

The Jambudvipa made no mention of the Amluk fruit. It would also be incorrect to compare it to the Persian peach, which King Alexander brought back to Greece to grow because it was his favorite fruit. It’s conceivable that many Indian gooseberries were once produced in the region where the monastery, now called Amluk-Dara, presently stands.

Dara is the Hindi word for star.  It could also occur from ‘tara,’ which means stream – the stream that runs through this valley. This fits the locale. The monastic convent. (Note: I found this when the Persian word for “amluk” is “amlok” fruit. Instead of a persimmon, that will be a peach, and The Persian term ‘dara’ or ‘darra’ means stream. I’ve observed language usage in various contexts of Pakistan: the adoption of particular terminology has become ingrained in the regional tongue over time.  

Their, however, connotations continue to mirror those of the original in Sanskrit and Pali – a different approach to comprehending the evolution of civilization. Chinese Faxian, a monk, observed that although Gandhara was in the Gandharan, people used it north of Jambudvipa.Maghada/Pali is the same language as the occupants of Majjhima Janapada. King Alexander returned the fruit because he enjoyed it so much grown in Greece.

The Northern School of Buddhism2 switched the original Buddhist tongue from Pali to Sanskrit, the language of Brahminism, during the reign of King Kanishka. However, some remnants of the Pali language remain to be found.

It should be noticed that Taxila’s meaning has completely departed from its original meaning over the years. Considering this is possible. What makes the name so crucial?

Another illustration is Swat in Swat Valley. Its original name, Udyana, meant “garden or park,” connoting a lush area with a river running through it year-round and a variety of vegetation. Earlier, this river was known as Suvastu or Subhavastu. The river is today known as Swat. The word “subha” signifies lovely or tranquil if we understand Pali or Sanskrit. ‘Swasati’ in Sanskrit may be equivalent to this. The Thai people pronounce it “Sawasdee.” It is equal to “sothi” or “suwatthi” in Pali. Subhavastu, in its broadest sense, denotes “that which has good or auspicious qualities.” (This is to create a shared understanding of the significance of names, another feature of civilization.)

Butkara is another intriguing name on our field trip. Butkara Sangharama, also known as Butkara Monastery, is situated near Saidu Sharif City in the Swat Valley and has a sizable stupa. The phrase “Buddha-kara,” which corresponds to a Pali hamlet name, must have been the source of the name. A Buddhist community or village is now referred to as a “Buddhakarae” (pronounced “bud-dha-ka-rae”) by Hindus.

The aforementioned is supposed to make studying civilization more enjoyable. There has yet to be an attempt to change the titles of historic Buddhist sites. Simply put, it is challenging to research the history of each era’s historical sites, faiths, and people since words and their meanings tend to evolve with time. 

To prevent names and their meanings from changing under social trends, it is crucial to retain them. When feasible, we should use their traditional words. Before selecting or establishing a title, those conducting studies on or in charge of conservation efforts at ancient locations should take heed. These original names should be preserved so future generations can benefit from them.

KP Museum has meticulously restored and cared for the massive Amluk-Dara stupa. Visits are merited due to their spiritual significance. Buddhist pilgrims can honor and express gratitude to their ancestors who invested their time and effort in erecting stupas to advance Buddhism and benefit education.

Scenic Beauty and Spiritual Significance

The MV Arayawangso transported the monks, a novice, and Thai citizens to the Swat Valley’s Amluk-Dara Stupa this morning (July 26, 2022). When it was constructed in the third century AD (about the third Buddhist century or 200–1300 BE), it served as the birthplace of Vajrayana Buddhism. North Jambudvipa experienced a golden age of Buddhism during the Gandharan era. However, from the 17th Buddhist Century onward, Buddhism completely vanished from Jambudvipa due to social and political developments and administration based on religion.

The northern kingdoms, including Kamboja, Gandhara, Panchala, and Kuru, were separated into separate nations and later transformed into republics like India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has been established in the Swat, Peshawar, and Taxila valleys. Muslims make up more than 90% of the population. Only ancient sites designated as Buddhist World Heritage are all that are left of the former Buddhist splendor. The entire world, primarily Buddhist nations, should be proud of this spiritual accomplishment.

British-Hungarian archaeologist Sir Aurel Stein surveyed the region in 1962. Under the direction of the Peshawar Archaeological Museum in KP, the ancient Buddhist sites were restored, particularly the one at Amluk-Dara. It is anticipated to be finished in six months, beginning in July 2022. The Swat Valley was the source of precisely chosen rocks brought directly to the repair site.

Mount Elum (Ilum) is all around the Amluk-Dara Stupa. With clouds hanging at the mountain’s peak throughout the year, the scenery is hugely reminiscent of the far north of Thailand. In the winter, the shadows transform into snow and fall to the valley, creating a lovely sight.

According to MV Arayawangso, there are smaller stupas all around the Amluk-Dara. Monks can live, practice, and study the Dhamma at a vihara, a place of worship. As with other monasteries found in the forest or mountains, it is feasible to presume that Amluk-Dara was a sizable monastery with a sizable Order of Sangha. The caverns in the hill near the Amluk-Dara may have served as the monks’ homes at the time, per the Chinese monk’s account.


We got here approximately at noon. The Amluk Dara Stupa’s valley was illuminated by the sun, displaying the remnants of what was once a sizable watercourse that extended into the valley. We can observe the splendor of nature and the rich soil ideal for farming and the growth of crops, mainly fruits. Persimmons are widely grown by the locals, and they are now an essential source of revenue for the KP region.

The brilliant midday sky miraculously altered as MV Arayawangso and the party started their religious exercise by chanting and meditating. The mountain began to be covered in a cold mist, almost like winter was approaching. The environment became exceedingly sappya (excellent, acceptable, conducive) with periodic chilly breezes, and we felt compelled to continue our meditation practice.


Q1. What is the significance of Amluk-Dara Valley in Swat?

Ans. Amluk-Dara Valley is culturally significant due to its association with Buddhism and its lush landscape, making it a serene location with historical and spiritual importance.

Q2. How is the term ‘Amluk’ connected to Buddhism?

Ans. The term ‘Amluk’ has linguistic ties to the Indian gooseberry ‘amla,’ which holds therapeutic value in Buddhism, possibly indicating its historical cultivation in the region.

Q3. What is the importance of preserving historical names?

Ans. Preserving historical names is vital to maintaining cultural heritage and ensuring that the meanings and significance of places remain intact for future generations.

Q4. Who was Sir Aurel Stein, and what was his role in restoring Buddhist sites?

Ans. Sir Aurel Stein was a British-Hungarian archaeologist who played a significant role in surveying and restoring ancient Buddhist sites in the region, including Amluk-Dara.

Q5. How has the Swat Valley’s landscape contributed to its cultural charm?

Ans. Swat Valley’s picturesque landscape, with year-round flowing streams and lush vegetation, has enhanced its cultural charm and spiritual ambiance.

Q6. What is the significance of Amluk-Dara in the history of Buddhism?

Ans. Amluk-Dara is believed to have been a significant monastery linked to the birthplace of Vajrayana Buddhism during the Gandharan era in North Jambudvipa.

Q7. How has Amluk-Dara’s restoration been progressing?

Ans. Amluk-Dara’s restoration, initiated under the direction of the Peshawar Archaeological Museum, is expected to be completed in six months, starting in July 2022.

Q8. Describe the natural beauty and spiritual ambiance of Amluk-Dara.

Ans. Amluk-Dara boasts lush vegetation, year-round flowing streams, and a serene atmosphere. It offers a tranquil meditation and spiritual practice environment amidst breathtaking natural beauty.

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