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|Location||Rawalpindi district, Punjab Pakistan|
|Founded||c. 1000 BCE|
|Abandoned||5th century CE|
|Designated||1980 (4th session)|
Taxila or Takshashila was an ancient city in what is now northwestern Pakistan. It is an important archaeological site and in 1980, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its ruins lie near modern Taxila, in Punjab, Pakistan, about 35 km (22 mi) northwest of Rawalpindi.
Taxila was situated at the pivotal junction of South Asia and Central Asia. Its origin as a city goes back to c. 1000 BCE. Some ruins at Taxila date to the time of the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BCE, followed successively by Mauryan, Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian, and Kushan periods. Owing to its strategic location, Taxila has changed hands many times over the centuries, with many empires vying for its control. When the great ancient trade routes connecting these regions ceased to be important, the city sank into insignificance and was finally destroyed by the nomadic Hunas in the 5th century. The archaeologist Alexander Cunningham rediscovered the ruins of Taxila in the mid-19th century.
Taxila was a centre of learning and is considered by some to have been one of the earliest universities in the world.[page needed] Others do not consider it a university in the modern sense, in that the teachers living there may not have had official membership of particular colleges, and there did not seem to have existed purpose-built lecture halls and residential quarters in Taxila, in contrast to the later Nalanda university in eastern India.
In 2006 Taxila was ranked as the top tourist destination in Pakistan by The Guardian newspaper. In a 2010 report, Global Heritage Fund identified Taxila as one of 12 worldwide sites most "On the Verge" of irreparable loss and damage, citing insufficient management, development pressure, looting, and war and conflict as primary threats.
Taxila was in ancient times known in Pali as Takkasila,[page needed] and in Sanskrit as Takshashila (IAST: Takṣaśilā). The city's Sanskrit name means "City of Cut Stone". The city's ancient Sanskrit name alternately means "Rock of Taksha" – in reference to the Ramayana story that states the city was founded by Bharata, younger brother of the central Hindu deity Rama, and named in honour of Bharata's son, Taksha.
The city's modern name, however, is derived from the ancient Greek recording of the ancient city's name, noted in Ptolemy’s Geography. The Greek transcription of Taxila became universally favoured over time, while the Pali and Sanskrit versions fell out of use.
References in Hindu texts
Hindu mythology has it that Taxila derived its name from Taksha (IAST: Takṣa), who was the son of Bharata, the brother of the Hindu deity Rama.[page needed] Taksha's kingdom was called Taksha Khanda and its capital that he founded was named Taxila. According to another theory propounded by Damodar Dharmananda Kosambi, Taxila is related to Takṣaka, Sanskrit for "carpenter", and is an alternative name for the Nāga, a non-Indo-Iranian people of ancient India.
As per another version, Takshaka was one of the Nagas mentioned in the Hindu epic Mahābhārata. He lived in a city named Takshashila, which was the new territory of Takshaka after his race was banished by Pandavas led by Arjuna from the Khandava Forest and Kurukshetra, where they built their new kingdom.
Taxila is also described in some detail in the Buddhist Jataka tales, which date from about the 4th century BCE. The Jataka literature mentions it as the capital of the kingdom of Gandhara and as a great centre of learning.
Traditionally, it is believed that the Mahābhārata was first recited at Taxila by Vaisampayana, student of Vyasa at the behest of the seer Vyasa himself, at the snake sacrifice. Ugrasrava Sauti then re-tells the story to a group of priests at an ashram in the Naraisha Forest, from which the story was further disseminated. In the Mahabharata, the Kuru Kingdom's heir, Parikshit (grandson of Arjuna) was enthroned at Taxila.
The region around Taxila was settled by the neolithic era, with some ruins at Taxila dating to 3360 BCE. Ruins dating from the Early Harappan period around 2900 BCE have also been discovered in the Taxila area, though the area was eventually abandoned after the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
The first major settlement at Taxila was established around 1000 BCE. By 900 BCE, the city was already involved in regional commerce, as discovered pottery shards reveal trading ties between the city and Puṣkalāvatī.
