Taxila, in Pakistan is a place where I recently lived. It is revived many times after several disasters. The way this place is revived is dire to be discussed.
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 renowned archaeologist Sir Alexander Cunningham rediscovered the ruins of Taxila in the mid-19th century. In 1980, Taxila was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2006 it was ranked as the top tourist destination in Pakistan by The Guardian newspaper.
By some accounts, Taxila was considered to be one of the earliest (or the earliest) universities in the world. 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 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.
Hindu mythology has it that Taxila derived its name from Takṣa, who was the son of Bharata, the brother of the Hindu deity Rama. Takṣa’s kingdom was called Takṣa 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.In the great Hindu epic, the Mahābhārata, the Kuru Kingdom’s heir, Parikṣit (grandson of the Arjuna) was enthroned at Taxila. Traditionally, it is believed that the Mahabharata was first recited at Taxila by Vaisampayana, student of Vyasa at the behest of the seer Vyasa himself, at the Snake Sacrifice.
Scattered references in historical works indicated that Taxila may have dated back to at least the 8th century BCE.
Historically, Taxila lay at the crossroads of three major ancient trade routes. Owing to this strategic location, Taxila has changed hands many times over the centuries.
Archaeological excavations later showed that the city may have grown significantly during the Achaemenid Empire of the 6th century BCE. In 516 BC, Darius I embarked on a campaign to Central Asia, Ariana and Bactria and then marched into Afghanistan to Hindush in modern Pakistan. Darius spent the winter of 516-515 BCE in Gandhara, preparing to conquer the Indus Valley. Darius conquered the Indus in 515 BCE. He controlled the Indus Valley from Gandhara to modern Karachi and appointed the Greek Scylax of Caryanda to explore the Indian Ocean from the mouth of the Indus to the Suez. Darius then marched through the Bolan Pass and returned through Arachosia and Drangiana back to Persia.
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.
Greek invaders arrived during the 4th century BCE. According to Joseph Needham: “When the men of Alexander the Great came to Taxila … they found a university there the like of which had not been seen in Greece, a university which taught the three Vedas and the eighteen accomplishments and was still existing when the Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hsien went there about AD 400.”
Taxila is in western Punjab, and was an important city during Alexander’s campaign in ancient India.
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 Chinese monk Faxian, writing of his visit to Taxila in 405 CE, mentions the kingdom of Takshasila, meaning “the Severed Head”. He says that this name was derived from an event in the life of the Buddha Gautama because this is the place “where he gave his head to a man”.
Xuanzang, another Chinese monk, visited Taxila in 630 and in 643. It appears to have already been overrun by the Hunas and been in ruins by his time. Taxila is called Taxiala in Ptolemy’s Geography.In the Historia Trium Regum (History of the Three Kings) composed by John of Hildesheim around 1375, the city is called Egrisilla.
Ancient Center of Learning
Taxila became a noted centre of learning (including the religious teachings of Hinduism) 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. At its height, it has been suggested that 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 Vedas, the ancient and the most revered Hindu 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 recognized as authorities on their respective subjects.
Notable Students and Teachers
Taxila had great influence on the Hindu culture and the Sanskrit language. It is perhaps best known because of its association with Chanakya, also known as Kautilya, the strategist who guided Chandragupta Maurya and assisted in the founding of the Mauryan empire. The Arthashastra (Sanskrit for The knowledge of Economics) of Chanakya, is said to have been composed in Taxila itself. The Ayurvedic healer Charaka also studied at Taxila. He also started teaching at Taxila in the later period. The ancient grammarian Pāṇini, who codified the rules that would define Classical Sanskrit, has also been part of the community at Taxila.
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 enlightened ruler of Kosala, Prasenajit, are some important personalities mentioned in Pali texts who studied at Taxila.
Nature of education
By some accounts, Taxilla was considered to be amongst the earliest universities in the world. 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.
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 centralized syllabus. Study terminated when the teacher was satisfied with the student’s level of achievement. In general, specialization 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 like princes were taught during the day; non-paying ones, at night. Guru Dakshina 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.