Sunday May 26, 2024

Gandhara dreams

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
July 15, 2023

Today, I can count myself among the few luckiest people in the world who have seen their dream come true in their own lifetime. Honourable Buddhist monks from Thailand, Nepal, Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Korea, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia and other Buddhist majority countries have been with me for the last few days when their flights landed at Islamabad International Airport to join the first-ever international Gandhara Symposium, organized by the Prime Minister’s Taskforce on Gandhara Tourism with the collaboration of like-minded think tanks, organizations and individuals.

While visiting the ancient Gandhara site of Takht-e-Bahi Mardan accompanied by international Buddhist monks, I felt as though I were dreaming with waking eyes, and when my eyes would open, these desolate ruins would be seen lamenting their glorious past. However, the dream I had of promoting faith tourism in order to highlight a positive image of the country in front of the international community is finally becoming a reality.

Earlier, I led the delegation of Buddhist monks, ambassadors and media persons to visit the ancient Dharmarajika Stupa, located in the modern-day Taxila and ancient city of Takshashila, the great academic center of Gandhara era. The first university in known human history was also established here, and the legendary great philosopher Kautilya Chanakya used to teach wisdom two and a half thousand years ago. His books, titled ‘Artha Shastra’ and ‘Chanakya Niti’, are number one in popularity even in the 21st century. Due to the significance of the ancient city of Taxila, the Prime Minister's Taskforce on Gandhara Tourism has also drafted a declaration, which was shared with the conference delegates and ambassadors. I am sure that this humble effort will always be remembered in history as the Takshashila Declaration.

The international delegates took great interest while visiting the Taxila Museum and Peshawar Museum. According to most of the monks with whom I interacted, they had read about and listened to so much about Gandhara but it is the first time they are visiting Pakistan. They wanted to share good memories about Pakistan and Pakistani people with their own people after returning to their native countries.

Last month during my visit to Takht-e-Bahi under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Taskforce on Gandhara Tourism, I had expressed my desire to lead a delegation of Buddhist pilgrims there. At the time, it looked quite impossible that Buddhist monks from different countries of the world would be able to visit Pakistan. However, I categorically stated on the occasion that: ‘When there is a will, there is a way’.

I believe every nation and country has a dream to move forward. Abraham Lincoln gave his nation the American Dream to become a superpower. Similarly, the Chinese Dream was introduced by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Our elders also dreamed of a sovereign and independent state which was fulfilled under the visionary leadership of Quaid-e-Azam. The founder of Pakistan also made his dream clear in his speech on 11th of August, 1947 – that he wanted to transform Pakistan into an ideal role model state where everyone will have the freedom to go to mosque or temple or whatever their places of worship are.

Being a patriotic Pakistani citizen, my dream is to see my beloved country in the list of developed, peaceful and prosperous countries. With this ‘Gandhara Dream’, I also set clear goals for myself. I believe that the great Gandhara civilization flourishing on our land hundreds of years ago is a unique ancient civilization of the world. Each stone, each ruin, each corner tells an untold story. The heritage of Gandhara contains a lot of mystery, which needs to be explored in the modern era.

Undoubtedly, pilgrimage to the holy sites of Gandhara is the dream of every Buddhist in the world, and therefore we should take concrete steps to facilitate international tourists in this regard.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council. He tweets @RVankwani