Museaum Dir, situated in the Khyber Paktunkhwa of Pakistan, is one of the most important regions, both historically and culturally. Its territories stretches between 34° 22' and 35° 50' North and 71 ° 02' and 72° 30' East and mainly comprises the terrain drained by the Panjkora river and its affluents. Dir takes its name from the name of a village, Dir, which served as capital of the state during the Nawabs era.
It has District Swat in the East, Bajaur on the West, Chitral on the North and Malakand Agency on the south. Pushto is the main spoken language of the population, followed by Kohistani and Gujri. The people of Dir, who are courageous and hospitable, have deep reverence for their religion.
The history of Dir goes back to at least the 2"d millennium BC, which is testified by the excavations of numerous burials of Aryans at Timargarha and other places, dating from 18th to 6th century BC. The Aryans were followed by the Achaemenians, who were ousted by the invasion of Alexander in 327 BC, though he faced great difficulties in subjugating the local population. Greek historians have paid great tributes to the population, the army and the queen of Massaga, an ancient site near the modern Ziarat village, located between Chakdara and Timargarha. After the Greeks, the area witnessed the Gandharan Civilization, which achieved great fame. This period is signified by the presence of the monumental remains of the Buddhist stupas and monasteries, a few of which has already filled the museum at Chakdara.
The Yousafzai Pathans, who established themselves here in the 5th century AD, are responsible for the tribal, social, political and economic life of the region. Akhund lIyas Painda Khel of the Malaizi tribe (1640) enjoyed popular support among locals and was recognized as a spiritual leader. His descendants built upon this support and ultimately increased their power over the people and laid the foundation of a distinct political state, then called the state of Nawabs. The British annexed Dir in 1897 and demarcated its boundaries. After independence of Pakistan, it still enjoyed the status of a separate state, but was amalgamated with Pakistan in 1960 as a tribal agency. It was finally merged as a district with the NWFP in 1969. Recently, due to administrative constraints, Dir District was divided into two districts-Lower and Upper Dir- with Timargarha and Dir as their respective headquarters.
Dir occupied an important position as a centre of Gandhara Art. Pilgrims and historians have defined Gandhara, (the land of fragrance and beauty), as "the area to the west of Indus and north of Kabul rivers which included the valleys of Peshawar, Swat, Dir and Bajaur, extending westwards to Hadda and Bamiyan in Afghanistan and Taxila Valley in Punjab in the east". The region of Dir is therefore littered with the remains of the Gandharan Civilization and Dir Museum, Chakdara, offers a fine and unique collection of Gandharan Art.
The Department of Archaeology, University of Peshawar undertook a few important archaeological projects in Dir during 1966-1969 and excavated various archaeological sites. To house the collection from the area, the then State Government of Dir, constructed a museum in Chakdara. Capt. Rahatulah Khan Jaral, the then Political Agent of Dir Agency, proposed the construction of the Dir Museum and allocated a sum of Rs. 2,50,000/- for its construction. The Provincial Government afterwards allocated an additional fund of Rs. 4,90,000/- for the construction of residential quarters, boundary wall, guest house, storage and other facilities in the museum.
The museum building was designed by Mr. Saidal Khan, Consultant Architect of Khyber Paktunkhwa . Public Works Department. The designer, while designing the museum, kept the local style of arc hitecture in mind and constructed it of bare stone, called Malakandi stone, an architectural element common in the area and reflecting the strength and dynamism of the locals. The museum has a fort like appearance with a grand facade, consisting of an arched entrance, two square corner picket-towers and battlements on the parapet.
The museum remained a state museum till 1969 and when the state was merged with NWFP, the museum was handed over to the provincial government. The provincial government constituted a Board of Governors under the NWFP Educational and Training Ordinance 1970 to run the affairs of the museum. Lt. General Azhar Khan, the then Governor of NWFP laid the foundation of the museum on 20.9.1970. Lt. General (Rtd.) Fazl-e-Haq, the then Governor NWFP inaugurated the museum on 30.5.1979. The purpose of the museum is to exhibit the archaeological, Islamic and ethnological collection of the area, including sculptures, coins, jewelry and weapons etc.
Dir museum has a total collection of 2161 objects, with more than 1444 Gandharan pieces. The collection of this section includes the themes of Buddha's pre-birth and life stories, miracles, worship of symbols, relic caskets and individual standing Buddha sculptures. The most represented pre-birth stories or Jatakas are Dipankara, Maitryakanyaka, Amara, Syama and Visvantara Jatakas. The most important scenes from the Buddha Life Story includes Queen Maya's dream, interpretation of the dream, birth of Siddhartha, bath scene, seven steps, going to school, writing lessons, wrestling matches, palace life, marriage scene, renunciation, great departure, ascetic life, first meditation, demons attacks, attaining enlightment, first sermon at Sarnath, conversion of Kasyapa, monks, death scene, cremation of Buddha, distribution and guarding of relics and the construction of stupas on the relics. The miracle of Sravasti and taming of a wild elephant are the two commonly represented miracles in the museum collection. Different types of the relic caskets, stupa models and life-size Buddha statues also make part of the collection.
The Hall of Tribes or the Ethnological Gallery of the museum was established in 1977 with 498 objects and includes manuscripts, weapons, jewelry, dresses, ceramics, musical instruments, household objects, furniture and wooden architectural elements.
The Gandharan art pieces in the Dir Museum mainly come from the sites of Andan Dheri, Chat Pat, Baghrajai, Bumbolai, Jabagai, Shalizar, Ramora, Tri Banda, Macho, Amluk Darra, Nasafa, Damkot, Bajaur and Talash, Dir, Malakand, Balambat, Timargarha, Shamlai Graves, Inayat Qila, Shah Dheri Damkot, Gumbatuna, Jandol, Matkani and Shalkandi.
The important Garidharan sites in the vicinity of Dir Museum include & Andan Dheri, Chat Pat and Gumbatuna. The museum collection is growing and after necessary up-gradation, the museum will provide better facilities to all concerned.By Syed Ziafat Ali