Considered to be a centre of learning and to have one of the earliest universities in the world, Taxila is an ancient city and important archaeological site. Its ruins were first excavated by John Marshall, who worked at Taxila over a period of twenty years from 1913. By identifying a local site known as Sarai kala (or Sarai Khola) with ancient Taxila, the famous archaeologist Alexander Cunningham re-discovered the ruins of Taxila in the mid-19th century. Prior to that, the location of the ancient city of Taxila, known from literary texts, was uncertain.
Taxila was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 in particular for the ruins of the four settlement sites which reveal the pattern of urban evolution on the Indian subcontinent through more than five centuries. The serial site includes a number of monuments and other historical places of note in the area besides the four settlements at Bhir, Saraikala, Sirkap, and Sirsukh. They number 18 in all.
In a 2010 report, Global Heritage Fund identified Taxila as one of 12 most worldwide sites on the Verge of irreparable loss and damage, citing insufficient management, development pressure, looting, and war and conflict as primary threats. In 2017, it was announced that Thailand would assist in conservation efforts at Taxila, as well as at Buddhist sites in the Swat Valley.
Situated at the pivotal junction of South Asia and Central Asia, Taxila’s origin as a city goes back to c. 1000 BCE. Some ruins at Taxila date to the time of the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BCE, followed successively by Mauryan, Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian, and Kushan periods. Owing to its strategic location, Taxila has changed hands many times over the centuries, with many empires vying for its control. 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.
In 2006 Taxila was ranked as the top tourist destination in Pakistan by The Guardian newspaper. In a 2010 report, Global Heritage Fund identified Taxila as one of 12 most worldwide sites on the verge of irreparable loss and damage, citing insufficient management, development pressure, looting, and war and conflict as primary threats.
Taxila was known in Pali as Takkasila, and in Sanskrit as Takshashila. The Greeks pared the city's name down to Taxila, which became the name that the Europeans were familiar with ever since the time of Alexander the Great.
Takshashila can also alternately be translated to 'Rock of Taksha' in reference to the Ramayana which states that the city was named in honour of Bharata's son and first ruler, Taksha. According to another derivation, Takshashila is related to Takshaka (Sanskrit for carpenter) and is an alternate name for the Naga, a non-Indo-Iranian people of ancient India.
The Ramayana describes Takshashila as a magnificent city famed for its wealth which was founded by Bharata, the younger brother of Rama. Bharata, who also founded nearby Pushkalavati, installed his two sons, Taksha and Pushkala, as the rulers of the two cities.
In the Buddhist Jatakas, Taxila is described as the capital of the kingdom of Gandhara and a great centre of learning with world-famous teachers. The Takkasila Jataka, more commonly known as the Telapatta Jataka, tells the tale of a prince of Benares who is told that he would become the king of Takkasila if he could reach the city within seven days without falling prey to the yakkhinis who waylaid travellers in the forest. According to the Dipavamsa, one of Taxila's early kings was a Kshatriya named Dipankara who was succeeded by twelve sons and grandsons. Kunjakarṇa, mentioned in the Avadanakalpalata, is another king associated with the city.
In the Jain tradition, it is said that Rishabha, the first of the Tirthankaras, visited Taxila millions of years ago. His footprints were subsequently consecrated by Bahubali who erected a throne and a dharmachakra ("wheel of the law") over them several miles in height and circumference.
The region around Taxila was settled by the neolithic era, with some ruins at Taxila dating to 3360 BCE. Ruins dating from the Early Harappan period around 2900 BCE have also been discovered in the Taxila area, though the area was eventually abandoned after the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
The first major settlement at Taxila was established around 1000 BCE. By 900 BCE, the city was already involved in regional commerce, as discovered pottery shards reveal trading ties between the city and Puṣkalavati.
Taxila was founded in a strategic location along the ancient 'Royal Highway' that connected the capital at Pataliputra in Bihar, with ancient Peshawar, Puṣkalavati, and onwards towards Central Asia via Kashmir, Bactria, and Kapisa. Taxila thus changed hands many times over the centuries, with many empires vying for its control.
Archaeological excavations show that the city may have grown significantly during the rule of the Persian Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BCE. In 516 BCE, Darius I embarked on a campaign to conquer Central Asia, Ariana and Bactria, before marching onto what is now Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. Emperor Darius spent the winter of 516-515 BCE in the Gandhara region surrounding Taxila, and prepared to conquer the Indus Valley, which he did in 515 BCE, after which he appointed Scylax of Caryanda to explore the Indian Ocean from the mouth of the Indus to the Suez. Darius then returned to Persia via the Bolan Pass. The region continued under Achaemenid suzerainty under the reign of Xerxes I, and continued under Achaemenid rule for over a century.
Alexander the Great invaded Taxila in 326 BCE, after the city was surrendered by its ruler, king Omphis. Greek historians accompanying Alexander described Taxila as 'wealthy, prosperous, and well governed.'
Taxila came under the control of Chandragupta Maurya, who turned Taxila into a regional capital. His advisor, Kautilya, was said to have taught at Taxila's university. Under the reign of Ashoka, the city was made a great seat of Buddhist learning, though the city was home to a minor rebellion during this time.
In the 2nd century BCE, Taxila was annexed by the Indo-Greek kingdom of Bactria. Indo-Greeks built a new capital, Sirkap, on the opposite bank of the river from Taxila. During this new period of Bactrian Greek rule, several dynasties (like Antialcidas) likely ruled from the city as their capital. During lulls in Greek rule, the city managed profitably on its own, to independently control several local trade guilds, who also minted most of the city's autonomous coinage. 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 Kharosthi.
The last Greek king of Taxila was overthrown by the Indo-Scythian chief Maues around 90 BCE. Gondophares, founder of the Indo-Parthian Kingdom, conquered Taxila around 20 BCE, and made Taxila his capital. According to early Christian legend, Thomas the Apostle visited Gondophares IV around 46 CE, possibly at Taxila given that that city was Gondophares' capital city.
In the first century CE, the Greek Neopythagorean philosopher Apollonius of Tyana visited Taxila, which his team described as a fortified city laid out on a symmetrical plan, similar in size to Nineveh. Inscriptions dating to 76 CE demonstrate that the city had come under Kushan rule by this time, after the city was captured from the Parthians by Kujula Kadphises, founder of the Kushan Empire. The great Kushan ruler Kanishka later founded Sirsukh, the most recent of the ancient settlements at Taxila.
In the mid Fourth Century CE, the Gupta Empire occupied the territories in Eastern Gandhara, establishing a Kumaratya's post at Taxila. The City became well known for its Trade links- including Silk, Sandalwood, Horses, Cotton, Silverware, Pearls, and Spices. It is during this time that the City heavily features in Classical Indian Literature - both as a centre of Culture as well as a militarised border City.
Taxila's university remained in existence during the travels of Chinese pilgrim Faxian, who visited Taxila around 400 CE. He wrote that Taxila's name translated as "the Severed Head", and was the site of a story in the life of Buddha 'where he gave his head to a man'.
The Kidarites, vassals of the Hephthalite Empire are known to have invaded Taxila in c. 450 CE. Though repelled by the Gupta Emperor Skandagupta, the City would not recover- probably on account of the strong Hunnic presence in the area, breakdown of trade as well as the three-way war between Persia, the Kidarite State, and the Huns in Western Gandhara.
The White Huns swept over Gandhara and Punjab around 470 CE, causing widespread devastation and destruction of Taxila's famous Buddhist monasteries and stupas, a blow from which the city would never recover. From 500 CE to 540 CE, the City fell under the control of the Hunnic Empire in India and languished.
Xuanzang visited India between 629 to 645 CE. Taxila which was desolate and half-ruined was visited by him in 630 CE, and found most of its sangharamas still ruined and desolate with the state having become a dependency of Kashmir with the local leaders fighting amongst themselves for power. Only a few monks remained there. He noted that it had some time previously been a subject of Kapisa. By the ninth century, it became a dependency of the Kabul Shahis.
By some accounts, Taxila was considered to be one of the earliest (or the earliest) universities in the world. Taxila became a noted centre of learning (including the religious teachings of Buddhism) 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. It has been suggested that at its height, 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 ancient and the most revered 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 recognised as authorities on their respective subjects.
Taxila had great influence on Hindu culture and the Sanskrit language. It is perhaps best known for its association with Chanakya, also known as Kautilya, the strategist who guided Chandragupta Maurya and assisted in the founding of the Mauryan Empire. Chanakya's Arthashastra (The knowledge of Economics) 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. Paṇini, the grammarian 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 Mahayana branch of Buddhism took shape there. Jivaka, the court physician of the Magadha emperor Bimbisara who once cured the Buddha, and the Buddhism-supporting ruler of Kosala, Prasenajit, are some important personalities mentioned in Pali texts who studied at Taxila.
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 centralised syllabus. Study terminated when the teacher was satisfied with the student's level of achievement. In general, specialisation 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, such as princes, were taught during the day, while non-paying ones were taught at night.
Gurudakshina 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.
The sites of a number of important cities noted in ancient Indian texts were identified by scholars early in the 19th century. The lost city of Taxila however, wasn't one of them. Its identification was made difficult partly due to errors in the distances recorded by Pliny in his Naturalis Historia which pointed to a location somewhere on the Haro river, two days march from the Indus. Alexander Cunningham, the founder and the first director-general of the Archaeological Survey of India, noticed that this position did not agree with the descriptions provided in the itineraries of Chinese pilgrims and in particular, that of Xuanzang, the 7th-century Buddhist monk. Unlike Pliny, these sources noted that the journey to Taxila from the Indus took three days and not two. Cunningham's subsequent explorations in 1863–64 of a site at Shah-dheri convinced him that his hypothesis was correct.
