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AFGHANISTAN'S Giant Buddhas of Bamiyan

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Author Topic: AFGHANISTAN'S Giant Buddhas of Bamiyan  (Read 3195 times)
Bianca
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« 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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