Buddhas of Bamiyan

Destroyed Buddha statues in Bamyan

Buddhas of Bamiyan is located in Afghanistan
Buddhas of Bamiyan
Location of Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan
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Buddhas of Bamiyan is located in West and Central Asia
Buddhas of Bamiyan
Buddhas of Bamiyan (West and Central Asia)
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Buddhas of Bamiyan is located in South Asia
Buddhas of Bamiyan
Buddhas of Bamiyan (South Asia)
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Buddhas of Bamiyan is located in Tokharistan
Buddhas of Bamiyan
Buddhas of Bamiyan (Tokharistan)
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The Buddhas of Bamiyan (or Bamyan) were two 6th-century[3] monumental statues carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan 22 valley of central Afghanistan, 130 kilometres (81 mi) northwest of Kabul at an elevation of 2,500 metres (8,200 ft). Carbon dating of the structural components of the Buddhas has determined that the smaller 38 m (125 ft) "Eastern Buddha" was built around 570 AD, and the larger 55 m (180 ft) "Western Buddha" was built around 618 AD, which would date both to the time when the Hephthalites ruled the region.[4][2]

The statues represented a later evolution of the classic blended style of ancient art in Afghanistan. Local people, by then Muslim, called them Salsal and Shahmama in the Hazaragi dialect of Dari Persian, the larger Salsal ("light shines through the universe"), identified as male, and the shorter Shamama ("Queen Mother"), identified as female.[5][6] Technically both were reliefs, as at their backs they merged into the cliff wall. The main bodies were hewn directly from the sandstone cliffs, but details were modeled in mud mixed with straw, coated with stucco. This coating, the majority of which wore away long ago, was painted to enhance the expressions of the faces, hands, and folds of the robes; the larger one was painted carmine red, and the smaller one was painted multiple colors.[7] The lower parts of the statues' arms were constructed from the same mud-straw mix supported on wooden armatures. It is believed that the upper parts of their faces were made from great wooden masks.[2] The rows of holes that can be seen in photographs held wooden pegs that stabilized the outer stucco.

The Buddhas were surrounded by numerous caves and surfaces decorated with paintings.[8] It is thought that these mostly dated from the 6th to 8th century AD, ending with the Muslim conquests of Afghanistan.[8] The smaller works of art are considered as an artistic synthesis of Buddhist art and Gupta art from India, with influences from the Sasanian Empire and the Byzantine Empire, as well as the country of Tokharistan.[8]

On orders from Taliban founder Mullah Omar, the statues were destroyed in March 2001,[9] after the Taliban government declared that they were idols.[10] International and local opinion strongly condemned the destruction of the Buddhas.


Panorama of the northern cliff of the Valley of Bamyan, with the Western and Eastern Buddhas at each end (before destruction), surrounded by a multitude of Buddhist caves.[11]


Bamyan lies on the Silk Road, which runs through the Hindu Kush mountain region, in the Bamyan Valley. The Silk Road has been historically a caravan route linking the markets of China with those of the Western world. It was the site of several Buddhist monasteries, and a thriving center for religion, philosophy, and art. Monks at the monasteries lived as hermits in small caves carved into the side of the Bamyan cliffs. Most of these monks embellished their caves with religious statuary and elaborate, brightly colored frescoes, sharing the culture of Gandhara.

Bamyan was a Buddhist religious site from the 2nd century AD up to the time of the muslim conquest of the Abbasid Caliphate under Al-Mahdi in AD 770. It became again Buddhist from AD 870 until the final Islamic conquest of AD 977 under the Turkic Ghaznavid dynasty.[1] Murals in the adjoining caves have been carbon dated from AD 438 to AD 980, suggesting that Buddhist artistic activity continued down to the final occupation by the Muslims.[1]

The two most prominent statues were the giant standing sculptures of the Buddhas Vairocana and Sakyamuni (Gautama Buddha), identified by the different mudras performed. The Buddha popularly called "Solsol" measured 55 meters tall, and "Shahmama" 38 meters—the niches in which the figures stood are 58 and 38 meters respectively from bottom to top.[12][13] Before being blown up in 2001 they were the largest examples of standing Buddha carvings in the world (the 8th century Leshan Giant Buddha is taller,[14] but that statue is sitting).

