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AFGHANISTAN'S Giant Buddhas of Bamiyan

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Author Topic: AFGHANISTAN'S Giant Buddhas of Bamiyan  (Read 3852 times)
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« on: November 09, 2008, 07:51:37 am »



                                        T H E   B U D D H A S   O F   B A M I Y A N

The Buddhas of Bamyan (Persian: بت های باميان - but hay-e bamiyaan) were two monumental statues of standing Buddhas carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley in the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan, situated 230 km (143 miles) northwest of Kabul at an altitude of 2500 meters (8,202 ft). Built during the sixth century, the statues represented the classic blended style of Indo-Greek art.

The main bodies were hewn directly from the sandstone cliffs, but details were modeled in mud mixed with straw, coated with stucco. This coating, practically all of which was worn away long ago, was painted to enhance the expressions of the faces, hands and folds of the robes; the larger one was painted carmine red and the smaller one was painted multiple colors.[1] The lower parts of the statues' arms were constructed from the same mud-straw mix while supported on wooden armatures. It is believed that the upper parts of their faces were made from great wooden masks or casts. The rows of holes that can be seen in photographs were spaces that held wooden pegs which served to stabilize the outer stucco.

They were intentionally dynamited and destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban, on orders from leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, after the Taliban government declared that they were "idols" (which are forbidden under Sharia law). International opinion strongly condemned the destruction of the Buddhas, which was viewed as an example of the intolerance of the Taliban and of fundamentalist Islam. Japan and Switzerland, among others, have pledged support for the rebuilding of the statues.
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« Reply #1 on: November 09, 2008, 07:57:55 am »

Bamyan lies on the Silk Road, a caravan route linking the markets of China with those of Western Asia. Until the eleventh century AD, Bamyan was part of the kingdom of Gandhara. It was the site of several Buddhist monasteries, and a thriving center for religion, philosophy, and Indo-Greek art. It was a Buddhist religious site from the second century up to the time of the Islamic invasion in the ninth century.

Monks at the monasteries lived as hermits in small caves carved into the side of the Bamyan cliffs. Many of these monks embellished their caves with religious statuary and elaborate, brightly-colored frescoes.

The two most prominent statues were the giant, standing Buddhas Vairocana and Sakyamuni, measuring 55 and 37 metres (180 and 121 feet) high respectively, the largest examples of standing Buddha carvings in the world. They were perhaps the most famous cultural landmarks of the region and the site was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site along with the surrounding cultural landscape and archaeological remains of the Bamyan Valley. The statues represented wearing Hellenic tunics, an echo of Alexander the Great's contribution to the Central Asian mix almost a millennium earlier.

The smaller of the two statues was built in AD 507, the larger in 554.  The statues are believed to have been built by the Kushans and Indo-Hephthalites (both eastern Indo-European peoples) at the heyday of their empires.

The Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang passed through the area around AD 630 and described Bamyan as a flourishing Buddhist center "with more than ten monasteries and more than a thousand monks". He also noted that both Buddha figures were "decorated with gold and fine jewels" (Wriggins, 1995). Xuan Zang's account is intriguing as he mentions a third, even larger, reclining statue of Buddha; although it is generally believed destroyed, some archaeological expeditions are searching for it.

A monumental sitting Buddha similar in style to those at Bamyan still exists in the Bingling Temple caves in China's Gansu province.

The destruction of the statues led to widespread anger in Europe and North America because, in part, it was an affront to many Westerners who believe that religious expression is a fundamental freedom. The destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas became a symbol of oppression and a rallying point. Despite the fact that Afghans are Muslim, they too had embraced their past and many were appalled by this destruction.
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« Reply #2 on: November 09, 2008, 08:01:26 am »

                                           History of attacks on the Buddhas

Eleventh century to the twentieth century

When Mahmud of Ghazni conquered Afghanistan and part of west India in the eleventh century, the Buddhas and frescoes were spared from destruction though Buddhist monasteries and other artifacts were looted or destroyed. Nader Shah fired cannon at the statues.

