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Taxila

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Last updated by Meril Jeffery John.J

imageTaxila, Sanskrit Takshashila,  ancient city of northwestern Pakistan, the ruins of which are about 22 miles (35 km) northwest of Rawalpindi. Its prosperity in ancient times resulted from its position at the junction of three great trade routes: one from eastern India, described by the Greek writer Megasthenes as the “Royal Highway”; the second from western Asia; and the third from Kashmir and Central Asia. When these routes ceased to be important, the city sank into insignificance and was finally destroyed by the Huns in the 5th century ce. Taxila was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980.

History:

Taxila is known from references in Indian and Greco-Roman literary sources and from the accounts of two Chinese Buddhist pilgrims, Faxian and Xuanzang. Literally meaning “City of Cut Stone” or “Rock of Taksha,” Takshashila (rendered by Greek writers as Taxila) was founded, according to the Indian epic Ramayana, by Bharata, younger brother of Rama, an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. The city was named for Bharata’s son Taksha, its first ruler. The great Indian epic Mahabharata was, according to tradition, first recited at Taxila at the great snake sacrifice of King Janamejaya, one of the heroes of the story. Buddhist literature, especially theJatakas, mentions it as the capital of the kingdom of Gandhara and as a great centre of learning. Gandhara is also mentioned as a satrapy, or province, in the inscriptions of the Achaemenian (Persian) king Darius I in the 5th century bce. Taxila, as the capital of Gandhara, was evidently under Achaemenian rule for more than a century. When Alexander the Great invaded India in 326 bce, Ambhi (Omphis), the ruler of Taxila, surrendered the city and placed his resources at Alexander’s disposal. Greek historians accompanying the Macedonian conqueror described Taxila as “wealthy, prosperous, and well governed.”

Within a decade after Alexander’s death, Taxila was absorbed into the Mauryan empire founded by Chandragupta, under whom it became a provincial capital. However, this was only an interlude in the history of Taxila’s subjection to conquerors from the west. After three generations of Mauryan rule, the city was annexed by the Indo-Greek kingdom of Bactria. It remained under the Indo-Greeks until the early 1st century bce. They were followed by the Shakas, or Scythians, from Central Asia, and by the Parthians, whose rule lasted until the latter half of the 1st century ce.

According to early Christian legend, Taxila was visited by the apostle Thomas during the Parthian period. Another distinguished visitor was the neo-Pythagorean sage Apollonius of Tyana (1st century ce), whose biographer Philostratus described Taxila as a fortified city that was laid out on a symmetrical plan and compared it in size to Nineveh (ancient city of the Assyrian empire).

Taxila was taken from the Parthians by the Kushans under Kujula Kadphises. The great Kushan ruler Kanishka founded Sirsukh, the third city on the site. (The second, Sirkap, dates from the Indo-Greek period.) In the 4th century ce the Sāsānian king Shāpūr II (309–379) seems to have conquered Taxila, as evidenced by the numerous Sāsānian copper coins found there. There is little information about the Sāsānian occupation, but, when Faxian visited the city at about the beginning of the 5th century ce, he found it a flourishing centre of Buddhist sanctuaries and monasteries. Shortly thereafter it was sacked by the Huns; Taxila never recovered from this calamity. Xuanzang, visiting the site in the 7th century ce, found the city ruined and desolate, and subsequent records do not mention it. Excavations begun by Sir Alexander Cunningham, the father of Indian archaeology, in 1863–64 and 1872–73 identified the local site known as Saraikhala with ancient Taxila. This work was continued by Sir John Hubert Marshall, who over a 20-year period completely exposed the ancient site and its monuments.

Archaeology:

The structural remains at Taxila include the Bhir mound area, the palace area at Sirkap, the Jandial and Pippala temples, the Giri fortress, the Mohra Moradu and Jaulian monasteries, and the Dharmarajika, Bhallar, and Kunala stupas (burial mounds). Different types of masonry used in the monuments indicate their period of origin. The earliest remains are those of the Bhir mound. The palace area, modeled on the same lines as its Assyrian counterpart, Nineveh, has several entrances and outer fortifications. It reveals traces of successive settlements, with the oldest parts of the buildings consisting of rubble masonry. A spacious Buddhist temple, several small shrines, and blocks of dwelling houses were uncovered . The shrine of the double-headed eagle is interesting for its pilasters of the Corinthian order on the front and for niches in the interspaces. Other antiquities of the palace area include terra-cottas and potteries; small bronze, copper, and iron objects; and beads, gems, and coins of Indo-Greek, Parthian, and early Kushan rulers.

 

References in ancient texts:

Scattered references in later works indicated that Taxila may have dated back to at least the 8th century BCE. Archaeological excavations later showed that the city may have grown significantly during the Persian empire of 6th century BC. Owing to its strategic location, Taxila has changed hands many times over the centuries from Iranian, to Indo Greek and as last Indian rule, with many empires vying for its control. It was said it was an Indo-Iranian society with different religions. Historically, Takṣaśilā lay at the crossroads of three major ancient trade routes. In 516 BC, Darius embarked on a campaign to Central AsiaAria and Bactria and then marched into Afghanistan to Taxila Satrapy in modern Pakistan. Darius spent winter of 516-515 BC in Gandhara, preparing to conquer the Indus Valley. Darius conquered the Indus in 515 BC. Darius I controlled the Indus Valley from Gandhara to modern Karachi and appointed the Greek Scylax of Caryanda to explore the Indian Ocean from the mouth of the Indus to Suez. Darius then marched through the Bolan Pass and returned through Arachosia and Drangiana back to Persia.

