Pakistani Author-Journalist Raza Rumi in Silicon Valley

Pakistani author-journalist Raza Ahmad Rumi recently visited San Francisco Bay Area as part of his book tour to promote his latest book "Being Pakistani: Society, Culture and The Arts". Raza had three speaking engagements in the Bay Area: (1) At the World Affairs Council in San Francisco on Wednesday November 14, 2018, (2) Institute of South Asia Studies at University of California at Berkeley on Thursday November 15, 2018, and (3) Pakistani-American Community Center in Silicon Valley, CA on Friday November 16, 2018.



The Silicon Valley event with Raza Rumi was organized by Talk4Pak.com, a media platform to connect Pakistani-Americans with Pakistan, at the Pakistani-American Community Center (PACC) in Milpitas, CA.



Raza was introduced by Riaz Haq at the PACC. Raza is a alumnus of London School of Economics. He has passed Pakistan Civil Service exam and served in senior positions in Pakistan government. He has also worked as a consultant at the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB). He is currently  the editor of Lahore-based Daily Times. He lives in Ithaca, New York and teaches at Cornell University. His books include Delhi by Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveller, The Fractious Path: Pakistan’s Democratic Transition and Identity and Faith and Conflict. His most recent collection of essays Being Pakistani: Society, Culture and The Arts was published in 2018 by Harper Collins.



In his presentation at the PACC, Raza Rumi challenged the prevailing one-dimensional narrative of Pakistan that wrongly focuses on extremism and terrorism. He acknowledged that Pakistan does have a serious problem of extremism and terrorism. But these problems also exist elsewhere, including in America where we have seen the rise of white supremacists' violence in recent years. He said part of his motivation in writing Being Pakistani is to highlight Pakistan's other dimensions including, for example, its ancient civilization that is thousands of years old as well its long Sufi traditions of tolerance and inclusiveness.

He mentioned the great ancient cities of Mehrgarh in Balochistan, Moenjodaro in Sindh and Harappa in Punjab. Raza emphasized in the areas that now make up Pakistan as a great center of learning with Taxila University, believed to be the world's first university, located close to the twin cities of Rawalpindi-Islamabad. He also mentioned Gandhara Civilization where Buddhism flourished in what is now Khyber PakhtunKhwa (KPK) province of Pakistan. Rumi sees Pakistanis as inheritors of these great civilizations.



Rumi talked of the poetry of Bulleh Shah and the work of miniaturist artist Shazia Sikander whose art is displayed at top museums across America and the wildly popular Coke Studio that offers a beautiful fusion of the traditional and the modern poetry and music. Raza said that it was "ironically" during General Musharraf's regime that the deregulation of media, telecom revolution and proliferation of news and entertainment channels allowed Pakistani arts and culture to flourish.

Rumi said that there are threats to mass media and free expression but there is also pushback by many who wish to preserve freedom. He said that Pakistan's progress is not linear but it is definitely making progress toward a democratic middle-class nation.  There is a growing middle class in Pakistan and the country recently saw peaceful elections and power transfer for the third time in the last decade. The process is far from perfect but the overall trends are positive.

Here's a video  recording of the event:

https://youtu.be/OJr2Jk6SNsg



Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Pakistan's Other Story

Pakistan Elections 2018

Pakistan Middle Class Growth

Coke Studio: Music Drives Coke Sales in Pakistan

Malaysia's Ex-PM Mahathir Stirs up Hadith Controversy

Riaz Haq's Sermon on Interfaith Relations

Misaq e Madina Inspired Quaid e Azam's Vision of Pluralist Pakistan

Riaz Haq's Ramadan Sermon

Alam vs Hoodbhoy: Clash of Ideas in Islam

Talk4Pak Youtube Channel



Comments

Riaz Haq said…
Western #Illinois University #Music #Education Professor visited #Pakistan on #Fulbright & worked with teachers and students at the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) in #Karachi and the Beaconhouse National University (BNU) in #Lahore for 2 weeks http://www.wiu.edu/news/newsrelease.php?release_id=16034

Western Illinois University Associate Professor of Music Education Richard Cangro recently returned from visiting and teaching in Pakistan as part of his 2018 Fulbright Teaching Specialist grant award.

