The city of ‘Takshashila’ was founded between the 5th to 6th centuries BC. It is located about 32 km northwest of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. On heresy, this famed city was situated at the central junction of the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia(i.e. at the intersection of three great trade routes: one from eastern India, the second from western Asia and the third from Kashmir and Central Asia) on the eastern bank of the Indus river. This position earned Takshashila city prosperity in ancient times. It is meant as the ‘City of Cut Stone’ or the ‘Rock of Taksha’. The city name ‘Takshashila’ has rendered as ‘Taxila’ by the Greek writers. It has been defined in the page of history by a Sanskrit text ‘Vayu Purana’; by the ‘Jataka Tales’, the Buddhist literature; by the Hindu epic, Ramayana; by the another Hindu epic, Mahabharatha and finally by the pilgrims in their itineraries of around 5th century BC. In accordance with the illustration of the Hindu Sanskrit text, the ‘Vayu Purana’, ‘Takshashila'(on the contrary Taxila) was the capital of the kingdom, ‘Gandhara’ established itself as a great learning centre. The Persian king, Darius I, described Gandhara in the inscriptions as a province in the 5th century BCE, and Takshashila(Taxila), the capital of Gandhara, was ruled by the Achaemenian(Persian) for more than a century.
Takshashila is depicted elaborately in the Buddhist ‘Jataka Tales’, written in Sri Lanka around the 5th century, also agrees with the ‘Vayu Purana’. One of the most adorable Hindu epics, the’ Ramayana’, treated as scripture by the same, had narrated Takshashila. This city was founded by Bharata, the younger and beloved brother of Lord Rama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Later, Bharata named this said city after His son, ‘Taksha’, the first ruler of Taksha Khanda. According to another reference, Takshashila is connected with ‘Takshaka'(Sanskrit for carpenter) and is a substitute name for the Naga, a non-Indo-Iranian people of ancient India. Another worshipful Hindu epic, Mahabharatha, had introduced Janamejaya as a Kuru king(the son of Kuru king, Parikshit also) in its initial chapters and had narrated his conquest of Takshashila where he held his court. Takshashila had been described by Vaisampayana(a traditional narrator of the Mahabharata) first as the place where the conflict between the Pandavas and Kauravas was committed.
A Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, Fa-Hien, came to India in the early 5th century during the reign of the Gupta Emperor Chandragupta II. Another Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, Hiuen Tsang, came to India in 630 AD during the reign of Harshavardhana of Kanauj and described his experience of Taxila in his itinerary, ‘Record of Western Countries’. Fa-Hien had visited Takshashila and defined the meaning of this city name as ‘Cut off Head’. According to his explanation, with the help of ‘Jataka Tales’ behind the place’s name was like this—-Lord Buddha at His previous birth as Puspa or Chandaprabha cut off His own head to feed a hungry lion. It is a historical fact that Rishabha, the first Jain Tirthankara, visited Takshashila(Taxila) millions of years ago.
Takshashila and Great Alexander
Takshashila University had always been a target of invaders; the Persians, Greeks, Perthians(Iranians), Shakas or Scythians, and Kushanas had made their aggressions at Takshashila periodically and subsequently, many of them had established their rules all over in India. King Alexander, the great(Alexander III of Macedon, Greece), was a member of the Argead dynasty invaded Taxila, the capital of Gandhara kingdom located precisely between the Indus and the Jhelum rivers, ruled by the king Ambhi during the 4th century BC(326 BCE). King Ambhi surrendered the city and all the treasures it had possessed at the feet of Alexander. References of the Greek historians testify Taxila as a wealthy, prosperous and well-governed city. At that time, Takshashila University reached its utmost reputation with its excellent teachers and many subject arrangements. King Alexander the great had to face another king, Porus, the region’s ruler between the Jhelum and the Chenab rivers of the Punjab, Pakistan. Unlike king Ambhi, king Porus fought Alexander. In 326 BCE, at Hydaspes, on the bank of the Jhelum river, two kings fought, and the battle came to be known as The Battle of the Hydaspes.’ Though many believe that Alexander won the battle, but many Historians believes that Greek records were exaggerated. Alexander pressed forward and reached the end of the Indus delta. From there, he was forced to return to his own country with a part of his army. History suggests that due to high casualties in the Battle of the Hydaspes, Alexander’s tired army lost the will to fight against the Magadhas hundred thousand strong army and war elephants. But significantly on his return, he accompanied so many scholars of the Takshashila University to Greece in September 325 BCE.
Within a decade after Alexander’s death, the governance of Taxila city went into the hands of the Mauryans, founded by Chandragupta, by whom Takshashila city was promoted into a provincial capital(the capital city of a province). But with an unmerciful banter, Takshashila city was demolished horribly by Hephthalite(white Hunas) invasions in the second half of the 5th century. They left nothing there was. They smashed the whole city, university and all Buddhist monasteries, which were never recovered. And gradually, this city was deserted by the inhabitants by the 7th century. At its initial stage, the Takshashila University had some buildings located scattered where learned persons(teachers of the university) lived, worked and taught, not being the official members of that said educational institution. In contrast, the teachers of the later Nalanda University had the same. In time lag, more buildings were set up with the help of donations from the rulers, and for that, more scholars went there to live and study. Gradually it took the shape of a large and advanced campus. Subsequently, it established itself as a world-famous learning centre of ancient times. The campus of this history-famed university was adorned with (1) Three hundred lecture halls with stone benches for sitting, (2) Laboratories, (3) an Observatory called the ‘Ambudharaavlehi’ for astronomical research and (4) a massive library called ‘Dharma Gunj’ or ‘Mountain of Knowledge’. Moreover, this campus consisted of three buildings such as ‘Ratna Sagar’, ‘Ratnodavi’ and ‘Ratnayanjak’, which enriched the campus more attractive.
