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Tuesday June 18, 2024

The Buddha caves

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
June 02, 2023

Being the chairman of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Gandhara Tourism, I have visited the historical Buddha ‘s Caves located at the Shah Allah Ditta town of Islamabad as my top priority. I am grateful to the ambassadors of Thailand and Indonesia, civil society and media representatives who accompanied the task force on this commemorative occasion.

Islamabad, the federal capital of Pakistan, is considered a modern and relatively new city. However, this area known as Raj Shahi in ancient times is historically as old as human history. Evidence of the presence of Hinduism and Buddhism can be found at the Buddha Caves located at the ancient town of Shah Allah Ditta near Sector D-12. It also tells the long-forgotten story of a Hindu Sadhu’s garden before the partition of the Subcontinent.

On the other side of the Buddha Caves surrounded by thousands of years old dense trees adjacent to the Margalla Hills is the historical ancient area of Taxila, just 5 KM away, which was once the centre of the Gandhara civilization. A stupa attributed to Gautama Buddha has also been discovered near the caves.

During the thousands of years of history, numerous Buddhist and Hindu saints had performed worship here. Kautilya Chanakya, the great philosopher of ancient Taxila, also spent time here. According to Hindu traditions, Shiva also visited these caves on his way to Katas Raj. Similarly, Rama, his spouse Sita and his younger brother Lakshmana also stayed in these caves for some time during exile of 14 years. Unfortunately, the ancient image of Shiva that was on the eastern side of the caves was no longer found.

During the reign of Ashoka the Great, Taxila was a modern and knowledgeable city of its time. Every caravan going to Taxila used to stop in these caves. The water springs quenched their thirst and these caves surrounded by trees provided a shelter for rest. Historically, these caves were also a temporary inn for trade convoys going from India to Central Asia, China, the Middle East and other regions of the world. However, after the construction of the GT Road attributed to the Afghan ruler Sher Shah Suri, this ancient route gradually became obsolete.

During my visit to the Buddha Caves, I was told by locals that the ancient town of Shahullah Ditta was once a cradle of religious harmony. During the Mughal era, a Muslim saint named Shah Allah Ditta stayed in this area until his last breath; his shrine is located here. Today, the entire town is named after the righteous saint. There is also an ancient well built by Sher Shah Suri.

Before the creation of Pakistan, various Hindu families lived in the town of Shah Allah Dutta; they used to take care of these caves regularly. When the Hindu community migrated from here after Partition, Sadhu’s garden, the Buddha caves and about 856 kanals of land came under the custody of the ETPB. According to laws, any construction within two hundred feet of these caves is prohibited and violation can be punishable by up to three years. However, land mafias are so rapidly encroaching on the historic heritage of Gandhara civilization that currently only eight kanals of land is left.During my visit, I learnt that so many baseless and fabricated stories are attributed to the holy caves. Some say that scary noises are heard from here at night whereas some see mysterious shadows walking inside the caves. I believe that these holy caves of Buddha, where pious devotees of every religion have preached and served humanity, can never be possessed by demons. It is not a haunted site but a holy place of worship.

It is now my sincere wish to see Buddhist tourists worshiping in these Buddha Caves and the ancient town of Shah Allah Ditta once again emerging as a symbol of religious harmony. The arrival of international tourists will also bring prosperity and development in the area.

The writer is a member of the

National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

He tweets @RVankwani