This is Cangro's second Fulbright award. He worked with teachers and students at the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) in Karachi and the Beaconhouse National University (BNU) in Lahore for two weeks.

"I am very fortunate to have received this award and had the opportunity to visit Pakistan," said Cangro. "One of my goals was to break down stereotypes and misconceptions about the country. I was warmly received, and generously cared for during my visit, and made some great new friends."

Most of the students and faculty were proficient in English, so there were no issues in communication. Cangro presented on topics including music education in the US, assessing learning in the arts and his research area of cooperative learning. He also introduced and demonstrated the trumpet and had the opportunity to jam with a sitar artist and students at both colleges.

Goals for this trip included sharing information on arts education and cultural exchange; however, a new connection for WIU was at the top of the list. Both NAPA and BNU are very interested in collaborating with WIU to create a music degree program. Meetings with faculty and administrators at both institutions opened the door for future collaborative projects, as well as consultation for creating degree programs not currently available in Pakistan.

A contrast in socioeconomic conditions, Pakistan is a young country that is developing and building its identity through education. BNU and NAPA are deeply committed to their students and to building their programs to address 21st century ideals and developing global thinkers in the arts, while preserving their unique culture.

Cangro hopes this trip will be the beginning of a long-standing relationship for WIU that encourages study abroad opportunities, student and faculty exchanges and partnership degree plans.
Riaz Haq said…
Sky is the limit for #Pakistan's metal artist. He completed a diploma in electrical #engineering in 1986. Then he joined Nishtar Hall, #Peshawar's main #cultural centre for #music and #art, and then produced a number of oil paintings on large canvasses. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-52660199

Nasim Yousufzai started digging art with a pencil, struck some oil, and ended up in scrap, so to speak.

From unlikely origins, the 50-something metal artist from Pakistan's north-western city of Peshawar has done all of this, and more.

His biggest exhibit was when he designed a huge float for the Pakistan Day parade in 1995, winning second prize.

Then in 2001, he took to the air by designing a makeshift aircraft from an old automobile engine, used car tyres, wooden propellers and wings made of steel pipes covered with canvas sheets.

He flew the machine for five minutes, before he was waved down by his brothers who dragged him home where his panicked mother ordered him never to do it again.

He has since abided by that order.

The son of a day labourer who had migrated from his native Swat region to Peshawar in search of work, Nasim's childhood was steeped in poverty.

But he appears to have made the best of it.

"My elder brother didn't want to study, and my father was happy for him to drop out of school, but I refused to do that, and my father didn't force me," he says.

As a child, he did everything he could to help his family while he studied. After school he would go to a nearby wholesale market to buy vegetables, which he sold in his neighbourhood. Then he worked part time as a helper at an electric store, and also at a tailor's shop where he learned stitching.

"Since my earliest years, I somehow developed a passion for drawing," he says.

That might have sparked his talent for designing things in later life - and in recent years making art out of scrap metal.

"I couldn't resist grabbing a paper and a pen to draw anything that caught my interest, which gradually expanded from household objects to living things."

He completed a diploma in electrical engineering in 1986 and was immediately offered a job, which he still holds.

Alongside his work, he started producing political cartoons for a couple of local newspapers which not only added to his income, but also satisfied his creative urge.

When he joined evening classes at Nishtar Hall, Peshawar's main cultural centre for music and art, he learned to paint, producing a number of oil paintings on large canvasses.

In late 1994, he spotted a newspaper advertisement inviting artists to produce a float representing the culture and history of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (then called North-West Frontier Province, or NWFP), for use at the annual Pakistan Day parade in Islamabad.

He applied and his idea was approved for official funding.

Over the next two months, he camped in Islamabad, building a massive float using wood, thermopore sheets, plaster of paris and hundreds of jute bags.

The scene that he crafted showed a male Pathan, KP's dominant ethnic group, a British-era hilltop fort, the building of one of Peshawar's oldest graduate colleges, and Tarbela Dam, the largest in Pakistan.

The float was loaded onto a 22-wheel trailer and driven past the stage where the president and the prime minister were seated.

