Buddhism in Pakistan

 Buddhism in Pakistan

Buddha Statue of Swat Valley Pakistan

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  1. Historical Background
  2. Gandhara Buddhism (KPK Region)
  3. Buddhism in Punjab
  4. Buddhism in Sindh
  5. Buddhist sites in Baluchistan
  6. Buddhism in Gilgit Baltistan
  7. Demographics of Buddhism in Pakistan
  8. Significant Figures
  9. Destruction of Buddhist artefacts
  10. Decline of Buddhism in Pakistan
  11. Tourism
  12.  Conclusion
  13. Sources 



 Buddhism in Pakistan is one of the world’s oldest religions, has a long history. The religion spread from ancient India to many parts of Asia, including Pakistan. It flourished for centuries before declining due to various factors, including the arrival of Islam.

The Mauryan king Ashoka established Buddhism in Pakistan in the third century BCE.  He was Head of a Gandharan Bodhisattva, in the 4th century CE.[1]

According to Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), the contemporary Buddhist population in Pakistan is relatively insignificant, with 1,492 adult holders of national identity cards in 2012. (CNICs). As a result, the total number of Buddhists is unlikely to exceed a few thousand. The number of Buddhist voters was estimated to be 1,884 in 2017, with the majority concentrated in Sindh and Punjab.[2]

The only operational Buddhist temple in Pakistan is in Islamabad’s Diplomatic Enclave. which is used by Buddhist diplomats from countries such as Sri Lanka.

Historical Background

For at least 2,000 years, Buddhists have lived in Pakistan. Archaeologists discovered a Buddhist Temple built between 563 and 483 BCE in the Swat Valley.[3] One of the most prominent branches of Buddhism today, Mahayana Buddhism, originated in Pakistan, though the country’s total number of confirmed Buddhists is a fraction of what it once was. Buddhist art and sculpture flourished in the Gandhara region, which is now part of modern Pakistan.[4]

Buddhism in Pakistan can be traced back to the time of the Buddha, who lived in the fifth century BCE. According to Buddhist texts, the Buddha travelled throughout the Indian subcontinent, including present-day Pakistan, during his lifetime. He is said to have spent several months in Taxila, which was a major centre of learning and commerce at the time.[5]

Following the Buddha’s death, his disciples orally passed down his teachings, known as the Dharma. These teachings were eventually written down and disseminated throughout the region as sutras. With large numbers of people converting to Buddhism, Buddhism became a major force in the Indian subcontinent. Buddhism reached its zenith in Pakistan during the reign of the Mauryan Empire, which ruled much of the Indian subcontinent from the third century BCE to the second century CE. Ashoka, the Mauryan Emperor, was a devout Buddhist who is credited with spreading Buddhism throughout his empire and beyond. He dispatched emissaries to various parts of the world, including modern-day Pakistan, to spread the Buddha’s message.[6]

Gandhara Buddhism (KPK Region)

Although the cultural influence of “Greater Gandhara” spread across the Indus River to the Taxila region in the Potohar Plateau, west into the Kabul Valley in Afghanistan, and northwards up to the Karakoram range, the name “Gandhara” refers to an ancient region that was centred around the Peshawar Valley and Swat River valley.[7]

Gandhara reached its zenith between the first and fifth centuries CE during the Kushan Empire, whose capital was Peshawar (Puruapura), and is renowned for its distinctive Gandharan style of art, which is greatly influenced by ancient Greek and Hellenistic traditions. “Flourished at the crossroads of India, Central Asia, and the Middle East,” Gandhara connected trade networks and absorbed cultural influences from other civilizations; Up until the 8th or 9th centuries, when Islam started to take hold in the area, Buddhism was in vogue.[8] Moreover, it served as the focal point for later Vedic Hinduism. The Takht-i-Bahi monastic complex was discovered in the early 20th century, and in 1980, along with the Sahr-i-Bahlol urban remains from the same time period, which are situated about a kilometre south, it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list as the largest Buddhist remains in Gandhara.

Takht-i-Bahi is situated 80 kilometres from Peshawar and 16 kilometres to the northwest of the city of Mardan.[9] The Swat Valley, which was once home to a thriving Buddhist civilization, is another important Buddhist site in Pakistan. The region is well-known for its numerous stupas, monasteries, and rock carvings dating back to the second century BCE. Many of these historic structures have been preserved and can now be visited.

