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Taxila: Sirkap (2)


Map of Taxila. Design Jona Lendering
Map of Taxila
Taxila (Old Indian Takshaçila): the ancient capital of the eastern Punjab, the country between the rivers Indus and Hydaspes. The site consists of several parts, which belong to three periods:

Taxila (history)
Achaemenid age Greek age Kushan age
Bhir Sirkap 1, 2 Sirsukh

Jandial Jaulian


Mohra Moradu
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The round stupa at Sirkap / Taxila. Photo Marco Prins. "Contact between religions is good": this maxim of the Mauryan king Ashoka, which can be found in the twelfth of his famous rock edicts, was certainly a guideline to the rulers of Taxila, whether they were Indian, Greek, Parthian, Sacan, or Kushan  There were sanctuaries of several religions inside the city; only the Zoroastrians preferred to stay outside, at Jandial - but this may be accidental. In spite of this religious tolerance, the Buddhists always were the main religious group, and we find many stupas in Sirkap.

A stupa in Sirkap / Taxila. Photo Marco Prins. A stupa is a funeral mound, usually associated with the death and nirvana of Buddha. This photo shows one of the more elaborate stupas in Sirkap. Many stupas in Gandara and the Punjab clearly show Greek artistic influences, as we will see below.

The Apsidal Temple of Sirkap / Taxila. Photo Marco Prins. The building that is known as the "Apsidal Temple" is the largest sanctuary of Sirkap, measuring 70 by 40 meter (by contrast: the Parthenon in Athens is 70  by 31 meter). The Apsidal Temple consists of a square nave with several rooms, used by the Buddhist monks, and this circular room, which gives the building its apsidal shape.

The Apsidal Temple of Sirkap / Taxila. Photo Marco Prins. This photo shows the Apsidal Temple again, seen from the outside. After the earthquake that destroyed the city in c. 30 CE, the Buddhist shrine was built in a spacious courtyard. The round part was probably in use for a small stupa, but no traces of it remain. Some carvings were probably done by an artist from Greece.

The next five photos show, from left to right: the Hindu temple of the Sun; a Jainist sanctuary that looks like a stupa; and three photos of the "Double-headed Eagle Stupa", which combines Buddhist traditions and Greek artistic elements. The moldings, cornice, pilasters, and pedimental niches might have been discovered in the hellenistic world too. The pilasters are of a Greek design, Corinthian columns. On the fourth photo, in the left arch, a Greek temple is shown; on the right, we see a shrine of a Hindu design. On top of these sanctuaries, a double-headed eagle is seated. The motive is rather odd, to say the least, as it is originally Babylonian, seems to have spread to Scythia, and was introduced in the Punjab by the Saca rulers.

The temple of the Sun at Sirkap / Taxila. Photo Jona Lendering. A Jainist sanctuary in Taxila / Sirkap. Photo Jona Lendering. The Double-headed eagle stupa at Sirkap / Taxila. Photo Marco Prins. The Double-headed eagle stupa at Sirkap / Taxila. Photo Marco Prins. The Double-headed eagle stupa at Sirkap / Taxila. Photo Marco Prins.
Coin of king Menander I This coin shows the Indo-Greek king Menander, who was responsible for the third building phase of Sirkap. He converted to Buddhism and one of the sacred books of the religion (although not universally acknowledged) is called Milindapañha, "the questions of king Menander". About 250 questions are answered by the Buddhist sage Nagasena. The book was composed at the beginning of the common era. It is interesting to note that several questions are entirely Greek in nature (examples).  (©!!)
Coin of Gondophares, a Parthian king in the Indus valley. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins. In the first quarter of the first century CE, the Parthians became interested in the region and started to take over the Greek petty kingdoms of Gandara and the Punjab. One of the Parthian leaders, living in Taxila, was named Gondophares. According to a wide-spread Christian tradition, he was baptized by the apostle Thomas. The story is not impossible: in a multi-cultural city like Taxila, there may have been an audience for a representative of a new Jewish sect. © Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2004
Revision: 28 May 2008
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