Academic journal article Journal of Asian Civilizations

Buddhist Traditions in the Rock Art of Sindh, Pakistan

Academic journal article Journal of Asian Civilizations

Buddhist Traditions in the Rock Art of Sindh, Pakistan

Article excerpt


This paper deals with the Buddhist traditions that are found in the rock art of Sindh. The Khirthar Mountain Range, which separates Sindh from Balochistan, is rich in ancient petroglyphs. They are found in all valleys or Nais of the mountain range. Before the Arab conquest of Sindh, the region where rock art is found was called Budhiyah, the land of Buddhists. It is here where one finds the remains of many stupas and petroglyphs in the valleys of the Khirthar Range. First, I will describe the history of Buddhism in Sindh. Secondly, I will discuss the stupa, monastery, shrine images and other auspicious Buddhist symbols that can be seen in the rock art of Sindh. The stupa and monastery images are drawn on the rock shelters, caves, rock walls and boulders that are situated in different valleys of the Khirthar Range. Some petroglyphs of Buddhist shrines are interesting. The legend of three deities is depicted on Huviskha (a Kushan ruler) Period coins. The gold coins found from Gandhara depict three deities: Skando-Kumaro, Bizago and Mahaseno. Mahasenois shown standing under a canopy or niche flanked by Bizago and Skando-Kumaro. The petroglyphs at the Loi Dan rock-art site of Sindh possibly represent the legend of the three deities and appear to have been executed during the Kushan Period. The Kushan ruled over Upper Sindh from 78 to175 A.D. I will also discuss the Buddhist shrine in detail.


Sindh was the home of the Buddhist religion in Pre-Islamic Sindh. Before the Arab conquest of Sindh, Buddhist stupas and monasteries dominated the landscape of Sindh. Even after the Arab conquest, the Sindhi Buddhists enjoyed religious liberty. Muslim sources on Sindh, especially Chachnamah, refer to Buddhist as Sumaniyah. Maclean (1989) believes that the Muslim writers utilized Sumaniyah as a designation both for Buddhism as a religion and perhaps more commonly for groups of Buddhists. Moreover, he believes that the term was often in opposition to barahimah (Brahmanism, or Brahmins) in Muslim discussions of the religions of India (Maclean 1989:5). The Chachnamah also uses two other specifically-Buddhist technical terms transliterated into Persian: bhikku and nava-vihar (Maclean 1989:6).

There were several religious buildings erected by the Buddhists in Sindh which included monasteries, stupas and shrines. The Buddhist pilgrim Hiuen Tsiang who travelled through Sindh shortly before the Arab conquest, enumerated the sectarian affiliations of Sindhi Buddhists. According to his account, there were 460 Buddhist monasteries with 26,000 monks in greater Sindh. Of these, ten monasteries (with no monks) in Multan were in ruins, while 100 monasteries with 6,000 monks in Makran were inhabited jointly by Mahayanists and Hinayanists. The remaining 350 monasteries, 33 stupas and 20,000 monks all belonged to the Hinayana school known as the Sammitya. According to Hiuen Tsiang, Sindh, with almost half of all Indian Sammitya monks and monasteries, was the major centre of this school in the Indian subcontinent (ibid:7-8).

The traditional enumeration of Buddhist Schools lists the Sammitya as one of the four subdivisions of the Vatsiputriya which was itself a branch of the sthavira. The Sammitya, most important of these Vatsiputriya schools, was often termed "Puggalavadin" (Personalist) after its most characteristics tenet: the belief in the actual existence of a person. While the Sammitya was the major school of Sindhi Buddhism in terms of numbers and influence, there were small communities of Buddhist monks in the region who belonged to other schools. Hiuen Tsiang mentions adherents of the Hinayana intermingled with Mahayana in Eastern Makran, although he does not specify their precise sectarian affiliation. He does note however, several Sarvastivadin monasteries contiguous to Sindh, including Iran (ibid:8).

As evident from the historical accounts of Hieun Tsiang, Sindh was the home of Buddhism and a number of the monasteries and stupas show how well-represented and influential the Sindhi Buddhists were before the Arab conquest of Sindh. …

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