Mapping of the 38 meter smaller Eastern Buddha, dated to AD 591 to 644, and its surrounding caves and chapels.[1]

Following the destruction of the statues in 2001, carbon dating of organic internal structural components found in the rubble has determined that the two Buddhas were built c. 600 AD, with narrow dates of between AD 544 to 595 for the 38 meter Eastern Buddha, and between AD 591 and 644 for the larger Western Buddha.[1] Recent scholarship has also been giving broadly similar dates based on stylistic and historical analysis, although the similarities with the Art of Gandhara had generally encouraged an earlier dating in older literature.[1]

Historic documentation refers to celebrations held every year attracting numerous pilgrims and that offers were made to the monumental statues.[15] They were perhaps the most famous cultural landmarks of the region, and the site was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site along with the surrounding cultural landscape and archaeological remains of the Bamyan Valley. Their colour faded through time.[16]

Pre-modern times

Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang visited the site on 30 April AD 630,[17][18][19] and described Bamyan in the Da Tang Xiyu Ji as a flourishing Buddhist center "with more than ten monasteries and more than a thousand monks". He also noted that both Buddha figures were "decorated with gold and fine jewels" (Wriggins, 1995). Intriguingly, Xuanzang mentions a third, even larger, reclining statue of the Buddha.[7][19] A monumental seated Buddha, similar in style to those at Bamyan, still exists in the Bingling Temple caves in China's Gansu province.

  • Engraving of the Buddhas, as Alexander Burnes saw them during his visit to Bamyan in 1832

    Engraving of the Buddhas, as Alexander Burnes saw them during his visit to Bamyan in 1832

  • Local men standing near the larger "Salsal" Buddha statue, c. 1940

    Local men standing near the larger "Salsal" Buddha statue, c. 1940

  • Photographed by Françoise Foliot

    Photographed by Françoise Foliot

  • Smaller, 38 meter Buddha in 1977

    Smaller, 38 meter Buddha in 1977

  • Possible reconstitution of the original appearance of the Western Buddha (Vairocana).

    Possible reconstitution of the original appearance of the Western Buddha (Vairocana).

1998 to 2001 – Taliban

Taller, 55 meter Buddha in 1963 and in 2008 after destruction
Smaller, 38 meter Buddha, before and after destruction. The paintings of Hepthalite royal sponsors on the ceiling also have disappeared.[20][21][22]

During the Afghan Civil War, the area around the Buddhas was initially under the control of the Hezbe Wahdat—part of the Northern Alliance—who were against the Taliban. However, Mazar-i-Sharif fell in August 1998, and the Bamyan valley was entirely surrounded by Taliban.[23] The town was captured on 13 September 1998 after a successful blockade.[24][25]

Abdul Wahed, a local Taliban commander who had long before announced his intentions to obliterate the Buddhas, drilled holes in the Buddhas' heads into which he planned to load explosives.[26] He was prevented from proceeding by Mohammed Omar, the de facto leader of the Taliban:[26]

Mullah Omar appointed Maulawi Muhammad Islam of Ru-ye Doab as Bamian governor. As a Tatar from neighbouring Samangan Province, the Maulawi had connections with all the commanders of Bamian from the jihad era. Whatever his other sins, Bamian was also a part of Maulawi Islam's heritage. His deputies described to me how, when they saw what Abdul Wahed was doing, they contacted Mullah Omar in Kandahar and he gave the order to stop further drilling.[26]

Other people blew off the head of the smaller Buddha using dynamite, aimed rockets at the larger Buddha's groin, and burnt tires at the latter's head.[26] In July 1999, Omar decreed in favour of preserving the statues, and described plans to establish a tourism-circuit.[27] In early 2000, local Taliban authorities asked for the UN's assistance to rebuild drainage ditches around the tops of the alcoves where the Buddhas were set.[28]


Destruction of the site by the Taliban

On 6 March 2001, The Times quoted Mullah Mohammed Omar as stating:

Muslims should be proud of smashing idols. It has given praise to Allah that we have destroyed them.[29]

In an interview, Taliban leader Mullah Omar provided an ostensible explanation for his order to destroy the statues:

I did not want to destroy the Bamiyan Buddha. In fact, some foreigners came to me and said they would like to conduct the repair work of the Bamiyan Buddha that had been slightly damaged due to rains. This shocked me. I thought, these callous people have no regard for thousands of living human beings—the Afghans who are dying of hunger, but they are so concerned about non-living objects like the Buddha. This was extremely deplorable. That is why I ordered its destruction. Had they come for humanitarian work, I would have never ordered the Buddha's destruction.[30]

During a 13 March interview for Japan's Mainichi Shimbun, Afghan Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel stated that the destruction was anything but a retaliation against the international community for economic sanctions: "We are destroying the statues in accordance with Islamic law and it is purely a religious issue." A statement issued by the ministry of religious affairs of the Taliban regime justified the destruction as being in accordance with Islamic law.[31]

On 18 March 2001, The New York Times reported that a Taliban envoy said the Islamic government made its decision in a rage after a foreign delegation offered money to preserve the ancient works. The report also added, however, that other reports "have said the religious leaders were debating the move for months, and ultimately decided that the statues were idolatrous and should be obliterated".[32]

