Kanishka’s Stupa or Shah Ji Ki Dheri, Buddhist Sites in Pakistan

Posted on Oct 20 2014 - 3:08pm by visitpak

Let us introduce you few Buddhist Sites in Pakistan. In the south-eastern outskirts of Peshawar, near the Ganj Gate, stood the mighty stupa, the most famous of its kind, that commemorated the conversion of King Kanishka to Buddhism at this spot. Today the great building is merely a heap of dust and rubble, but according to the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang, who came to these Buddhist Sites in A.D. 630, it towered above a base built in five stages to a total height of 550 feet, with a superstructure of 25 gilded copper discs. This immense tower followed, or more probably established, the tall form known to have characterized the stupas or pagodas of later Buddhism. The site was excavated in 1908-09, and the lowest of the basal stages was identified as a square of 182 feet with oblong projections, presumably for stairs, on each side and with circular projections, possibly for small stupas, at the corners. The walls were of stone “diaper” masonry, and retained traces of stucco decoration consisting of standing Buddhas between pilasters. A remarkable discovery amongst the debris was that of fragmentary bricks bearing incised Kharoshthi lettering under a thin coating of coarse glaze, “thus giving us proof of the use of glazing at a date much earlier than has hitherto been known” Buddhist sites in Pakistan.

In the centre of this Buddhist Site in Pakistan, amidst the massive radiating walls which formed the structural framework of the stupa, the excavators found a roughly constructed relic-chamber, in a corner of which stood a small cylindrical vessel the now – famous “Kanishka” casket – made of a copper alloy. On the lid are tiny figures in the round of a seated Buddha flanked by two Bodhisattvas. In relief round the upper part of the cylinder is a frieze of flying geese; below is the main frieze with a figure of King Kanishka standing in front of an imdulating garland supported by erotes and framing demi-figures of votaries.  On the lid and sides is a punctured inscription in Kharoshthi which twice mentions the name of Kanishka and concludes with the name of the master-mason: “the servant Agisala, the overseer of works at Kanishka’s Vihara in the Sangharama of Mahasena”. Agisala is the Greek name Agesilas, and, having regard to the contacts of the Kushana Empire with the West and the recorded fame of Western craftsmen in the orient, it is not surprising to find the Turkoman kings employing a Yavana overseer. Doubt has, however, been expressed as to whether the beardless Kanishka here represented can really be the burly, bearded empire-builder of that name, or whether a later Kanishka (II or III ?), dating from a period when the beard was less in fashion, is not rather intended. It would, indeed, seem gratuitous to separate the name of the reliquary from the great Kanishka whom tradition so firmly associated with the monument which contained it, and the beardless figure of the king may be a deliberate attempt to indicate his youth at the time of conversion. Furthermore about the Buddhit sites, as if to emphasize association with the first Kanishka, a copper coin of that king lay beside the reliquary.

Within the copper reliquary lay a six-sided crystal container with remains of its former clay sealing, preserving traces of an elephant device. In the container were three fragments of bone, doubtless relics of the Buddha. The reliquary Buddhist Sites in Pakistan are the treasures of the Peshawar Museum.

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