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Swat is a valley and an administrative district in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan located 160 km/100 miles from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. It is the upper valley of the Swat River, which rises in the Hindu Kush range. The capital of Swat is Saidu Sharif, but the main town in the Swat valley is Mingora. It was a princely state in the NWFP until it was dissolved in 1969. With high mountains, green meadows, and clear lakes, it is a place of great natural beauty that used to be popular with tourists as "the Switzerland of Pakistan".
The first historical mention of the valley goes back to a hymn of the Rigveda. Swat has been inhabited for over two thousand years and was known in ancient times as the Udyana. The independent monarchs of this region came under Achaemenid influence, before reverting back to local control in the 4th century BC.
In 327 BC, Alexander the Great fought his way to Udegram and Barikot. In Greek accounts these towns have been identified as Ora and Bazira. By 305 BC, the region became a part of the Mauryan Empire.
Buddhist heritage of Swat
Ancient Gandhara, the valley of Pekhawar, with the adjacent hilly regions of Swat and Buner, Dir and Bajaur was one of the earliest centers of Buddhist religion and culture following the reign of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka, in the third century BC. The name Gandhara first occurs in the Rigveda which is usually identified with the region.
The secular Swat museum has acquired footprints of the Buddha, which were originally placed for devotion in the sacred Swat valley. When the Buddha ascended, relics (personal items, body parts, ashes etc.) were distributed to seven kings, who built stupas over them for veneration.
The Harmarajika stupa (Taxila) and Butkarha (Swat) stupa at Jamal Garha were among the earliest Gandhara stupas. These were erected on the orders of King Ashoka and contained the genuine relics of the historic Buddha.
The Gandhara school is credited with the first representations of the Buddha in human form, rather symbolically as the wheel of the law, the tree, etc.
As Buddhist art developed and spread outside India, Indian styles were imitated. In China the Gandhara style was imitated in bronze images, with gradual changes in the features of these images over the passage of time. Swat, the land of romance and beauty, is celebrated throughout the Buddhist world as the holy land of Buddhist learning and piety. Swat was a popular destination for Buddhist pilgrims. Buddhist tradition holds that Buddha himself came to Swat during his incarnation as Gautama Buddha and preached to the people here.
The Swat valley was filled with almost fourteen hundred imposing and beautiful stupas and monasteries, which housed as many as 6,000 gold images of the Buddhist pantheon for worship and education. Archaeologists now know of more than 400 Buddhist sites covering an area of 160 km in Swat valley alone. Among the important excavations of Buddhist sites in Swat an important one is Butkarha-I, containing original relics of the Buddha. A stone statue of Buddha, is still there in the village Ghalegay. There is also a big stupa in Mohallah Singardar Ghalegay.
Hindu Shahi Rulers and Sanskrit
Swat was ruled by the Hindu Shahi dynasty who have built an extensive array of temples and other architectural buildings now in ruins. Sanskrit was the language of the Swatis. Hindu Shahi rulers built fortresses to guard and tax the commerce through this area. Their ruins can be seen in the hills of Swat: at Malakand pass at Swat’s southern entrance.
Advent of Islam by Mahmud of Ghazni
At the end of the Mauryan period (324-185 BC) Buddhism spread in the whole Swat valley, which became a very famous center of Buddhist religion. After a Buddhist phase the Hindu religion reasserted itself, so that at the time of the Muslim conquest (AD1000) the population was solidly Hindu.
In 1023 Mahmood of Ghazni attacked Swat and crushed the last Buddhist King, Raja Gira in battle. The invasion of Mahmood of Ghazni is of special importance because of the introduction of Islam as well as changing the Chronology.
The first Muslim masters of Swat were Pakhtun Dilazak tribes from south-east Afghanistan. These were later ousted by Swati Pakhtuns, who were succeeded in the sixteenth century by Yusufzai Pakhtuns. Both groups of Pakhtuns came from the Kabul valley.
Later, when the King of Kabul Mirza Ulagh Beg attempted to assassinate the dominant chiefs of the Yusufzais they took refuge under the umbrella of the Swati Kings of Swat and Bajour. The whole area was dominated by the Swati/Jahangiri Sultans of Swat for centuries. According to H. G. Raverty, the Jahangiri Kings of Swat had ruled from Jalalabad to Jhelum. After more than two decades of guerrilla warfare, they were dispossessed by the Yusufzais.
Area and Population
The population at the 1981 Census was 715,938, which had risen to 1,257,602 at the next Census in 1998. The main language of the area is Pakhto. The people of Swat are mainly Pakhtuns, Yusufzai's, Kohistanis and Gujars. Some have very distinctive features. Most probably they are originated from the same tribe who are roamed around the great trans-Himalayan mountain ranges thousands of years before, and now remained in some isolated but extremely beautiful pockets of Himalayan mountain ranges.
The Dardic people of the Kalam region in northern Swat are known as Kohistanis and speak the Torwali and Kalami languages. There are also some Khowar speakers in the Kalam region. This is because before Kalam came under the rule of Swat it was a region tributary to Chitral the Kalamis paid a tribute of mountain ponies to the Mehtar of Chitral every year.
There is a popular ski resort in Swat at Malam Jabba, 40 km north east of Saidu Sharif. The Swat River irrigates large areas of Swat District and contributes to the fishing industry of the region. Ayub Bridge is one of the attractions for visitors. The scenery attracts many tourists from all over Pakistan during the summer. There are two main hydro-electric power projects on canals from the Swat River which generate electricity for local usage.
* All figures and stats are approximate