Then Taliban ambassador-at-large Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi said that the destruction of the statues was carried out by the Head Council of Scholars after a Swedish monuments expert proposed to restore the statues' heads. Hashimi is reported as saying: "When the Afghan head council asked them to provide the money to feed the children instead of fixing the statues, they refused and said, 'No, the money is just for the statues, not for the children'. Herein, they made the decision to destroy the statues"; however, he did not comment on the claim that a foreign museum offered to "buy the Buddhist statues, the money from which could have been used to feed children".[33] Rahmatullah Hashemi added "If we had wanted to destroy those statues, we could have done it three years ago," referring to the start of U.S. sanctions. "In our religion, if anything is harmless, we just leave it. If money is going to statues while children are dying of malnutrition next door, then that makes it harmful, and we destroy it."[32]

There is speculation that the destruction may have been influenced by al-Qaeda in order to further isolate the Taliban from the international community, thus tightening relations between the two, however the evidence is circumstantial.[34] Abdul Salam Zaeef held that the destruction of the Buddhas was finally ordered by Abdul Wali, the Minister for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.[35]

The statues were destroyed by dynamite over several weeks, starting on 2 March 2001.[36][37]

The destruction was carried out in stages. Initially, the statues were fired at for several days using anti-aircraft guns and artillery. This caused severe damage, but did not obliterate them. During the destruction, Taliban Information Minister Qudratullah Jamal lamented that, "This work of destruction is not as simple as people might think. You can't knock down the statues by shelling as both are carved into a cliff; they are firmly attached to the mountain".[38] Later, the Taliban placed anti-tank mines at the bottom of the niches, so that when fragments of rock broke off from artillery fire, the statues would receive additional destruction from particles that set off the mines. In the end, the Taliban lowered men down the cliff face and placed explosives into holes in the Buddhas.[39] After one of the explosions failed to obliterate the face of one of the Buddhas, a rocket was launched that left a hole in the remains of the stone head.[40]

A local civilian, speaking to Voice of America in 2002, said that he and some other locals were forced to help destroy the statues. He also claimed that Pakistani and Arab engineers "were involved" in the destruction.[41] Mullah Omar, during the destruction, was quoted as saying, "What are you complaining about? We are only waging war on stones".[42] The destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas became a symbol of oppression and a rallying point for the freedom of religious expression. Despite the fact that most Afghans are now Muslim, they too had embraced their past and many were appalled by the destruction.[43]

Site of the larger statue after it was destroyed
Site of the smaller statue in 2005
International reaction

The Taliban's intention to destroy the statues, declared on 27 February 2001, caused a wave of international horror and protest. According to UNESCO Director-General Kōichirō Matsuura, a meeting of ambassadors from the 54 member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) was conducted. All OIC states—including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, three countries that officially recognised the Taliban government—joined the protest to spare the monuments.[44] Saudi Arabia and the UAE later condemned the destruction as "savage".[45] Although India never recognised the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, New Delhi offered to arrange for the transfer of all the artifacts in question to India, "where they would be kept safely and preserved for all mankind". These overtures were rejected by the Taliban.[46] Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf sent a delegation led by Pakistan's interior minister Moinuddin Haider to Kabul to meet with Omar and try to prevent the destruction, arguing that it was un-Islamic and unprecedented.[47] As recounted by Steve Coll:

Haider quoted a verse from the Koran that said Muslims should not slander the gods of other religions. ... He cited many cases in history, especially in Egypt, where Muslims had protected the statues and art of other religions. The Buddhas in Afghanistan were older even than Islam. Thousands of Muslim soldiers had crossed Afghanistan to India over the centuries, but none of them had ever felt compelled to destroy the Buddhas. "When they have spared these statues for fifteen hundred years, all these Muslims who have passed by them, how are you a different Muslim from them?" Haider asked. "Maybe they did not have the technology to destroy them," Omar speculated.[48]

According to Taliban minister, Abdul Salam Zaeef, UNESCO sent the Taliban government 36 letters objecting to the proposed destruction. He asserted that the Chinese, Japanese, and Sri Lankan delegates were the most strident advocates for preserving the Buddhas. The Japanese in particular proposed a variety of different solutions to the issue, these included moving the statues to Japan, covering the statues from view, and the payment of money.[49][50] The second edition of the Turkistan Islamic Party's magazine Islamic Turkistan contained an article on Buddhism, and described the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan despite attempts by the Japanese government of "infidels" to preserve the remains of the statues.[51] The exiled Dalai Lama said he was "deeply concerned".[52]

The destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas despite protests from the international community has been described by Michael Falser, a heritage expert at the Center for Transcultural Studies in Germany, as an attack by the Taliban against the globalising concept of "cultural heritage".[53] The director general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Koichiro Matsuura called the destruction a "...crime against culture. It is abominable to witness the cold and calculated destruction of cultural properties which were the heritage of the Afghan people, and, indeed, of the whole of humanity."[54] Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the anti-Taliban resistance force, also condemned the destruction.[55]