Taxila was founded in a strategic location along the ancient "Royal Highway" that connected the capital at Pataliputra in Bihar, with ancient Peshawar, Puṣkalāvatī, and onwards towards Central Asia via Kashmir, Bactria, and Kāpiśa. Taxila thus changed hands many times over the centuries, with many empires vying for its control.
Archaeological excavations show that the city may have grown significantly during the rule of the Persian Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BCE. In 516 BCE, Darius I embarked on a campaign to conquer Central Asia, Ariana and Bactria, before marching onto what is now Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. Emperor Darius spent the winter of 516-515 BCE in the Gandhara region surrounding Taxila, and prepared to conquer the Indus Valley, which he did in 515 BCE, after which he appointed Scylax of Caryanda to explore the Indian Ocean from the mouth of the Indus to the Suez. Darius then returned to Persia via the Bolan Pass. The region continued under Achaemenid suzerainty under the reign of Xerxes I, and continued under Achaemenid rule for over a century.
Hellenistic and Mauryan
Alexander the Great invaded Taxila in 326 BCE, after the city was surrendered by its ruler, king Omphis. Greek historians accompanying Alexander described Taxila as “wealthy, prosperous, and well governed.” His troops were said to have found a university in Taxila, the like of which had not been seen in Greece.
After Alexander's departure, Taxila came under the influence of Chandragupta Maurya, who turned Taxila into a regional capital. His advisor, Kautilya, was said to have taught at Taxila's university.[page needed] Under the reign of Ashoka, the city was made a great seat of Buddhist learning, though the city was home to a minor rebellion during this time.[page needed]
In the 2nd century BCE, Taxila was annexed by the Indo-Greek kingdom of Bactria. Indo-Greeks build new capital, Sirkap, on the opposite bank of the river from Taxila. During this new period of Bactrian Greek rule, several dynasties (like Antialcidas) likely ruled from the city as their capital. During lulls in Greek rule, the city managed profitably on its own, to independently control several local trade guilds, who also minted most of the city's autonomous coinage. In about the 1st century BCE or 1st century CE, an Indo-Scythian king named Azilises had three mints, one of which was at Taxila, and struck coins with obverse legends in Greek and Kharoṣṭhī.
The last Greek king of Taxila was overthrown by the Indo-Scythian chief Maues around 90 BCE. Gondophares, founder of the Indo-Parthian Kingdom, conquered Taxila around 20 BCE, and made Taxila his capital. According to early Christian legend, Thomas the Apostle visits king Gondophares IV around 46 CE, possibly at Taxila given that that city was Gondophares' capital city.
In the first century CE, the Greek Neopythagorean philosopher Apollonius of Tyana visited Taxila, which his team described as a fortified city laid out on a symmetrical plan, similar in size to Nineveh. Inscriptions dating to 76 CE demonstrate that the city had come under Kushan rule by this time, after the city was captured from the Parthians by Kujula Kadphises, founder of the Kushan Empire. The great Kushan ruler Kanishka later founded Sirsukh, the most recent of the ancient settlements at Taxila.
By the 300s CE, the Sasanian king Shapur II seems to have conquered Taxila, as evidenced by the numerous Sasanian copper coins found there. Taxila's ancient university remained in existence during the travels of Chinese pilgrim Faxian, who visited Taxila around 400 CE.[page needed] He wrote that ancient Taxila's name translated as "the Severed Head", and was the site of a story in the life of Buddha "where he gave his head to a man".
The White Huns swept over Gandhāra and Punjab around 470 CE, causing widespread devastation and destruction of Taxila's famous Buddhist monasteries and stupas, a blow from which the city would never recover. Xuanzang visited Taxila in 630 and 643 CE, and wrote that the city had already fallen into ruin by the time of his arrival.
