The Bhamala Buddhist complex enjoys an important geographical position in the Taxila valley and is one of very few sites to have a cruciform stupa.
Stupas are mound-like Buddhist complexes that contain Buddhist relics. They are used as places of meditation. The cruciform stupa is cross-shaped and is usually built and reserved for Buddha himself or for a chakravartin: a great and wise Buddhist man.
Abdul Hameed, lecturer of archeology at Hazara University in Mansehra district, says archeological excavations began in the area in 1930 by a British archeologist named John Marshall.
According to Abdul Hameed, the latest excavation unearthed a main stupa surrounded by votive stupas – a type of stupa constructed to gain spiritual benefits according to Buddhist beliefs – as well as some chapels and a monastery complex to the east of the main stupa.
The excavation was conducted under the supervision of archeologists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (U.S.), Baroda University of India, the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums of KP, in addition to the archaeology department at Hazara University.
Discovering Buddha’s Death Scene
“During the joint venture, some other parts of the monastic complex have been exposed and the death scene of the 14-meter-tall Buddha was discovered. Now it’s the largest sculpture of Buddha in South Asia,” says Abdul Hameed, who worked as a field director with the Directorate of Archeology and Museums of KP during the excavation.
The Pakistani archeologist told OnIslam that the parinirvana (death scene of Buddha) found in Bhamala is the largest sculpture in the world made from kanjur stone.
He says that the pieces of this huge sculpture include the right leg of the Buddha and a portion of his left leg covered with drapery, in addition to the feet and shoulders.
“The statue was placed facing the east. The upper side of the left leg and the arms were found damaged to the east of the sculpture due to unknown reasons. The death scene of Buddha in stucco is now on display in the museum of Taxila city, Punjab province,” he says.
Abdul Hameed explained that after Marshall’s initial excavations, no major works were carried out at Bhamala until now.
The recent excavation aimed to expose the remaining portions of the site and to reconfirm that it dates back to the 7th century AD.
Priceless Artifacts Found
During the current excavation, about 510 antiquities, including terracotta sculptures, have been unearthed.
Among the items discovered were iron nails, hooks, door fittings and hairclips. The excavations also uncovered 14 copper coins belonging to the 3rdcentury AD Kushan Empire.
Balqees Durrani, an archeologist at Peshawar Museum, explained that a cruciform stupa was found behind the death scene of Buddha during the recent excavations.
Bhamal’s cruciform stupa is unique, she says, because all the other stupas belonging to the ancient Ghandara Kingdom all the way up to present day Peshawar are mostly square in shape.
“Nine chapels were exposed during the current investigation. In the newly excavated chapels, the images of Buddha are provided with double halos, which are very unique and don’t exist in the rest of the Buddhist sites of ancient Gandhara,” Durrani explains.
The Pakistani female archeologist said that such successful excavations of ancient sites show the rich heritage of Pakistan and the KP province in particular.
“We have similar sites in different areas of KP that belong to Ghandara and similar ancient kingdoms. If the Pakistani government showed further interest in excavating and exploring more of these historical sites, tourists and archeologists from all over the world will certainly visit these historical landmarks and the Pakistan will easily generate huge revenue,” she says.
Large, Rare Statue Portraying the Death of Buddha Unearthed at Ancient Bahmala Stupa Site
Two rare and ancient Buddha statues have been unearthed at the Bhamala Stupa site in Pakistan. The largest ever statue found at the site depicts the death of ancient sage Buddha. A second statue unearthed is a Buddha with a double halo, the first of this type to be found at Bhamala Stupa.
The team of archaeologists with the Department of Archaeology and Museums in Pakistan found these artifacts and 510 others at the Bhamala Stupa archaeological complex, a UNESCO Heritage site.
Dr. Abdul Samad, director of the Department of Archaeology, Hazara University says of the artifacts, “This is one of the few sites in the world to have the cruciform Stupa which was reserved for Buddha himself.”
The stupa monument at Bhamala. Stupas are mounded spiritual sites, usually containing Buddhist relics. Muhammad Zahir/Wikimedia Commons
The 14-meter (46 feet) long statue of the dying Buddha is the largest known from the Gandhara civilization. It rests on a 15-meter (49 feet) platform, and portrays a scene known as Mahaparinirvana, said to be the moment Buddha’s consciousness left his body and he died.
Sanskrit palm leaf manuscript illustrating the Buddha’s entry into Parinirvana. Artwork created circa 700-1100 CE. Public Domain
The death scene of the Buddha is a significant moment in the Buddhist religion, represented in art and literature.
News site The Asahi Shimbun reports that a scroll depicting Buddha's death is being exhibited in Kyoto during this year's memorial service to commemorate Buddha’s passing. The large and elaborate vertical scroll dates to the 15th century and is 12 meters by 6 meters (39 feet by 19 feet) in size.
The Asahi Shimbun writes, “It was created by painter and monk Mincho (1352-1431) in the early Muromachi Period (1338-1573), and is one of the largest ‘nehanzu’ (paintings of Buddha's death) in Japan.
The painting depicts the dying Buddha with his head facing west as he is surrounded by mourning disciples and animals. A cat is depicted at the bottom of the picture grieving Buddha’s death, a rare feature in a nehanzu painting.”
“Gautama the Buddha is the founder of Buddhism, a religion with around 300 million adherents, and is seen as a master and teacher even today,” writes Digital Journal.
The Bhamala Stupa site in Pakistan has revealed a wealth of history and treasure dating back thousands of years. Other excavations have uncovered hundreds of “terracotta artifacts, stucco sculptures, architectural elements, copper coins, iron nails, door sittings, pottery and 14 coins from the Kushan era,” reports The Express Tribune.
The site is believed to date back 2,000 years, and pending laboratory tests on recent finds, it may be even older. Clay Buddha heads unearthed at the site this year might date back to the 3rd century A.D.
Unfortunately, some of the discoveries have suffered damage due to illegal excavations and looting over the years.
Samad notes, “The statue of Buddha's head is however missing, and may have been looted. “Other parts of the statue such as the left leg and arms were also found in a damaged condition.”
Excavations continue at the Bhamala Stupa – ancient site filled with long-hidden historical and spiritual treasures.
Hazara University Archaeologist - Dr. Muhammad Zahir - excavating at Bhamala Site in February 2013. Muhammad Zahir/Wikimedia Commons
Damaged stucco sculptures of Buddha at Bhamala. Credit: K-P Directorate of Archaeology & Museums
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