But over the centuries the statues had largely been left untouched.

Preface to 2001, under the Taliban

In July 1999, Mullah Mohammed Omar issued a decree in favor of the preservation of the Bamyan Buddhas. Because Afghanistan's Buddhist population no longer existed, which removed the possibility
of the statues being worshipped, he added: "The government considers the Bamyan statues as an example of a potential major source of income for Afghanistan from international visitors. The Taliban states that Bamyan shall not be destroyed but protected."

Afghanistan's radical clerics began a campaign to crack down on "un-Islamic" segments of Afghan society. The Taliban soon banned all forms of imagery, music and sports, including television, in accordance with what they considered a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Information and Culture Minister Qadratullah Jamal told Associated Press of a decision by 400 religious clerics from across Afghanistan declaring the Buddhist statues against the tenets of Islam. "They came out with a consensus that the statues were against Islam," said Jamal.

According to UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura, a meeting of ambassadors from the 54 member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) was conducted. All OIC states - including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, three countries that officially recognised the Taliban government - joined the protest to spare the monuments.

A statement issued by the ministry of religious affairs of Taliban regime justified the destruction as being in accordance with Islamic law.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would later condemn the destruction as "savage".
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« Reply #3 on: November 09, 2008, 08:03:06 am »


                                                Dynamiting and destruction, March 2001

The statues were destroyed by dynamite over several weeks, starting in early March, carried out in different stages. Initially, the statues were fired at for several days using anti-aircraft guns and artillery. This damaged them, but did not obliterate them. Later, the Taliban placed anti-tank mines at the bottom of the niches, so that when fragments of rock broke off from artillery fire, the statues would receive additional destruction from particles that set off the mines. In the end, the Taliban lowered men down the cliff face and placed explosives into holes in the Buddhas.

On March 6, 2001 The Times quoted Mullah Mohammed Omar as stating, "Muslims should be proud of smashing idols. It has given praise to God that we have destroyed them." He had changed his position from being in favor of the statues to being against them. During a March 13 interview for Japan's Mainichi Shimbun, Afghan Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel stated that the destruction was anything but a retaliation against the international community for economic sanctions: "We are destroying the Buddha statues in accordance with Islamic law and it is purely a religious issue".

On March 18, The New York Times reported that a Taliban envoy said the Islamic government made its decision in a rage after a foreign delegation offered money to preserve the ancient works. The report also added, however, that other reports "have said the religious leaders were debating the move for months, and ultimately decided that the statues were idolatrous and should be obliterated."

Then Taliban ambassador-at-large, Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, said that the destruction of the statues was carried out by the Head Council of Scholars after a single Swedish monuments expert proposed to restore the statues' heads. Hashimi is reported as saying: "When the Afghani head council asked them to provide the money to feed the children instead of fixing the statues, they refused and said, 'No, the money is just for the statues, not for the children'. Herein, they made the decision to destroy the statues".

However, he did not comment on the fact that a foreign museum offered to "buy the Buddhist statues, the money from which could have been used to feed children."
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« Reply #4 on: November 09, 2008, 08:08:31 am »


Though the figures of the two large Buddhas are almost completely destroyed, their outlines and some features

are still recognizable within the recesses. It is also still possible for visitors to explore the monks' caves and the

passages which connect them. As part of the international effort to rebuild Afghanistan after the Taliban war,

the Government of Japan and several other organizations, among them the Afghanistan Institute in Bubendorf,

Switzerland, along with the ETH in Zurich, have committed themselves to rebuilding the two largest Buddhas;

anastylosis is one technique being considered.

Developments since 2002

In May 2002, a mountainside sculpture of the Buddha was carved out of a mountain in Sri Lanka.

It was designed to closely resemble one of the Buddhas of Bamyan.

The Afghan government has commissioned Japanese artist Hiro Yamagata to recreate the Bamyan Buddhas using fourteen laser systems to project the images of the Buddhas onto the cliff where they once stood. The laser systems will be solar and wind-powered. The project, which will cost an estimated $9 million, is currently pending UNESCO approval. If approved, the project is estimated to be completed by June 2012.

