A Walk Through Taxila

The ancient remains in Pakistan represent a glimpse into the history of two of India’s major religions

Reflections in Taxila Pakistan
In 1980, Taxila was named by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, for not only of its architecture and statues, but also in recognition of the many different cultures that influenced its development. Ria Misra

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Reflections in Taxila Pakistan
(Maura McCarthy)
In 1980, the ancient city of Taxila was named a UNESCO World Heritage site for its architecture and statues, and for the many different cultures that influenced its development. The ruins of numerous Buddhist complexes, showing Persian, Greek and Central Asian influences, can be seen at the site.

Note: Reporting for this piece was funded by a grant from the South Asian Journalists Association

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Remains of the Buddha
(Maura McCarthy)
This niche once housed one of the earliest depictions of the Buddha in Taxila (only an impression of the statue remains). It was soon followed by others, and today Taxila is known as much for its numerous Buddha statues as for its Buddhist monasteries and temples.

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Jain Pillars in Sirkap
(Maura McCarthy)
Like other areas of Taxila, nearby Sirkap, an ancient fortified city built between the second century B.C. and the second century A.D. across the Tamra Nala river, has a strong Indo-Greek influence, and many of its structures were used as places of worship to the Jain. While most religious artifacts in the area are Buddhist, other religions, like Jain, whose monks lived at this site, also left their mark, including these Jain pillars.

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Monkeys supporting Jain Temple Pakistan
(Maura McCarthy)
Jain legend posits that disobedient followers were once turned into monkeys and then made to hold up this centuries-old Jain temple in Taxila.

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Three eras of Taxila
(Maura McCarthy)
“What is really interesting in Taxila valley is the relationship between Buddhist complexes and the metropolitan centers,” says archaeologist Luca Maria Olivieri, who has excavated there. Oliveri credits the Buddhist complexes in Taxila with influencing not only religious life in the region, but also agriculture and trade.

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Walking through Sirkap
(Maura McCarthy)
During the first century A.D., Greek philosopher Apollonious of Tyana wrote of Sirkap: “I have already described the way in which the city is walled, but they say that it was divided up into narrow streets in the same irregular manner as in Athens, and that the houses were built in such a way that if you look at them from outside they had only one story, while if you went into one of them, you at once found subterranean chambers extending as far below the level of the earth as did the chambers above.” While trade and agriculture were important draws to the area, as Taxila grew, it also became an increasingly popular education center, attracting students who wanted to study in the monasteries and religious centers in Sirkap.

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Protected Buddhist Pila
(Maura McCarthy)
A row of seated Buddhas adorn this pillar in the Mohra Muradu area of Taxila. The pillar was placed in the main monastery of Mohra Muradu and now lives behind a protected wall within the remains.

Throughout the centuries, many of the artifacts of Taxila have been stolen by rogue traders, so most of the land’s most valuable findings are now housed in the Taxila museum. Because this particular stupa (a Buddhist place of worship) is protected, it is one of the best-preserved representations of the Buddha still on its original site on Taxila’s grounds.

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Many sizes of Buddha
(Maura McCarthy)
The bodies of these statues of bodhisattva (followers of the Buddha who also attained enlightenment) in Mohra Muradu remain in their original position among the remains of a Buddhist monastery and stupa. The heads were removed and are now in the Taxila musueum.

While much of the architecture and statues in Taxila remain in their original spots, in recent years there has been a move to remove all or parts of the statues to protect them against the advances of time and hostilities in the region.