Bamiyan Buddhas – UPSC Prelims

Bamiyan Buddhas:
  • The Bamiyan Buddha statues, cut from sandstone cliffs, are said to have dated back to the 5th century AD, and were once the tallest standing Buddhas in the world.
  • They are located in Mes Ayank, Afghanistan.
  • In their Roman draperies and with two different mudras, the statues were great examples of a confluence of Gupta, Sassanian and Hellenistic artistic styles.
  • Called Salsal and Shamama by the locals, they rose to heights of 55 and 38 metres respectively.
  • Salsal means “light shines through the universe”, while Shamama is “Queen Mother”.
  • In 2003, UNESCO included the remains of the Bamiyan Buddhas in its list of world heritage sites.
  • Significance:
    • 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 culture.
    • In the rapid spread of Buddhism between the 1st to 5th centuries AD, Bamiyan’s landscape reflected the faith, especially its monastic qualities.
    • The two colossal Buddhas were only a part of several other structures, such as stupas, smaller seated and standing Buddhas, and wall paintings in caves, spread in and around surrounding valleys.

Why in News?
  • Taliban regime in Afghanistan has said it would protect the ancient Buddha statues in Mes Aynak.
  • The Taliban’s position is in marked contrast to the time they ruled Afghanistan earlier, when, in the face of global outrage, they brought down the centuries-old Buddha statues in Bamiyan using artillery, explosives, and rockets.
Why Taliban destroyed Bamiyan Statues earlier?
  • The hardline Taliban movement, which emerged in the early 1990s, was in control of almost 90% of Afghanistan by the end of the decade.
  • While their governance supposedly curbed lawlessness, they also introduced so-called “Islamic punishments” and a regressive idea of Islamic practices, which included banning television, public executions, and lack of schooling for girls aged 10 and above.
  • The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was part of this extremist culture.
  • On 27th February 2001, the Taliban declared its intention to destroy the statues.
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