Having seen Naseem assembling the aircraft in the courtyard of their house, his brothers vaguely knew what he was building. But his mother, who had lived in a village all her life, didn't have the slightest idea.

She came to know when someone rang her up and told her. At that time Naseem had arrived at an air strip in a small town just north of Peshawar, and was readying his plane for the flight.

There had been talk at the time of several home-built aircraft in the region, and one of them near Peshawar had crashed, killing the pilot. So his mother was greatly alarmed.
Riaz Haq said…
Superheroes, jazz, queer art: how Pakistan’s transgressive pop culture went global

by Fatima Bhutto


https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2022/dec/19/pakistan-art-pop-culture-joyland-ms-marvel


In August, Pakistan’s three censor boards cleared Saim Sadiq’s award-winning film Joyland for release. Shot in Lahore, the film is about a young married man from a conservative family who finds work at a dance theatre and falls in love with a trans woman struggling to land her moment on stage. It was the first Pakistani film to screen at Cannes and it won the Un Certain Regard prize, receiving a standing ovation nearly 10 minutes long.

Even though the film was then subject to various bans in Pakistan, after being accused of pushing an LGTBQ+ agenda and misrepresenting Pakistani culture, it finally appeared in Pakistani cinemas in November, with Malala Yousafzai signing on as executive producer.

Whatever happens at home, (the whiplash never seemed to end, as the Punjab censor board reversed course once more and re-banned the film) the film’s next journey will be to the Academy Awards, as Pakistan’s submission for best foreign film.

This drama is nothing new. Pakistanis have always understood their heritage to be culturally rich and transgressive: from the romance of the Urdu language, spoken by poets and in royal courts, to qawwali singers as diverse as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen, to television dramas and literature. Artists such as Iqbal Bano sang songs against dictators and shows on state television satirized military juntas with jokes so sophisticated that even army censors couldn’t catch them. In 1969, Pakistan state television aired Khuda Ki Basti, or God’s Own Land, a series set in a Karachi slum in the tumultuous days after independence, from a classic Urdu novel. To ensure that the drama was faithful to the novel, Pakistan state television convened a board of intellectuals to oversee the scripts, including Faiz Ahmed Faiz, one of the country’s most beloved poets.

Today, Pakistani artists are garnering international attention as they continue this legacy of confronting themselves and their society, interrogating religion, sexuality and class hierarchies.

“People say, ‘Oh, they’re telling poor people’s and underdog stories,’” says Sarmad Khoosat, “but that’s where the truth is, I feel.” Khoosat, who produced Joyland and whose production house Khoosat Films is at the helm of the Pakistan’s cinema renaissance, made a big splash when his film Zindagi Tamasha was banned in 2021. Besides the Khoosat-produced films, The Legend of Maula Jatt, a remake of a 1979 film, brought in $10m (£8m) at the box office and Sandstorm, a short directed by the London-based film-maker Seemab Gul, originally from Karachi, was nominated for best short film at the Venice film festival and has garnered plenty of Oscar buzz. Pakistan is also the setting of Jemima Khan’s debut film as scriptwriter, What’s Love Got to Do With It?, starring Emma Thompson and premiering in the UK in February.

People who think the edgy subject matter is intended for foreign audiences don’t understand Pakistan, Khoosat says. “They don’t realise that religion and trans people and socioeconomic divides are realities here. They are our stories.”

Sadiq told the Guardian he strongly disagreed with the campaign against his film. “I think it’s as empathetic a portrait of Pakistanis as you’ve ever seen on screen,” he said. “It’s actually a very empathetic portrait of conservative Pakistanis.” And the supposed promotion of a sinister LGBTQ+ agenda, Sadiq said was “frankly, in my opinion, bullshit”.
Riaz Haq said…
Superheroes, jazz, queer art: how Pakistan’s transgressive pop culture went global

by Fatima Bhutto


https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2022/dec/19/pakistan-art-pop-culture-joyland-ms-marvel


Trans people, known as khwaja sira, held positions of power in the Mughal court and were not just considered faithful guards and protectors but also bestowed with ceremonial importance. At Cannes, the director and his producers had a surreal moment watching a packed theatre of over a thousand people cheering and clapping when Alina Khan, who plays Biba, finally takes the stage for her big song and dance number. When the credits rolled, Sadiq found himself crying and turned to Khoosat only to see him in tears too. The editor was crying, the actors, the crew, the audience.

