The discovery of a long lasting Buddhist center in Swat

The Bazira Barikot Escavations

Bazira (Old Indian: Vajira): citadel in the vallet of the river Swat, captured by Alexander the Great, modern Barikot in Pakistan.

In the spring of 326 BCE, Alexander the Great conquered the beautiful valley of the river Swat.

Dr Luca Maria Olivieri:

“During the first wave of Buddhism’s spread in Gandhara, around the 3rd century BC, in the era of Ashoka, ( c. 304 – 232 BCE), the monument underwent significant transformations,” he said. He said that the celebrated inscriptions by Ashoka on the boulders of Mansehra and Shahbaz-Garhi and Dharmarajika Stupa of Butkara, spoke volumes about widespread promotion of Buddhism in Ashoka’s time. It was the period when the pre-Buddhist shrine of Bazira was converted into a Buddhist temple, he added.

Archaeologist says it also offers a rare glimpse into Gandhara’s religious and architectural evolution

He said that archaeological evidence also pointed to the construction of an Indian-style stupa just outside the temple entrance during that period.

“The interior of the temple, particularly the central cell, underwent modifications during this phase. Though the specific purpose of the cell remains ambiguous, it was an important place of worship. Terracotta figurines and remnants of incense burners discovered on-site emphasise its importance as a cultic space,” said Dr Luca.

He said that further alterations were introduced by the Indo-Greeks, who constructed an enclosure around the temple, a walk-able corridor. Notably, the Odiraja rulers, in the mid-1st century BC, added a vault to the enclosure. “The circular cell within this complex structure housed a stupa, a focal point of reverence that endured until the monument’s later stages,” he said.

Dr Luca said that the corridor surrounding the circular cell was filled in a final chapter of modifications during the late Odiraja or early Kushan period (around 70-90 AD). “A podium was erected, crowned by a new raised circular cell adorned with a distinctive round vegetal roof, constructed around the same stupa built at the Odiraja’s times. A staircase featuring inscribed steps made ‘in honour of the father and mother, in honour of all Buddhas’ provided access to the podium,” he said.

The archaeologist said that radiocarbon dating substantiated the chronological timeline of those transformations. The monument, now identified as a Buddhist sacred space, remained in use with various adaptations until the 4th century AD.


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