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Defenceless Buddhas
The Tribute Editorial

(Chandigarh, March 8, 2001): If the two Bamiyan Buddha statues have a voice, they will simply utter the unutterable: we have seen it all and suffered it all. But being the statues of the Buddha, they will simply and painfully smile and tell the Taliban destroyers, "Sons, you do not know what you are doing."

The last person to vandalise was Genghis Khan who cut off the legs in 1221. He also killed all residents of the town on the Silk Route as a punishment for living with two majestic Buddhas. It was the restoration work by Afghan and Indian experts that attracted new migrants and hotels to cater to tourists. In due course, the very tall statues – one 150 feet tall and the other 30 feet shorter – became world famous, being declared a heritage of the entire humanity.

Dedicated sculptors, mostly from India, created the icons out of a rock. In other words, the Buddhas were not built but carved out of a hillside very much like the Elephanta Caves and Ajanta. Again, in other words, there was just a hilltop to begin with and after the chistle and hammer work there stood two stunning figures spreading benediction. Of course the creators used a finely ground paste of limestone to produce the effect of folded robes and the contemplative expression. At one time there were also much gold plating and jewels, now sadly missing.

There are some priceless Buddha statues in the Kabul museum. This is after all the theft and pilferage by successive invaders. The first one was by an Iraqi General, Yakub ibn Layeth who took away many Buddhist treasures from the rockcuts of Bamiyan (some scholars spell it without the "y"). Chinese traveller Hsuen Tsang has said that Bamiyan was a very important Buddhist centre and housed many monks. They all lived in the caves cut out of the rocks. There need not be any greater evidence of Indian influence than this.

One last word. Temple architecture is normally style-bound. Like the tall spires of churches, domes and minarets of mosques. But in India it is bewilderingly different, The tall spires of the Bodh Gaya temple is different from the gopurams of the south. Humpi is a marvellous blending of the northern and southern architecture. The marble Jain temples of Rajasthan and Gujarat are a breed apart as are the temples in Khajuraho and Konarak. Then there are the exquisite designs of small temples in Himachal Pradesh and the grand and richly endowed gurdwaras in Punjab. No doubt, India’s most attractive exportable product in ancient times was religion and temple architecture and it did well.


Updated: 8-3-2001

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