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The legacy and return of the Bamiyan Buddhas


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bamiyan Buddhas

Mains level : Spread and decline of Buddhism

Two decades later after its destruction, the Bamiyan Buddhas have been brought back to life in the form of 3D projections in an event called “A Night with Buddha”.

Bamiyan Buddhas

  • In their Roman draperies and with two different mudras, the Bamiyan Buddhas were great examples of a confluence of Gupta, Sassanian and Hellenistic artistic styles.
  • They are said to date back to the 5th century AD and were once the tallest standing Buddhas in the world.
  • Salsal and Shamama, as they were called by the locals, rose to heights of 55 and 38 metres respectively, and were said to be male and female.
  • Salsal means “the light shines through the universe”; Shamama is “Queen Mother”.
  • The statues were set in niches on either end of a cliffside and hewn directly from the sandstone cliffs.

Try this PYQ from CSP 2014:

Q.Lord Buddha’s image is sometimes shown with a hand gesture called ‘Bhumisparsha Mudra’. It symbolizes-

a) Buddha’s calling of the Earth to watch over Mara and to prevent Mara from disturbing his meditation

b) Buddha’s calling of the Earth to witness his purity and chastity despite the temptations of Mara

c) Buddha’s reminder to his followers that they all arise from the Earth and finally dissolve into the Earth and thus this life is transitory

d) Both the statements ‘a’ and ‘b’ are correct in this context

The significance of Bamiyan

  • Bamiyan is situated in the high mountains of the Hindu Kush in the central highlands of Afghanistan.
  • The valley, which is set along the line of the Bamiyan River, was once integral to the early days of the Silk Roads, providing passage for not just merchants, but also culture, religion and language.
  • When the Buddhist Kushan Empire spread, acting as a crucible of sorts, Bamiyan became a major trade, cultural and religious centre.
  • As China, India and Rome sought passage through Bamiyan, the Kushans were able to develop a syncretic (mix) culture.
  • In the rapid spread of Buddhism between the 1st to 5th centuries AD, Bamiyan’s landscape reflected the faith, especially its monastic qualities.

Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas

  • The hardline Taliban movement, which emerged in the early 1990s, was in control of almost 90 per cent of Afghanistan by the end of the decade.
  • The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was part of this extremist culture.
  • In February 2001, the Taliban declared its intention to destroy the statues, despite condemnation and protest from governments and cultural ambassadors’ world over.

The aftermath of the destruction

  • The Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas met with global criticism, many of whom saw it as a cultural crime not just against Afghanistan but also against the idea of global syncretism.
  • Following the fall, UNESCO included the remains in its list of world heritage sites in 2003, with subsequent efforts made to restore and reconstruct.

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