TAXILA or TAKSHASHILA was an ancient city in what is now northern
Pakistan . It is an important archaeological site and in 1980, was
World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site . Its ruins lie near modern
Taxila , in
Punjab, Pakistan , about 35 km (22 mi) northwest of
Taxila was situated at the pivotal junction of the Indian
Central Asia . Its 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
Indo-Scythian , and
Kushan periods. Owing to its
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. The archaeologist Alexander
Cunningham rediscovered the ruins of
Taxila in the mid-19th century.
Taxila was a centre of learning and is considered by some to have
been one of 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.
Taxila was ranked as the top tourist destination in Pakistan
The Guardian newspaper. In a 2010 report, Global Heritage Fund
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
* 1 Etymology
* 2 In traditional sources
* 3 History
* 3.1 Early settlement
* 3.2 Achaemenid
* 3.3 Hellenistic
* 3.7 Gupta
* 3.8 Decline
* 4 Centre of learning
* 4.1 Notable students and teachers
* 5 Ruins
World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site
* 6 Gallery
* 7 See also
* 8 Notes
* 9 References
* 10 External links
Taxila was known in
Pali as Takkasilā, and in
IAST : Takṣaśilā; "City of
Cut Stone"). The Greeks pared the city's name down to
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
"carpenter") and is an alternate name for the Nāga, a
non-Indo-Iranian people of ancient India.
IN TRADITIONAL SOURCES
In Vedic texts such as the
Shatapatha Brahmana , it is mentioned that
the Vedic philosopher
Uddalaka Aruni (c. 7th century BCE) had
travelled to the region of
Gandhara . In later Buddhist texts, the
Jatakas , it is specified that
Taxila was the city where Aruni and his
son Setaketu each had received their education.
One of the earliest mentions of
Taxila is in
Sanskrit grammar treatise dated to the 4th
Much of the
Hindu epic, the
Mahabharata , is a conversation between
Vaishampayana (a pupil of the sage,
Vyasa ) and King Janamejaya . It
is traditionally believed that the story was first recited by
Vaishampayana at the behest of
Vyasa during the snake sacrifice
performed by Janamejaya at Takshashila. The audience also included
Ugrashravas , an itinerant bard, who would later recite the story to a
group of priests at an ashram in the
Naimisha Forest from where the
story was further disseminated. The
Kuru Kingdom 's heir, Parikshit
(grandson of Arjuna) is said to have been enthroned at Takshashila.
Ramayana describes Takshashila as a magnificent city famed for
its wealth which was founded by Bharata, the younger brother of
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
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. Kuñjakarṇa, mentioned in the
Avadanakalpalata , is another king associated with the city.
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
The region around
Taxila was settled by the neolithic era, with some
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
Taxila was sometimes ruled as part of the Gandhara
kingdom (whose capital was Pushkalavati), particularly after the
Achaemenid period, but
Taxila sometimes formed its own independent
district or city-state.
Taxila was founded in a strategic location along the ancient "Royal
Highway" that connected the
Mauryan capital at
Puṣkalāvatī , and onwards towards Central
Bactria , and Kāpiśa .
Taxila thus changed hands
many times over the centuries, with many empires vying for its
control. Eastern border of the
Achaemenid invasion of the Indus Valley
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
Central Asia ,
Bactria , before marching onto what
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
Bolan Pass . The region continued under Achaemenid suzerainty
under the reign of Xerxes I, and continued under Achaemenid rule for
over a century.
Indian campaign of Alexander the Great A map of
Alexander's campaign in ancient India .
During his invasion of the
Indus Valley ,
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great was
able to gain control of
Taxila in 326 BCE without a battle, as the
city was surrendered by its ruler, king Omphis (Āmbhi). Greek
historians accompanying Alexander described
Taxila as “wealthy,
prosperous, and well governed.”
By 317 BCE, the Greek satraps left by Alexander were driven out , and
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-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
Azilises had three mints, one of which was at Taxila, and struck
coins with obverse legends in Greek and
The last Greek king of
Taxila was overthrown by the Indo-Scythian
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
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
Kushan rule by this time, after the city was captured from
the Parthians by
Kujula Kadphises , founder of the
Kushan Empire .
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
Taxila's university remained in existence during the travels of
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".
Kidarites , vassals of the
Hephthalite Empire are known to have
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
The White Huns swept over Gandhāra 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 South Asia 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. Only a few monks
remained there. He adds that the kingdom had become a dependency of
Kashmir with the local leaders fighting amongst themselves for power.
He noted that it had some time previously been a subject of
By the ninth century, it became a dependency of the
Kabul Shahis .
CENTRE OF LEARNING
A view over the ruins of Sirkap. Main article: Ancient
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.
Taxila became a noted centre of learning (including the religious
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
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.
NOTABLE STUDENTS AND TEACHERS
Taxila had great influence on
Hindu culture and the Sanskrit
language. It is perhaps best known for its association with
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
Taxila itself. The
Charaka also studied
at Taxila. He also started teaching at
Taxila in the later period.
Pāṇini , the grammarian who codified the rules that would define
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 Buddhism-supporting ruler of Kosala,
Prasenajit, are some important personalities mentioned in
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
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
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
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, was not identified until later, in 1863-64.