Oddiyana was a little area in the Swat District of today. It is considered crucial to the growth and spread of Vajrayana Buddhism. It was also known as “the kin’s paradise.” The Buddhist guru Padmasambhava, who helped spread Buddhism to Tibet in the seventh century, is thought to have been born at Oddiyana.[10] Garab Dorje, the father of the Dzogchen school of Buddhism, was also born here.[11]

Taxila, a major centre of learning during the Mauryan period, is one of Pakistan’s most important Buddhist sites. Many ancient Buddhist ruins, such as stupas, monasteries, and other structures, can be found in the city. These ruins shed light on the history and development of Buddhism in the region.

Buddhism in Punjab

In the Punjab region, where numerous Buddhist temples and stupa structures may be seen in the Taxila World Heritage Site area, Buddhism was practised. The head female student of Buddha Khema, Bhadda Kapilani, Anoja, and the founder of the Sautrantika school of Buddhism Kumaralata are a few of the most significant Buddhist leaders to come from Punjab.[12]

The majority of Taxila’s archaeological sites, which date from 600 BC to 500 AD, are situated close to the museum. In the heyday of Buddhism, Taxila was known for learning Gandharan sculpture, architecture, education, and Buddhism for more than a millennium. Around Taxila, there are more than 50 archaeological sites dispersed over a 30 km area.

  • The Dhamarajika Stupa and Monastery (300 BC–200 AD),
  • Bhir Mound (600–200 BC),
  • Sirkap (200 BC–600 AD),
  • Jandial Temple (c. 250 BC), and Jaulian Monastery are a few of the most significant sites (200 – 600 AD). [13]

At the site, a museum with numerous sections and a wealth of Taxila’s archaeological artefacts has been established. The exhibits are ordered chronologically and are carefully labelled.

Buddhism in Sindh

  • There are many Buddhist sites in Sindh, however, they are poorly maintained and in varied states of decay.
  • The Buddhist stupa at Mohenjo-daro,
  • The Sirah-ji-takri in Rohri, Sukkur,
  • The Kahu-Jo-Daro at Mirpur Khas, Nawabshah,
  • The Sudheran-Jo-Thul near Hyderabad,
  • The Thul Mir Rukan stupa,
  • The Thul Hairo Khan stupa,
  • The Bhaleel-Shah-Thul square stupas (5th–7th century A.D.
  • The Chatrapati Shivaji Museum in Mumbai has a sizable collection of Buddha statues and terracotta tiles from Kaho-Jo-Daro on display.[14]

Buddhist sites in Baluchistan

Buddhist traveller from China Hiuen Tsang noted numerous Buddhist temples in Makran, Balochistan’s coastal districts. Nowadays, one may still observe the ruins of the Buddhist cave city known as Godrani Caves.[15]

The capital of Makran is Tiz, according to al-Biruni, who claims that Tiz marks the beginning of India’s coast in his book Alberuni’s India. It is abundantly obvious from other evidence in the Chachnama that a major portion of the population in several districts of Makran and Sindh was Buddhist. This town is said to have been controlled by a Buddhist Samani (Samani Budda) when Chach marched to Armabil. Samani Budda is a descendant of the Rai Sahiras agents who were promoted for their loyalty and dedication but ultimately declared themselves independent. When Chach was in route to Kirman in 631, the Buddhist chief pledged his allegiance to him. Hiuen Tsang O-tien-p-o-chi-lo refers to the same chiefdom of Armadil, situated along the high road passing through Makran, and he similarly characterises it as being predominately Buddhist. Although being sparsely populated, it possessed no fewer than 80 Buddhist convents with about 5000 monks. The Gondrani caves are actually located in Gandakahar, eighteen kilometres northwest of Las Bela, close to the remnants of an ancient settlement, and as their architecture demonstrates, these caves were unquestionably Buddhist.

 Hiuen Tsang visited about 100 Buddhist monasteries and 6000 priests when passing through the Kij valley further west (which was then governed by Persia). In this region of Makran, he also witnessed hundreds of Deva temples. In the town of Su-nu li-chi-shi-fa-lo, which is presumably Qasrqand, he saw a temple to the Maheshvara Deva, which was lavishly decorated and sculptured.

So, even during the time when Makran was ruled by the Persians, Indian cultural traditions continued to spread widely in Makran in the seventh century. In contrast, Hinglaj, located 256 kilometres to the west of modern-day Karachi in Las Bela, was the final Hindu pilgrimage site in Makran in more recent times.[16]

Buddhism in Gilgit Baltistan

Several Buddhist archaeological sites still exist in the area, such as the Holy Rock of Hunza and the Manthal Buddha Rock, which is a rock relief of the Buddha located on the outskirts of the village (close to Skardu). There used to be Buddhist shelters close by. Before Islam was introduced to Baltistan in the 15th century, the bulk of the population was Buddhist. The existence of Buddhism in this area has now been reduced to archaeological sites as the majority of the population converted to Islam; the remaining Buddhists have moved east to Ladakh, where Buddhism is the predominant religion.