In Rome, the former Afghan King, Mohammed Zahir Shah, denounced the declaration in a rare press statement, calling it "against the national and historic interests of the Afghan people." Zemaryalai Tarzi, who was Afghanistan's chief archeologist in the 1970s, called it an "unacceptable decision."[56]

2002 – present

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Though the figures of the two large Buddhas have been destroyed, their outlines and some features are still recognisable within the recesses. It is also still possible for visitors to explore the monks' caves and passages that connect them. As part of the international effort to rebuild Afghanistan after the Taliban war, the Japanese Government and several other organisations—among them the Afghanistan Institute in Bubendorf, Switzerland, along with the ETH in Zurich—have committed to rebuilding, perhaps by anastylosis, the two larger Buddhas. The local residents of Bamyan have also expressed their favour in restoring the structures.[57]

In April 2002, Afghanistan's post-Taliban leader Hamid Karzai called the destruction a "national tragedy" and pledged the Buddhas to be rebuilt.[58] He later called the reconstruction a "cultural imperative".[42]

In September 2005, Mawlawi Mohammed Islam Mohammadi, Taliban governor of Bamyan province at the time of the destruction and widely seen as responsible for its occurrence, was elected to the Afghan Parliament. He blamed the decision to destroy the Buddhas on Al-Qaeda's influence on the Taliban.[59] In January 2007, he was assassinated in Kabul.

Swiss filmmaker Christian Frei made a 95-minute documentary titled The Giant Buddhas (released in March 2006) on the statues, the international reactions to their destruction, and an overview of the controversy. Testimony by local Afghans validates that Osama bin Laden ordered the destruction and that, initially, Mullah Omar and the Afghans in Bamyan opposed it.[60]

Since 2002, international funding has supported recovery and stabilisation efforts at the site. Fragments of the statues are documented and stored with special attention given to securing the structure of the statue still in place. It is hoped that, in the future, partial anastylosis can be conducted with the remaining fragments. In 2009, ICOMOS constructed scaffolding within the niche to further conservation and stabilization. Nonetheless, several serious conservation and safety issues exist and the Buddhas are still listed as World Heritage in Danger.[61]

In the summer of 2006, Afghan officials were deciding on the timetable for the re-construction of the statues. As they wait for the Afghan government and international community to decide when to rebuild them, a $1.3 million UNESCO-funded project is sorting out the chunks of clay and plaster—ranging from boulders weighing several tons to fragments the size of tennis balls—and sheltering them from the elements.

The Buddhist remnants at Bamyan were included on the 2008 World Monuments Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites by the World Monuments Fund.

In 2013, the foot section of the smaller Buddha was rebuilt with iron rods, bricks and concrete by the German branch of ICOMOS.[62] Further constructions were halted by order of UNESCO, on the grounds that the work was conducted without the organisation's knowledge or approval. The effort was contrary to UNESCO's policy of using original material for reconstructions, and it has been pointed out that it was done based on assumptions.[63][64]

In 2015, a wealthy Chinese couple, Janson Hu and Liyan Yu, financed the creation of a Statue of Liberty-size 3D light projection of an artist's view of what the larger Buddha, known as Solsol to locals, might have looked like in his prime. The image was beamed into the niche one night in 2015; later the couple donated their $120,000 projector to the culture ministry.[65][66]

As of November 2021, after the 2021 Taliban offensive that saw the overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the return of Taliban to the government, tourists are being accepted at the site, with the Taliban promising to preserve the Bamyan valley. However, preservation work has ceased and there are no indications that reconstruction will occur in the foreseeable future.[67]

Mural paintings

The Buddhas are surrounded by numerous caves and surfaces decorated with paintings.[8] It is thought that the period of florescence was from the 6th to 8th century AD, until the onset of Islamic invasions.[8] These works of art are considered as an artistic synthesis of Buddhist art and Gupta art from India, with influences from the Sasanian Empire and the Byzantine Empire, as well as the country of Tokharistan.[8] The later paintings are attributable to the "Turk period" (7th–9th century AD).[68]

Eastern Buddha (built in AD 544 to 595)

Ceiling of the smaller 38 meter Buddha
(7th century CE)
Central medallion: Sun-God on his chariot
Lateral rows of attending Kings and dignitaries
Sun God in tunic and boots, on a charriot pulled by two horses. Vault of the 38 meter Buddha (now destroyed).[69][70] This image of the Sun God is framed by two rows of King, dignitaries and Buddhas.[71]

