The hunt for Bamiyan's third Buddha -- BBC
- BBC NEWS
Friday, 6 September, 2002, 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK
The hunt for Bamiyan's third Buddha
There was an international outcry when the Taleban blew up two ancient statues of Buddha last year, but few then imagined that there might be a third statue in the same valley.
" If found, it will be the world's eighth wonder, the world's largest statue "
An Afghan-born archaeologist from France believes there is - buried somewhere under the earth of the Bamiyan valley - and has dedicated his life to finding it.
Professor Zemaryali Tarzi of Strasbourg University thinks the missing statue described in the journals of a 7th Century Chinese explorer is bigger - some 300 metres (1,000 feet) long.
He and his excavation team took advantage of the defeat of the Taleban, and rushed to Bamiyan to dig for it.
Although a row with the local military commander has forced them in the last few days to pack their bags and leave, Professor Tarzi hopes to return next year with permission from Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai or Vice-President Karim Khalili.
The archaeologist says the third statue - dubbed the Sleeping Buddha because it is shown reclining - is hidden in the shadow of the rock niches which housed the other two statues.
Reclining statues are a popular representation of Buddha and depict the final moments of his earthly existence as he enters the state of nirvana.
If found, "it will be the world's eighth wonder, the world's largest statue," he told BBC News Online.
Professor Tarzi worked on projects to restore the other Bamiyan Buddhas in the late 1970s and has spent most of his career researching the existence of the missing giant.
"I believe that the writings of [Chinese scholar] Xuanzang indicate that it is east or south-east of the smaller Buddha on the site of a former monastery," he said.
" It's like looking for a whale in the ocean "
The excavation has been carried out by a French team with the help of specialists from the Afghan Culture Ministry and financial support from the French Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The Taleban blew up the smaller statues (55 and 39 metres respectively) amid widespread international condemnation because they believed that they were un-Islamic idols.
Digging the rubble
The excavation work is difficult as the third statue is thought to be made of clay which would have slowly fragmented over the centuries.
As Islam became more prominent and the influence of Buddhism faded in the area, the monks in the area may have sought to protect the statues by burying them in the ground.
But Professor Tarzi hopes to find enough fragments and some of the foundations to be able to reconstruct the statue.
Any clues as to its location are buried under the rubble at the bottom of the rockface, the result of centuries of erosion and the recent explosions.
"It's like looking for a whale in the ocean. Without radar, it could take years," Professor Tarzi says.
He believes Xuanzang's text is reliable, as it gives the exact measures of the two destroyed Buddhas and has been substantiated by other sources.
He also uses relief observations and talks to local people to help him in his search.
"Nothing is certain in archaeology; one must verify theories; we don't have any magical way of seeing through the rubble," he says.
The destroyed Buddhas, carved into a mountainside at Bamiyan in the heart of the Hindu Kush mountains, were among Asia's great archaeological treasures.
1978: Civil war
1998: Taleban seize area
In antiquity, central Afghanistan was strategically placed to thrive from the Silk Road caravans which criss-crossed the region trading between the Roman Empire, China and India.
One of the stopping-off points was the old kingdom of Kushan, whose people were responsible for carving the Buddhas.
A cultural, artistic and religious capital, Bamiyan used to be a place of pilgrimage and the focus for religious donations of all kinds.
As well as the giant Buddhas, thought to be royal donations, a number of monasteries containing large statues were built into the cliff, and some 10,000 grottos built by smaller donors.
Please visit our newly established websites!
Buddhist Relief Mission <http://www.brelief.org>
Burmese Relief Center--USA <http://www.brelief.net>
Relief Notes 2002 <http://home.earthlink.net/~brelief/>