In September 2005, Mawlawi Mohammed Islam Mohammadi, Taliban governor of Bamyan province at the time
of the destruction and widely seen as responsible for its occurrence, was elected to the Afghan Parliament.
On January 26, 2007, he was gunned down in Kabul.

Swiss filmmaker Christian Frei made a 95-minute documentary entitled The Giant Buddhas (released in March 2006) on the statues, the international reactions to their destruction, and an overview of the controversy.
The movie makes the controversial claim (quoting a local Afghan) that the destruction was ordered by Osama Bin Laden and that initially, Mullah Omar and the Afghans in Bamyan had opposed the destruction.

In the summer of 2006, Afghan officials were deciding the timetable for the re-construction of the statues.
The mullahs[who?] in the province have stated that the destruction was an "atrocity" and the statues deserve restoration.[citation needed] While they wait for the Afghan government and international community to decide whether to rebuild them, a $1.3 million UNESCO-funded project is sorting out the chunks of clay and plaster — ranging from boulders weighing several tons to fragments the size of tennis balls — and sheltering them from the elements.

The Buddhist remnants at Bamyan were included on the 2008 World Monuments Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites by the World Monuments Fund. It is hoped that the listing will put continued national and international attention on the site in order to ensure its long-term preservation, and to make certain that
future restoration efforts maintain the authenticity of the site and that proper preservation practices are followed.
« Last Edit: November 09, 2008, 08:12:50 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #5 on: November 09, 2008, 08:16:37 am »

Oil painting discovery

After the destruction of the Buddhas, 50 caves were revealed.

In 12 of the caves wall paintings were discovered.

In December 2004, Japanese researchers discovered that the wall paintings at Bamyan were actually painted between the fifth and the ninth centuries, rather than the sixth to eighth centuries as previously believed. The discovery was made by analysing radioactive isotopes contained in straw
fibers found beneath the paintings.

It is believed that the paintings were done by artists travelling on the Silk Road, the trade route between China and the West.

Scientists from the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Tokyo (Japan), the Centre of Research and Restoration of the French Museums-CNRS (France), the Getty Conservation Institute (United States) and the ESRF (the European Synchrotron radiation facility) in Grenoble analysed samples from the paintings, typically less than 1 mm across.

They discovered that the paint contained pigments such as vermilion (red mercury sulfide) and lead white (lead carbonate). These were mixed with a range of binders, including natural resins, gums (possibly animal skin glue or egg) and oils, probably derived from walnuts or poppies.  Specifically, researchers identified drying oils from murals showing Buddhas in vermilion robes sitting cross-legged amid palm leaves and mythical creatures as being painted in the middle of the 7th century.

It is believed that they are the oldest known surviving examples of oil painting, possibly predating oil painting in Europe by as much as six centuries.

The discovery may lead to a reassessment of works in ancient ruins in Iran, China, Pakistan, Turkey
and India.

Some have cautioned that the oils may in fact be contamination from fingers, as the touching of the painting is encouraged in Buddhist tradition; however, analysis by spectroscopy and chromatography indicates an unambiguous signal for the use of oils rather than any other contaminant.

In addition oils were discovered underneath other layers of paint, negating the presence of surface contaminants.
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« Reply #6 on: November 09, 2008, 08:18:36 am »

Another giant statue unearthed

On September 8, 2008 archeologists searching for the fabled 300 meter statue at the site of the
already dynamited Buddhas announced the discovery of a new 19-meter-long (62 ft) "sleeping Buddha",
the pose known to Buddhists as the scene where the Buddha passed into nirvana.

This discovery may have confirmed the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang's mention of a large Buddha in a sleeping
posture in this area, which were recorded by Xuanzang one thousand four hundred years ago.