Most of the surfaces in the niche housing the Buddha must have been decorated with colourful murals, surrounded the Buddha with many paintings, but only fragments were remaining in modern times. For the 38 meter Eastern Buddha, built between AD 544 to 595, the main remaining murals were the ones on the ceiling, right above the head of the Buddha. Recent datation based on stylistic and historical analysis confirms dates for these mural which follow the carbon-rated dates for the construction of the Buddhas themselves: the murals of the Eastern Buddha have been dated to the 6th to 8th century AD by Klimburg-Salter (1989), and post AD 635/645 by Tanabe (2004).[1] As late as 2002, Marylin Martin Rhie argued a 3rd–4th century date for the Eastern Buddha, based on artistic criteria.[72]


Among the most famous paintings of the Buddhas of Bamyan, the ceiling of the smaller Eastern Buddha represents a solar deity on a chariot pulled by horses, as well as ceremonial scenes with royal figures and devotees.[69] The god is wearing a caftan in the style of Tokhara, boots, and is holding a lance, he is "The Sun God and a Golden Chariot Rising in Heaven".[73] His representation is derived from the inonography of the Iranian god Mithra, as revered in Sogdia.[73] He is riding a two-wheeled golden chariot, pulled by four horses.[73] Two winged attendants are standing to the side of the charriot, wearing a Corinthian helmet with a feather, and holding a shield.[73] In the top portion are wind gods, flying with a scarf held in both hands.[73] This great composition is unique, and has no equivalent in Gandhara or India, but there are some similarities with the painting of Kizil or Dunhuang.[73]

The central image of the Sun God on his golden chariot is framed by two lateral rows in individuals: Kings and dignitaries mingling with Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.[71] One of the personages, standing behind a monk in profile, much be the King of Bamyan.[71] He wears a crenalated crown with single crescent and korymbos, a round-neck tunic and a Sasanian headband.[71]

Hephthalite donors

Several of the figures have the characteristic appearance of the Hephthalites of Tokharistan, with belted jackets with a unique lapel of their tunic being folded on the right side, the cropped hair, the hair accessories, their distinctive physionomy and their round beardless faces.[71][22] These figures must represent the donors and potentates who supported the building of the monumental giant Buddha.[71] The individuals in this painting are very similar to the individuals depicted in Balalyk Tepe, and they may be related to the Hepthalites.[20][21] They participate "to the artistic tradition of the Hephthalite ruling classes of Tukharestan".[21]

These murals disappeared with the destructions of 2001.[71]

  • Mural of the Sun God riding his golden chariot and rows of royal donors along the sides, over the head of the smaller 38 meter Eastern Buddha

    Mural of the Sun God riding his golden chariot and rows of royal donors along the sides, over the head of the smaller 38 meter Eastern Buddha

  • Probable King of Bamyan, in Sasanian style, in the niche of the 38 meters Buddha, next to the Sun God, Bamyan.[71][69][74]

    Probable King of Bamyan, in Sasanian style, in the niche of the 38 meters Buddha, next to the Sun God, Bamyan.[71][69][74]

  • Probable Hepthalite rulers of Tokharistan, with single-lapel caftan and single-crescent crown, in the lateral row of dignitaries next to the Sun God.[22][20][71]

    Probable Hepthalite rulers of Tokharistan, with single-lapel caftan and single-crescent crown, in the lateral row of dignitaries next to the Sun God.[22][20][71]

Western Buddha (built between AD 591 and 644)

A few murals also remain around the taller 55 meter Western Buddha, on the ceiling and on the sides. Many are more conventionally Buddhist in character. Some of the later mural paintings show male devotees in double-lapel caftans.[75]

  • Paintings of celestial beings in the niche of the 55 meter large Buddha.

    Paintings of celestial beings in the niche of the 55 meter large Buddha.

  • Western Buddha, Niche, ceiling, east section E1 and E2.[76]

    Western Buddha, Niche, ceiling, east section E1 and E2.[76]

  • Devotee in double-lapel caftan, left wall of the niche of the Western Buddha.[76][77] He has also been described as a Hephthalite.[78]

    Devotee in double-lapel caftan, left wall of the niche of the Western Buddha.[76][77] He has also been described as a Hephthalite.[78]

  • Buddhas under arcades, niche of the Western Buddha.[76]

    Buddhas under arcades, niche of the Western Buddha.[76]

Adjoining caves

Later mural paintings of Bamyan, dated to the 7-8th centuries AD, display a variety of male devotees in double-lapel caftans.[75] The works of art show a sophistication and cosmopolitanism comparable to other works of art of the Silk Road such as those of Kizil, are attributable to the sponsorship of the Western Turks (Yabghus of Tokharistan).[75] The nearby Kakrak caves also have some beautiful works of art.

  • Reconstructed mural of Cave G, Bamyan

    Reconstructed mural of Cave G, Bamyan

  • Devotee in double-lapel caftan, next to the Buddha. Cave G, Bamyan (detail)

    Devotee in double-lapel caftan, next to the Buddha. Cave G, Bamyan (detail)

  • Bamyan Buddhas, the central one wearing a crown and an Iranian cape.