Legend has it that Takṣa ruled a kingdom called Takṣa Khanda, and founded the city of Takṣaśilā. According to another theory propounded by DD Kosambi, Takṣaśilā is related to Takṣaka, Sanskrit for "carpenter", and is an alternative name for the Nāgas of ancient India. In the great Hindu epic Mahābhārata, the Kuru heir Parikṣit (grandson of the Arjuna) was enthroned at Takṣaśilā. Traditionally, it is believed that the Mahabharata was first recited at Takṣaśilā by Vaishampayana, student of Vyasa at the behest of the seer Vyasa himself, at the Snake Sacrifice.

Taxila is also described in some detail in the Buddhist Jātaka tales, written in Sri Lanka around the 5th century. The Jataka literature mentions it as the capital of the kingdom of Gandhara and as a great centre of learning. The Chinese monk Faxian (also called Fa-Hien) writing of his visit to Taxila in 405 CE, mentions the kingdom of Takshasila (or Chu-cha-shi-lo) meaning "the Severed Head". He says that this name was derived from an event in the life of Buddha because this is the place "where he gave his head to a man". Xuanzang (also called Hieun Tsang), another Chinese monk, visited Taxila in 630 and in 643, and he called the city as Ta-Cha-Shi-Lo. The city appears to have already overrun by the Huns and been in ruins by his time. Taxila is called Taxiala in Ptolemy’s Geography. In the Historia Trium Regum (History of the Three Kings) composed by John of Hildesheim around 1375, the city is called Egrisilla.

Ancient centre of learning:

Takshashila became a noted centre of learning (including the religious teachings of Hinduism) at least several centuries BCE, and continued to attract students from around the old world until the destruction of the city in the 5th century. At its height, it has been suggested that Takshashila exerted a sort of "intellectual suzerainty" over other centres of learning in India., and its primary concern was not with elementary, but higher education. Generally, a student entered Takshashila at the age of sixteen. The Vedas, the ancient and the most revered Hindu scriptures, and the Eighteen Silpas or Arts, which included skills such as archery, hunting, and elephant lore, were taught, in addition to its law school, medical school, and school of military science. Students came to Takshashila from far-off places such as KashiKosala and Magadha, in spite of the long and arduous journey they had to undergo, on account of the excellence of the learned teachers there, all recognized as authorities on their respective subjects.

Ruins:

Sarai Kala:

This is an archaeological site 3 km southwest of Taxila that has the earliest occupation, and preserves Neolithic remains going back to 3360 BC. It also has Early Harappan remains of 2900-2600 BC. A later settlement in this area has parallels with Hathial in the Taxila area.

 

Other sites:

The ruins of Taxila contain buildings and Buddhist stupas located over a large area. The main ruins of Taxila are divided into three major cities, each belonging to a distinct time period.

  • The oldest of these is the Hathial area, which yielded surface shards similar to Red Burnished Ware (or soapy red ware) recovered from early phases at Charsadda—these may date from as early as the late 2nd millennium BCE to the 6th century BCE. Bhir Mound dates from the 6th century BCE and has Northern Black Polished Ware.
  • The second city of Taxila is located at Sirkap and was built by Greco-Bactrian kings in the 2nd century BCE.
  • The third and last city of Taxila is at Sirsukh and relates to the Kushan rulers.

In addition to the ruins of the city, a number of buddhist monasteries and stupas also belong to the Taxila area. Some of the important ruins of this category include the ruins of the stupa at Dharmarajika, the monastery at Jaulian, the monastery at Mohra Muradu in addition to a number of stupas.

Culture:

Taxila is a mix of wealthy urban and rustic rural environs. Urban residential areas are in the form of small neat and clean colonies populated by the workers of heavy industries, educational institutes and hospitals that are located in the area. The city has many educational institutes including HITEC University and the University of Engineering and Technology Taxila.

In addition to the ruins of ancient Taxila, relics of Mughal gardens and vestiges of historical Grand Trunk Road, which was built by Emperor Sher Shah Suri in 15th–16th centuries, are also found in Taxila region. Nicholson's Obelisk, a monument of British colonial era situated at the Grand Trunk road welcomes the travellers coming from Rawalpindi/Islamabad into Taxila. The monument was built by the British to pay tribute to Brigadier John Nicholson (1822–1857) an officer of the British army who died in India during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Industry:

The industries include heavy machine factories and industrial complex, Pakistan Ordnance Factories at Wah Cantt and the cement factory. Heavy Industries Taxila and Heavy Mechanical Complexs are also based here. Small, cottage and household industries include stoneware, pottery and footwear.

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