Bamiyan Buddha mystery will be solved soon
KABUL: French archaeologists say they are a step closer to solving the mystery of Afghanistan’s legendary lost “third Buddha” of Bamiyan.
After five weeks of excavations in the famed valley of the Buddhas in central Afghanistan, the team of archaeologists say they have found evidence which could cast light on the whereabouts of the “reclining Buddha” mentioned by ancient travellers to the region.
According to French-Afghan archaeologist Zemaryali Tarzi, his team has confirmed “100 percent” the existence of a monastery at the foot of immense sandstone cliffs which until March 2001 sheltered two enormous ancient Buddhas which were destroyed by the Taliban to a chorus of international outrage.
The monastery and the lost reclining Buddha were mentioned by 7th century Buddhist pilgrim Xuan Zang in the account of his travels between China and India.
The two standing Buddhas date back to the 3rd and 6th centuries and were destroyed by the ousted Taliban regime during their campaign to destroy images which they regarded as un-Islamic. The legs of the larger Buddha had already been destroyed in the 17th century. Some 55 and 38 metres (174 feet and 115 feet) high, the statues had the characteristics of other Buddhas found on the subcontinent but were dressed in Greek tunics, representing a fusion of Central Asian art and Hellenistic influences introduced by the invading armies of Alexander the Great.
Tarzi, a professor at the Marc Bloch University of Strasbourg, has for years maintained that the legendary third Buddha was buried at the foot of the cliff. “In his writings, Xuan Zang refers to a monastery inside which was a reclining Buddha more than 300 metres (1,000 feet) long lying on his death bed,” he said.
After “25 years and a very detailed topographic study,” Tarzi said he had discovered the possible site of the legendary reclining Buddha. An earlier expedition to carry out excavations in the summer of 2002 was abandoned after being harassed by militias.
The second expedition, financed by the French foreign ministry and organised under the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan, started in August and concluded its work last week.
“These excavations have allowed us to find traces of the monastery and to identify the royal town. They have shed light on our goal of discovering the reclining Buddha,” Tarzi said. “This time we received a warm welcome from the political and military authorities and the population,” he said.
“During five weeks of excavations, we dug up seven heads of Buddhist divinities, made of dried clay and very good quality, probably dating from the 4th to 8th centuries AD,” he said. The discoveries fitted in with theories of the existence of the reclining Buddha and “50 percent confirmed his existence,” Tarzi said.
Nearly 2,000 cubic metres of earth were excavated by around 150 workers. The diggings have been filled in and the area is being guarded against unofficial excavations until the next expedition in July 2004. —AFP