    Bamyan Buddhas, the central one wearing a crown and an Iranian cape.

  • Buddha wearing a crown and a chamail cape. Painting in niche "I" at Bamyan, 7th century AD

    Buddha wearing a crown and a chamail cape. Painting in niche "I" at Bamyan, 7th century AD

After the destruction of the Buddhas, 50 more caves were revealed. In 12 of the caves, wall paintings were discovered.[79] In December 2004, an international team of researchers stated the wall paintings at Bamyan were painted between the 5th and the 9th centuries, rather than the 6th to 8th centuries, citing their analysis of radioactive isotopes contained in straw fibers found beneath the paintings. It is believed that the paintings were done by artists travelling on the Silk Road, the trade route between China and the West.[80]

Grotto painting in 2008

Scientists from the Tokyo Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Japan, the Centre of Research and Restoration of the French Museums in France, the Getty Conservation Institute in the United States, and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France, analysed samples from the paintings,[81] typically less than 1 mm across.[82] They discovered that the paint contained pigments such as vermilion (red mercury sulfide) and lead white (lead carbonate). These were mixed with a range of binders, including natural resins, gums (possibly animal skin glue or egg),[82] and oils, probably derived from walnuts or poppies.[80] Specifically, researchers identified drying oils from murals showing Buddhas in vermilion robes sitting cross-legged amid palm leaves and mythical creatures as being painted in the middle of the 7th century.[79] It is believed that they are the oldest known surviving examples of oil painting, possibly predating oil painting in Europe by as much as six centuries.[80] The discovery may lead to a reassessment of works in ancient ruins in Iran, China, Pakistan, Turkey, and India.[80]

Initial suspicion that the oils might be attributable to contamination from fingers, as the touching of the painting is encouraged in Buddhist tradition,[82] was dispelled by spectroscopy and chromatography giving an unambiguous signal for the intentional use of drying oils rather than contaminants.[82] Oils were discovered underneath layers of paint, unlike surface contaminants.[82]

Scientists also found the translation of the beginning section of the original Sanskrit Pratītyasamutpāda Sutra translated by Xuanzang that spelled out the basic belief of Buddhism and said all things are transient.[83]


Caution Sign, 2017

The UNESCO Expert Working Group on Afghan cultural projects convened to discuss what to do about the two statues between 3–4 March 2011 in Paris. Researcher Erwin Emmerling of Technical University Munich announced he believed it would be possible to restore the smaller statue using an organic silicon compound.[84] The Paris conference issued a list of 39 recommendations for the safeguarding of the Bamyan site. These included leaving the larger Western niche empty as a monument to the destruction of the Buddhas, a feasibility study into the rebuilding of the Eastern Buddha, and the construction of a central museum and several smaller site museums.[85] Work has since begun on restoring the Buddhas using the process of anastylosis, where original elements are combined with modern material. It is estimated that roughly half the pieces of the Buddhas can be put back together according to Bert Praxenthaler, a German art historian and sculptor involved in the restoration. The restoration of the caves and Buddhas has also involved training and employing local people as stone carvers.[86] The project, which also aims to encourage tourism to the area, is being organised by UNESCO and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).

The work has come under some criticism. It is felt by some, such as human rights activist Abdullah Hamadi, that the empty niches should be left as monuments to the fanaticism of the Taliban, while others believe the money could be better spent on housing and electricity for the region.[87] Some people, including Habiba Sarabi, the provincial governor, believe that rebuilding the Buddhas would increase tourism which would aid the surrounding communities.[87]

Rise of Buddhas with 3D light projection

After fourteen years, on 7 June 2015, a Chinese adventurist couple Xinyu Zhang and Hong Liang filled the empty cavities where the Buddhas once stood with 3D laser light projection technology. The projector used for the installation, worth approximately $120,000, was donated by Xinyu and Hong, who were saddened by the destruction of the statues. With the desire of paying tribute, they requested permission from UNESCO and the Afghan government to do the project. About 150 local people came out to see the unveiling of the holographic statues on Sunday, 7 June 2015.[88][89]


Arkady Fiedler Museum, Bamyan Replica

The destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan inspired attempts to construct replicas of the Bamyan Buddhas.[90] These include the following.

