Information of Charsada, one of the Buddhist sites in Pakistan

Posted on Oct 22 2014 - 1:07pm by visitpak

Potentially one of the most important ancient sites of Asia is represented by a group of imposing mounds at Charsada another Buddhist site, a village in the midst of the Peshawar plain, 18 miles north-east of Peshawar city Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It has the same importance like Sehri Bahlol, Takht Bhai and Shah Ji Ki Dheri. The site has long been identified as that of Puskalavati, the pre-Kushan capital of Gandhara and the principal city on the old trade route from Balkh (Bactra) into India. At Balkh this trade-route tapped the main “silk-route” between China and the West, and Puskalavati was thus in direct contact with Trans Asiatic commerce. By way of the neighbouring Indus valley it was also within easy reach of the Arabian Sea. It was captured in 324 B.C. after a siege of 30 days by the troops of Alexander the Great, and its formal surrender was received by Alexander himself. This Buddhist site also was the famous Buddhist stupa of the Eye-Gift, and Hiuen Tsang in the seventh century A.D. long after Puskalavati had been superseded by the Kushana capital, Purusapura (Peshawar), for administrative purposes, found the city still “well-peopled”. Incidentally, he mentions the presence of an Asoka stupa there.

Today, the Buddhist site is trisected by the streams of the Swat River, which has out its way into the mounds and has removed or damaged a considerable portion of them. The surrounding plain is seamed by the multiple and variable channels of this small river and of the greater Kabul river into which it now flows some 4 miles below the site. Above the mixed cultivation and desert of the plain, the site now assumes the form of four main mounds, the westernmost, known as Bala Hisar or the High Fort, towering above the others to a height of 80 feet. This great mound of Buddhist site, unrivalled of its kind in Pakistan or India, is, nevertheless, a mere fragment and is annually diminishing. The approach was blocked by processions of buffaloes carrying away the freshly quarried debris in panniers for the purpose of top-dressing the neighbouring fields. Suitable action stopped the main bulk of active damage from this cause, but the weathering of the impending cliffs of the “fort” proceeds apace.

It was on the summit of the Bala Hisar that in 1902-3 the Archaeological Survey of India, then recently reconstituted, carried out its first excavation. At the time, vestiges of Durana and Sikh fortifications were still traceable on the surface, extending in date as far back perhaps as the middle of the eighteenth century. To these, the excavator added fragments of a round tower and other walls of uncertain significance and mostly of Muhammadan date, including probable remains of a bath-building. One small group of walls, however, was built in the “diaper” masonry characteristic of the early centuries A.D. in this Buddhist site of Pakistan. The slight plans, as recovered, are of no consequence, and the maximum depth attained was only 20 feet.

Mir Ziyarat, another of the mounds of the Buddhist site, situated a mile north-east of Bala Hisar, was also trenched, and further inchoate Muslim foundations were uncovered and ascribed to a date not later than the end of the twelfth century. Three-quarters of a mile east-south-east of this, two low mounds (Palatu and Chaz dheris) yielded slight Buddhist remains.

Of interest though Buddhist site later phases be, the outstanding importance of Charsada lies in its earlier phases, when this Buddhist site was a metropolitan centre of Asiatic trade and meeting-place of oriental and occidental cultures. To reach these earlier strata is the first goal of the enquirer, and we have at Charsada an easy approach to them. The attacks of man, weather and water have, over a large part of the area of Bala Hisar and its immediate environs, removed the higher strata to a depth of some 40-50 feet. In other words, Sikh and Muslim have alike vanished here, leaving the pre-medieval strata exposed to immediate attack. There, at the eastern foot of the “High Fort”, is the obvious spot for an area-excavation designed to reach the pre-Kushan Puskalavati and to penetrate ultimately, perhaps, to a second Mohenjo-daro at its base. No other site is so likely to yield a complete culture-sequence from the period of the Indus valley civilization, through Vedic times, into the historic period. Set fair and square in the main gateway into the sub-continent, Bala Hisar is itself the gate into more than one of the problems of Pakistan’s past.