Loriyan Tangai, an archaeological site nestled in the heart of the Gandhara region of Pakistan, offers a window into a rich history of Buddhism. This site is renowned for its collection of stupas and religious edifices, which once housed numerous Buddhist statues. It is a testament to the deep-rooted Buddhist heritage that thrived in this region.
The Stupas’ Rediscovery
The exploration of Loriyan Tangai took a significant step in 1896 when Alexander Caddy undertook the excavation of its stupas. This remarkable endeavor led to the unearthing of a treasure trove of Buddhist statues, which were subsequently transported to the Indian Museum in Calcutta.
The Buddha of the Year 318
Among the many statues recovered from Loriyan Tangai, one holds particular historical significance. This statue features an inscription that mentions “the year 318.” While the specific era is not specified, recent research suggests a correlation with the Yavana era, commencing in 174 BCE, which provides a potential dating of the Buddha statue to around 143 CE.
The Stupa’s Architecture
The centerpiece of Loriyan Tangai’s heritage is a modest Buddhist stupa, originally retrieved by Alexander Caddy in 1896. Today, this miniature stupa stands as the focal point in the Gandhara Room of the Indian Museum in Calcutta. Stupas, integral to Buddhist worship, are hemispherical structures typically constructed from earth and encased in brick or stone. They hold a place of reverence in Buddhist religious sites and became widespread in Peshawar from the first century AD onwards.
The Architecture of the Loriyan Tangai Stupa:
- Square Base: The stupa’s square base is adorned with panels illustrating eight scenes from the life of Buddha. Each of these scenes is separated by Indo-Corinthian pillars, showcasing the life and teachings of Buddha.
- Circular Drums: The circular drums feature a series of seated Buddhas, small male figures, likely children, and an intricate geometric pattern of squares. These elements come together to create a visual tapestry of Buddhist symbolism.
- Hemispherical Dome: The stupa’s hemispherical dome is embellished with a finely carved lotus. One side of the dome presents a relief panel divided into three sections. The upper section showcases Buddha’s begging-bowl, while the lower two sections depict Buddha with his attendants.
- Umbrella Topping: The stupa’s crowning glory consists of a series of stacked umbrellas, symbolizing spiritual enlightenment.
Loriyan Tangai stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of Buddhism in the Gandhara region, allowing us to glimpse into the spiritual and artistic achievements of this ancient civilization.