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The Buddhas of Bamiyan

The Buddhas of Bamiyan

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 206
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  • Book Info
    The Buddhas of Bamiyan
    Book Description:

    For 1,400 years, two colossal Buddhas overlooked the Bamiyan Valley on the Silk Road in Afghanistan. The Buddhas embodied the intersection of East and West, and their destruction by the Taliban in 2001 provoked international outrage. Morgan excavates the layers of meaning these vanished wonders hold for a fractured Afghanistan.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06538-3
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Map 1: Bamiyan
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Map 2: Bamiyan and the surrounding passes
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Map 3: Bamiyan and the World
    (pp. x-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)

    This is a book about a monument, an astonishing monument, a wonder of the world. But this wonder no longer exists.

    The Buddhas of Bamiyan were carved out of a cliff face in Afghanistan 1,400 years ago, and these vast creations, towering over their remote mountain valley, had amazed and mystified countless visitors ever since. Then, in early 2001, the Buddhas were demolished on the instructions of Mullah Muhammad Omar, leader of the Taliban, a movement which combined Islamic fundamentalism with Pashtun nationalism (the Pashtuns being the largest of Afghanistan’s many ethnic groups). By 2001 the Taliban had seized control...

    (pp. 1-28)

    The footage is poor quality – grainy and a peculiar colour. In the distance, a cliff and an indistinct carved figure in a niche surrounded by caves. Then a sudden orange flash, the boom of an explosion, and, as the shockwave jerks the camera, a thick, billowing cloud of dust. There are cries of ‘Allahu Akbar!’, ‘God is Great!’ from men out of picture.

    It is March 2001, in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, and we are witnessing the destruction of the smaller of two colossal Buddhas. Other footage shows the larger Buddha, already demolished from the waist down, as its torso explodes....

    (pp. 29-80)

    In 1968 the artist and Hiroshima survivor Ikuo Hirayama visited Bamiyan. ‘I went there,’ he explains, ‘to seek the origins of Japanese culture and to follow the way that Buddhism diffused. I also wanted to share the same experience as the Chinese Buddhist monk, Xuanzang, who travelled in and around India for eleven years to deepen his insight into Buddhism.’ Getting to Bamiyan from Japan in the 1960s, Hirayama soon discovered, was far from straightforward. But eventually his ambition was realised:

    When I … visited Bamiyan from Kabul by car one evening, I got a very powerful and unforgettable impression...

    (pp. 81-130)

    The men who ordered the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001 claimed it as an impeccably Islamic act. The statues were idols; Islam repudiated idol-worship; their demolition was thus the duty of any true Muslim. Many Muslims disagreed, including that delegation of senior Islamic scholars, led by Yusuf al-Qaradawi (not exactly a liberal himself), who travelled to Qandahar to try to persuade Mullah Omar not to pursue a course of action that (the scholars insisted) was contrary to Islamic law. Nevertheless, many Muslims were instinctively approving of an action that resonated with certain undeniable themes in Islamic history and...

    (pp. 131-173)

    There is an eye-catching nineteenth-century image of Shahr-i Zohak, the castle perched on red cliffs at the eastern end of the Bamiyan valley. It is a lithograph after a drawing of 1840 by Lieutenant John Sturt of the Bengal Engineers, and it is a charming scene. In the foreground is one of the channels of the Bamiyan river after its merger with another river from the south, and beside it, in the morning sunshine, a group of men have eaten breakfast and are loading the camels in preparation for departure. Behind them is lush vegetation and farmland, dotted with cattle...

    (pp. 174-203)

    Western visitors to Bamiyan declined after the First Anglo-Afghan War, and it was only in the aftermath of a second conflict between the British and the Afghans, in 1878–81, that Britons returned there. They were surveyors and geographers again, predictably, serving one of a series of Afghan Boundary Commissions, which between 1883 and 1905 had the task of drawing a clear line between Afghanistan and the Russian Empire, and thus between Russian and British spheres of influence, the indeterminacy of which had caused such grief in the course of the nineteenth century. But they took the opportunity to explore...

    (pp. 204-217)
  13. List of Illustrations
    (pp. 218-219)
    (pp. 220-220)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 221-242)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-243)