The Kargah Buddha is not only an archaeological site but also a site with rich history and myths. Its preservation and safeguarding should be a top priority for the authorities to ensure that it remains intact for future generations to appreciate and learn from.
Gilgit-Baltistan is a region that has been at the crossroads of cultures, religions, and civilizations for centuries. The rich cultural heritage and spread of Buddhism in Gilgit and surrounding regions are deeply linked to the movement along the Silk Route. This can be seen through the unique archaeological site of Kargah Buddha, which is a large standing Buddha with a carved image in the cliff-face in Karghah Nala.
The Kargah Buddha is believed to be from the 7th century and was discovered along with ruins of a Buddhist monastery and three stupas about 400 meters upriver from the Buddha itself in 1938-39 following the discovery of so-called Gilgit manuscripts in 1931. This site has become a popular destination for thousands of Buddhists from Japan, Korea, and other parts of the world who come to Gilgit city to see the statue. According to the Tourism Department GB, in the year of 2018-19, more than half a million tourists visited Gilgit to see the Buddha.
However, the Kargah Buddha is not only an archaeological site, but it also holds an interesting myth among the locals. According to the locals, there was an ogress called Yakhshini who used to eat human flesh, and the villagers asked a passing saint for help. The saint succeeded in pinning her to the rock, and the series of holes making the boundary around the Buddha are believed to be pinholes holding the ogress tight. The saint declared that she would not bother them as long as he was alive, and if they buried the saint at the foothills of the rock, she would never be freed. The saint was buried right below the Buddha statue.
Despite the popularity and importance of the Kargah Buddha, there are concerns about its preservation and safeguarding. The statue has remained intact so far, and it should continue to remain for future generations. The archaeological department of Gilgit Baltistan needs to pay attention to the site’s preservation, and the road leading to the Buddha from Gilgit city needs repair so that it can be easily accessible for tourists.