Art versus commerce
Pakistan never had the money or machinery to produce art at scale as its neighbour, India, was able to do with Bollywood. And this is perhaps why it has taken the world so long to wake up to Pakistani culture.

The difference is one of art versus commerce. Though commercially unable to compete with Bollywood, Pakistani films, television and music are arguably more sophisticated and daring. Though Bollywood films from earlier decades addressed injustice, feudalism and political oppression, today the industry is little more than a mouthpiece for India’s quasi-fascist rightwing government, obsessed with spit-shining the image of its prime minister, Narendra Modi. Recent films such as Swachh Bharat, or Clean Up India – based on a program which, as far as anyone can tell, is about cleaning the entire country, one hand-held broom at a time – or Sui Dhaaga, Needle and Thread, whose tagline is “Made in India” and which is based on another self-explanatory initiative – were little more than government puff pieces. When they have run out of Modi initiatives to build entire films around, Bollywood producers turn their eyes to military operations where action heroes with greased, rippling eight packs, based on modern-day and revisionist historical figures, wipe out Muslims on the battlefield.

Without having to satisfy paranoid governments, increase box office receipts or please audiences of a billion people, Pakistani artists have been able to take more risks with their work. The country’s turn towards conservatism is fairly recent, a result of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s CIA-backed fundamentalist dictatorship, which ravaged the country between 1977 and 1989, but even then, in the darkest days of military rule, art thrived in spite of and in resistance to the junta.

On the 75th anniversary of independence this August, Indian citizens were instructed to hoist their tricolour flag from their homes by Modi, and social media was replete with famous Indians, including Shah Rukh Khan, waving and posing in front of their flag while saying how nice it was to live in the world’s largest democracy. One struggles to imagine Pakistanis, who have lived under authoritarian regimes for much of our history, acquiescing to such ominous dictates so politely or enthusiastically.
Riaz Haq said…
Superheroes, jazz, queer art: how Pakistan’s transgressive pop culture went global

by Fatima Bhutto


https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2022/dec/19/pakistan-art-pop-culture-joyland-ms-marvel

After all, it was under Pervez Musharaff’s dictatorship that the Booker-longlisted author Mohammed Hanif published his debut novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, about another Pakistani dictator’s airplane being blown up mid-air. Though Pakistan never stopped producing culture – not during any of our four coups, nor during bloody periods of internal and external strife – today a wave of progressive and provocative work is finally getting recognition far beyond the country’s borders.

Music and visual art
All this good news is rare but welcome now more than ever, after Pakistan was devastated by a super-flood this year that displaced 50 million people, wiped out staple crops and produced a health and hunger crisis that continues to unfold.

“We’ve been having a really hard time in a post-9/11 world,” says the Brooklyn-based Arooj Aftab, the first Pakistani musician to win a Grammy, taking home the 2022 award for best global music performance. Aftab’s album Vulture Prince reimagines traditional ghazals, melancholic love poems born out of Arabic and Persian literary traditions. “There’s been a significant amount of Islamophobia and a lot of bad marketing towards Pakistan in general – associations with terrorism and pain and Afghanistan-adjacent confusion – while the narrative around a lot of other south Asian countries is like ‘Oh my God! Beauty! Exotic landscapes! Yoga!’ And the west loves that shit.”

Whether exhausted by orientalist tropes about south Asia, tragedy porn or the low-thrumming racism that marked the Trump years, today the west seems to be embracing non-English culture at pace. Pasoori, Ali Sethi and Shae Gil’s breakout song about complicated love, drawn from the separation of India and Pakistan, is the first Pakistani song to top Spotify’s global viral chart and was the most Googled song of 2022, beating out global behemoths such as BTS. The song, whose Punjabi title means “difficulty”, has had over 440m views on YouTube and is the most successful song to come out of Pakistan’s famed music incubator and TV show Coke Studios, which has brought contemporary singers together with traditional musicians to wide acclaim since 2008.

