Crumbling archaeological site in Swat needs govt’s attention

564e3e3358a19FAZAL KHALIQ — PUBLISHED NOV 20, 2015 06:40AM
Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2015

MINGORA: Lying at the foot of a narrow vale, the Tokar-Dara stupa, a first century Buddhist monument, is crumbling down and needs immediate attention of the government and archaeology department.

Nestled against the foot of two mountains, Tokar-Dara valley is about five kilometres away from the city of Barikot, formerly known as Bazira, to the south in Najigram valley.

The Buddhist complex belonging to the first and third century AD, according to archaeologists, were constructed when Buddhism was at its peak in Uddiyana.

Experts say Tokar-Dara stupa was built when Buddhism was at its peak in Uddiyana

Robbed by antique dealers and smugglers, the site is one of the beautiful ancient sites in Swat, encompassing huge area of Buddhist monastery, stupa, assembly hall, cave, aqueduct and residential settlements.

The archaeological importance and scenic beauty of the site leaves the visitors dumbfounded.

“The site presents a picture of unique ancient structures, different from other Buddhist sites,” said Niaz Ahmad Khan, a visitor to the site. He added that the site was a tourist heaven where natural beauty and heritage mingled.

The Buddhist site, according to the known record, was first mentioned by Hungarian-British archaeologist Aurel Stein, who visited it in March 1926. Mentions the site in his book ‘On the Alexander’s track to the Indus: Personal Narrative of Exploration on the North-West Frontier of India’, published in 1929, he says: “I visited another big Buddhist site, quite as picturesque which lies in a small wooded dale opposite to Najigram village which is known as Tokar-Dara. Being more easily accessible it has suffered more damage at human hands.”

However, he narrates an important discovery of a reservoir, unique of its kind, saying but this was amply compensated by the interesting discovery of an elaborately constructed barrage work, immediately bellow the big stupa. “It was obviously intended to secure a permanent supply of water,” he points out.

“At the same time I found evidence that the reservoir had also been planned for the supply of systematic irrigation to the terraced fields bellow. It is the first example of so far known to me on the Frontier of an ancient engineering work designed for this double purpose,” he writes.

According to Dr Luca Maria Olivieri, the Director Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan, Tokar-Dara stupa was founded in the first century CE and was abandoned probably around the fourth-sixth century.

“It is an important Buddhist sacred site having four columns, as that of the Saidu Sharif stupa, and also for its central gigantic niche as that of Amlukdara stupa,” he told Dawn, adding that its importance revealed by the surrounding monuments, the monastery and the monastic residences that ran all along the valley to the west of the stupa.

“The site displays an enchanting merger between nature and architecture where the few ruins that have withstood the test of time still create a link with the landscape; they are the remains of a heritage which must not only be acknowledged but also enhanced,” said Dr Maria Grazia Turco, associate professor at Sapienza University of Rome, Italy in her article, ‘The Buddhist Site of Tokar Dara 1 (Swat, Pakistan), Building Techniques in the Ancient Gandhara’.

Faizur Rahman, the curator of Swat Museum, said that land of the site was Swat state property before 1969 but later on some influential people of the area occupied it and moved court against the government.

“The court gave verdict in favour of the influential people. We then filed case against the decision in high court where the case is going on,” he said, adding that until the court decision no further work could be done at the site.

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