Swat or Udyana as it is in the Sanskrit sources, is a valley in the mountainous region to the north of the Peshawar Plain, at the foot of the mountain range connecting the Hindu Kush with Karakorum; it includes the main valley of the upper course of the River Swat, for a length of about 200 Km from the source as far as the gullies through which the river flows down to the plain, and the lateral valleys of its tributaries. The valley conquered by Alexander the great in 327 B C, and over the following centuries by the Indo-Greek, Saka, Parthian, Kushan, Sasanid and Hephthalite kings, was a prosperous region. It constituted a trading center between the plains of Gandahara and the mountains of the northern areas looking towards Central Asia, and at the same time a great Center of Buddhist culture with an ample scattering of Buddhist monasteries, representing an important stopover on the way to the holy places of Buddhism, traversed by numerous Chinese pilgrims (including Faxian in the 5th century A.D., Sangyun in the 6th, Xuanzang in the 7th and Huizhao in the 8th).
By virtue of its position open to the Iranian world, Swat was always characterized by the powerful influence that the local-Dardic-Substratum exercised over Buddhism, to the extent that it became a center for the formulation and dissemination of esoteric doctrines merging into the “Diamond Vehicle” (Vajroyana) tradition. As commercial traffic increased between the Tarim basin, in modern-day Chinese Xinjiang, and the Indian ports through Karakarum, Swat found itself at the point where these routs issued into the plain of Gandahara, thus becoming a place of transit not only for goods but also ideas- a role it maintained even after the economic decline that marked the late 6th and early 7th century A.D.
It was in fact from region that Padmasambhaua, the moving force of Tibetan Buddhism, set out in the 8th century, and it was indeed the suggestive accounts of this “holy land” of Buddhism contained in the Tibetan texts that brought Guiseppe Tucci in the Swat Valley in 1955.
Buddhist Shrines In Swat
A fairly large number of Buddhist sites preserving stupas, monasteries, viharas, settlements, caves, rock-carvings and inscriptions are scattered all over the Swat Valley. This heritage of immense interest may be seen both in plains and in the hilly tracts. Fa-Hein, who came to Swat in 4th century A.D, wrote about 6000 monasteries in the valley. The report of Sung-Yun, who visited the enchanting valley in the 6th century A.D, saw 6000 images in the sacred monastery of Talo (Butkara). The most famous of all the Chinese pilgrims, Hsuan-Tsang who graced the valley by his presence in the 7th century A.D, mentioned 1400 monasteries in Swat, which eloquently confirmed the extensive remains of the Buddhist period.
Even today over 400 Buddhist stupas and monasteries may still be seen in ruins in Swat covering an area of about 160 square km.
The Buddhists built mostly their stupas and monasteries higher on the hills with the aim that agricultural economy may not suffer and also to provide a sort of protection and security to them from the invaders.(www.valleyswat.net)