Many places in the world are devoted to a particular religion but are shaped by another faith. Afghanistan is one such country which sincerely follows Islam, however, before the advent of Islam, the country was the principal center of Buddhist teaching. There are many remnants of Buddhist past that affirms early Buddhism in the country.
While most of the remnants have been destroyed due to war and neglect, most of the museum collections were looted or irreparably damaged. Hence extensive research is needed to find the remains of the rich Buddhist past. The Bamiyan Buddhas, which the Taliban destroyed in 2001, is one of strong evidence related to Buddhist history in Afghanistan.
One of the most impressive pre-Islamic site in Afghanistan in Samangan Province has remarkable remnants of the Buddhist past – highly unusual subterranean stupa, known locally as Takht-i-Rustam (Rustam’s Throne). The stupa was named after Rustam III, the Persian ruler of the Bavand dynasty. Unlike others this stupa has not been mounted above ground, but it has been carved into the ground, in a style that resembles the monolithic churches of Ethiopia.
Stupa of Takht-e Rostam
The top of the stupa stands a stone-carved Harmika building, which once held the relics of Buddha. The channel surrounding the stupa is around eight meters deep. A path leads down to the bottom of the trench where the Buddhist monks circumnavigated the stupa once upon a time.
Carved into the outer walls of the channel, is a Buddhist monastery with five individual caves. It also has many monastic cells that were used for meditation.
There were small holes in the roofs that allowed small rays of light to enter the caves to create a perfect twilight peaceful atmosphere. The cave monastery does not have any decorative elements but is impressive for its sheer engineering feat.
Why this stupa was carved in such an unusual way? Historians have proposed two possible reasons: one explanation is that it could have been done for the purpose of camouflage to protect the monastery from invaders; another much more mundane explanation states that it has simply been done to escape the excessive climate extremes of Afghanistan.
The Afghan name Takht-e Rostam (Throne of Rostam) refers to a legendary figure in Persian culture. After the Islamization of Afghanistan, when the knowledge of the original purpose of the stupa became lost, the site became known as the place where Rostam supposedly married his bride Tahmina.
Stupas, are symbolic religious “sanctuaries” of the Buddhists world-cosmos. Some ancient astronaut theorists suggest that it can have connection to mysterious flying ships or ‘Vimanas’ that visited Earth 6000 years ago according to ancient Vedic texts. In India the word for stupa is the word śikhara, which means ‘tower.’ Śikhara is very much like the Egyptian word Saqqara, the place of the Step Pyramid, or the Stairway to Heaven. What if the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Indians were telling us the same thing about the stupas, that these are in fact wombs of transformation, ladders, or cosmic stairways into the heavens?
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