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
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 Kâla-ka-sarâi. This
site is found near Shah-dheri, just one mile to the north-east of
Kâla-ka-sarâi, 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. — Alexander Cunningham,
Taxila's archaeological sites lie near modern
Taxila about 35 km (22
mi) northwest of the city of
Rawalpindi . The sites were first
excavated by John Marshall , who worked at
Taxila over a period of
twenty years from 1913. Panorama of the
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
Dharmarajika stupa , the
Jaulian monastery, and the Mohra Muradu
The main ruins of
Taxila include four major cities, each belonging to
a distinct time period, at three different sites. The earliest
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
to the 2nd century BCE, and were built by the region's Greco-Bactrian
kings who ruled in the region following
Alexander the Great
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
WORLD HERITAGE SITE
Taxila was designated a
World Heritage Site
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
* Khanpur Cave
* Saraikala, prehistoric mound
Sirkap (fortified city)
Sirsukh (fortified ruined city)
Dharmarajika stupa and monastery
* Khader Mohra (Akhuri)
Kalawan group of buildings
* Giri complex of monuments
* Kunala stupa and monastery
* Lalchak and Badalpur Buddhist stuppa
* Mohra Moradu stupa and monastery
* Pippala stupa and monastery
Jaulian stupa and monastery
* Lalchak mounds
* Buddhist remains around Bhallar stupa
* Giri Mosque and tombs
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. In 2017, it was announced that
Thailand would assist in conservation efforts at Taxila, as well as at
Buddhist sites in the
Swat Valley .
A coin from 2nd century BCE Taxila.
Antialcidas ruled in
Taxila around 100 BCE,
according to the
Heliodorus pillar inscription.
World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site at Taxila.
Jaulian silver Buddhist reliquary, with content.
British Museum .
Jain Temple at
Stupa base at Sirkap, decorated with Hindu, Buddhist and Greek temple
Stupa in Taxila.
Taxila coin, 200–100 BCE.
British Museum .
Archaeological artifacts from the
Indo-Greek strata at
John Marshall "
Taxila Archeological excavations").
* ^ "Post-
Taxila (local coinage). Circa 220-185
BC. Æ (17x18mm, 7.71 g)". www.cngcoins.com. Classical Numismatic
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* ^ Allchin & Allchin 1988 , p. 314.
* ^ A B
Upinder Singh 2008 , p. 265.
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* ^ Kulke & Rothermund 2004 : "In the early centuries the centre of
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University of Taxila."
* ^ Mookerji 1989 , p. 478: "Thus the various centres of learning
in different parts of the country became affiliated, as it were, to
the educational centre, or the central university, of
exercised a kind of intellectual suzerainty over the wide world of
letters in India."
* ^ Mookerji 1989 , p. 479: "This shows that
Taxila was a seat not
of elementary, but higher, education, of colleges or a university as
distinguished from schools."
* ^ Altekar 1965 , p. 109.
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* ^ Davis 2014 , p. 38.
* ^ Kosambi 1975 , p. 126.
* ^ A B C Marshall 1960 , p. 10.
* ^ Malalasekera 1937 , Telapatta
Jātaka (No.96): "The Bodhisatta
was once the youngest of one hundred sons of the king of Benares. He
heard from the Pacceka Buddhas, who took their meals in the palace,
that he would become king of Takkasilā if he could reach it without
falling a prey to the ogresses who waylaid travellers in the forest.
Thereupon, he set out with five of his brothers who wished to
accompany him. On the way through the forest the five in succession
succumbed to the charms of the ogresses, and were devoured. One ogress
followed the Bodhisatta right up to the gates of Takkasilā, where the
king took her into the palace, paying no heed to the Bodhisatta's
warning. The king succumbed to her wiles, and, during the night, the
king and all the inhabitants of the palace were eaten by the ogress
and her companions. The people, realising the sagacity and strength of
will of the Bodhisatta, made him their king."
* ^ Appleton 2016 , pp. 23,82.
* ^ A B C Allchin & Allchin 1988 , p. 127.
* ^ Allchin & Allchin 1988 , p. 314: "The first city of
Hathial goes back at least to c. 1000 B.C."
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* ^ Altekar 1965 , p. 109: "It may be observed at the outset that
Taxila did not possess any colleges or university in the modern sense
of the term."
* ^ Marshall 1951 , p. 81: "We come across several
about the students and teachers of Takshaśilā, but not a single
episode even remotely suggests that the different 'world renowned'
teachers living in that city belonged to a particular college or
university of the modern type."author=F. W. Thomas (1944)
* ^ A B Mookerji 1989 , pp. 478–489.
* ^ Prakash 1964 : "Students from Magadha traversed the vast
distances of northern India in order to join the schools and colleges
of Taxila. We learn from
Pali texts that Brahmana youths, Khattiya
princes and sons of setthis from Rajagriha, Kashi,
Kosala and other
places went to
Taxila for learning the Vedas and eighteen sciences and
* ^ Apte , p. 9.
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* ^ Prakash 1964 : "
Pāṇini and Kautilya, two masterminds of
ancient times, were also brought up in the academic traditions of
* ^ Prakash 1964 : "Likewise, Jivaka, the famous physician of
Bimbisara who cured the Buddha, learnt the science of medicine under a
far-famed teacher at
Taxila and on his return was appointed
court-physician at Magadha. Another illustrious product of
the enlightened ruler of Kosala, Prasenajit, who is intimately
associated with the events of the time of the Buddha."
* ^ A B Apte , pp. 9,10.
* ^ Apte , pp. 16,17.
* ^ Apte , pp. 18,19.
* ^ Apte , p. 11.
* ^ Cunningham 1871 , p. 105.
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