Buddha in Gandhara is the second book I have read by Sunita Dwivedi. Earlier I had read Buddha in Central Asia and I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I did receive her book on Buddha in India but since I have seen enough Buddhist sites in India, I am yet to read her book. I was reading the Shadow City – a book on Kabul when this book came to me for review. As a logical next step, I picked it up to read.
I know that author is a great traveler and I have chatted with her about it at times. So, I was keen to read her new travelogue. The book begins by talking about what the different authors and scholars talk about the Uttarpath and the various Buddhist monasteries that dotted this trade route.
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Her earlier book was on the silk route and this one on Uttarpath. Now, I am keen to travel on Uttarpath and Dakshinpath but am yet to travel on them. Uttarpath is tough as it required you to visit Pakistan and Afghanistan, the two most difficult countries to visit for Indians. Even Mishi Saran mentions it in her book Chasing the Monk’s Shadow.
So, I was damn impressed to know that Sunita Dwivedi managed to travel to both countries. In fact, her narration makes it feel like a reasonably comfortable journey she undertook. It gives me hope that I will also be able to travel there someday. I enjoyed discovering the old names of the places in these regions and the glimpses of Indic culture that has managed to survive there.
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In the initial chapters, I get to read the author’s experiences but later it becomes absolutely academic. You only read about what is there in the museums and what the earlier scholars have said about the place. I wish there was more of the author’s own experience of being in these places. It would have made the narration more relatable.
Huan Tsang is quoted so many times by all Buddhist scholars that I wonder if it is possible to write a book on Buddhism without mentioning him and his travels. Most scholars are really re-tracing his steps. So, in this book, I was happy to see a bit of the Buddhist world that Huan Tsang actually missed visiting or writing about.
Read More – Chasing the Monk’s Shadow by Mishi Saran
I learned about the Sakya clan being present in Gandhara since the days of Buddha. A branch of the family moved to that region probably. This is an interesting fact and gives another layer to why Buddhism was so popular in the region. However, I think what has not been considered is the fact that Sakyamuni Buddha was not the only Buddha. There have been many Buddhas before him for sure. Kapilavastu is mentioned as the birthplace of three Buddhas.
There is a good analysis of Jataka Tales that are the stories of Bodhisattvas. The author has picked up Jatakas that mention the places as she travels. In the end, she puts them together by saying – Jataka in Gandhara and Gandhara in Jataka. I am not sure if there is a Jataka map that maps all the stories geographically. It would be fun to look at that.
The map at the end is beautiful and helps you understand the geographical spread of Buddhist sites along the Uttarpath. However, I could see one prominent mistake with Lahore and Amritsar places incorrectly. Maybe publishers need to correct it in their next edition.
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Buddhist Remains & Hinduism
Buddha in Gandhara focuses on Buddha and Buddhist remains, but I also got glimpses of signs of Hinduism surviving in some forms and shapes. Sometimes they are just names or their modified forms, sometimes it is some sculptures in the museums and sometimes old temples now in their new forms. It talks about Naga tribes that were predominant in the region near Takht-e-bahi. You see their signs in Buddhism as well. Some of their lineages continue to live in Rajasthan and areas neighboring Takshila. I wish I can travel the same path to reconnect with ancient Indian heritage and write about it.
Language is very academic with tonnes of references and footnotes. It requires a bit of effort to read it.
If Buddhism and its history interests you, read it.