Sun. Jan 29th, 2023

Tracing Buddhist roots in Chitral—2

By Alhaj Muhammad khan

The illustrations in different places reinforce the argument that the influence of Buddhism continued to be stronger from 3rd century in Chitral, and reached to its climax in 4th century.  The veneration and names of kings in rock inscriptions, now existing, indicate the period of its primacy. Some hamlets i.e. Buddh—name of a hamlet at village Kosht (renamed later), Xughur and Lot-Ovir, may be (other villages also) exalted places during 4th and later centuries. It is, however, very hard to find out details and artifacts in these and other areas of Chitral.

In the first part of the article, this writer, introducing the concept of “Sacred Rocks” in Buddhism had concluded that how these so-called sacred rocks survived without having such laws—protecting antiquities, and social awareness about the importance of historical relics. It is why specific rock (s) and place was chosen for rock inscription?

Why and how Buddhist rock carvings survived

When this question is posed, 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 “Sacred Rocks”.

These rocks were certainly sacred for the followers of Buddhists; they visited them and would offer their adorations to them. The locals looking the respect, adoration and exaltation of the Buddhists, continued to believe that these rocks have something which brings 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, he has his house few meters away from carved rock in Charun, told, that we have seen it was paying. ‘By making dough it was being rolled pressing with this rock, and, as given to cows mixed with fodder, happened to be very effective in bringing cows into milk, he said assuredly. An elder-woman in a close hamlet told that many people of nearby areas from time to time visited this place, particularly from Kuragh, to get comfort from any ill-will and discomfort.

It is how when non-locals travelling from long distances came here paid their adorations, would greatly inspire, and turned figment of locals’ imaginations true. 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 said to be visiting. 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)

Local people of Chitral on different occasions would visit shrines of saintly people in the past, now seen very rarely, 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 people of Chitral.

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.


The writer is M.Phil Research Scholar in the University of Peshawar.


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