Sunday, September 2, 2007

Buddhism - Afghanistan

Will Bamiyan Buddhas be rebuilt?

That is the question for Afghans: Some want to restore what the Taleban destroyed, but others say this is a waste of money

BAMIYAN (AFGHANISTAN) - IN A vast, gaping chasm, men with hard hats bustle amid dust, noise and what looks like rubble.

About seven years ago, that rubble formed one of the world's tallest Buddha statues. But now it is at the centre of a debate: Whether to put the pieces together again.

For some people, it was the dynamiting of two giant Buddhas in March 2001 that really opened their eyes to the Taleban's extraordinary politics.

The statues, one 55m tall and the other 38m tall, were built in the 6th century when Bamiyan was a Buddhist trading post. Over the centuries they had suffered much destruction.

But the Taleban, with its denunciation of idols, finished them off.

Now, what is going on here and in the niche of the smaller 38m Buddha half a kilometre away is emergency action: to protect the pieces of the statues, and to support the weakened cliff walls.
Rebuilding the statues might be possible, according to Mr Georgios Toubekis of the International Council on Monuments and Sites. His group is sorting through the debris and identifying, in particular, the pieces that show the sculpted surface of the Buddhas.

He showed a reporter some key pieces. There is one where a fold of the Buddha's garment has been directly carved onto the cliff. Mostly, the clothes were moulded from a mix of plaster and straw and added later.

Geologists are analysing the rock strata to identify where the pieces belonged in the original statues.

'There is still a remarkable amount left,' said Mr Toubekis.
'We would say that most of the stone pieces are still here.'

That may be over-optimistic, as a large portion of the statues was pulverised into dust. But some form of rebuilding may be feasible.

The experts may in time work out where all the surviving pieces belong and succeed in putting them back, holding them together with as little new material as possible. That could fulfil Unesco's criteria, which outlaw any actual new building work.

Mr Toubekis, however, was non-committal on whether he favoured reconstruction. It was as if he wanted Afghans to decide.

Mr Nasir Mudabir, a young local man, vividly remembers hearing of the destruction while he was in exile in Pakistan.

'There was a picture of Buddha during the destruction, dust and fire and everything,' he said.
'When I saw the Buddha was destroyed, I felt very sad. Very, very sad.'

Mr Mudabir is now director of historic monuments for Bamiyan. But he does not believe in reconstruction. He wants the ruins to be left as a reminder of what happened.

'If we reconstruct the Buddha, it is not the real Buddha it was before,' he said. 'If we reconstruct, we destroy the history of the destruction by the Taleban.'

Others say rebuilding the statues would simply be a waste of money in a poverty-stricken province. But many disagree.

Bamiyan town is alive again after years of suffering. In the streets, it is impossible to find anyone who wants to leave the ruins alone.

'They should rebuild the Buddhas because this is a historic thing of Bamiyan and Afghanistan,' said grocer Said Ahmedullah.

Mr Rohullah Moussavi, a youth, agrees. Reconstruction would be 'very good for the people of Bamiyan, even for Afghanistan, even for the world', he said.

The governor of Bamiyan Province, Ms Habiba Sarabi, also advocates reconstruction of at least one of the Buddhas. She said the statues were part of the life of the local people and that rebuilding will create jobs and help tourism.

The fact that they were built for Buddhist veneration is, she said, not a problem.
But it could be a long time before a decision is reached either way. Every December, Unesco meets the Afghan government to reconsider the feasibility or desirability of rebuilding the Buddhas, based on what the experts are discovering about the ruins.

For a good while yet, the two empty chasms will continue to dominate Bamiyan.
BBC News

Source: Straits Times Sept 2 2007

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