By Shyamal Sinha
The National Institute of Folk and Traditional Heritage (Lok Virsa) was established in 1974 with the mandate for research, collection, documentation, communication, preservation and promotion of tangible and in-tangible heritage of the country.
Lok Virsa obtained the status of an autonomous organization through Ordinance promulgated by the Government of Pakistan on September 17, 2002.
Lok Virsa is governed by a Board of Governors headed by the Minister for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage.
Renowned historians, scholars, and students from various educational institutions in Pakistan and South Korea gathered in Paksitan recently for a seminar titled “Hyecho in Gandhara – Footsteps of a Korean Monk.” The seminar, held on 8 October at the Research Department of the National Institute of Folk and Traditional Heritage (Lok Virsa) in Islamabad, emphasized historical and cultural ties between the Korean and Pakistani people dating back many centuries.
Organized by the Korean embassy in Pakistan, in collaboration with Lok Virsa, the seminar focused on the travelogue of the Korean monk Hyecho (704–87), who visited areas in what is now Pakistan and India during the Gandhara civilization (eighth century). Hyecho narrated his travels in his personal journal, Memoir of the Pilgrimage to the Five Kingdoms of Tentouk (Sindhu). Three renowned scholars specialized in the topic, Dr. So Gilsu, Dr. Muhammad Farooq Swati, and Dr. Esther Park, were invited to speak on the travelogue. Their talks emphasized the influence of these early travels on the spread of Buddhism in the Korean peninsula and the rest of the world.
Dr. So, director of the Pure Land Buddhist Institute in Korea, arrived in Pakistan after having traveled the ancient Silk Road, starting from Xian in China, and passing through Dunhuang, Urumqi, Taklamacan Road, Pamir, Kashkar, Kashkurgan, Kunjerab Pass, and up to Hunza. Along the way he visited many cultural and religious heritage sites, some of which he mentioned in his speech.
“It was a one-month-long trip and must have been a hard journey for his age. It was just as hard a journey as Hyecho, a Korean monk, did 13 centuries ago. Can you please give a big applause to this respectable Korean historian?” noted Kwak Sung-kyu, South Korea’s ambassador to Pakinstan, as he introduced Dr. So. (Pakistan Today)
During the seminar, the ambassador also announced that South Korea and Pakistan have endorsed a memorandum of understanding aimed at reinforcing cultural cooperation between the two nations and the Korean Culture Heritage Foundation and the Department of Archaeology and Museums of Pakistan. An example of the cooperation already in place is a project, managed by the two nations, aimed at the preservation of cultural relics.
“The Koreans have great regard for Pakistan as the Indus flows through it and Mahayana Buddhism spread in Korea from here [Pakistan] in the 4th century when Buddhist monk Malananda traveled from Gandhara to South Korea. Also in the eighth century, monk Hyecho traveled to Gandhara for pilgrimage and wrote a travelogue,” Dr. So noted to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn while visiting Buddhist sites in the Swat Valley.
Dr. So observed how significant the Buddhist heritage sites in Pakistan are to Korean Buddhists: “Due to the sacredness of Mahayana Buddhist sites, especially the Takht Bhai one, we have built a replica of Gandhara temple of Takht Bhai in Korea and other monumental structures.” (Dawn)
These sites, he mentioned, have the potential of becomming very popular tourist destinations: “The Indus civilisation and Mahayana Buddhist sites in Pakistan, including Swat valley, have high regard on which Pakistan should be proud. Millions of tourists and pilgrims want to visit it, especially from Korea, for which the government of Pakistan must chalk out an effective tourism plan.”
“I am sure many Koreans will come here to follow the old route and visit the archaeological sites,” Dr. So added. “It will be a corridor of Korea and Pakistan such as CPEC [China-Pakistan Economic Corridor].” (Dawn)
During the seminar, Dr. Swati presented on the importance of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region where cultures, traditions, artwork, and architecture met and arose. Dr. Park spoke on Heycho’s memoirs and suggested steps to boost South Korean tourism to the region.