Arts & Entertainment

Bamiyan’s giant Buddhas face neglect 2 decades after demolition

By Baber Khan Sahel

Kabul, Mar 1 (efe-epa).- Two decades after the Taliban blasted away at the two giant statues carved over 1,500 years ago in Bamiyan, deterioration continues at the World Heritage Site in Afghanistan, once known for the biggest standing Buddhas on the planet.

The statues got reduced to piles of rubble. But niches remain above the heaps of their fragments at the foot of the cliffs.

The Afghan government and Unesco are still undecided on restoring or, at least, protecting whatever remains of what once was a site of pilgrimage and learning for Buddhists.

The two statues were carved around fourth and fifth century out of sandstone cliffs in the Bamiyan valley of central Afghanistan. One of them on the eastern side stood tall at 125 feet (38 meters) while the other on the western side 180 feet (55 meters).

To destroy the colossal statues, the Taliban drilled holes into them and filled them with explosives before blasting them away at the site in early March of 2001.

When the dust cleared, people found only two enormous empty caverns and a pile of debris near the site.

Locals remember how the Taliban forced them to drill the holes, and anyone from the long-persecuted Hazara minority refusing would be shot dead.

“We still strongly condemn this inhuman act of the Taliban to destroy the Buddhas and call it a cultural genocide,” Ishaq Mawhidi, head of the Culture and Information Department of Bamyan, told EFE.

Taliban destroyed the structures dubbing them as “gods of the infidels” after their then leader, Mullah Omar, called for jihad against idol worshiping, outraging the world.

Since the destruction and after the Taliban were ousted in 2001, many countries and international organizations rushed their experts to check if the structure could be restored.

But nothing has been concretized as of now. “No practical step has been taken to rebuild even a part of the Buddhas,” Mawhidi said.

Authorities are now using the 3-D projection technology to recreate the Buddhas in their former glory for the visitors, he said.

For now, Afghanistan and Unesco have dropped the idea to rebuild the larger Buddha and only plan to reconstruct the 38-meter-high structure.

It will cost millions of dollars in a region that does not have roads and electricity.

“Its construction work may start in the near future,” Mawhidi said but did not give specific dates.

Mawhidi said he was confident that “90 percent of the statues can be rebuilt with the debris,” and pieces of the smaller statues preserved in two large warehouses at the site after the devastation.

“We plan to build a museum in Bamiyan where these pieces of Buddhas will be safeguarded and put on display as historical monuments and proof of a crime, done to the heritage by the Taliban,” Mawhidi said.

Unesco in 2003 declared the ruined complex, the surrounding caves, and at least seven other nearby structures a “World Heritage Site in Danger.”

Experts in the past several years have been working to secure the cracking cliff.

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