Demographics of Buddhism in Pakistan

Although some Pakistanis have claimed to be Buddhists, it is unknown whether there are Pakistani Buddhists in contemporary Pakistan. They are exclusively found in the Azad Kashmir region, according to a report. It is reported that the Nurbakhshi sect still practises some aspects of Buddhism.[17]

1,492 Buddhists held national identity cards (CNICs) in 2012, according to the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA). It climbed to 1,884 holders in 2017. They are mainly concentrated in the Punjab and Sindh provinces. The majority of Baori Buddhists, according to a report, lack CNIC cards, and it’s possible that there are more than 16,000 Buddhists in all.[18]

Buddhists largely reside on the edges of Mandi Yazman and Rahimyar Khan in the Rohi district of Punjab. Today, they have around 15 colonies in various villages of Mandi Yazman.[19]

Significant Figures

The Chakma leader Tridev Roy sided with Pakistan during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971; he afterwards emigrated from the Chittagong region to Pakistan. By forming and serving as the chairman of the “Pakistan Buddhist Society” from 1996 until his death in 2012, he claimed to speak for all Pakistani Buddhists. His relatives remained in Bangladesh. The representative of the Baori Buddhist community is Lala Rajoo Raam. Also, he serves as a counsellor for Union Council number 88, Chak number 75 DB. Also, he ran thrice for the Punjab legislature.[20]

Destruction of Buddhist artefacts

Several Buddhist stupas and carvings may be seen in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, and a statue of the Sitting Buddha can be found in Jehanabad. The Taliban, who are supported by foreign governments, destroyed Kushan-era Buddhist stupas and statues in Swat Valley, and after two failed attempts, they used dynamite to remove the face of the Buddha in Jehanabad. Only the Bamiyan Buddhas were bigger than the enormous Buddha statue that was carved in Swat, close to Mangalore. [21]After the first effort to destroy the statue failed to permanently harm it, the authorities did little to protect it, but when the statue was attacked again, its feet, shoulders, and face were destroyed.

Many of Pakistan’s Buddhist relics from the Buddhist Gandhara culture were destroyed by Islamists like the Taliban and looters, notably in Swat Valley.[22] Buddhist artefacts from Gandhara were purposefully targeted for destruction by the Taliban. In a letter to Pakistan’s government, the Christian Archbishop of Lahore Lawrence John Saldanha condemned the Taliban’s actions in the Swat Valley, especially their destruction of Buddha monuments and their attacks on Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus. Smugglers also stole Buddhist treasures from the Gandhara region. Italians assisted with the restoration of the Buddha in Jahan Abad, Swat.[23]

Decline of Buddhism in Pakistan

A number of factors have contributed to the decline of Buddhism in Pakistan. The arrival of Islam in the region was one of the most significant. From the seventh century onward, Islam spread rapidly throughout the Indian subcontinent, and many Buddhists converted to the new religion. Buddhism gradually lost its influence and eventually vanished from many parts of the region. The invasion of the region by various foreign powers was another factor that contributed to the decline of Buddhism in Pakistan. In the fourth century BCE, Alexander the Great invaded the region, followed by various Central Asian tribes and Persian empires. Many Buddhist structures were destroyed and many Buddhists were displaced as a result of these invasions.

Despite its decline, Buddhism is still present in Pakistan today. Small Buddhist communities can be found throughout the country, including the Swat Valley and Karachi. These communities practise Buddhism in a way that is influenced by both traditional Buddhist teachings and local customs and traditions.


In Pakistan, there has been a resurgence of interest in Buddhism in recent years. So, the government has made efforts to promote tourism to Buddhist sites throughout the country, as well as efforts to preserve and restore ancient Buddhist structures. This renewed interest in Buddhism is seen as a way to promote the country’s cultural and religious diversity.

Over 20 South Korean Buddhist monks travelled to Takht-i-Bahi, which is a monastery 170 kilometres (106 miles) from Islamabad, in March 2013. The monks visited the monastery, which is made of ochre-coloured stone and is perched on a mountainside, despite Seoul’s requests that they cancel their trip for their own safety. Pakistani security officers were stationed nearby to protect them. The Gandhara empire, where the Mahayana school of Buddhism originated, was a region in northern Pakistan and parts of modern-day Afghanistan that existed from 1,000 BCE to the 7th century AD. In the fourth century, the monk Marananta left what is now northwest Pakistan with the goal of crossing China and bringing Buddhism to the Korean peninsula. For tourists from China, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, the government are even organising package tours that will take them to Buddhist sites in Takht-e-Bahi, Swat, Peshawar, and Taxila, close to Islamabad.[24]


  • The history of Buddhism in Pakistan is rich and fascinating.
  • Religion was important in the region’s development, and its influence can still be seen in the numerous ancient Buddhist structures that dot the landscape.
  • While Buddhism has declined in Pakistan, its legacy lives on, and renewed interest in the religion demonstrates the religion’s enduring appeal.