Centre of learning
By some accounts, Taxila was considered to be one of the earliest (or the earliest) universities in the world.[page needed][page needed] Others do not consider it a university in the modern sense, in that the teachers living there may not have had official membership of particular colleges, and there did not seem to have existed purpose-built lecture halls and residential quarters in Taxila,[page needed] in contrast to the later Nalanda university in eastern India.
Taxila became a noted centre of learning (including the religious teachings of Buddhism) at least several centuries BCE, and continued to attract students from around the old world until the destruction of the city in the 5th century. It has been suggested that at its height, Taxila exerted a sort of "intellectual suzerainty" over other centres of learning in India and its primary concern was not with elementary, but higher education. Generally, a student entered Taxila at the age of sixteen. The ancient and the most revered scriptures, and the Eighteen Silpas or Arts, which included skills such as archery, hunting, and elephant lore, were taught, in addition to its law school, medical school, and school of military science. Students came to Taxila from far-off places such as Kashi, Kosala and Magadha, in spite of the long and arduous journey they had to undergo, on account of the excellence of the learned teachers there, all recognised as authorities on their respective subjects.[page needed]
Notable students and teachers
Taxila had great influence on Hindu culture and the Sanskrit language. It is perhaps best known for its association with Chanakya, also known as Kautilya, the strategist who guided Chandragupta Maurya and assisted in the founding of the Mauryan empire. Chanakya's Arthashastra (The knowledge of Economics) is said to have been composed in Taxila itself.[not in citation given] The Ayurvedic healer Charaka also studied at Taxila. He also started teaching at Taxila in the later period.[unreliable source?] The ancient grammarian Pāṇini, who codified the rules that would define Classical Sanskrit, has also been part of the community at Taxila.[page needed]
The institution is significant in Buddhist tradition since it is believed that the Mahāyāna branch of Buddhism took shape there. Jivaka, the court physician of the Magadha emperor Bimbisara who once cured the Buddha, and the Buddhism-supporting ruler of Kosala, Prasenajit, are some important personalities mentioned in Pali texts who studied at Taxila.[page needed]
No external authorities like kings or local leaders subjected the scholastic activities at Taxila to their control. Each teacher formed his own institution, enjoying complete autonomy in work, teaching as many students as he liked and teaching subjects he liked without conforming to any centralised syllabus. Study terminated when the teacher was satisfied with the student's level of achievement. In general, specialisation in a subject took around eight years, though this could be lengthened or shortened in accordance with the intellectual abilities and dedication of the student in question. In most cases the "schools" were located within the teachers' private houses, and at times students were advised to quit their studies if they were unable to fit into the social, intellectual and moral atmosphere there.
Knowledge was considered too sacred to be bartered for money, and hence any stipulation that fees ought to be paid was vigorously condemned. Financial support came from the society at large, as well as from rich merchants and wealthy parents. Though the number of students studying under a single Guru sometimes numbered in the hundreds, teachers did not deny education even if the student was poor; free boarding and lodging was provided, and students had to do manual work in the household. Paying students, such as princes, were taught during the day, while non-paying ones were taught at night. Gurudakshina was usually expected at the completion of a student's studies, but it was essentially a mere token of respect and gratitude - many times being nothing more than a turban, a pair of sandals, or an umbrella. In cases of poor students being unable to afford even that, they could approach the king, who would then step in and provide something. Not providing a poor student a means to supply his Guru's Dakshina was considered the greatest slur on a King's reputation.
Examinations were treated as superfluous, and not considered part of the requirements to complete one's studies. The process of teaching was critical and thorough- unless one unit was mastered completely, the student was not allowed to proceed to the next. No convocations were held upon completion, and no written "degrees" were awarded, since it was believed that knowledge was its own reward. Using knowledge for earning a living or for any selfish end was considered sacrilegious.
