Flashback: How over 700 years of Buddhism came to an end in Lahore – Newspaper

The day of Vesak, the anniversary of the birth of the Buddha, took place two weeks ago and at the Mohra Moradu Stupa in Taxila many pilgrims gathered and celebrated the birth, the date of enlightenment and the death, surprisingly all on the same date, of the great man.

There is no need to recall that Gautama Buddha came to Lahore and stayed there for three full months, as it was on his way as he journeyed towards ‘enlightenment’. We know from the Buddhist holy books that he stayed in the southernmost part of the mud-walled city. Buddhist scholars have identified Mohallah Maullian inside the Lohari Gate as the place where he stayed. This occasion is reasonable to describe when Lahore was a purely Buddhist city.

The circumstances under which the city converted to Buddhism require a brief description. In the period leading up to Buddha’s enlightenment, Brahmin aristocrats, much like today’s religious scholar-priests, claimed a monopoly of all knowledge of religious laws and edicts. In a way, all the laws had a conditional religious twist, and in no time one could be burned alive for blasphemy. It seems that 2,500 years later, little has changed in the way our daily lives are governed. Even our Constitution is weighed down by such considerations.

In a way, the world was somewhat similar then, just as at that time the patricians claimed a similar monopoly of religious knowledge in Rome. It seems that even a change in the religions did not alter this influence of the priestly classes. After the early Aryan invasions where the king held all supreme power, priests emerged to encourage a division of functions, thus usurping the priestly functions of the ruler. This was handled by creating castes and priests being the sole guardians of sacrifices, even of humans. All these slow changes led the rulers to be afraid of altering the power of the Brahmin priests.

In such circumstances, Buddha, a prince by birth, went in search of the “truth”. It is amazing that Punjab even then was a moderate place in terms of behavior patterns. At that time, the Hebrew prophets were “prophesizing” and in Iran, the ruler Darius was purifying Zoroastrianism, the first “one almighty” god religion. At that time, the thinker Prince Gautam was enjoying life and over time it was a case of diminishing returns in every experience of joy. As each experience showed him the evils of age, illness, and eventual death, he entered a phase of penance. He now saw clearly that Brahmin priests, like all priests, are oppressors and economic exploiters.

It was then that he left to roam the subcontinent, freed from worldly worries, spending long hours thinking, practicing self-sacrifice. To understand the physical aspects he underwent, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for our readers to visit the Lahore Museum where several amazing statues of Gautama are on display. The most beautiful of them is known as “Hungry Buddha”. When I was in college, in the company of a dear friend, we often spent time contemplating the beauty of artistic creation.

In the surroundings of Taxila and even in other sites in Pakistan, one finds the statues of the great man. The point is that unlike Hinduism where people were forced to worship Brahmins, Gautam professed that humans would find peace by not engrossing themselves in reincarnation. True peace comes through the denial of worldly desires. In a way, it wasn’t religion or theology. The need was for a devoted morality without divinity, prayer, or priest. For the subcontinent, it was a revolutionary idea where the people themselves began to convert.

At this time, while the saint had introduced the idea called Buddhism much earlier, in practice a ruler by the name of Chandragupta Maurya was the man who had conquered Lahore and the Punjab and a much larger part of the subcontinent . There is a theory that Chandragupta was not an Indian, but a mixed Greek-Indian soldier who consolidated his power once Greek influence waned. He defeated the governors appointed by the Greeks and created a huge empire. His chief adviser was a Brahmin named Chanakya, whose theoretical work on “how to govern” goes somewhat beyond Machiavelli’s doctrine.

But one idea stuck in his mind and that was that the power of the Brahmin priest had to be nullified if he was to rule effectively. Therefore, he took up the rules proposed by Lord Buddha. The Mauryan dynasty continued to develop this main idea, and when his grandson Asoka came to power, he decided to expand the idea of ​​living in peace. He sought peace by first becoming a Buddhist priest as well as the monarch. It was during his time that wells, hospitals and gardens were built.

What was most interesting was that Punjab and the regions to the west all turned to Buddhism. The simple fact that Gautama came and stayed in Lahore has been explored, and Pali books from this period treat Lahore with great respect. There was also a time when Asoka built a mud road wide enough to transport a horse-drawn carriage from Bengal to Taxila. Along this route, Lahore was a major stopover for pilgrims and people passed through Mohallah Maullian and nearby streets out of sheer reverence.

The crucial question is how long did Buddhism last in Lahore? The Mauryans were followed by the Kushans, who were Scythian nomads. Their most famous leader was a Greek Buddhist named Trajan, who was a strong supporter of Gautama, but his beliefs differed from those of the Buddha or even Asoka. While Greek thought was ruled by the ‘finite’, the subcontinental mind still believed in ‘infinity’. It is a state of mind that still prevails. In a distorted way that is still played out in India today.

It was the arrival of the Huns after the terrible plague of 167 AD that shook the society of Punjab, with Lahore being terribly affected. The last of the Huns was a cruel ruler named Mihirakula, whose capital was Sialkot, who took a dislike to Buddhism after a Buddhist teacher refused to teach him due to his extreme cruelty. This son of Toramana the Hun decided to destroy all Buddhist monasteries and shrines in the year 523 AD. He reportedly converted to Shaivism, an extreme form of Hinduism believed to be practiced today by the current ruler of India.

The faith returned to the hands of the Brahmin priests and the rulers they supported. Thus, for more than 700 years, the city of ancient Lahore was almost purely Buddhist. The various invasions, including seven very severe ones, eliminated Buddhist temples. There is only one left near Lahore in the Salamatpura of Sheikhupura, and it is called the Gulsherbutt Temple. The best of them are found in Taxila and inland Sindh.

So we have yet another religion that has prevailed over the lives of the people of Lahore. Think about it, with every new religion an era of intolerance prevailed, just like inside the Mochi Gate these days, the Lal Khoo where Guru Arjan was imprisoned and where Mian Mir came to pray every day, is today “captured” by a money extracting priest. . How dare someone challenge their newly acquired domain? Beliefs of all shades, in power, impose themselves on the rational. This has been the way for centuries.

Posted in Dawn, May 29, 2022