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A day at Takshasila
By R. RAJAMANI
Date: 18-01-1998 :: Pg: 26 :: Col: a - The Hindu

( Taxila, stood on the banks of the river Vitasa in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. Panini, the great Sanskrit grammarian, Charaka, the author of famous treatise on medicine, and Chanakya, writer of Artha Shastra -- these august names are assosiated with Taxila. Promising minds from far flung regions converged there to study the Vedas and all branches of secular knowledge)

R. RAJAMANI was at Taxila recently and the visit proved that it is the place school text books have portrayed - sentinel and a trade post at the foot of the Hindukush Himalayas. But what struck him most was the way this heritage site was preserved.

TAKSHASILA or Taxila, as the Greeks called it over 2,000 years ago, was at one of the entrances to the splendour that was India. Its antiquity is rooted both in mythological texts like the Ramayana and the other puranas, as well as in firm historical evidence relating to the post-Harappan and late Aryan period. It stood both like a sentinel and a trade post at the foot of the Hindukush Himalayas ranking in importance and access point to the invader of the subcontinent only next to Purushapura or Peshawar. It has seen so much of our ancient history that one considered it a privilege to visit the place recently, courtesy of Pakistani friends hosting a meeting this writer was attending.

Taxila is all that the school textbooks have told us about. It was an outlet westward for overland trade before the Mauryan Empire. But early records of trade and access to India through this outpost is found in records of the period before 530 B.C., when the Achaemenid emperor of Persia, Cyrus, crossed the Hindukush mountains. More lucid accounts are available from the fourth and third Century B.C. thanks to the Greeks, and mainly Herodotus. Buddhism and the Gandharas held sway over Taxila and this combination remained undisturbed for some time inspite of the invasions by Persians and later the Greeks. Alexander's entry in 327 B.C., was through this town and the Greek influence was felt profoundly thereafter in town planning, buildings, religious places, the arts, dresses, martial training, coinage etc., of Taxila. Then followed the Mauryan reign which temporarily filled the vacuum created by Alexander's return. This was a golden period which saw the laying of a highway from Taxila to Pataliputra (which was to shine in later days as the Grand Trunk Road). But no border post can remain tranquil for long and Taxila took a heavy share of the repeated invasions and conquests by the Bactrian Greeks, the Shakas, the Kushans, the Sassanians, etc. It had its share of glory as the capital city of the Gandharas.

But political developments apart, it is the secular absorption of cultures in the various forms of art including the planning of human settlements and in house building as well as in being a crucible for international overland trading that Taxila became well-known. The connections with Greece, Iran and Afghanistan on the West and the rest of the subcontinent to the East extending right upto Pataliputra saw the burgeoning of trade in Taxila which steadily became heavily urbanised. It was the collection point from various parts of various handicrafts and commodities. Precious stones like turquoise and lapis lazuli came from the West and silk from China via Central Asia. Scholarship came from the Buddhist monks and their viharas, stupas and monasteries.

This then was the Taxila we set out to see after over 20 centuries. The excavations carried out in the earlier part of this century are well preserved. The township is a marvel of the concepts of human settlements incorporating wide roads for chariots to pass, individual houses with masonry walls, places for worship and common meetings etc. The undulating terrain and the magnificent backdrop of the hills combined to make one feel that there was a definite concept of the beauty on the whole while planning the individual areas. There were individual house plots having their own religious area and small stupas. One of them had three small doorways, each carved in a different style. The influences of Persian, Greek, Buddhist and Hindu origin were seen. Even the legendary double-headed eagle of Western origin was observed in one of the enclosures. Truly, it was and hopefully is, a confluence of cultures which has rubbed off on the whole of this subcontinent for eons.

The visit to the Buddhist stupa and monastery site was equally pleasing and rewarding. Access was not as smooth as in the case of the township excavations but the walk to and fro was made joyous by seeing hundreds of schoolchildren from schools in Pakistan coming to see this bit of ancient history. We had an able guide who was quite accurate and interesting in the accounts he gave us. It was heartwarming to see that this heritage is treated with respect and preserved as well as it can be, in the circumstances. The preservation is of the same quality as one noticed in other ruins in India like Lothal.

At the Buddhist stupa site, the stupas were covered by overlays of mud and grass but the entrances and base showed evidence of the stucco embellishments. In the monastery area, one could not help noticing the incipient spiritual vibrations noticed in most places where holy men and women have lived, studied, meditated and laid to rest. There was tranquillity in our minds as we walked around silently and retreated to the unheard yet vivid strains of buddham saranam and sangam saranam gacchami.

The visit to the Taxila museum was the highlight. The rich treasures from the excavations dating to the different periods of history have been faithfully collected, stored and preserved. Specimens of Gandhara art with Greco-Persian influence abound here. Stone and stucco images of the Buddha, intricate pieces of jewellery with embedded stones of precious quality, Aramaic inscriptions, the utensils and implements of the era, images showing the way men wore robes or women wore their lovely tresses - these and more treasures gave an authentic and exhilarating peep into the past. The pleasing ambience of the setting of the museum among stately trees and the allowances to solitude, uninterrupted by the unwanted or raucous attention of vendors and tourist operators, ensured that we carried back to our hotel the most pleasant of memories of our combined legacy.

 

 

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