There was a very large, ancient pipal tree (ficus religiosa) in the woods of Islamabad, at the foot of the Margalla Hills, at the northern edge of the residential area named E-7. Its gnarled branches sprawled like a huge umbrella over a large area around the tree.
The residents of Islamabad were generally unaware of or indifferent to the significance of this tree. However, some expatriates from the Asian diplomatic missions and Asian tourists often visited the tree. Someone had even built a small concrete shelter and a bench next to the tree for visitors to sit and meditate. The tree was believed to be a Bodhi tree.
As many of us would remember from our history books — that is, if we graduated before the 1970s, for afterward we stopped teaching the history of the pre-Muslim era of the subcontinent — that Prince Sidhartha Gautama, some 2,500 years ago, after he gave up the princely life, sat under an old pipal tree to meditate. It was in Gaya, a village near Patna, in the present Indian state of Bihar. He continued to meditate until he achieved nirvana, or was “awakened”. Consequently, the tree under which he sat was named Bodhi, meaning awakening. Siddhartha Gautama became Buddha, the awakened, and the village came to be known as Bodh Gaya. The tree that stands in Bhod Gaya today is believed to be an offspring of the original Bhodi tree, perpetuated by planting cuttings from successive generations of the original tree.
In the centuries after Buddha, the Bodhi tree in Gaya became a symbol of Buddha’s presence and an object of reverence and devotion for Buddhists.
A bit of history before I get back to the Bodhi tree of Islamabad.
King Ashoka (died 232 BC), the third Mauryan king, converted to Buddhism, became a great advocate of the religion and actively propagated Buddhism throughout his empire. The Mauryan Empire constituted Northern India and the Gandhara region, which included the area around present-day Islamabad and the Peshawar Valley in Pakistan, and parts of Afghanistan and Iran.
The Pakistani cities of Taxila (Taxshashila), Peshawar (Parshpura), and Charsaddah (Pushklavati) were important cities of Gandhara. It was during this period that Taxila reached the peak of its development and became the center of Buddhism. Chandra Gupta Maurya and Ashoka…