Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bamiyan Buddhas

You may recall that in Afghan- istan, 2001, the Taliban destroyed 2 enormous Buddhas.

They had stood in their rocky alcoves sending peace and compassion to the vast countryside and the ancient 'silk road' below for over 1400 years.

These Buddhas had famously been carved out of the mountain face as were various temples and rooms around and behind them.

They had each stood 55m and 35m tall respectively.

This is the largest of them [when last photographed] - its face and hands had already been hacked off in keeping with the extremist Muslim's version of the Koranic teachings on avoiding idols of any kind, especially on never attempting to depict God or his prophet.

Around the standing Buddha, you can just see several windows of rooms hewn from within the rock face itself.

One would dearly love to imagine ancient traders and locals passing along the silk route stretching across the plain below. And how, for centuries, they may have respected if not revered the Buddhas and perhaps rested awhile to meditate on the joys of life and the uncertainty of the hour of death.

Those were different times.

In order to facilitate trade, these lands were indeed the crossroads of the known world. Peoples, languages, spiritual traditions all mixed and flowed into eachother effortlessly.

This picture shows the view from one of the alcoves from which a Buddha once gazed serenely as far as the horizon and beyond.

It has long been known that the nearby temple caves and dwellings housed many fine wall-paintings of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and their retinues and buddha-fields.

But, this week, it has been officially announced by Japanese scholars working on-site that these are indeed the world's oldest oil paintings.

Previously, the European Renaissance masters were believed to have been the first to use oil in this way.
But not so.
That was almost 800 years later.

Not much remains of the paintings in many cases.

Those fragments that had survived the centuries largely untouched were described in detail by several western travel writers who visited them in the 60s and 70s.
However, what we see today appears in much worse condition than they described and one can only deduce they have been defaced quite recently - probably around the time of the destruction of the 2 stone Buddhas.

Their colours, though undoubtedly fading, still shine through - displaying their hidden beauty... qualities which surely must owe their transcendent longevity both to the oily materials from which they were made and to the mindfulness and loving kindness of the artist-monks who created them.

The Afghani Government has actually promised now to support experts such as the Japanese team and to preserve the paintings and rebuild the stone Buddhas to their former glory.

But, this tale - like all the best ones - has a twist.

Scholars have found a passage in a travel memoir written by a Chinese man who was in Bamiyan shortly after the Buddhas had originally been carved from the mountainside.

And... guess what? ... there was a third Buddha!

This depiction of Lord Buddha was enormous.
He was reclining and stretched from the base of one standing Buddha to the other.
He lay in the position of a great being who approaches their own death with tremendous dignity, mindfulness and purpose.

But where is he?
Why can't he be seen today?

The archaeologists believe he is completely covered by layer upon layer of centuries-old silt and sediment from the ancient river that flowed below, and that they stand a fair-to-good chance of revealing him once more.

The Buddha within, it seems, is merely obscured temporarily.

To view a BBC Asia report on the paintings click here.

1 comment:

  1. The journey to Bamiyan can look rough, yet it offers ultimate scenes of metallic relics, mountains, ledges & rocks of diverse colors. The Buddhas ofBamiyan are fascinating statues along with some caves to explore. To explore more, refer: