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Buddhadharma : Winter 2015
22 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 1 5 by sam littlefair Wallace in Focus bamiyan’s buddhas rise again b amiyan Province is an oasis of calm in the middle of Afghanistan. It’s home to a UNeSCO Heri- tage Site and Afghanistan’s only national park; it is socially progressive, with more liberties for women than most of the country; and there is almost no conflict. But scars from decades of violence run deep—not least of all, the empty caves that house the ruins of two colossal Buddhas the Taliban destroyed in 2001. According to one Afghan news outlet, Bamiyan once received 90,000 visitors per year. Now it sees 1,000. This year, however, the province turned a corner. Buddhists settled in Bamiyan around 100 Ce. Over the centuries, the region grew into a Buddhist kingdom. The two Buddha statues—one 120 feet tall and the other 175 feet tall—appeared sometime in the sixth century, with monasteries later being established in the caves around them. Today, the caves are home to mandalas that are the oldest-known oil paintings in the world. “These statues, commissioned to glorify Buddhism, mark the geographical limits of Buddhist westward expan- sion,” writes Claudio Margottini in his book, After the Destruction of Giant Buddha Statues in Bamiyan (Afghani stan) in 2001. According to Margottini, “They represent the only witnesses of the greatness and economic-political importance that the valley once assumed in the region.” By the time the Taliban arrived in Bamiyan in 1998, most locals had forgotten the statues ever stood for Buddhism, and no one—not even the Taliban—voiced any interest in destroying them. So it was a shock to all when, in 2001, a Taliban leader ordered them destroyed. In the weeks after the destruction, the Taliban insisted that they were not motivated by religion to destroy the statues. Rather, they claimed, they were responding to a UNeSCO delegation that had offered money to Taliban scholars to protect the statues during a brutal winter when millions of Afghans were starving. The Taliban’s official rationale, in short, was that the statues were distracting out- side agencies from people who were suffering and therefore had to be eliminated. For almost a decade and a half, the ruins of the Bami- yan Buddhas lingered in disrepair. Finally, this past Febru- ary, in a first step to revive Bamiyan’s heritage, UNeSCO ©zhanGXinyu/Xinhuapress/corbis