  • In 2001 in China, carving of a 37 metres (121 ft) high Buddha was initiated in Sichuan, which is the same height as the smaller of the two Bamiyan Buddhas. It was funded by a Chinese businessman, Liang Simian.[91] The project appears to have been given up for unknown reasons.[92]
  • In Sri Lanka, a full-scale replica has been created which is now known as the Tsunami Honganji Viharaya at Pareliya. It is dedicated to the victims of the 2005 tsunami in the presence of Mahinda Rajapaksha. It was funded by Japan's Hongan-ji Temple of Kyoto and was inaugurated in 2006.[93]
  • In Poland, the Arkady Fiedler Museum of Tolerance has a replica of a Bamiyan Buddha.[94]
  • An 80 feet (24 m) stone Buddha was inaugurated at Sarnath in India in 2011. It stands within the Thai Buddhist Vihara.[95][96]


  • Taller Buddha, after destruction

    Taller Buddha, after destruction

  • Smaller Buddha, after destruction

    Smaller Buddha, after destruction

  • View of the rock where monasteries and Buddhas are carved

    View of the rock where monasteries and Buddhas are carved

  • The landscape of the archaeological Remains of the Bamyan Valley

    The landscape of the archaeological Remains of the Bamyan Valley

In popular culture

Despite the Buddhas's destruction, the ruins continue to be a popular culture landmark,[97] bolstered by increasing domestic and international tourism to the Bamyan Valley.[98] The area around the ruins has since been used for the traditional game of buzkashi,[99] as well as for music festivals[100] and other events. The music video of pop singer Aryana Sayeed's hit 2015 song "Yaar-e Bamyani" was also shot by the ruins.[101]

A novel titled An Afghan Winter provides a fictional backdrop to the destruction of the Buddhas and its impact on the global Buddhist community.[102]

The enormous statues did not fail to fire the imagination of Islamic writers in centuries past. The larger statue reappears as the malevolent giant Salsal in medieval Turkish tales.[103]

In poetry

In June 1971, the Japanese Empress Michiko visited the Buddhas during a royal state visit to Afghanistan with her husband. Upon her return to Japan, she composed a waka poem.[104]

See also

  • iconReligion portal
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  1. ^ a b c d e f g Blänsdorf, Catharina (2015). "Dating of the Buddha Statues – AMS 14C Dating of Organic Materials". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ a b c Petzet (Ed.), Michael (2009). The Giant Buddhas of Bamiyan. Safeguarding the remains (PDF). ICOMOS. pp. 18–19.
  3. ^ Gall, Carlotta (5 December 2006). "Afghans consider rebuilding Bamiyan Buddhas". International Herald Tribune/The New York Times. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
  4. ^ Eastern Buddha: 549 AD - 579 AD (1 σ range, 68.2% probability) 544 AD - 595 AD (2 σ range, 95.4% probability). Western Buddha: 605 AD - 633 AD (1 σ range, 68.2%) 591 AD - 644 AD (2 σ range, 95.4% probability). in Blänsdorf, Catharina (2015). "Dating of the Buddha Statues – AMS 14C Dating of Organic Materials". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ "booklet web E.indd" (PDF). Retrieved 9 October 2013.
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  20. ^ a b c "Seizing large areas, the Hephthalites met with various kinds of art and of course, to some extent, acted as intermediary in the transfer of artistic traditions of one nation to another. It is here, in the opinion of Albaum, that the similarity of some of the figures in paintings from Balalyk-tepe and those from Bamiyan must be sought, which then was part of the Hephthalite state. Such similarities are exemplified by the right side triangular lapel, hair accessories and some ornamental motifs." in KURBANOV, AYDOGDY (2010). "THE HEPHTHALITES: ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL ANALYSIS" (PDF): 67. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  21. ^ a b c "A striking parallel to the Balalyk tepe murals is offered by files of donors represented on the right and left walls of the vault of the 34 m Buddha at Bamiyan. (...) The remarkable overall stylistic and iconographic resemblance between the two sets of paintings would argue for their association with the artistic tradition of the Hephthalite ruling classes of Tukharestan that survived the downfall of Hephthalite power in A.D. 577" in "Azarpay, Guitty; Belenickij, Aleksandr M.; Maršak, Boris Il'ič; Dresden, Mark J. (January 1981). Sogdian Painting: The Pictorial Epic in Oriental Art. University of California Press. pp. 92–93. ISBN 978-0-520-03765-6.
  22. ^ a b c Azarpay, Guitty; Belenickij, Aleksandr M.; Maršak, Boris Il'ič; Dresden, Mark J. (January 1981). Sogdian Painting: The Pictorial Epic in Oriental Art. University of California Press. pp. 92–93. ISBN 978-0-520-03765-6.
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  27. ^ Harding, Luke (3 March 2001). "How the Buddha got his wounds". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 28 February 2006. Retrieved 23 March 2008.
  28. ^ Semple, Michael Why the Buddhas of Bamian were destroyed Archived 7 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Afghanistan Analysts Network 2 March 2011
  29. ^ Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (2010). American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right. Polipoint Press. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-936227-02-0. Muslims should be proud of smashing idols.
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  51. ^ محمد ضياء الرحمن الأعظمي (November 2008). "الدبانا البوذية" (PDF). تركستان الإسلامية. No. السنة الأولى: العدد الثاني. pp. 46–49. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 October 2017.
  52. ^ "Bamiyan statues: World reaction". 5 March 2001.
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  54. ^ U.N. Confirms Destruction of Afghan Buddhas, 12 March 2001, ABC News.
  55. ^ "Ahmad Shah Massoud". The Telegraph. 16 September 2001. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022.
  56. ^ ""An attempt to wipe out history": The destruction of the Bamian Buddha colossi in 2001". March 2015.
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  64. ^ "タリバン破壊のバーミヤン遺跡、ドイツ隊が勝手に足復元 ユネスコが撤去勧告も". The Sankei Shimbun (in Japanese). 18 May 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  65. ^ Nordland, Rod (18 June 2019). "2 Giant Buddhas Survived 1,500 Years. Fragments, Graffiti and a Hologram Remain". The New York Times.
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  70. ^ Margottini, Claudio (20 September 2013). After the Destruction of Giant Buddha Statues in Bamiyan (Afghanistan) in 2001: A UNESCO's Emergency Activity for the Recovering and Rehabilitation of Cliff and Niches. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 9–10. ISBN 978-3-642-30051-6.
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  74. ^ "The globelike crown of the princely donor has parallels in Sasanian coin portraits. Both this donor and the Buddha at the left are adorned with hair ribbons or kusti, again borrowed the Sasanian royal regalia" in Rowland, Benjamin (1975). The art of Central Asia. New York, Crown. p. 88.
  75. ^ a b c Bosworth also says that the "Ephthalites were incapable of such work" in Bosworth, C. Edmund (15 May 2017). The Turks in the Early Islamic World. Routledge. p. 145. ISBN 978-1-351-88087-9.
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Further reading

