- Bamiyan Buddhas a greater loss for India
- Sudha Passi
NEW DELHI (March 5, 2001): As the world mourns the loss of the
tallest Buddha statues at Bamiyan, for India, which sought world intervention to prevent
the ravage, the loss is a lot more, for its association with the Bamiyan Buddhas was not
just spiritual and cultural.
To the Indian archaeologists goes the credit of having conserved the
gigantic Buddhas hewn out of a sandstone mountain more than 1500 years ago -- a task that
took nearly a decade and was a challenge to which only the Indians had responded 30 years
"It was a daunting task," said Rakhaldas Sengupta, retired
director (conservation) of the Archaeological Survey of India who led the 15-member Indian
team in 1969 under a joint Indo-Afghan project, which is regarded as one of the greatest
works of conservation.
Standing tall at 53 metres and 38 metres respectively at an altitude of
2,500 metres the two gigantic structure in the picturesque Bamiyan Valley, were a marvel
in itself combining the Indian and Iranian schools of sculpture that evolved at this
confluence of great civilisations on the famous Silk Route of yore, recalls Sengupta. He
had taken up the job at a time when foreign experts were not willing to lay their hand on
Sengupta's main work there comprised buttressing the outer rock cover
of the bigger statue "that had suffered a crack due to a quake. This long crack that
used to get filled by water during the rains and condensed to ice in the winter threatened
to push apart the cover and expose the huge shrine to the vagaries of nature.
"Our main job was to take care of this crack, which was done with
the help of a drilling engineer from the Geological Survey of India. Holes were drilled in
rocks at select points and inserted with rods, which were then concretized to provide
anchorage to the outside piece."
But for those who think that the world's tallest Buddhas were destroyed
by the Taliban in the 21st century, Sengupta says the face and half a limb of the bigger
Buddha was not there when they had taken up the work in 1969. The upper garments of the
statutes were also degenerating.
The Buddhas were first targeted by Mongol ruler Chengis Khan in the
14th century. In the medieval times also during the reign of Aurangzeb the statues were
vandalised, said Sengupta.
"The faces were destroyed as the invaders burnt them, he said
explaining that the facial expressions to the statues were made with the help of wooden
frames, which were later plastered with a unique mix of lime, mud, wool and straw for the
"The plaster, which speaks volumes for the craftsmanship of the
people of that age, was required because sculpting the mountain was very difficult. It was
not just sandstone but also made of pebbles which rendered chiselling impossible,"
explained Sengupta, who was decorated with Padmashree for the monumental task.
The Indian team, which comprised engineers, chemical restorers as well
as photographers and even masons, however, did not reconstruct the faces. They were simply