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Reviving Buddhism in Swat Valley: A Journey of Faith and Harmony

September 9, 2023

Reviving Buddhism in the Swat Valley: A Journey of Faith and Harmony


I requested a dispensation from the Buddhist Vinaya (discipline) from July 23 until July 29, 2022. Sattahaya is acceptable under specific situations that are reasonable. This time, it was to receive the official invitation that Miangul Adnan Aurangzeb’s wife, Mrs. Zenab Adnan, had signed. I first visited the Kushan Empire’s Buddhist World Heritage Site in Gandhara in 2019. Miangul Aurangzeb called me to place the Bell of Peace, conduct a religious ritual, and offer prayers for harmony and happiness in Swat, his beloved country.

I considered Miangul Adnan Aurangzeb when I decided to go on the monastic rains retreat here. Sadly, I learned that Miangul Aurangzeb passed away on May 30, 2022, before I arrived. This is because all conditioned things share the three universal traits of impermanence, discontent, and non-selfhood. I accepted his wife’s and the Aurangzeb family’s offer to inaugurate the Bell of Peace at the Swat Museum because of his adamant desire to invite me. 

Dispensation for Sattahaya

Sadly, I learned that Miangul Aurangzeb passed away on May 30, 2022, before I arrived. This is because all conditioned things share the three universal traits of impermanence, discontent, and non-selfhood. I accepted his wife’s and the Aurangzeb family’s offer to inaugurate the Bell of Peace at the Swat Museum because of his adamant desire to invite me. 

On July 23rd, 2565, I boarded a Sattahaya, intending to return to my retreat location within seven days. I would have violated the vow if I didn’t show up there within the allotted time, which is misbehavior in the Dhamma Vinaya.

We left Taxila2 and traveled towards Swat3 in that order. The Thai Embassy provided a van. We traveled with Col. Adisak Showichien and his wife, Ms. Hathairat Warisamarnkhun. It took slightly over 3 hours along the new express route but not nearly 4 hours to get there, making the trip much more comfortable than in the past.

Swat Valley: The Switzerland of Asia

The scenery on both sides of the road altered as we got closer to the Swat Valley. The route through the tunnels, across the valleys, and along the mountain range is charming in its own right. More mountains and tunnels are here than everywhere I’ve ever gone. It is a novel and exciting experience!

While driving through a red alert region, images of previous acts of terrorism briefly crossed my mind, but stunning views quickly replaced them. Additionally, we were delighted to explore the Swat Valley, referred to as the Switzerland of Asia, thanks to our friendly reception. Because it possesses Pakistan’s most magnificent beauty.

According to first impressions, the Swat Valley is enormous and has tall mountains akin to those in Betong, Yala, the southernmost region of Thailand. According to official sources, the 10,000 square km Swat Valley is located northwest of KP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). The people of Pakistan are highly proud of their lush, fertile, and conducive farming and agricultural land. On the highway, there was a poster with the name and location of an agricultural university.

The Swat Valley’s cliffs, villages, and rolling hills created a gorgeous landscape. Like Pokhara in Nepal, Swat features a variety of scenery, including plains, valleys, plateaus, and mountains always covered in snow. However, Swat’s smell of civilization is entirely different. The numerous ancient stupas and Buddha carvings on rock cliffs that we frequently stopped to admire and respect provide historical proof that Buddhism must have reached its pinnacle here and that Gandhara was a great Buddhist kingdom, equal in stature to Maghada in Majjhima-desa (the Middle Land). 

We were asked to take a break by the bank of the Swat River. The stream running from the mountain was cold, clean, and straightforward. Then we went to pay respect to the Shingardara Stupa in a small village – about a kilometer on a very narrow, winding road through a small farm village, away from the main road. It must be difficult to reach here if one doesn’t have a guide who knows the local area well.

I was reminded of the Dhammekha Stupa by the Shingardara Stupa. They have comparable architectural features but differing sizes, indicating that Jambudvipa was affected by art during the reign of King Ashoka. In 1972, the stupa had a recent renovation. It is 97 feet wide and around 300 feet tall at the summit. The base has a circumference of approximately 4,400 feet. According to ancient records, the Buddha’s relics were brought somewhere by King Uttara riding an elephant. When the elephant arrived, it suddenly fell and passed away. Its body changed and now stands there like a large rock. King Uttara erected a pagoda and housed the Buddha’s relics there. 

The bright, clear sky abruptly changed to rain when the van approached the spot that same day (July 23, 2565). One of the good omens was the rain. This happens whenever we honor the Triple Gem, the revered stupas, and the Buddha statues. The stupa was outside and open to the elements. It had been pillaged and destroyed by people who didn’t recognize or cherish it. It is a miracle that constructions from more than 2000 years ago still stand, allowing us to tell that this ancient Buddhist site is based on the ruins of the mound-like structure.

I couldn’t help but ask, “How is this even possible?” to myself.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Archaeological Department and the Pakistani government intervened just in time to save it from being destroyed by villagers, as has happened in many other areas; therefore, it is still in reasonable shape archaeologically.

For all Buddhists worldwide, the Shingadara stupa would be magnificent and have significant spiritual significance if archaeological professionals could preserve it under its original era art style.

We paused to have our pictures taken with young people from northern Pakistan before departing Shingadara Stupa. They may be the offspring of the Greeks who dominated this area during the reign of Alexander the Great and had skin tones comparable to those in Central Asia or Europe. Some of his soldiers and commanders were left in charge of this region while he was away. Alexander returned and died in the Bamiyan Valley, now in Afghanistan. On the way, we paid respects to the Ghaligai Buddha, a massive statue of the Buddha carved at the base of a cliff in the meditation position. Like in many other places, the sculpture was destroyed, with the head broken, but Buddhist Gandharan art can still be seen in the specifics of the creases on his robe. 

