Looks like our last ATP Quiz has turned out to be a bit tough for readers as very few came close to guessing correctly. Let me just give you the answer.
The votary stupa that you are seeing above (left picture) was carved some thousand years back and often referred as ‘Chilas Stupa’. It used to be there on a rock in the Northern areas just outside the small town of Chilas. Once in its original shape, it was famous for its fine flowing banners.
Unfortunately between August-November 2001, sometime before the 2002 elections and right after the US attack in Afghanistan, some extremist elements decided to white wash it and put name of their political candidate. The idea was to take revenge of US bombing in Afghanistan. Strange but true. The pictures above shows a comparison how it looked before and after the damage.
This is just one example of the damage being done to Pakistan’s rich non-Muslim heritage and art treasures, particularly since 2001. We have been writing about the threats and damage being done to the non-Muslim heritage of Pakistan and I wrote about Takht-i-Bahi a while ago. Takht-i-Bahi is way too famous and also in UN heritage list so government intervened in time and it was saved. The Chilas Stupa has not been that lucky. Recently, we also saw on news channels how several attempts were made to blow up an ancient Buddhist Stupa in Swat.
This has been happening in NWFP in particular for sometime now and we don’t have any idea how many ancient stupas and other symbols of high archaeological value have already been destroyed. There are hundreds of thousands of petroglyphs left by travellers and Buddhist pilgrims as they were passing through the Northern areas of Pakistan making their way along the treacherous mountain trail that today is followed by the Karakorum Highway – the same route was walked by Tripitaka (of ‘Monkey’ fame) on his way to collect scriptures from Ghandhara (today Texila) The largest and finest collection of carvings found in nearby town of Shattila also remains at high risk.
All this art treasure of Pakistan, specially the Buddhist heritage in NWFP, is in great danger of destruction today from the hands of extremist elements. I would not call them ‘Taliban’ because it means students. And this is definitely not being done by ‘students’ who are supposed to seek knowledge and not destroy it. For these people, the treasures are either blasphemous or meaningless.
The only thing which can protect Pakistan’s Buddhist heritage in NWFP from total destruction is more education, awareness and government and non-government institution’s attention and support. Although a lot of damage has already been made but serious and collective efforts are needed to protect the ancient Buddhist art treasures and heritage of Pakistan. Otherwise, time is not far that we will only find these in our history books. Any workable ideas?