Pakistan showcases rich Buddhist cultural heritage at Gandhara symposium in Islamabad

The International Gandhara Symposium is currently underway in Islamabad, Pakistan, shedding light on the treasure trove of the Gandhara Civilization and Buddhist heritage in the country.

The three-day symposium, titled ‘Cultural Diplomacy: Reviving Gandhara Civilization and Buddhist Heritage in Pakistan,’ commenced on July 11 and will continue until July 13. It has brought together monks and interfaith experts from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, China, Malaysia, South Korea, and Vietnam with the aim of exploring Pakistan’s remarkable Buddhist legacy and creating an environment conducive to Gandhara tourism.

The inaugural session of the symposium was addressed by the President of Pakistan, Dr. Arif Alvi on Tuesday. President Alvi emphasized that Pakistan provides the world with a valuable window into the Gandhara civilization, showcasing its unique amalgamation of ancient history and the Buddha’s message of peace and compassion.

“In today’s world where hatred is on the rise and increasing polarisation is fueling conflicts, it’s time to rediscover the role of cultural diplomacy to promote dialogue among civilizations,” said Dr. Alvi.

President Alvi highlighted that the Gandhara civilization, which thrived in Pakistan centuries ago, serves as an enlightening destination for global visitors to explore exquisite Buddhist sites. He called for collaborative efforts to raise awareness about the inclusive and multicultural nature of the Gandhara civilization and foster a society that embraces diversity.

The symposium comprises four sessions that focus on the ancient Gandhara civilization and the Buddhist heritage in Pakistan. Additionally, it features a round table discussion and visits to Taxila and Peshawar museums, renowned for housing centuries-old Buddhist artifacts.

The symposium will feature speakers from Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea, Nepal, Sri Lanka, China, and Pakistan. Faith leaders, archaeologists, curators, experts, religious scholars, academicians, and representatives from Pakistan’s tourism industry will contribute to the discussions, reflecting on the richness of the Gandhara civilization and its Buddhist heritage.

The event is jointly organized by the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Gandhara Tourism, the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI), and the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Gandhara Tourism, highlighted that the symposium aims to showcase the potential of religious tourism in Pakistan, which will contribute to boosting the country’s economy.

“This will help boost our economy by at least $1.5 billion to $1.75 billion in the first year [and] $3 billion in the second year,” he said.

Vankwani maintained this “will also build our image in the eyes of the international community” while promising to organize more such events in the future to build liaison with the international community.

The relics of the Gandhara civilization, including sacred sites, sculptures, and artifacts, continue to inspire Buddhists and tourists from around the world. The rediscovered cities of the Gandhara civilization reveal a glimpse into their well-structured and modern lives through paintings, sculptures, coins, pottery, and their deep connection with Buddhism.

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