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« Reply #7 on: November 09, 2008, 08:27:41 am »



                                                            Hiro Yamagata

An artist specializing in laser installations, Hiro Yamagata newest work incorporates solar and wind energy.
In memory of the Bamiyan Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban, he intends to project images
of the buddhas onto a rockface near Bamiyan, Afghanistan.

The lasers will be powered by windmills and solar panels. 

"Of course I help people, but it's more about not harming people....

I'm doing a fine art piece.

That's my purpose - not for human rights, or for supporting religion or a political statement."

Bamiyan, Afghanistan
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« Reply #8 on: November 09, 2008, 08:45:03 am »

« Last Edit: November 09, 2008, 09:21:15 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #9 on: November 09, 2008, 08:50:28 am »

« Last Edit: November 09, 2008, 09:21:53 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #10 on: November 09, 2008, 08:54:43 am »


                                                  BAMIYAN AND BUDDHIST AFGHANISTAN

Frank Harold

If there were paradise on earth, it might look somewhat like Bamiyan.

Here is a green high valley (over 8000 ft), bounded by ochre cliffs.

Tall mountains flecked with snow stand to the north and south. The flat cultivated bottomlands are dotted with mud-brick farmsteads, each a toy fort with watchtowers in the angles; and a river runs through it.

The sense of apartness may have been what drew Buddhist monks here, to build a large monastic center watched over by those colossal statues of the Buddha staring out from the cliffs. 

But Bamiyan was never out of this world. A major trade route passed through the valley, linking
Central Asia with India and bringing both wealth and turmoil. The forts and guard-towers at every strategic spot are there for a reason; and those ruins up on the plateau are the legacy of the
Mongol's fury.

The mutilated Buddha statues lost their faces to the zealotry of Aurangzeb's soldiers in the 18th century, and were eventually blown up by Taliban zealots in March 2001.

Afghan history is not for sissies.
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« Reply #11 on: November 09, 2008, 08:57:57 am »


The rise of Bamiyan is part of a bigger story, the Buddhist conquest of Central Asia, and that in turn was linked to the political and economic currents of that time.

Briefly, early in the first century C.E. a semi-nomadic tribe called the Kushans swept out of Bactria, overpowering the rulers of the hill-tribes and what remained of the Graeco- Bactrian kingdoms. They established a large empire that endured for three centuries and reached from the shores of the Caspian Sea deep into northern India. Among its principal cities were Kapissa, just north of Kabul, and Peshawar in Gandhara (Pakistan). The Kushans made themselves the unavoidable middlemen between China, India and Rome, and prospered on the revenues of the Silk Road. And they fostered a syncretic culture, in which tribal traditions from Central Asia fused with artistic conventions derived from the Hellenized Mediterranean and with the powerful creed of Buddhist India.

Buddhism was by this time in an expansionist mode, offering religious practices that spoke to the masses and an appealing style of illustrative art, backed by the subtle philosophy of the Mahayana

The sculptors of Gandhara had discovered ways to give concrete form to the doctrine--the deified Buddha, the incidents of his life and the boddhisattvas that complement the central figure.

Every museum of Asian art displays representative examples of Gandhara sculpture, which is popular
in the West because of its distinctly western idiom ( provincial Roman, some critics grumble, not
without reason).

The Buddha statues of Bamiyan, with their Roman draperies, belong to the Gandharan universe.
And so do the numerous stupas scattered throughout the Afghan mountains, built to house relics of
the Buddha and of later saints.

Guldara, in a remote valley southeast of Kabul, is a noteworthy example with Hellenistic features;
a more typical one is the stupa of Tope Darra, in the mountains north of the city.
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« Reply #12 on: November 09, 2008, 09:01:24 am »


The valley of Bamiyan runs east to west for some 30 miles, flanked to the north and south by the 15,000-ft
peaks of the Hindu Kush and Koh-i-Baba ranges.

It made a natural corridor for migration and trade, and still affords a relatively easy passage between Kabul
and Turkestan.

Buddhist monks probably settled there early in Kushan times, and Bamiyan quickly grew into a major monastic center, repeatedly mentioned in Chinese texts from the fifth century C.E. onward.

