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Tracing Buddhist roots in Chitral – 2

AM Khan

Why and how Buddhist rock carvings survived

When this question is posed, ie how the Buddhist stone carvings survived from far past amidst such an insensitive and uneducated people of Chitral, the most probable answers might be that these rocks were away from human and animal access, safe from floods and any other type of natural disasters and the topic is concluded.

But the dominant reason which has kept the Buddhist rock carvings safe is ‘the myth’ of their being “sacred.” These rocks were certainly sacred for the followers of Buddhists; they visited them and would offer their adoration to them. The locals looking at the respect, adoration and exaltation of the Buddhists continued to believe that these rocks had something which brought such adoration!

Inspired from Buddhist pilgrims with the passage of time, locals also believed them to be “sacred rocks.” When this writer asked Gul Nayab, who has his house few meters away from a carved rock in Charun, he said: “We have seen it paying. By making dough rolled and pressing on this rock and giving it to cows mixed with fodder it happened to be very effective in making the cows give more milk.” 

An elder woman in a nearby hamlet added that many people from other areas from time to time visited this place, particularly from Kuragh, to get comfort from any ill-will and discomfort. When non-locals travelling from long distances come here and pay respect to the rocks it greatly inspires the locals. This was the process of changing engraved rocks into “sacred rocks” in Chitral.

It was the dominant reason that the local people instead of destroying and using these rocks for construction started to protect them with adoration. It is however, important to mention that there are shrines, not rocks, in Mori Lasht, Kuragh, Sonoghor and Junali Koch which local people have been visiting in a large number. The latter shrine is very famous and a tract of land in Junali Koch has taken its name “Ziarat” (means shrine) because of it. (The village ‘Ziarat’ on the start of Lowari pass on Chitral side may have the same reason of taking its name).

People of Chitral on different occasions would visit shrines of saintly people in the past more frequently, but not like the shrine visits and events celebrated in other parts of Pakistan. Magnus Marsden in his book has highlighted this aspect of religious experience of the Chitralis.

Why the rock at Charun chosen for carving

The Buddhist rock laying in Chitral (may be other rocks also) has probably been chosen for carving due to the following reasons: First, the very stone was easily accessible for the pilgrims and travelers. It is said, from far past, caravans and cavalcade moving from a nearby route, had, few meters away, there was a famous place of sojourn. Even during state-rule this place continued to be resting place, local elders recounting it, and remember offering “Savrin” (Food items and fodder) to state officials.

It was anything which locals offered to eat and drink to non-locals in different places.(According to Prof. Mumtaz Hussain “Savrin” was the transformed version of English word ‘serving’). Secondly, this place of stay was, and is, closer to the river for bringing water for drinking and watering animals. Thirdly, this rock indicates that it’s a very hard type of rock can’t be broken easily, would not affect from rainfall, and weathering of wind, sun and coldness. Fourth, this rock is located in such a place that is safe from land-sliding, floods and other type of disasters. Due to these apparent reasons this rock has might be chosen for rock carvings.

The Antiquities Act, 2016 passed by the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa not only preserved and protected the relics of the past, but also evoked to recount the scarce, dispersed and forgotten pages of history. Buddhist religion, according to history, had left great imprints on Chitral from the beginning of 3rd century and reached into its climax in 4th century. Having connected with adjacent states Chitral remained a trading route of Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Northern Areas, and India. Many travelers, pilgrims, and particularly invaders traversed through Chitral from time to time.

The relics of Buddhist religion in village Charun, Barenis and Rayeen are traced back to 4th, century indicate its influence and climax in the area. With the passage of time these Buddhist rocks turned out to be “Sacred Rocks” for the locals, and survived for sixteen hundred years till now. These rocks also validate the insight of those who etched on the stones where distant past reverberates so far. Read Part 1 here Concluded. 


(The writer is M.Phil research scholar at the University of Peshawar).


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