Monday July 22, 2024

Marvellous Swat

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
June 16, 2023

It is wonderful to write my weekly article while being present in the beautiful valley of Swat, which is also called the Switzerland of Pakistan. Located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), it has always been the centre of attraction for tourists across the globe due to its natural beauty and scenic views.

I think Swat is also a significantly attractive destination because of its thousands of years old ancient rich heritage. In Sanskrit, its ancient name was Udyana which means ‘garden’. In our religious book Rig Veda, Swat River is referred to as Suvastu, which means the ‘river of clear blue waters’.

Undoubtedly, the Swat Valley is one the most important centres of the Gandhara civilization. It is believed that there are about 400 Buddhist historical sites scattered in the valley.

This is why, I – in my capacity as the chairperson of the PM’s taskforce on Gandhara tourism – have selected the ancient Swat Valley to explore the remnants of the Gandhara civilization and sacred Buddhist sites. Diplomats from Germany and Nepal, civil society, students and media representatives are also part of my delegation during this weekly tour.

I am grateful to the KP government for its cordial cooperation and excellent hospitality to make this visit a success. We are overwhelmed by the enthusiasm with which the local police and security personnel welcomed our delegation as we entered the Swat Valley.

The first spot that we visited was the archaeological remains of Barikot. The historic site of Bazira has many remnants of the Gandhara era. It is the same place where Alexander the Great got engaged in a horrific war.

During our two-day tour, we also visited several other sites, including the Shingardar Stupa, Butkara Stupa, Swat Museum and the ruins of an ancient temple discovered recently.

Buddhists from all over the world have spiritual devotion to the Gandhara period’s archaeology and holy places in Swat. Religiously, the valley is a sacred land in the eyes of Buddhists. They believe that Buddhism emerged from the sacred land of Swat.

For the past few years, various groups of Buddhist monks from Thailand, Korea, Sri Lanka and other Buddhist-majority countries have started pilgrimage to the holy places of Buddhism located in Swat.

There is a rock-carving Buddha statue, known as the Buddha of Swat, which is said to be the second largest in the region. The 13ft-tall and 9ft-wide Buddha statue is carved in the centre of the yellow rock in the foothills of the Himalayas. According to Buddhists, Gautama Buddha used to come to worship on the rocks of Swat and soon after his departure, the statue appeared on the rock by itself.

Ram Takht, one of the holy places in Hinduism, is situated on the top of Mount Elum, one of the highest peaks in the region and covered with snow for most of the year. Also known as Jogyano Sar, it is a sacred site where Ram Chandra spent some time of his 14-year banvas in forests. Due to its religious significance, Hindu pilgrims used to celebrate Sawan Sangran festival regularly before Partition.

A few years ago, the 1300-year-old archaeological remains of the Vishnu temple related to the Gandhara civilization were also discovered which shows deep roots of Hinduism in the valley.

I think the Gandhara civilization is a role model of peace and tolerance. It is a symbol of love, brotherhood and co-existence. However, it is quite unfortunate that some extremist elements have targeted the sacred sites in the past. The contributions of Italian archaeological missions to preserve the heritage in Swat are also remarkable.

International tourists, especially the Buddhists who are devoted to the Gandhara civilization, are very much interested in visiting Pakistan. There is a dire need to promote faith tourism in letter and spirit, through which we can not only improve the global image of our beloved country but also strengthen our national economy.

The writer is a member of the

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

He tweets @RVankwani