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Exploring the Buddhist Heritage Sites of Pakistan

September 22, 2023


My body finally had a chance to recover after the trip to Peshawar on August 4, 2022. I’m back at the Rains Retreat Apartments in Taxila this evening. In the past, after breakfast, I would perform religious ceremonies and go on field trips to various. Buddhist heritage sites, most of which date to the Maurya and Kushan dynasties, respectively, and Buddhism’s third to eighth centuries. There are remnants of Buddhist legacy from those two eras connecting one to the next, indicating a fantastic unity of faith!

The Maha-Vihara at Butkara

The Maha-Vihara at Butkara serves as a prime illustration. The Italian archaeologists and the PK archaeology and Museums team unearthed this substantial monastery from 1956 AD to 1958 AD. It had been prolonged at least five times, they discovered. According to the archaeologists, the Maha-Stupa in the middle of the smaller ones had to have been constructed and reconstructed between the third and sixteenth Buddhist centuries before Buddhism was eradicated in the seventeenth Buddhist century.

Another illustration is Takht-i-Bahi Maha-Vihara. From how it looks, it must have been used from the beginning of the Mahayana (about the fourth Buddhist century), continuing through Kanishka’s reign and the middle of the Mahayana. This ancient site exhibits the blossoming of Buddhism, which is consistent with the official assumption that it must have been in use between the fourth and eleventh centuries. 

The Takht-i-Ba-hi complex can be claimed to have served as the epicenter of the Northern School of Buddhism (Mahayana). Takht-i-Bahi is regarded as the most beautiful Maha-Vihara in Gandhara and is included on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites thanks to its splendor and most comprehensive layout compared to other Maha-Viharas.

Exploration of Takht-i-Bahi

By accepting Dr. Abdul Samad’s offer to visit Takht-i-Bahi (on August 2, 2022), I completed my mission to research and engage in religious activity at holy locations. Amazingly, the mind stays calm and collected despite the intense heat.

Because the Buddha’s relics were once kept at this place of worship, many people think the Dhamma’s abilities are still present. The perceptible dhamma energy made it seem like the relics might still be present, tucked away beneath the enormous Maha-Stupa and encircled by lesser ones.

The majestic main stupa, which rises about 150 meters above the earth and is encircled by the valley, was complemented by the viharas, meditation halls, and the remnants of monks’ dormitories. There are steps leading down to the ground level from the front doorway, and a little stream is nearby to keep the vegetation healthy. The setting was lovely and helpful for practicing meditation. We were inspired to continue climbing the stairs by the birds’ orchestral melody, which they sang as though to greet devoted visitors.

Jamal Garhi Buddhist Site

On August 4, 2022, we traveled to Jamal Garhi in Mardan, a Buddhist site built at the same time as the Takhti-Bahi complex. This reaffirms that Buddhist civilization’s flourishing can be seen in its holy places. Takht-i-Bahi is not significantly smaller than Jamal Garhi. The main stupa’s round shape, high mound, and base all point to the Ashoka era (around the third Buddhist Century) when it was built. The guhas (caves, cubicle-like structures) all around it suggest that these might have been rooms where Buddha statues were stored or locations for meditation, adding to the Maha Vihara’s aesthetic appeal. 

If you look around, there are other ruins of Viharas and Stupas, both large and small. The Archaeology and Museums of KP are responsible for maintaining the Jamal Garhi. The Pakistani government organization will do better excavations and restoration work, making these locations better prepared to receive peaceful, respectful, and eager visitors to practice the Dhamma.

They would also have grown in faith and respect for their forefathers who worked to preserve and transmit Buddhism to the present if they had learned more about the Buddhist heritage places.

We were treated kindly and like family everywhere we went in Pakistan, whether it was Taxila, Swat, or Peshawar. This made us completely forget about the previous acts of terrorism. Above all else, after I got back from Peshawar, the inner

I had a thought that said, “Buddhism is still here; it’s everywhere.” It is still there. Buddhism will always exist if we continue to practice the Dhamma Vinaya and maintain confidence. If we remember it constantly, Buddhism cannot be erased by space or time.

