Ancient Gandhara was a fabulous land where many different cultures and religions mixed and flourished. It was located in what is now northern Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan. Persian, Greek, Scythian, Mauryan, and many other peoples influenced the civilization, while a multitude of religions lived side by side. Fantastic stupas, and other elaborate architectural achievements adorned the land. It was considered one of the most beautiful places on earth in its heyday.
As with most civilizations, it flourished for a time, and then fell into decline. The Muslim conquests put its unofficial policy of diversity and tolerance to a permanent end. The final insult took place during time of the savage Taliban regime in Afghanistan, when some of the most impressive Gandharan Buddhist works were deliberately targeted for desecration by Taliban zealots, and destroyed.
Knowledge about Gandhara was virtually lost to the world for hundreds of years. It was only during the time of the English occupation of India that details of its rich history were rediscovered.
A more detailed description of the many wonders of the Gandharan world can easily be found in the library, or by consulting Professor Google. It makes for interesting reading.
But, does reading about Gandhara’s history have anything to offer our modern world? Can Gandhara teach us anything?
I suggest that it can.
Most importantly, it shows us clearly that different cultures, with different religions and belief systems can successfully live together. Although I am sure that not all was sweetness and light every day in Gandhara, it is very clear that for hundreds of years very different people were able to accommodate those differences, and build a rich and attractive civilization.
This is something we should consider in these days of a country increasingly divided along ideological, ethnic and racial lines. If people could successfully accommodate those differences two thousand years ago, surely we should be able to do at least as well as they did in our modern, rich country?
Let’s think a bit more like Gandharans.