Boiler Room, a London-based online radio station, broadcast a Pakistan special this summer streaming singers, DJs and even traditional Baloch musicians to their online audiences. “The ceiling is being completely shattered,” Natasha Noorani, one of Boiler Room’s featured artists, said. And that shattering reverberates because Pakistani musicians are “exploring their identities in a way that isn’t whitewashed or pandering to some kind of global reach where you are told to sing in English or do a fusion or dress English”.

Before anything goes global, Noorani believes, it has to strike a chord at home. Musicians locked down during Covid waves were creating albums in their bedrooms, on their phones and laptops, and in doing so have “dismantled the machinery, the same infrastructure that kept up the monopolistic tendencies of music”.

In the past few months, the contemporary Pakistani artists Shahzia Sikander and Salman Toor have been glowingly profiled in the New Yorker; Toor’s Four Friends recently sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $1.2m (£0.99m). His paintings are celebrated for their depictions of queer intimacy, and reimaginings of classical masterpieces from Caravaggio to Édouard Manet. “My immediate reaction was that this artist could paint anything and make me believe in it,” wrote the New Yorker’s Calvin Tomkins.

Riaz Haq said…
Superheroes, jazz, queer art: how Pakistan’s transgressive pop culture went global

by Fatima Bhutto


https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2022/dec/19/pakistan-art-pop-culture-joyland-ms-marvel


TV celebrates the diaspora
Meanwhile, Pakistani diaspora television is having a celebratory moment. Shows by creators of Pakistani origin such as Bilal Baig are radical and refreshingly complicated. HBO Max’s Sort Of (tagline: “the future is theirs”) is the story of Sabi Mehboob, a gender-fluid Pakistani Canadian working as a nanny for a family in crisis even as they try to hold their own crumbling life together. The show is wry and clever, subverting all the standard tropes about south Asian families. Sabi’s sister, Aqsa, protects them while managing her own messy romantic life and their mother struggles more with understanding why they would be a nanny – “like Mary Poppins? You’re telling me you’re a servant?” – than with their sexuality.

Class and hierarchy, in the subcontinental imagination, has always been more fraught than sex. Before the prudish intervention of the British, who ordered and organised Indian life into narrow boxes, the south Asian approach to sexuality was always fluid, a heritage that Sort of, Joyland and even Khoosat’s Zindagi Tamasha have all embraced. Though Sort Of has been renewed for a second season, premiering on HBO in October, perhaps more well-known is Ms Marvel, showcasing the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) first Muslim and Pakistani diaspora superhero.

Ms Marvel follows Kamala Khan, whose parents, formerly of Karachi and now of New Jersey, are not caricatures of immigrant parents, but droll and charming, embarrassing in the way all parents are while their young daughter suffers the indignities of teenagers everywhere. The writing team knows only too well the codes and ciphers of Pakistani life and have seamlessly blended them into this Disney tale. Kamala has a brother who prays constantly (every Pakistani family has one resident fundamentalist), her father quotes poetry at the dinner table and Nakia, her hijab-wearing best friend, has her shoes stolen at the mosque – a timeless rite of passage for all mosque-going Muslims.

The team behind Ms Marvel includes some of Pakistan’s smartest creatives: from the directors, including the two-time Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, to the music supplied by Coke Studios, to the actors, including the respected theatre actor Nimra Bucha and heartthrob Fawad Khan.

Though Ms Marvel fast became the best-reviewed show in the MCU canon, initial reports have shown that it has a substantially lower viewership than other Marvel blockbusters, pulling in less than half the viewers that WandaVision brought in in its first week. Critics have kindly supposed that the numbers are to do with Ms Marvel being a new character and the actors being relatively unknown stateside, but in a country whose political discourse has been blisteringly Islamophobic over the last two decades, a Pakistani-origin Muslim as a superhero may be too much for traditional audiences. Though I cheered the show as much as every TV-watching Pakistani, it did give me pause that Kamala’s hero in Ms Marvel is Captain Marvel, an ex-elite fighter pilot in the US air force, the very department of the US military that flies the MQ1 Predator and MQ9 Reaper drones that have terrorised Afghanistan and Pakistan since 9/11.