At its peak, Takshashila University had more than 10,500 students from across the world. The entrance examination held was very tough. Only three applicants out of ten got passed through; Babylonia(Iraq), Greece, Arabia, China, Egypt, Syria, Asia-Minor(Turkey) were such countries that kept their important roles in this perspective. Nearly 2,000 scholar-teachers were appointed to teach them over 64 subjects. Among those subjects science, mathematics, medicine, politics, warfare, astrology, astronomy, music, religion, philosophy, surgery, archery, commerce, futurology, dance, Vedas, grammar, Ayurveda, agriculture, the art of discovering hidden treasure, decrypting encrypted messages, hunting and elephant lore were taught. In addition to those subjects, there were three special centres of learning like a law school(a graduate school offering study leading to a law degree), a medical school(a graduate school offering study leading to a medical degree) and a school of military science(the discipline dealing with the principles of warfare). Takshashila University had a unique infrastructure in the study of medical science for its students. Students could get the opportunity of admission at the age of sixteen after completing their primary educations from their local institutions. Like the other universities, students would come to Takshashila University to be educated in their chosen subjects with their teachers directly.
Being an informal seat of the learning centre, the teachers of Takshashila University had some unique autonomous authorities, which made the university different from the others of that time. Such as the teachers of that said university had the absolute liberties to select the students as much as they would eager to learn. The teachers had the authority to design the curriculum of the respective subjects for the admitted students. The so-called sessions of the courses would complete only when the teachers would satisfy their students’ amassment of knowledge. The students would learn a lot in their respective subjects through debate and discussions. And this procedure of teaching earned the university the fame of the world-class learning centre of ancient times. This renowned university had established a rare example of assimilation of both the teachers and their obedient pupils. Their advanced and learned pupils keenly assisted the senior teachers. A few pupils were produced by the Takshashila University, who subsequently enriched and enlightened the university with their knowledge and teachings. Panini, Charaka, Chanakya, Jivaka and Kumaralata were those iconic teachers who vindicated themselves as milestones in their respective fields. Buddhist literature testifies that Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the well known ‘Mauryan Empire’, was also a student of the Takshashila University. Chanakya was responsible for being educated there in all the sciences and arts, including military sciences.
The notable personality of Ancient India at Takshashila
Chandragupta Maurya was a pupil at Takshashila University for eight years. The Takshashila University got its importance again during the reign of Kanishka of the Kushan dynasty between 78 and 144 CE due to his patronage of Buddhism. Panini, the great 5th century BCE Indian grammarian and litterateur, authored a book on grammar named ‘Ashtadhyayi’, was also a prominent teacher of the Takshashila University. Chanakya was famous all over the world because of his razor-sharp intelligence and scholarship in a different meaning. He made Takshashila University well known with his keen association. He authored his famous book ‘ArthaShastra’ in Sanskrit, which was subjected to statecraft, economic policy, and military strategy and was composed in Takshashila University. He acquired the posts of mentor and professor of Chandragupta Maurya. He also waited on as the Prime Minister in Chandragupta Maurya’s court. He was also familiar with his other name, ‘Kautilya’. With his efficiency, the preeminent physician, Charaka, reached the peak of fame that the Indian would call him as ‘father of medicine’. He was treated as the leading physician in Ayurveda, also practised in Takshashila University. Jivaka was another eminent practised of primitive India and was also a contemporary of the Lord Buddha. It is an astounding fact that Jivaka was also the personal physician of Him. It is come to know that physician Jivaka was the best disciple of the physician Atreya who was a physician of god’s. Jivaka was listed as a teacher of the university. Kumaralata, a Chinese Buddhist monk and a traveller of the 3rd century, was famous for his excellence in teaching at Takshashila University. A great student and later teacher of Takshashila University was Vishnu Sharma. He wrote his great book with political science and illustrated it with simple book-oriented stories called the ‘Pancha Tantra'(the five techniques). And finally, Vasubandhu, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, was also a teacher of Takshashila University. Under the reign of emperor Ashoka, the Takshashila city had reached its apex in all kinds of developments and became the witness of the most creative period under the rule.
The excavation of the ruins of Taxila city was initially started in the mid 19th century (1863-1864) and(1872-1873) by Sir Alexander Cunningham, the father of Indian archaeology. After this, further excavation was started by Sir John Hubert Marshall(Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India). Finally, Takshashila University was denominated as the ‘World Heritage Site’ in the year 1980.
How to travel to Takhashila from India
Air is the single mode of communication from New Delhi to Islamabad. It takes a total time of 9hrs and 02 minutes, including a layover time of 2hrs and 40minutes to cover the distance of 678kms. In contrast, the fastest flight journey time is 4hrs and 45minutes to cover the same distance from New Delhi. The quickest way to be at Takshashila University from Islamabad Airport is by taxi, which takes 43minutes to complete the distance of 31kms. The present Takshashila University was established with a complete renovation and a new identity ‘The University of Engineering and Technology, Taxila(UET, Taxila) in 1975. Students can achieve their bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in engineering and applied sciences. Tourists can accommodate themselves in some hotels near Takshashila. New Takshashila(UET) is located at HMC Link Road, Taxila, Rawalpindi, Punjab-47050, Pakistan. It is open from Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
According to a Global Heritage Fund report, 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. Religion-based politics had divided the ancient Bharata, but that should not be why Takshashila remained uncared. It is a treasure, a blessing from our ancestors. We urge the Pakistani government to take proper care of this ancient learning centre so the future generation can remember their glorious past.
Image courtesy: Sasha Isachenko