ArchaeologyHistory

Sindhi monks had attended 2nd and 3rd Buddhist councils in 278 and 253 B.C.

For more than half a millennium, from 3rd to 8th century B. C.E., Buddhism remained a dominant religion in Sindh.

The stupas in Sindh are either hemispherical, semi-rectangular heaps and cylindrical in the shape of towers. The structures of the stupas are quite different from the stone-made stupas of mainland Gandhara. The statues of Buddha, excavated from archaeological sites in Sindh are also culturally distinct from the Greco-Buddhist art of Swat, Peshawar and Taxila Valleys.

DR. NADEEM OMAR TARAR

Pakistan is a young country, yet it is a land of ancient civilizations, comparable in antiquity to the Egyptian and Sumerian. Buddhism is one of those world religions that have spawned an ancient civilization, whose footprints are spread all over Pakistan. From the hilltops of Kashmir to the valleys of Swat and Peshawar, from the plains of Taxila to the deserts of Sindh and Balochistan, the surviving masterpieces of Buddhist art, archaeology and architecture, standing on the sites, or housed in the museums, still hold their grandeur despite centuries of natural degradation and man-made destruction.

Sindh and Makran have been an integral part of Maurya Empire, as a Buddhiya country since the times of Ashoka in 3rd century B.C.E. For more than half a millennium, from 3rd to 8th century C.E., Buddhism remained a dominant religion in Sindh. As an evidence of thriving Buddhism, Sindhi monks had attended the second and third Buddhist councils held in 278 B.C.E. and 253 B.C.E. to settle the doctrinal and monastic issues. In the history of Buddhism, the Rai Dynasty (524-632 century C.E.) is reckoned as a major political force, which originating from Sindh, ruled much of the Northwestern regions of the Indian subcontinent at the height of its power. Known in history as the chief patron of Buddhism in Sindh, the Rai dynasty was largely responsible for the establishment of monasteries and stupas found in Sindh.

Kahu Jo Daro
Kahu Jo Daro in Mirpur Khas, Sindh

The stupas in Sindh are either hemispherical, semi-rectangular heaps and cylindrical in the shape of towers. Not only are the structures of the stupas quite different from the stone made stupas of mainland Gandhara, but also the statues of Buddha, excavated from archaeological sites in Sindh are culturally distinct from the Greco-Buddhist art of Swat, Peshawar and Taxila Valleys. At a time in the 7th century, when Buddhism in Gandhara was in decline, as the Chinese traveler to India Hiuen Tsang reported the ruins of monasteries and stupas in Gandhara; Buddhism in Sindh was growing steadily. Hiuen Tsang, who also travelled through Sindh in 642 AD, noted over 10,000 Buddhist monks living in several hundred monasteries belonging to Mahayana Buddhism.

It was during the Brahman dynasty, which followed the Buddhist rule in Sindh, that the Umayyad Caliphate sent the Arab army under General Muhammad bin Qasim to annex Sindh in 711-12 C.E. The Buddhist population of Sindh wholeheartedly supported the Muslims and some towns like Lasbela, Hyderabad, Sehwan, and Larkana were brought under the Arab control through peace treaties without shedding a drop of blood.  However, the cities that resisted the Arab invasion were captured by force, causing considerable causalities on both sides. It includes towns like Debal near Karachi, Alwar, Brahmanabad, Multan and others, where large-scale massacre of the vanquished took place. Sindh became a part of the vastly expanding trade empires of Muslims under Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphate. Brahmanabad, Aror (now known as Sukkur) and Multan and Sindh became a part of the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates.

The Buddhists and Hindus were given the status of protected subjects called Dhimmi. As long as they remained loyal to the Umayyad caliph and paid the poll tax, they were allowed to follow their faiths and keep their land and property. The acts of forced conversion of religion or the destruction of the stupas and monasteries were strictly forbidden under the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam, which ruled the Arab courts. It is a little known curious fact of history that Brahmin Prime Minister of Raja Dahar was installed as the Prime Minister of Arab General Qasim and several Hindu chieftains, whose principalities were guaranteed and who became the ally and councilor of the General.

Rukan Jo Thalho
Rukan Jo Thalho – A Buddhist Stupa near Daulatpur in Nawabshah 9Shaheed Benazirabad) district

However, under the two hundred years of Arab rule in Sindh, the Buddhist population gradually assimilated into the Muslim culture. Many Buddhist merchants, traders and artisans voluntarily converted to Islam. As competition arose from Muslim quarters, they saw an economic advantage in changing religions. By the time, when Al-Biruni, the famous historian of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, visited Sindh in the 10th century, he was unable to locate any Buddhist informant for his encyclopedia on Indian religions!

The illustrious history of Buddhism in Sindh province can be traced through the archaeological remains of the monasteries and stupas, which were built around 500-700 centuries C.E. One of the most famous of Buddhist heritage of Sindh is the stupa of Mohenjo-daro which has acquired an iconic status for Buddhist heritage of Pakistan. The other surviving sites and monuments include the following: Brahmnabad at Sanghar, Siraj-ji-Takri at Khairpur, Kahu-Jo-Darro at Mirpur Khas, Sudheran Jo Thul at Hyderabad, Thul Hairo Khan, and Bhaleel Shah Thul at Dadu, Thul Mir Rukan at Nawabshah, and Kot Bambhan Thul at Tando Muhammad Khan. The artifacts excavated from the archaeological sites in Sindh are housed in the following museums: The National Museum Karachi, Mohenjo-daro Museum, Larkana, Archaeological Museum Umerkot and Sindh Museum, Hyderabad, among others.

[Excerpts from the article ‘The Road Less Traveled: The Buddhist Religious Tourism of Pakistan’]

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The writer is an anthropologist working for the Center for Culture and Development (C2D), Islamabad. He is also the Vice President of Council of Social Sciences Pakistan.

Courtesy: Hilal

 

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