The BUDDHAS OF BAMIYAN (Persian : بت های باميان –
bott-hâye Bāmiyān) were 4th- and 5th-century monumental statues of
standing buddha carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley
Hazarajat region of central
Afghanistan , 230 kilometres (140
mi) northwest of
Kabul at an elevation of 2,500 metres (8,200 ft).
Built in 507 CE (smaller) and 554 CE (larger), the statues
represented the classic blended style of
Gandhara art . They were 35
and 53 meters tall, respectively.
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 wore 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.
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. Rows of holes that can be seen in photographs were spaces that
held wooden pegs that stabilized the outer stucco.
They were dynamited and destroyed in March 2001 by the
Taliban , on
orders from leader
Mohammed Omar , after the Taliban
government declared that they were idols . An envoy visiting the
United States in the following weeks explained that they were
destroyed to protest international aid exclusively reserved for statue
Afghanistan was experiencing famine, while the
Afghan Foreign Minister claimed that the destruction was merely about
carrying out Islamic religious iconoclasm . International opinion
strongly condemned the destruction of the Buddhas, which in the
following years was primarily viewed as an example of the extreme
religious intolerance of the Taliban.
Switzerland , among
others, have pledged support for the rebuilding of the statues.
* 1 History
* 1.1 Attacks on the Buddha\'s statue
* 1.1.1 11th to the 20th century
* 1.1.2 Preface to 2001, under the
* 1.1.3 Dynamiting and destruction, March 2001
* 2 Commitment to rebuild
* 2.1 Developments since 2002
* 3 Discoveries
* 4 Another giant statue unearthed
* 5 Restoration
* 5.1 Rise of Buddhas with 3D light projection
* 6 Gallery
* 7 See also
* 8 References
* 9 Further reading
* 10 External links
Afghanistan Drawing of the
Buddhas of Bamiyan
Buddhas of Bamiyan by Alexander Burnes 1832
Bamiyan lies on the
Silk Road , which runs through the Hindu Kush
mountain region, in the Bamiyan Valley. The
Silk Road has been
historically a caravan route linking the markets of
China with those
of the Western world. It was the site of several Buddhist monasteries
, and a thriving center for religion, philosophy, and art. Monks at
the monasteries lived as hermits in small caves carved into the side
of the Bamiyan cliffs. Most of these monks embellished their caves
with religious statuary and elaborate, brightly colored frescoes . It
was a Buddhist religious site from the 2nd century up to the time of
the Islamic invasion in the later half of the 7th century. Until it
was completely conquered by the
Saffarids in the 9th century,
Bamiyan shared the culture of
Gandhara . Taller Buddha in 1963
and in 2008 after destruction
The two most prominent statues were the giant standing Buddhas
Sakyamuni , identified by the different mudras
performed. The Buddha popularly called "Solsol" measured 53 meters
tall, and "Shahmama" 35 meters—the niches in which the figures stood
are 58 and 38 meters respectively from bottom to top. Before being
blown up in 2001 they were the largest examples of standing Buddha
carvings in the world (the 8th century
Leshan Giant Buddha
Leshan Giant Buddha is taller,
but that statue is sitting). Since then the
Spring Temple Buddha
Spring Temple Buddha has
been built in China, and at 128 m (420 ft) it is the tallest statue in
the world. Plans for the construction of the
Spring Temple Buddha
Spring Temple Buddha were
announced soon after the blowing up of the Bamiyan Buddhas and China
condemned the systematic destruction of the Buddhist heritage of
Afghanistan. Smaller Buddha in 1977
The smaller of the statues was built between 544 and 595, the larger
was built between 591 and 644. The larger figure was also said to
Dīpankara Buddha . 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 Bamiyan Valley. Their color faded
Chinese Buddhist pilgrim
Xuanzang visited the site on 30 April 630
AD, and described Bamiyan in the Da Tang Xiyu Ji 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). Intriguingly,
Xuanzang mentions a third, even larger, reclining statue of the
Buddha. A monumental seated Buddha, similar in style to those at
Bamiyan, still exists in the
Bingling Temple caves in China's Gansu
The destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas became a symbol of oppression
and a rallying point for the freedom of religious expression. Despite
the fact that most Afghans are now Muslim, they too had embraced their
past and many were appalled by the destruction.
ATTACKS ON THE BUDDHA\'S STATUE
11th To The 20th Century
In 1221 with the advent of
Genghis Khan "a terrible disaster befell
Bamiyan", nevertheless, the statues were spared. Later, the Mughal
Aurangzeb , tried to use heavy artillery to destroy the
statues. Another attempt to destroy the Bamiyan statues was made by
the 18th century Persian king Nader Afshar , directing cannon fire at
The enormous statues, the male Salsal ("light shines through the
universe") and the (smaller) female Shamama ("Queen Mother"), as they
were called by the locals, did not fail to fire the imagination of
Islamic writers in centuries past. The larger statue reappears as the
malevolent giant Salsal in medieval Turkish tales.
Abdur Rahman Khan destroyed its face during a military
campaign against the Shia Hazara rebellion. A Frenchman named Dureau
had photographed it in 1847.
Preface To 2001, Under The Taliban
Abdul Wahed, a
Taliban commander operating in the area, announced his
intention to blow up the Buddhas in 1997 even before he had taken
control of the valley. Once he was in control of Bamiyan in 1998,
Wahed drilled holes in the Buddhas' heads for explosives. He was
prevented from taking further action by the local governor and direct
Mohammed Omar , although tyres were burnt on the head of the
great Buddha. In July 1999,
Mohammed Omar issued a decree in
favor of the preservation of the Bamiyan Buddha statues. Because
Afghanistan's Buddhist population no longer exists, so the statues are
no longer worshipped, he added: "The government considers the Bamiyan
statues as an example of a potential major source of income for
Afghanistan from international visitors. The
Taliban states that
Bamiyan shall not be destroyed but protected." In early 2000, local
Taliban authorities asked for UN assistance to rebuild drainage
ditches around tops of the alcoves where the Buddhas were set.
However, 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 Sharia
In March 2001, the statues were destroyed by the
Taliban of Mullah
Omar following a decree issued by him. The
Taliban supreme leader
Mullah Omar explained why he ordered the statues to be destroyed in an
I did not want to destroy the Bamiyan Buddha. In fact, some
foreigners came to me and said they would like to conduct the repair
work of the Bamiyan Buddha that had been slightly damaged due to
rains. This shocked me. I thought, these callous people have no regard
for thousands of living human beings -- the Afghans who are dying of
hunger, but they are so concerned about non-living objects like the
Buddha. This was extremely deplorable. That is why I ordered its
destruction. Had they come for humanitarian work, I would have never
ordered the Buddha's destruction.
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.
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
Saudi Arabia , and the
United Arab Emirates
United Arab Emirates , three
countries that officially recognised the
the protest to spare the monuments.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE later
condemned the destruction as "savage". Although
Taliban regime in Afghanistan,
New Delhi offered to
arrange for the transfer of all the artifacts in question to India,
"where they would be kept safely and preserved for all mankind". These
overtures were rejected by the Taliban. Pakistani president Pervez
Moinuddin Haider to
Kabul to try to prevent the
destruction, by arguing that it was un-Islamic and unprecedented.
Abdul Salam Zaeef ,
UNESCO sent the
Taliban government 36 letters objecting to the proposed destruction.
He asserted that the Chinese, Japanese, and Sri Lankan delegates were
the most strident advocates for preserving the Buddhas. The Japanese
in particular proposed a variety of different solutions to the issue,
these included moving the statues to Japan, covering the statues from
view, and the payment of money. The second edition of the Turkistan
Islamic Party 's magazine Islamic Turkistan contained an article on
Buddhism, and described the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan
despite attempts by the Japanese government of "infidels" to preserve
the remains of the statues.
A statement issued by the ministry of religious affairs of the
Taliban regime justified the destruction as being in accordance with
Abdul Salam Zaeef held that the destruction of the
Buddhas was finally ordered by Abdul Wali, the Minister for the
Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.
Dynamiting And Destruction, March 2001
Destruction of the site by the
Taliban Site of the
larger statue after it was destroyed Site of the smaller statue
The statues were destroyed by dynamite over several weeks, starting
on 2 March 2001, carried out in stages. Initially, the statues were
fired at for several days using anti-aircraft guns and artillery. This
caused severe damage, but did not obliterate them. During the
Taliban Information Minister Qudratullah Jamal lamented
that, "this work of destruction is not as simple as people might
think. You can't knock down the statues by shelling as both are carved
into a cliff; they are firmly attached to the mountain". 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. After one of the
explosions failed to completely obliterate the face of one of the
Buddhas, a rocket was launched that left a hole in the remains of the
On 6 March 2001
The Times quoted
Mohammed Omar as stating,
"Muslims should be proud of smashing idols. It has given praise to
Allah that we have destroyed them." During a 13 March interview for
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 statues in accordance with Islamic law and it is purely
a religious issue."
On 18 March,
The New York Times
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".
Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi said that
the destruction of the statues was carried out by the Head Council of
Scholars after a Swedish monuments expert proposed to restore the
statues' heads. Hashimi is reported as saying: "When the Afghan 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 claim that
a foreign museum offered to "buy the Buddhist statues, the money from
which could have been used to feed children".
The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas despite protests from the
international community has been described by Michael Falser, a
heritage expert at the Center for Transcultural Studies in Germany, as
an attack by the
Taliban against the globalising concept of "cultural
heritage". The director general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Koichiro Matsuura called the
destruction a "...crime against culture. It is abominable to witness
the cold and calculated destruction of cultural properties which were
the heritage of the Afghan people, and, indeed, of the whole of
COMMITMENT TO REBUILD
THE FOUR MAIN SITES
FOUR ADDITIONAL SITES
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 passages that connect them. As part of the
international effort to rebuild
Afghanistan after the
Taliban war, the
Japan and several other organizations—among them the
Afghanistan Institute in
Bubendorf , Switzerland, along with the ETH
Zurich —have committed to rebuilding, perhaps by anastylosis ,
the two larger Buddhas.
