In the Harwan area on the heels of Zabarwan range in Srinagar, there is an abandoned site that houses the remains of over 2000-year-old monastery belonging to the era when Buddhism was flourishing in Kashmir. The site was excavated by the archaeologists somewhere between 1919 and 1929 AD.
Among the excavated remains is the three-tiered base of a Stupa, a set of rooms in diaper pebble style of masonry and the decorated terracotta tiles surrounding it. The properly shaped terracotta tiles, presently showcased in a museum, depict the images of people looking similar to those hailing from Yarkand and Kashgar while some are seen wearing Turkish caps and trousers.
But what remains hidden is believed to be the treasure related to one of the biggest ever Buddhist conclaves held here in those days.
Many historians believe that the fourth Buddhist Council was convened by the Kushan emperor and devout Buddhist Kanishka (127-151 BC) at the Harwan monastery. It is believed that as many as 500 Buddhist monks from across the Indian subcontinent led by their revered colleague Naga Arjun attended the conference.
Historians say the conference gave new shape to Buddhism and the proceedings of the historic event were engraved on copper plates. After the conclusion of the conference, the monks are believed to have unanimously buried the plates in the Valley before leaving for their respective destinations.
Muhammad Saleem Beg, a prominent expert on heritage, who has worked extensively for the National Monument Authority, says that the “Harwan base of the monastery is an unexplored mystery” and that there is every possibility that the testaments in copper plates could be lying buried there.
“The basic point is that some of the most authentic Buddhist sources, mainly from China, including the accounts of iconic traveller Hiuen Tsang, have acknowledged that the fourth Buddhist conference was held in Kashmir and that the copper plates related to the event were also buried here only. So this is beyond any reasonable doubt that the area does have a Buddhist treasure or to say the biggest unexplored treasure of this world,” he told InUth.com.
Interestingly, Beg says it was because of Harwan that neighbouring China has “huge regards for Kashmir.” “Chinese hold high esteem for Buddhism and believe that Buddhism reached them from Harwan, so one can understand the emotional bond,” he added.
Beg, who presently heads the J&K chapter of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH),—a globally renowned group into heritage conservation—regretted that the Archeological Survey of India and other concerned agencies have failed to properly excavate the Harwan site. “What we were told is that not even five percent of excavation has been done, so it’s huge Buddhist treasure that lies unexplored,” he insists.
As per the folklore, Harwan, where the Buddhist conference was held, was known as ‘Shadarahadwan’ in ancient times, meaning ‘woods of six saints’. But then, if the experts are so sure about the hidden treasure, what prevents the concerned agencies from undertaking excavation? “Well, that’s a mystery,” says Beg.