Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2015
JAMAL SHAHID — PUBLISHED JUL 21, 2015 06:46AM
ISLAMABAD: It is indeed a miracle that the country’s ancient wonders are still standing, given the poor care they get.
The 3rd century BC Buddhist Stupa (a mound like structure typically containing the remains of Buddhist monks) in Mankiala village on the G.T. Road just beyond the Rawat bus stand is one such ancient ruin which has survived the test of time so far but is threatened by the chaotic urban development.
The Department of Archaeology and Museums (DOAM) believes that the Mankiala Stupa and its monasteries are spread over an area of three miles. However, most of these remains are buried under a messy urban sprawl that has come up in the recent years.
According to Ghafoor Lone of the DOAM, this religious establishment could be one of the significant stupas built by the Indian King Ashoka who is known for not just ruling over most of the Indian subcontinent but also converting to Buddhism. The Stupa of Dharmarajika in Taxila valley, enlisted as a world heritage site with Unesco, was the first Stupa built by Ashoka to bury the ashes of Buddha.
According to the archaeologist, the Mankiala Stupa is also historically significant but neglect and encroachment are threatening it.
A team of officials from the department were concerned when they visited the ancient remains a couple of weeks ago. The dilapidated historical ruin is threatened by encroachments; a small house, a flour mill and a bus stand have crept dangerously close to the site which is protected under the Antiquities Act 1975.
Under the Act, no development can take place within 200 feet of a protected site.
However, the law has not been able to protect this site.
The sign installed by the department for directions to the archaeological treasure has been pulled out of the roadside which caused the officials driving to the site to miss the turn to the stupa.
“The signpost at the site is also missing,” said another official in the DOAM, explaining how the site had been abandoned by its caretakers and its lush green lawns becoming grazing fields for goats and sheep.
According to the archaeologists, somewhere in the mid-1800s, Jean-Baptiste Ventura, an Italian traveler and mercenary, who later served under Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab, excavated the site and removed many artifacts that can now be found in museums in Europe.
“There is no record of how many artifacts were carried out of the country. Some notes written by Jean Ventura merely hint at the magnitude of the plunder,” said the official.
The Mankiala Stupa was built by Ashoka as a memorial to the place where Buddha offered his flesh to a hungry tigress and her cubs.
“There are some 550 stories of Lord Buddha’s reincarnations. The eight most famous ones are depicted on relief works and engravings found in museums. Offering his flesh to the tigress is one of these eight which is associated with this place,” said Ghafoor Lone.
The official in the Punjab Department of Archaeology, which is the custodian of the site, did not dispute that the site had been neglected, especially after devolution five years ago. At that time, the administrative control of all protected sites and monuments was taken away from the federal archaeology department and handed over to the provinces.
“Financial constraints are the biggest challenge,” argued a senior official in the Punjab Archaeology Department who did not want to be named.
There are 403 ancient ruins protected under the Antiquities Act, including the six world heritage sites such as the Lahore Fort, the Shalimar Garden and the Rohtas Fort.