  • Cloonan, Michele V. "The Paradox of Preservation", Library Trends, Summer 2007.
  • Braj Basi Lal; R. Sengupta (2008). A Report on the Preservation of Buddhist Monuments at Bamiyan in Afghanistan. Islamic Wonders Bureau. ISBN 978-81-87763-66-6.
  • Kassaimah, Sahar. "Afghani Ambassador Speaks At USC", IslamOnline, 12 March 2001.
  • Maniscalco, Fabio. World Heritage and War, monographic series "Mediterraneum", vol. 6, Naples 2007, Massa Publisher "Catalogo: Mediterraneum". Massa Editore. Archived from the original on 31 December 2008. Retrieved 6 December 2009.
  • Noyes, James. "Bamiyan Ten Years On: What this Anniversary tells us about the New Global Iconoclasm", "Telos", 1 March 2010.
  • Tarzi, Zemaryala. L'architecture et le décors rupestre des grottes de Bamiyan ISBN 978-2-7200-0180-2
  • Weber, Olivier, The Assassinated Memory (Mille et Une Nuits, 2001)
  • Weber, Olivier, Tha Afghan Hawk: travel in the country of talibans (Robert Laffont, 2001)
  • Weber, Olivier, On the Silk Roads (with Reza, Hoëbeke [fr], 2007)
  • Wriggins, Sally Hovey. Xuanzang: A Buddhist Pilgrim on the Silk Road. Boulder: Westview Press, 1996
  • "Afghan who had statues destroyed killed". Archived from the original on 28 January 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-26.
  • "Afghanistan 1969–1974: February 2001"
  • "Artist to recreate Afghan Buddhas". BBC News, 9 August 2005.
  • "Bamian Buddha Statues and Theosophy"
  • "Pakistani, Saudi engineers helped destroy Buddhas" Daily Times, Sunday, 19 March 2006.
  • "The Rediff Interview/Mullah Omar, 12 April 2004"

External links

Wikiquote has quotations related to Buddhas of Bamiyan.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to بت های باميان.
  • Japan offered to hide Bamiyan statues, but Taliban asked Japan to convert to Islam instead
  • News articles about the Buddhas of Bamyan
  • Photos of the Buddhas of Bamyan
  • Bamyan Afghanistan Laser Project
  • World Heritage Tour: 360 degree image (after destruction)
  • Bamyan Development Community Portal for cultural heritage management of Bamyan
  • The World Monuments Fund's Watch List 2008 listing for Bamyan
  • Historic Footage of Bamyan Statues, c. 1973 on YouTube
  • The Valley of Bamiyan A tourist pamphlet from 1967
  • Researchers Say They Can Restore 1 of Destroyed Bamiyan Buddhas
  • Secrets of the Bamiyan Buddhas, CNRS
  • Bamiyan photo gallery, UNESCO
  • Secrets of Bamiyan Buddhist murals. ESRF
  • Photo Feature Covering Bamiyan Site
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