Promoting Peace and Harmony

We arrived at Miangul Adnan Aurangzeb’s home, a conventional Swat governor’s palace, before 2:00 p.m. We were greeted by his wife, brothers, and family members. For us, they had rooms ready. To look after us, the two brothers stayed with us. Miangul’s wife and daughter resided in a segregated structure that resembled an inner palace. The separation of men and women symbolizes Islam’s rigorous lifestyle and traditions.

It would be improper for ladies to accept a stranger into their home, let alone have them stay if there are no nearby male relations. This and the Buddhist Vinaya (Sangha’s discipline) are similar. The sites where monks may or may not dwell are subject to rules. Jambudvipa’s culture, ethics, and moral qualities have long been recognized regardless of religion or schools of thought. And while some may have suffered a deterioration, particularly in urban areas, Muslim cultures have survived, which is praiseworthy. 

In the courtyard before our house that evening was a Dhamma discussion and a brief religious ceremony to honor the Bell of Peace. We wished each other well and said our gratitude. There was a slight diversion during the Dhamma talk. For the nearly entirely Muslim residents of Swat, it was time for their daily religious observance. Buddhism may have thrived here with maha-viharas, Sangharamas, and communities, but it hasn’t been present in Jambudvipa for over a thousand years (around 1700 B.E.). 

Due to a communication error, our MC should have asked the locals in advance to postpone the beginning of their prayers for a few minutes. The Dhamma discourse and the ritual were thankfully almost over. The event ended with only a short interruption after the peace, quiet, and mindfulness session resumed. It should be highlighted that one needs to be aware of cultural and social norms. To live in peace with one another and prevent violence in a multicultural society, we must learn to understand one another. Diversity may beautify and balance a community when understanding aligns with the Dhamma.

Despite our differing religious beliefs, as guests, we could continue our religious practices without making our hosts uncomfortable. Everyone has equal rights. The world will be at peace and content if we can build a society where people of different beliefs and worldviews coexist peacefully, respect each other, and honor and value one another.

Muslims in Pakistan, Hindus in Nepal, and Muslims in Nepal have given me food as alms. Respect for one another is necessary. Because of my three-month rain retreat there, the world will see that Pakistan is now a peaceful nation in the Islamic tradition. Terrorist images are vanishing. Pakistan is ready to receive visitors. 

Buddhists can make their pilgrimage to the Buddhist World from 32 different nations.

It was a delightfully joyful first night in the Swat Valley. The environment was ideal for practicing the Buddha’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness. The intermittent light rains refreshed the ground, the forest, the mountains, and the communities. This did not come as a shock. The following day, when we woke up, it started raining in the middle of the night, and we continued visiting the Buddhist World Heritage site and Swat Museum for about half a day. Swat-area locations. 


The Butkara and Saidu Sharif Stupa. Monasteries are worthy of a field trip to honor them. Large and little pagodas from various eras flanked the Sanchi-shaped stupa built by Ashoka. The stupa was restored, and Kanishka of the Kushan dynasty put the Buddha’s remains inside it as a worship site to bring good fortune to his Swat Valley empire. This shows that 200 years after the death of Lord Buddha, Buddhist culture developed here. After the Buddha’s nirvana, Buddhism continued growing until it peaked around the 6th and 7th Buddhist Centuries (600-700 BE). At the time, Kanishka was in charge of all the Northern Buddhist lands, including Gandhara and its environs. Later, he expanded the territory across Jambudvipa, highly reminiscent of Ashoka’s rule.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: What was the purpose of the visit to the Swat Valley in 2022?

Ans: The visit aimed to attend a significant event and honor an invitation from the Aurangzeb family.

Q2: Why was a dispensation for Sattahaya requested?

Ans: A dispensation was requested to receive an official invitation within a specific timeframe, which required leaving the retreat temporarily.

Q3: Who was Miangul Adnan Aurangzeb, and what role did he play in the journey?

Ans: Miangul Adnan Aurangzeb was a key figure who invited the author and played a significant role in the event’s planning.

Q4: What did the author observe about the landscape and cultural aspects of the Swat Valley?

Ans: The Swat Valley resembled the Switzerland of Asia, known for its lush landscapes, mountains, and cultural heritage.

Q5: What is the historical significance of the Shingardara Stupa?

Ans: The Shingardara Stupa holds historical significance as an ancient Buddhist site, showcasing architectural features and reflecting Gandharan Buddhist art.

Q6: How did the author navigate cultural norms and customs during the visit?

Ans: The author respected and adhered to local customs and norms, including gender separation in certain situations.

Q7: What message does the author convey regarding cultural understanding and coexistence?

Ans: The author emphasizes the importance of understanding and respecting cultural diversity to promote peaceful coexistence in multicultural societies.

Q8: What is the significance of preserving Swat Valley’s Buddhist heritage?

Ans: The preservation of Buddhist heritage in the Swat Valley highlights the region’s historical importance in the growth of Buddhism and its architectural contributions.

Q9: How does this journey promote peace and harmony among religious beliefs?

Ans: The journey demonstrates how individuals of different religious beliefs can coexist peacefully and promote tourism, interfaith harmony, and peace.

Q10: What historical figures and events are associated with the Swat Valley’s Buddhist heritage?

Ans: Ashoka’s contributions and Kanishka’s rule are associated with the growth of Buddhism and the construction of significant stupas and monasteries in the region.

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