Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Bamiyan Buddhas

Rao S. Maradani

The world was aghast witnessing the senseless destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas by Taliban under the orders of Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Many people wondered how Buddha Statues in Afghanistan existed. Here in I write the geography and history of Bamiyan Buddhas:

Afghanistan is situated on the north west of India beyond Peshawar and has existed for over 2300 years. Afghanistan was a melting pot of Greek-Persian, Indian and Central Asian countries. Bamiyan is a valley that nestles between the mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush and Kohi Baba situated at 250 kms. North of Kabul, the capital of present Afghanistan. Bamiyan was once an important center on the famous silk route between India, Central Asia, China in the east and Iran, Greek, Roman and Byzantine world in the west. For over 1000 years it flourished as a prize sought by succession of conquerors. Bamiyan in those days was a great seat of culture, similar to Nalanda, Ajanta and Ellora of India. The valley of Bamiyan is a place of scenery located at a plateau at a height of 8000 to 9000 feet above the sea level, surrounded by mountains 17000 ft to 18000 ft high above sea level, snow-capped during winter making it inaccessible from outside.

The first Indian king to rule over Afghanistan was Chandra Gupta Maurya (324BC -300 BC) who defeated Selukos (Alexander’s General) and annexed it to the vast Mauryan Empire, Bindusara, Chandra Gupta’s son, ruled Afghanistan for nearly 27 years from 300 BC to 273 BC). Bindusara was succeeded by Ashoka, the Great from 273 BC to 232 BC. ­It was during the reign of Ashoka that Buddhism was introduced in Afghanistan and soon it got roots there. Ashoka engraved dhamma edicts on rocks and pillars in various parts of the Mauryan Empire including Afghanistan. It is significant to note that as many as three inscriptions of Ashoka have been found from Kandahar in Afghanistan.

When the Mauryan Empire disintegrated about 184 BC, parts of Afghanistan were reoccupied by, Indo-Bacterians. Buddhism in Afghanistan got great impetus during the reign of Kanishka of the Kushyar dynasty, who ruled from 78 BC to 101 AD and whose empire extended from Kandhar to Varanasi. Arabs ­took control of Kabul and Kandahar in the late 7th Century AD. but the small Buddhist kingdom of Bamiyan remained intact for another century. Later the Bamiyan princes were converted to Islam under pressure, and the Buddhist community of Bamiyan also was converted to Islam and the Buddhist relics were deserted and left uncared for.

In about 870 AD Yatiub-bin. Laith destroyed man Buddha statues in Bamiyan and possibly plucked the precious stones off the two giant Buddhas. Then Bamiyan was mercilessly ravaged by Chengez Khan in the 13th Century. But the great Buddhas survived the ravages of weather and man for more than 1000 years under Muslim rule. The Buddhist heritage in Afghanistan is found at the following major archeological sites.

Bamiyan         Famous two gaint Buddha Statues
Kapisa            Dozens of Stupas, panels of scenes from the life of Buddha as well as Jataka stones
Jalalabad        44 Buddhist stupas, skull bones of the Buddha, his robe and walking sticks
Ghazni             Ruins of stupas built of Asoka
Hadda             Many sacred Buddhist spots
Balkh              Ruins of many Buddhist shrines built by Khushans
Surkhkotal      Site of great temple built by Kanishka, a Stupa cave, monastery Fahiyan, the first Chinese piligrim who came to India at the beginning of the 5th Century via Afghanistan noticed a large number of Buddhist monastries where in 3000 Buddhist monks stayed.

Hieunstang, who visited India via Afghanistan in 639 AD, described the grandeur and glory of two colossal Buddhist statues of 55 meters and 35 meters height carved in the 5th Century AD and 2nd Century AD respectively from the rock of a cliff side forming part of the southern slope of the Hindu Kush, The local people called the big statue red Buddha and the small statue gray Buddha, Scholarly pilgrims from China described that the great statues glittered with gold and jewels. Yuan Chang observed that golden lines of Buddha sparkled in every direction. He saw hundreds of monasteries with thousands of monks. He describes reclining Buddha 300 meters long, the traces of which are not found by archeologists.

At the invitation of the then Afghanistan government UNESCO experts visited Afghanistan in the year 1970 and gave valuable suggestions for making Bamiyan valley an ideal tourist attraction.

When Taliban ordered destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas, Srilanka offered finance to save them to take them and preserve in their country for posterity. Metropolitan museum of New York for which Taliban did not agree. The appeal made by Koichiromastura, UNESCO chief was of no avail. They have not heeded the plea of Japanese Parliamentary team. UN special envoy Francesco Venn Darrell’s appeals did not get any positive response. The repeated appeals of the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan did not win a courteous response.

Finally, Taliban destroyed the two gaint statues of Buddha. There after they celebrated the wreckage operation by slaughtering 100 cows as a sacrifice to atone for the delay in destroying the idols! Pakistan’s Religious Ministry has justified the destruction of ancient Buddha statues in Afghanistan (Times of India dated 27-6-2001). This is a crime against history. Thus the world’s cultural legacy and heritage of Afghanistan came to an end.

Books referred to:

1.      Bamiyan Buddha – DC, Ahir
2.      Suhrullekha – April-June, 2001
3.      Dhamma – April 2001
4.      Rationalist voice – July-August, 2001

According to a news report in ‘The Hindu’ dated November 20, 2001 Two Buddhas blown up by the Taliban in one of their most extreme acts of vandalism are going to be rebuilt if a plan by two Swiss art lovers succeeds. Now a campaign is underway in Switzerland to raise more than one million pounds to recreate them. The Campaign has been launched by Paul Bucherer who runs the Afghanistan Institute and Museum near Zurich, and Mr. Bernard Weber, a Swiss film maker. The two men have assembled an international team of art historians and scientists who propose to work alongside Afghan craftsmen to recreate what were once the world’s biggest standing Buddhas.

They said, “We want to prove that even willful destruction cannot bring oblivion to that which mankind holds dear.”

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