DEVELOPMENTS SINCE 2002
In September 2005, Mawlawi Mohammed
Islam Mohammadi , Taliban
governor of Bamiyan province at the time of the destruction and widely
seen as responsible for its occurrence, was elected to the Afghan
Parliament. On 26 January 2007, he was assassinated in Kabul.
Christian Frei made a 95-minute documentary titled
The Giant Buddhas (released in March 2006) on the statues, the
international reactions to their destruction, and an overview of the
controversy. Testimony by local Afghans validates that Osama Bin Laden
ordered the destruction and that, initially,
Mullah Omar and the
Afghans in Bamiyan opposed it.
Since 2002, international funding has supported recovery and
stabilization efforts at the site. Fragments of the statues are
documented and stored with special attention given to securing the
structure of the statue still in place. It is hoped that, in the
future, partial anastylosis can be conducted with the remaining
fragments. In 2009,
ICOMOS constructed scaffolding within the niche to
further conservation and stabilization. Nonetheless, several serious
conservation and safety issues exist and the Buddhas are still listed
World Heritage in Danger
World Heritage in Danger .
In the summer of 2006, Afghan officials were deciding on the
timetable for the re-construction of the statues. As they wait for the
Afghan government and international community to decide when 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 Buddhist remnants at Bamiyan were included on the 2008 World
Monuments Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites by the World
Monuments Fund .
Grotto painting in 2008
After the destruction of the Buddhas, 50 caves were revealed. In 12
of the caves, wall paintings were discovered. In December 2004, an
international team of researchers stated the wall paintings at Bamiyan
were painted between the 5th and the 9th centuries, rather than the
6th to 8th centuries, citing their analysis of 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 Tokyo Research Institute for Cultural Properties
in Japan, the Centre of Research and Restoration of the French Museums
CNRS ) in France, the Getty Conservation Institute in the United
States, and the
European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in
Grenoble , France, 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.
Initial suspicion that the oils might be attributable to
contamination from fingers, as the touching of the painting is
encouraged in Buddhist tradition, was dispelled by spectroscopy and
chromatography giving an unambiguous signal for the intentional use of
drying oils rather than contaminants. Oils were discovered underneath
layers of paint, unlike surface contaminants.
Scientists also found the translation of the beginning section of the
Sutra translated by Xuanzang
that spelled out the basic belief of
Buddhism and said all things are
ANOTHER GIANT STATUE UNEARTHED
On 8 September 2008 archaeologists searching for a legendary
300-metre statue at the site of the already dynamited Buddhas
announced the discovery of parts of an unknown 19-metre (62-foot)
reclining Buddha , a pose representing Buddha's
caution sign, 2017
UNESCO Expert Working Group on Afghan cultural projects convened
to discuss what to do about the two statues between 3–4 March 2011
Paris . Researcher Erwin Emmerling of Technical University Munich
announced he believed it would be possible to restore the smaller
statue using an organic silicon compound . The
issued a list of 39 recommendations for the safeguarding of the
Bamiyan site. These included leaving the larger Western niche empty as
a monument to the destruction of the Buddhas, a feasibility study into
the rebuilding of the Eastern Buddha, and the construction of a
central museum and several smaller site museums. Work has since begun
on restoring the Buddhas using the process of anastylosis , where
original elements are combined with modern material. It is estimated
that roughly half the pieces of the Buddhas can be put back together
according to Bert Praxenthaler, a German art historian and sculptor
involved in the restoration. The restoration of the caves and Buddhas
has also involved training and employing local people as stone
carvers. The project, which also aims to encourage tourism to the
area, is being organised by
UNESCO and the International Council on
Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).
The work has come under some criticism. It is felt by some, such as
human rights activist Abdullah Hamadi, that the empty niches should be
left as monuments to the fanaticism of the Taliban, while
that others believe the money could be better spent on housing and
electricity for the region. Some people, including Habiba Sarabi, the
provincial governor, believe that rebuilding the Buddhas would
increase tourism which would aid the surrounding communities.
RISE OF BUDDHAS WITH 3D LIGHT PROJECTION
After fourteen years, on 7 June 2015, a Chinese adventurist couple
Xinyu Zhang and Hong Liang filled the empty cavities where the Buddhas
once stood with 3D laser light projection technology. The projector
used for the installation, worth approximately $120,000, was donated
by Xinyu and Hong, who were saddened by the destruction of the
statues. With the desire of paying tribute, they requested permission
UNESCO and the
Afghan government to do the project. About 150
local people came out to see the unveiling of the holographic statues
on Sunday, 7 June 2015.
Taller Buddha, after destruction
Smaller Buddha, after destruction
View of the rock where monasteries and Buddhas are carved
The landscape of the archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley
Buddha Collapsed out of Shame
Islamist destruction of Timbuktu heritage sites
Destruction of cultural heritage by ISIL
Destruction of cultural heritage by ISIL
World Heritage Sites in Danger
List of colossal sculpture in situ
Armenian cemetery in Julfa
Demolition of the Babri Masjid
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