[1] Marian Rengel, Pakistan: A Primary Source Cultural Guide (The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc, 2003), 59.

[2] ‘Pakistan Elections: Non-Muslim Voters up by 30%, Hindus Biggest Minority’, Hindustan Times, 28 May 2018, https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/pakistan-elections-non-muslim-voters-up-by-30-hindus-biggest-minority/story-gRmBeL4TaBBgY6ZTURRA7M.html.

[3] ‘2,000-Year-Old Buddhist Temple Unearthed in Pakistan | Smart News| Smithsonian Magazine’, accessed 8 April 2023, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/2000-year-old-buddhist-temple-unearthed-in-pakistan-180979560/.

[4] ‘Long Read: A Pakistani Homeland for Buddhism: Buddhist Art, Muslim Nationalism and Global Public History’, South Asia@LSE, 22 July 2019, https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/southasia/2019/07/22/long-read-a-pakistani-homeland-for-buddhism-buddhist-art-muslim-nationalism-and-global-public-history/.

[5] Rengel, Pakistan.

[6] Ibid., 59–62.

[7] Jason Neelis, Early Buddhist Transmission and Trade Networks: Mobility and Exchange Within and Beyond the Northwestern Borderlands of South Asia (BRILL, 2010), 232.

[8] Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York N.Y.) and Kurt A. Behrendt, The Art of Gandhara in the Metropolitan Museum of Art(Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007), 5.

[9] ‘Explore Pakistan | Buddhist Sites in Pakistan’, accessed 8 April 2023, https://www.findpk.com/Pakistan/html/buddhist_sites.html.

[10] Lal Mani Joshi, Studies in the Buddhistic Culture of India During the 7th and 8th Centuries A.D. (Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1977), 259.

[11] ‘(PDF) Ancient Uddayana-the Land of Buddha at Rajgriha, Prior to Establishment of Patliputra in Ganges Doab’, accessed 8 April 2023, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/342515491_Ancient_Uddayana-the_land_of_Buddha_at_Rajgriha_prior_to_establishment_of_Patliputra_in_Ganges_Doab.

[12] ‘Buddhism in Central Asia – Baij Nath Puri – Google Books’, 105, accessed 8 April 2023, https://books.google.com.pk/books?id=sluKZfTrr3oC&q=Kum%C4%81ral%C4%81ta+&pg=PA105&redir_esc=y#v=snippet&q=Kum%C4%81ral%C4%81ta&f=false.

[13] ‘Explore Pakistan | Buddhist Sites in Pakistan’.

[14] ‘Ancient Buddhist Terracottas from Mirpurkhas in Pakistan – Art of South Asia, the Silk Road and Beyond’, accessed 8 April 2023, https://coromandelart.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/fifth-century-stupa-ruins-from-mirpurkhas-in-pakistan/.

[15] André Wink, Al-Hind, the Making of the Indo-Islamic World: Early Medieval India and the Expansion of Islam 7Th-11th Centuries(BRILL, 2002), 135.

[16] Ibid.

[17] ‘THE NURBAKHSHI RELIGION IN BALTISTAN — Baltistan Fundazioa’, 3 June 2019, https://web.archive.org/web/20190603134645/https://www.baltistan.eus/news/articles/the-nurbakhshi-religion-in-baltistan/.

[18] Ammad Ali, ‘Meeting Pakistan’s Buddhists’, The Friday Times – Naya Daur, 8 September 2017, https://www.thefridaytimes.com/2017/09/08/meeting-pakistans-buddhists/.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] ‘Attack on Giant Pakistan Buddha’, 12 September 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6991058.stm.

[22] AsiaNews.it, ‘Taliban and Traffickers Destroying Pakistan’s Buddhist Heritage’, accessed 9 April 2023, https://www.asianews.it/news-en/Taliban-and-traffickers-destroying-Pakistan’s-Buddhist-heritage-26142.html.

[23] ‘Iconic Buddha in Swat Valley Restored after Nine Years When Taliban Defaced It – Pakistan – DAWN.COM’, accessed 9 April 2023, https://www.dawn.com/news/1294246.

[24] AFP, ‘Pakistan Hopes for Buddhist Tourism Boost’, DAWN.COM, 10:42:11+05:00, https://www.dawn.com/2013/03/20/pakistan-hopes-for-buddhist-tourism-boost/.

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