‘I’m going to give you this beautiful thing’
Gone are the dire years of apologia and contrition as Pakistani artists travel worldwide.

Riaz Haq said…

Superheroes, jazz, queer art: how Pakistan’s transgressive pop culture went global

by Fatima Bhutto


https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2022/dec/19/pakistan-art-pop-culture-joyland-ms-marvel

“We’ve been really sick of the stuff where it’s like, ‘Can you please score this really extremely sad documentary about Pakistan?’” Aftab says. “And I’m just like, absolutely not. I’m not going to do that. White people love to be witness and be moved by Black and brown tragedy. They don’t know how to see us happy and that’s really deep and fucked up. It’s not interesting for them to see us experiencing joy. As someone who works in art, in music, it’s my responsibility to say, ‘I’m not going to give you that. I’m going to give you this other really beautiful thing that is jazz and I’m going to make something that is undeniably beautiful and will move you and I’m going to be committed to that because you guys are so annoying.’”
Riaz Haq said…
Pakistan Preserves Its Buddhist Heritage Amidst Grave Challenges

https://www.eurasiareview.com/22122022-pakistan-preserves-its-buddhist-heritage-amidst-grave-challenges/

Despite an ever-present and growing threat from an iconoclastic fringe in Pakistan, successive governments in Islamabad have managed to preserve the Islamic country’s Buddhist heritage that exists as archaeological findings.

This is all the more creditable since the remnants of 2,200-year-old Gandhara Buddhist civilization are still substantially intact in the Swat Valley of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK) though KPK is the epicenter of present-day Islamic terrorism. Among Pakistan’s provinces, it is the KPK which bears the brunt of the fury of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Interestingly, news of the discovery of a 2200 year-old Buddhist temple at Barikot in KPK (counted among the “Top 10 Discoveries of 2022” by Archeology Magazine) came as TTP gunmen and Pakistani commandoes fought a pitched battle at Bannu, a town in KPK. 33 terrorists and two commandoes were killed in the shootout.

According to Sana Jamal of Gulf News, the 2nd Century BC temple at Barikot was discovered jointly by archaeology professor, Luca Maria Olivieri of Ca’ Foscari of the University of Venice, the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums KP Province, and the Swat Museum. It is the oldest known Buddhist temple in the Swat region that was a center for the exchange of goods and culture between the civilizations of the Middle East, Central Asia and India from 6th Century BC.

“The temple’s ruins are around ten feet tall and consist of a ceremonial platform that once housed a stupa or dome often found in Buddhist architecture. The structure includes a smaller stupa at the front, a room or cell for monks, a podium or pillar, a staircase, vestibule rooms, and a public courtyard that overlooks a road,” Jamal says. A stupa is a Buddhist structure containing holy relics.

Swat is also home to the renowned Dharmarajika stupa, locally known as Chir Tope, located near Taxila, a seat of Buddhist learning between the 3 rd., Century BC and 7th.Century AD.

Pakistan has been working hard to let the world know of its pre-Islamic past, which includes Mohenjodaro of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, the Buddhist University at Taxila, Gandhara art and Buddhist stupas containing sacred relics.

During the tenure of Pakistan High Commissioner Seema Baloch in Sri Lanka (2011-13), Pakistani Buddhist relics were, for the first time, brought to Sri Lanka and publicly exhibited at various places in the island. A group of 40 Buddhist monks were taken to see sites of Buddhist interest in Pakistan. This did help correct (albeit only to a small extent), the image that Pakistan had nothing to offer Buddhists and had little or nothing to do with Buddhism.

In June 2016, Pakistan High Commission held an exhibition of Gandhara Art in Colombo, in which coffee-table books in both English and Sinhala sold like hotcakes. “I had to bring in replenishments from the High Commission several times to meet the constant demand,” remarked the then Press Attache, Intesar Ahmad Sulehry. Later the High Commission showed a documentary on Gandhara Art jointly made by a group of Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and Indians.