Students arriving at Taxila usually had completed their primary education at home (until the age of eight), and their secondary education in the Ashrams (between the ages of eight and twelve), and therefore came to Taxila chiefly to reach the ends of knowledge in specific disciplines.
Taxila's archaeological sites are 3 km southwest of modern Taxila. The sites were first excavated by Sir John Marshall, who worked at Taxila over a period of twenty years during the British colonial period.
The vast archaeological site includes neolithic remains dating to 3360 BCE, and Early Harappan remains dating to 2900–2600 BCE at Sarai Kala. Taxila, however, is most famous for ruins of several settlements, the earliest dating from around 1000 BCE. It also is known for its collection of Buddhist religious monuments, including the Dharmarajika stupa, the Jaulian monastery, and the Mohra Muradu monastery.
The main ruins of Taxila include four major cities, each belonging to a distinct time period, at three different sites. The earliest settlement at Taxila is found in the Hathial section, which yielded pottery shards that date from as early as the late 2nd millennium BCE to the 6th century BCE. The Bhir Mound ruins at the site date from the 6th century BCE, and are adjacent to Hathial. The ruins of Sirkap date to the 2nd century BCE, and were built by the region's Greco-Bactrian kings who ruled in the region following Alexander the Great's invasion of the region in 326 BCE. The third and most recent settlement is that of Sirsukh, which was built by rulers of the Kushan empire, who ruled from nearby Purushapura (modern Peshawar).
The ruins at Taxila were inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1980. In a 2010 report, Global Heritage Fund identified Taxila as one of 12 worldwide sites most "On the Verge" of irreparable loss and damage, citing insufficient management, development pressure, looting, and war and conflict as primary threats. In 2017, it was announced that Thailand would assist in conservation efforts at Taxila, as well as at Buddhist sites in the Swat Valley.
Jaulian, a World Heritage Site at Taxila.
Jaulian silver Buddhist reliquary, with content. British Museum.
A Taxila coin, 200–100 BCE. British Museum.
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"Kautilya was also a Professor of Politics and Economics at Taxila University. Taxila University is one of the oldest known universities in the world and it was the chief learning centre in ancient India."
- Mookerji 1989, p. 478:
"Thus the various centres of learning in different parts of the country became affiliated, as it were, to the educational centre, or the central university, of Taxila which exercised a kind of intellectual suzerainty over the wide world of letters in India."
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"This shows that Taxila was a seat not of elementary, but higher, education, of colleges or a university as distinguished from schools."
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"It may be observed at the outset that Taxila did not possess any colleges or university in the modern sense of the term."
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"We come across several Jātaka stories about the students and teachers of Takshaśilā, but not a single episode even remotely suggests that the different 'world renowned' teachers living in that city belonged to a particular college or university of the modern type."— F. W. Thomas (1944)
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"Students from Magadha traversed the vast distances of northern India in order to join the schools and colleges of Taxila. We learn from Pali texts that Brahmana youths, Khattiya princes and sons of setthis from Rajagriha, Kashi, Kosala and other places went to Taxila for learning the Vedas and eighteen sciences and arts."
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"Pāṇini and Kautilya, two masterminds of ancient times, were also brought up in the academic traditions of Taxila"
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"Likewise, Jivaka, the famous physician of Bimbisara who cured the Buddha, learnt the science of medicine under a far-famed teacher at Taxila and on his return was appointed court-physician at Magadha. Another illustrious product of Taxila was the enlightened ruler of Kosala, Prasenajit, who is intimately associated with the events of the time of the Buddha."
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Taxila.|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Taxila.|
- Explore Taxila with Google Earth on Global Heritage Network
- Guide to Historic Taxila by Ahmad Hasan Dani in 10 chapters
- "Taxila", by Jona Lendering
- Map of Gandhara archaeological sites, from the Huntington Collection, Ohio State University (large file)
- Taxila: An Ancient Indian University by S. Srikanta Sastri
- John Marshall, A guide to Taxila (1918) on Archive.org