Revival of ancient Gandhara Route can showcase Pakistan as Buddhist hub: Thai Monk

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Arayawangso foresees Taxila, other Buddhist sites full of Buddhist tourists in next 5 years

Zubair Qureshi

As his three-month rain retreat (Vaasa) came to an end peacefully, Thailand’s Chief Monk Arayawangso, his monks, novice and followers left for Thailand late Saturday night leaving behind the universal message of humanity, love, peace and harmony.

A few hours before departure, in an exclusive interview, the Most Venerable (MV) as they call him respectfully Arayawangso said he was touched by the hospitality, friendliness and generosity of the people of Pakistan, the government and its representatives.

My three-month (mid-July to mid-October) period was a period marked by uninterrupted meditation, work on a book “The Buddhist Civilization of Gandhara,” visits to Swat, Peshawar and Khyber Pass and wherever I chanced to meet people I found them quite forthcoming, warm and friendly. He also made a couple of trips to Lahore Museum and spent some time meditating before Fasting Buddha. In Buddhism, during the rain-retreat one has to spend three months at one place and wherever one goes, one will have to spend the night at the same place.

After three months in Taxila, Arayawangso enjoyed quite a popularity and commanded respect with Taxila Museum staff and workers of the historical residence of Sir John Marshall where he camped for rain retreat, the first-ever by a monk in this region since the establishment of Pakistan and even before that.

Besides the Punjab government, Thailand embassy’s staff was also there to attend on the MV. During the period, the Buddhist nationals, even the heads of the missions and their staff such as those of Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, Philippines, and Malaysia also made several call-on meetings to seek his blessings.

This is unimaginably rich land, people are extraordinarily talented and I don’t see any reason why this region cannot grow into a big tourist (Buddhists) attraction, said the MV. “I can foresee this area will be full of Buddhist tourists in the next five years,” he said.

The MV drew the attention of the world towards the Khyber Pass and called it a door to civilization. From this place the Buddhists, traders and foreigners entered Gandhara and they also used the same channel for exit. Thus this is the place which was used as passage of big caravans, armies of soldiers, travellers and traders. This is the time Pakistan should revive the Gandhara Route that connects people and civilizations of different countries and capitalize on its history and heritage, said the MV.

The Gandhara Route was in fact the ancient Buddhist Route and once the world realizes its importance, there will be no end of the travels of the people of 32 Buddhist countries to discover this route and its remarkable heritage, he said. Pakistan he said is like a bouquet of flowers with such rich marks of the Buddhist heritage. We need to put this bouquet on the table not hide it from the world, he said.

The MV who has also written a book of 15 chapters on the Gandhara Civilization said he would distribute the books among his disciples as well as the Buddhist tourism of Thailand and other countries so that they could include Pakistan in their list of ‘Must Visit Countries.’

The MV thanked the government of Pakistan, particularly, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar, Spokesperson for the Foreign Office, Asim Iftikhar Ahmed who has been quite instrumental in realizing the trip, Director of Archaeology and Museum Peshawar, Dr Abdul Samad, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Thailand, Sahebzada A Khan, his counterpart in Pakistan, Thailand ambassador Chakkrid Krachaiwon, Punjab Tourism Secretary Ehsan Bhutta, Imran Shaukat, Asiya Gul and countless volunteers and staff members of Taxila police and Taxila Museum for taking all care of his delegation.

I cannot recall a single day or even a single moment when I felt any uneasiness or difficulty during the entire rain-retreat, said MV and prayed for all of them.

Before leaving Arayawangso gave a scholarship worth 5,000 Baht (Rs 28,000 approximately) each to two children whose fathers are working at Taxila Museum and have constantly taken care of the Sangha (the monastic community) throughout the rain-retreat period. The MV gave blessings to them, and they promised to study hard for a better future and would await the return of MV to Pakistan.

 

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