Preservation Efforts and Historical Significance

Between the villages of Jamal Garhi and Sahr-i-Bahlol, on top of a hill at an elevation of 144m and roughly 12.8km north of Mardan city, lie the vast Buddhist ruins of Jamal Garhi. This location is also halfway between Takhti-Bhai and Shahbaz Garhi, two ancient Buddhist centers. The Buddhist site of Therelli (Sawal Dher), which is located 4.8 km to the southeast and shares the same relative position to Takht-i-Bhai as Sahri-i-Bahlol, is equally remarkable. They have a commanding view of the lovely landscape from their work on the hill’s peak. The site’s artifacts date from the first to the fifth centuries AD.

Alexander, the Great Cunningham, found the location of Jamal Garhi in 1848, but It. Lumsden and Lt. Stroke began excavation work there in 1850. Cunningham began excavating the site in 1872, and the native royal engineering corp. The British army sent sappers and miners to finish the job in 1873. Most of the antiquities discovered during excavations were forwarded to the Peshawar, British, and Calcutta Museum.

According to Sir John Marshall, Jamal Garhi is one of the oldest Buddhist institutions in the Gandhara region. Surprisingly, Chinese pilgrims who frequented the area throughout its Buddhist history neglected to mention it in their manuals, given its holy nature and the popularity it probably gained among the Buddhist community then.


In 2012–2013, the excavation at the location was resumed by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s Directorate of Archaeology and Museums. One hundred thirty-four artifacts were discovered and are presently displayed at the Mardan Museum. The site’s structural remnants show a whole Buddhist settlement.

This monastery complex’s most promising structural remnants are the main stupa, middle and lower votive stupa courts encircled by chapels, the assembly hall, vaulted chambers, and the housing block with an open courtyard.

Three dynasties are thought to have risen and fallen in succession on the site. The invasion of the White Huns ultimately led to the destruction of the Indo-Parthian, the Kushans, and afterward, the Kushans.

Questions and Answers

Q1. What is the focus of this narrative, and what is its main theme?

Ans. The narrative explores Buddhist heritage sites in Pakistan, particularly those from the Maurya and Kushan dynasties. The main theme is the unity of faith and the enduring legacy of Buddhism.

Q2. Can you provide examples of Buddhist heritage sites discussed in the narrative?

Ans. Two prominent examples are the Maha-Vihara at Butkara and the Takht-i-Bahi Maha-Vihara.

Q3. What is the significance of the Maha-Vihara at Butkara, and what historical periods does it span?

Ans. The Maha-Vihara at Butkara is significant for its archaeological discoveries. It spans from the third to the sixteenth Buddhist centuries.

Q4. Why is the Takht-i-Bahi Maha-Vihara considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

Ans. Takht-i-Bahi is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its historical significance, layout, and comprehensive representation of a Maha-Vihara.

Q5. What is the perceived presence of Dhamma energy at Takht-i-Bahi?

Ans. Many believe that the Dhamma’s abilities still exist at Takht-i-Bahi because it once housed Buddha’s relics. The perceptible Dhamma energy makes it seem like the dinosaurs might still exist.

Q6. Can you describe the main stupa at Jamal Garhi and its historical significance?

Ans. The main stupa at Jamal Garhi is round-shaped, with a high mound and base. It dates back to the Ashoka era, around the third Buddhist century, and is believed to have been used for storing Buddha statues and meditation.

Q7. What is the responsibility of the Archaeology and Museums of KP regarding these Buddhist heritage sites?

Ans. The Archaeology and Museums of KP are responsible for maintaining, restoring, and preserving these sites. Their efforts aim to make these locations more accessible and informative for visitors.

Q8. How does the author reflect on the enduring presence of Buddhism?

Ans. The author believes that Buddhism will always exist if people continue to practice the Dhamma Vinaya and maintain confidence in the faith. Buddhism cannot be erased by space or time if it is remembered constantly.

Q9. Why is Jamal Garhi considered historically significant despite being omitted from Chinese pilgrims’ manuals?

Ans. Despite being omitted from Chinese pilgrims’ manuals, Jamal Garhi is historically significant for its antiquities and rich Buddhist heritage. Its presence in the Gandhara region is noteworthy.

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