Pakistan is now 95% Muslim and Islam is the official religion, but Buddhism once flourished in the KPK, then called Gandhara. The region was subject to Achaemenian Persia in the 6th and 5th centuries BC and was conquered by Alexander the Great in 4th Century BC. It was thereafter ruled by the Mauryan dynasty of India, under which it became a center for the spread of Buddhism to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Gandhara was successively ruled by Indo-Greeks, Shakas, Parthians, and Kushans. After its conquest by Mahmud of Gazni in 11th century AD , it came under a series of Muslim dynasties.
Riaz Haq said…
Pakistan Preserves Its Buddhist Heritage Amidst Grave Challenges

https://www.eurasiareview.com/22122022-pakistan-preserves-its-buddhist-heritage-amidst-grave-challenges/


Gandhara was the home of a distinctive art style that was a mixture of Indian Buddhist and Greco-Roman influences. Depictions of the Buddha and Bodhisatvas (Enlightened Beings) were the mainstay of Gandhara art. Sculptures that have survived the ravages of time and the depredations of iconoclasts, show various aspects of the Buddha’s life.

However, it is the representation of the Buddha in human form that went on to influence art in China, Japan, Korea, and other parts of East Asia. It is said that the Gandhara region has the world’s only statue of a “fasting Buddha” – a Buddha in skin and bones with ribs jutting out.

The ancient Buddhist sites and the art therein, which had been neglected for centuries, were discovered by British archeologists in the colonial period. Their work was continued by Pakistani archeologists after independence in 1947. Successive Pakistani governments, except the one led by Gen.Zia-ul-Haq (1978-88), had sustained the archeological and conservation projects.

However, in 2006-2007, the Taliban banned the preservation of these objects because even the existence of idols in the midst of Muslims was “haram” or forbidden. The Taliban damaged the face of a giant Buddha statue in Swat. However, the then President, Gen.Pervez Musharraf, stood like a rock behind the conservationists and negotiated the withdrawal of the Taliban from their destructive project. Archeologists and art lovers in Pakistan and abroad breathed a sigh of relief.

Pakistan also started exhibiting Gandhara art in various places in the world, including the US. At an exhibition in New York of Gandhara art brought from the Lahore and Karachi museums, the then Pakistani Ambassador in the UN, Abdullah Hussain Haroon, waxed eloquent about the Buddha. He said that the Buddha was a human being whose “ethereal qualities and enormous wisdom showed the path to several others like Gandhi down the centuries.”

In 2016, Pakistani archeologists discovered an ancient site at Bhamala in Swat in which there was a 14 meter (48 ft) long Kanjur stone “Sleeping Buddha” statue. This 3 rd.Century AD statue is the world’s oldest Sleeping Buddha statue.

When the finding was presented to the world, the President of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) party, Imran Khan, said: ” It is a world heritage site and because of that, people will come for religious tourism and see these places. The majority of the Pakistani population wants such sites restored.”

Apart from the government, individual Pakistanis have also rendered yeoman service in preserving and protecting Buddhist sites against depredations by idol thieves and smugglers. Osman Ulasyar had stopped local boys from playing cricket in a field full of Ist. Centry AD Buddhist stupas. And, at this own cost, he built a 300 ft wall to protect the stupas.

Reuters quoted Dr.Abdul Samad, Director of Archeology and Museums in Khyber Pakhtunwala province as saying: ” Gandhara was the center of religious harmony. It is here that one finds Greek, Roman, Persian, Hindu and Buddhist gods in a single panel in the Peshawar museum.”

But tragically, the common Pakistani’s awareness of his non-Islamic past is either non-existent or pathetically low because school history books have blacked out the pre-Islamic past. This grievous flaw will need to be corrected at the earliest in the interest of the preservation of Gandhara art and the enormous tourist potential which is in it.

The other danger that lurks constantly, is the destruction, stealing and smuggling of ancient artifacts by treasure thieves. The government has armed itself with the Antiquities Act to protect the sites and also to prevent domestic and international sale of these antiquities. Success in this area is by no means insignificant since the Gandhara sites are still there for all to see. Many of the artefacts are kept safely in museums.

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