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A page of history has been torn
Maneesh Pandey

NEW DELHI (March 4, 2001): For Indian archaeologists, it was a dark day. The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the puritanical Taliban militia has come as a personal blow to those who've been associated with this country and it's rich cultural heritage: through their writings or as part of restoration teams involved in preserving them. And they are all pained to see the ``Great Teacher'' facing Taliban tanks and rockets.

As M N Deshpande, former director general (DG) of ASI says: ``A page of history has been torn from the world of civilisation.''

The veteran archaeologist still remembers the day he went with Atal Bihari Vajpayee (then External Affairs minister) to hand over the restored Bamiyan Buddhas to the Afghanistan government. Till today, he took pride in the fact that India was among the nine foreign archaeological missions stationed there in 1960s, and earned special appreciation from the then Afghan government for restoring their heritage, particularly the tallest standing Bamiyan Buddhas.

``The neighbourly bond was cemented further. It boosted prospects for cultural tourism and within a short span of time, money started pouring in from the tourists,'' says Deshpande.

``It was not always work, but sometimes a picnic, too,'' remembers R Sengupta,an archaeological expert and head of the ASI restoration mission in Bamiyan. He becomes emotional as he recalls those ``beautiful days'', the Afghan's hospitality and the wonderful delicacies that he savoured.

M C Joshi, another former DG of ASI, calls it the ``most unfortunate incident'' and a blow to UNESCO's theme of ``global heritage''. He questions the Taliban's interpretation of Islam, and says the uncultural step by the Taliban is contradictory to the tenets of Islam. ``The Taliban militia has totally ignored the fact that even Islamic invaders like Ghazni or Khalzi never touched any monument. They were only against worshipping, saying it was un-Islamic. Deserted temples or monuments were never touched. That's why Ellora survived even after being so close to Daulatabad,'' says Joshi.

Assessing the loss, Joshi says it's not only a blow to the rare pieces of art but to the history of land. ``The cosmopolitan culture which evolved from Bamiyan and became an inherent part of the Silk Route -- Jalalabad, Kapisha, Kandahar, Herat and Kabul -- having traits of Indian, Iranian and Hellinistic traditions will be wiped off the pages of history.''

S P Gupta, chairman of the Indian Archaeological Society, agrees with Joshi: ``It is a loss to humanity and not to a particular country.'' He wondered what he would teach on Gandharva art now to his students at the National Museum Institute.

Even the neighbouring archaeologists were quick to react. Senake Bandaranayake, Sri Lankan High Commissioner in New Delhi and an archaeologist himself, still hoped that the international outcry would yield some fruitful results. ``That would at least help in restoring the finest specimen of man-made artefacts and sculptures for humanity.''


Updated: 3-3-2001

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