From gandhara@yahoogroups.com, - By Fidaullah Sehrai

PUSHKALAVATI meaning the Lotus City in Sanskrit was the earliest capital of Gandhara. The Lotus city has been identified with the region we now know as Charsadda and its neighborhood.

According to Ramayana, Gandhara was conquered by Bharata, the son of Kaikayi and younger brother of Rama who founded the city of Pushkalavati and installed his son Pushkala as its ruler.

Pushkalavati stood on the banks of the Jinde, a channel of the Swat River. It was a great centre of education, art, culture, religion and politics. Teachers and students came from all over India to teach and study here. In Hindu, Greek, Buddhist and Chinese texts as an important city in the north. However, its palaces, forts, temples, stupas and monasteries were destroyed after the invasions of the White Huns in AD-530-40.

The city had a long history even before the rise of the Mauryas and even before the birth of the Buddha. Students came to Pushkalavati to receive instructions in the three Vedas and the eighteen branches of knowledge. Forces of Alexander the Great captured Pushkalavati and established a Macedonian garrison under Philippos. Asoka (273- 236BC) introduced Buddhism to Gandhara, constructed many stupas in memory of the Buddha and appointed his seal Kunala as the ruler of Pushkalavati.

Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese pilgrim, informs us that Asoka built a stupa at the place, which has been identified with Periano dheri mound near the village of Ganderi at a distance of ten miles from Pushkalavati. He further added that there was a Brahmanical temple outside the western gate of Pushkalavati and also a stupa built by Asoka, where the four former Buddhas had preached law. Vasumitra, the great scholar of the sastras composed famous Buddhist texts at Pushkalavati.

The concept of mother goddess prevailed in the ancient civilizations. In Gandhara thousands of mother goddesses in terra-cotta have been recovered from the mounds of Bala Hissar, Charsadda, Sardheri Rajar, Shaikhan Dheri and others. Shaikhan Dheri near Rajar was the second city of Puskhalavati and was excavated by Professor A.H. Dani. The belief in mother goddess remained in vogue for many centuries in Pushkalavati.

The lotus, a flower of river, steams, swamps, lakes, ponds, marshes and mud, which grows abundantly around Charsadda. It dominated the mind of the people of Pushkalavati to such an extent that they created a goddess for their city named in the ancient coins is Pukhlavadi-devada meaning "City Goddess of Pushkalavati."

Besides the concepts of the mother goddess and the goddess of fertility, there also prevailed a belief in the city goddess among the citizens Pushkalavati. Taxila in Punjab and Kapisa in Afghanistan also had their city goddesses. The city goddess of Pushkalavati the coins on the obverse, wears a mural crown and hold a lotus in her right and on the reverse an Indian bull. The cult of such goddesses became widespread between the third century BC and first century AD. City goddesses were probably as much protective deities as maintainers of luck a prosperity which they bestowed upon the kings a people of those cities. The lotus flower is fully utilized the religious and secular scenes as well as being a decorative clement in Gandhara art. It is repeated on the wooden doors and pillars in the traditional architecture of Pukhton houses in the far-flung villages even today, and is also carved on gravestones. The flower travelled from Pushkalavati and reached every house in Gandhara hundreds of years ago.

The importance of Puskhalavati started declining when emperor Kanishka shifted the capital to Peshawar AD 78. It was not abandon' totally but was still an important city of the Kushan empire created by Kanishka. The old city is dead at buried in mounds, but the lotus flowers are still there in ponds and rivers to mourn its death. Charsadda has arisen from the mud of the old city like a lotus flower from the pond, which is now the third city of Pushkalavati.