Now as Hwen Thsang, on his return to China, was accompanied by laden elephants, his three days' journey from Takhshasila to the Indus at Utakhanda, or Ohind, must necessarily have been of the same length as those of modern days, and, consequently, the site of the city must be looked for somewhere in the neighbourhood of Kala-ka-sarai. This site is found near Shah-dheri, just one mile to the north-east of Kala-ka-sarai, in the extensive ruins of a fortified city, around which I was able to trace no less than 55 stupas, of which two are as large as the great Manikyala tope, twenty eight monasteries, and nine temples.
The vast archaeological site includes neolithic remains dating to 3360 BCE, and Early Harappan remains dating to 2900–2600 BCE at Sarai Kala. Taxila, however, is most famous for ruins of several settlements, the earliest dating from around 1000 BCE. It is also known for its collection of Buddhist religious monuments, including the Dharmarajika stupa, the Jaulian monastery, and the Mohra Muradu monastery.
The main ruins of Taxila include four major cities, each belonging to a distinct time period, at three different sites. The earliest settlement at Taxila is found in the Hathial section, which yielded pottery shards that date from as early as the late 2nd millennium BCE to the 6th century BCE. The Bhir Mound ruins at the site date from the 6th century BCE, and are adjacent to Hathial. The ruins of Sirkap date to the 2nd century BCE, and were built by the region's Greco-Bactrian kings who ruled in the region following Alexander the Great's invasion of the region in 326 BCE. The third and most recent settlement is that of Sirsukh, which was built by rulers of the Kushan Empire, who ruled from nearby Purushapura (modern Peshawar).
Approximately 549 metres (1,801 ft) above sea level, modern Taxila is a city in Rawalpindi District situated about 32 km (20 mi) north-west of twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, along the historic Grand Trunk Road, near the important Sikh pilgrimage centre of Hasan Abdal, and the Mughal-era Wah Gardens.
Taxila is home to many secondary educational institutes including CIIT Wah Campus, and HITEC University. The University of Engineering and Technology, Taxila was established in 1975 as a campus of the University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore, and offers bachelor, master, and doctoral degrees in engineering.
Modern Taxila is a mix of relatively wealthy urban, and poorer rural environs. Urban residential areas are general in the form of planned housing colonies populated by workers of the heavy mechanical complex & heavy industries, educational institutes and hospitals that are located in the area.
Taxila Museum has one of the most significant and comprehensive collections of stone Buddhist sculpture from the first to the seventh centuries in Pakistan (known as Gandharan art. The core of the collection comes from excavated sites in the Taxila Valley, particularly the excavations of Sir John Marshall. Other objects come from excavated sites elsewhere in Gandhara, from donations such as the Ram Das Collection, or from material confiscated by the police and custom authorities.
Taxila is one of northern Pakistan's most important tourist destinations, and is home to the Taxila Museum which holds a large number of artifacts from Taxila's excavations. Though the number of foreign visitors to the site drastically declined following the start of an Islamist insurgency in Pakistan in 2007, visitor numbers began to noticeably improve by 2017, after the law and order situation in the region had greatly improved following the start of the 2014 Zarb-e-Azb campaign launched by the Pakistani Army against radical Islamist militants.
In 2017, the Pakistani government announced its intention to develop Taxila into a site for Buddhist religious pilgrimage. As part of the efforts, it announced that an exhibition on the Buddhist heritage of the region would be held in Thailand, and that the Thai government would assist in conservation efforts at the site. Relics from Taxila were also sent to Sri Lanka for the 2017 Vesak holiday as part of an effort to showcase the region's Buddhist heritage. The Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation also announced in 2017 that a tour bus service would be launched between the Taxila Museum and Islamabad.
In addition to the ruins of ancient Taxila, relics of Mughal gardens and vestiges of historical Grand Trunk Road are also found in Taxila. Nicholson's Obelisk, named in honour of Brigadier John Nicholson who died in during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, is a monument from the British era that welcomes travellers arriving from Rawalpindi / Islamabad.
Taxila features a humid subtropical climate.
Taxila is home to Heavy Industries Taxila, a major Pakistani defence, military contractor, engineering conglomerate. The city's economy is also closely linked to the large Pakistan Ordnance Factories at nearby Wah Cantt, which employs 27,000 people. Cottage and household industries include stoneware, pottery and footwear.
Taxila is served by the Taxila Cantonment Junction railway station. Taxila Junction is served by the Karachi–Peshawar Railway Line, and is the southern terminus of the Khunjerab Railway, which connects Taxila to the Havelian railway station. A planned extension of the railway will eventually connect Taxila to China's Southern Xinjiang Railway in Kashgar, as part of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor.
The ancient Grand Trunk Road is designated as N-5 National Highway, and connects the city to the Afghan border, and northern Punjab. The Karakoram Highway's southern terminus is in nearby Hasan Abdal, and connects Taxila to the Chinese border near the Hunza Valley. The city is linked to Peshawar and Islamabad by the M-1 Motorway, which in turn offers wider motorway access to Lahore via the M-2 Motorway, and Faisalabad via the M-4 Motorway.
The nearest airport to Taxila is Islamabad's Benazir Bhutto International Airport, located 36.5 kilometres away. Peshawar's Bacha Khan International Airport is 155 kilometres away.