The pilgrim Fa Hsien passed through in about 400 C.E., and witnessed a ceremonial conclave of a thousand monks
in the presence of the king, whose largesse is duly noted ( Fa Hsien also makes a
point of the sacred relics kept in Bamiyan: a tooth of the Buddha, and his spittoon; cited in Dupree, 1967).

The celebrated traveller Xuanzang visited in 632 C.E., and described that same solemn assembly.
He was impressed by the monk's devotion, and mentions the giant standing Buddhas.

A century later a monk from Korea, Huichao (727 C.E. ) describes Bamiyan as an independent Buddhist state, perhaps under Sassanian suzerainty. An indigenous dynasty that adhered to Buddhism as best it could survived
in these mountains until 970 C.E., when the rulers of Ghazni (in southern Afghanistan) imposed Islam on all their domain.

Muslim kings then ruled for another two centuries, their reach at times extending to the Oxus river. Their residence was the large city on the plateau facing the two Buddhas, whose ruins are now known as Shahr-i-Gholghola ( variously translated as the City of Silence, or of Screams). Bamiyan was protected by watchtowers and by two massive outlying fortresses, but when the day of reckoning
came nothing could deflect the storm.

 In Bamiyan, as elsewhere in Central Asia, apocalypse came at the hands of Ghengis Khan in 1221 C.E.

Ghengis sent a small army to seize the valley, commanded by his favorite grandson. When the boy was killed by
a bowshot from the fortress of Shahr-i-Zohak ( the Red City), the Khan vowed implacable revenge: no human or animal would be allowed to live. As always in these matters, Ghengis Khan was true to his word.

Neither the city of Bamiyan nor its outliers were ever rebuilt; their ruins stand today as mute testimony to the human capacity for savagery.
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« Reply #13 on: November 09, 2008, 09:06:21 am »


Recovery would be slow. Forty years after the disaster, Juvaini found Bamiyan still a ghost town.

Rebuilding took place in the 15t century, under the Timurid kings; Babur, with his keen eye for natural beauty,
was much taken with Bamiyan.

But by then the caravan trade was in terminal decline.

As an agricultural and pastoral region, the valley became a stronghold of the Afghan monarchy; and eventually caught the roving eyes of a new breed of pious pilgrims, the serious travellers.
The magnet is, or rather was, the gigantic statues of Buddha carved out of the cliff.

One stood 120 feet tall, the other 175; each occupied a trilobed niche whose arches were decorated with colored frescoes.

In their day, the statues too were brightly painted.

The niches are flanked by dozens of artificial caves, many adorned with frescoes, all part of that huge monastic ensemble.

Scholars have discerned stylistic influences from Gupta India and Sassanian Iran, and these allow one to venture some dates. The Buddhas are presently assigned to the 5th and 6th centuries C.E. ( earlier authors often preferred dates a couple of centuries earlier, e.g, Dupree,1967).

Some of the painted caves may be later still.

Neither the monasteries nor the royal city at the foot of the cliff has been excavated, but visitors found much
food for thought in the Islamic city ( Shahr-i-Gholghola) and its outlying fortress ( Shahr-i-Zohak).

Presently, it is said, both are still packed with landmines; Ghengis Khan would be pleased.




For a brief summary of the history of Bamiyan and its monuments see the article by X. de Planhol in the Encyclopaedia Iranica.

For the Kushans see J. Keay, India, A History (Grove Press, New York, 2000).

There is a good survey of Gandharan art in R.E. Fisher, Buddhist Art and Architecture
(Thames and Hudson, London, 1993).

During our visit to Bamiyan in 1970 we relied on a small guide by Nancy Hatch Dupree,
(The Valley of Bamian, Afghan Tourist Organization, 1967).

© 2006 Frank Harold.

Silk Road Seattle is a project of the
Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities at the
University of Washington.

Additional funding has been provided by the Silkroad Foundation
(Saratoga, California).
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« Reply #14 on: November 09, 2008, 09:32:23 am »

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