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Culture

‘A Night with Buddha’ in Afghanistan

KABUL: Carrying kerosene lanterns, hundreds of young Afghan men and women spent their nights in a valley of central highlands to mark the anniversary of the Taliban’s destruction of the giant statues of Buddha from the 6th century.
As part of the 20th anniversary of the appalling incident, the nights on Tuesday and Wednesday were marked as “A Night with Buddha” in front of the iconic caves of the central Bamyan province, where once the world’s two tallest Buddha statues stood before being blown up by the hardline Taliban in March 2001.
Representing the evolved form of the Gandhara-era art, the two statues, 55-meter (180.5-feet) tall Salsal and 38-meter (124.7-feet) Shamama, were carved into a cliff.
In their last year of rule over Afghanistan, the Taliban began demolishing them in the first week of March 2001 that concluded in a number of weeks, despite international and local condemnation and appeals.
Anwar Sadat, a local civil society activist, was there with his lantern on both nights when musical, poetry and book reading sessions were held amid the chilling winter breeze blowing from snow-peaked mountains in the surroundings.
“The Buddha statues mean a lot to us, they were part of our history and identity,” Sadat told Anadolu Agency.
“A few years ago, the Italians and Japanese, in collaboration with UNESCO, worked on the restoration of the Buddha statues, but it was very little and had no impact at all. The caves where the statues stood are now faced with threats of total demolition,” he informed.
“What harm could a statue do to anyone? We will never forgive those who blew them up, and we want the international community to bring to justice the perpetrators who did it,” he added.
Vivid memory of tragedy
During the 40th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in the Turkish metropolitan city of Istanbul in 2016, the Afghan government requested that at least one of the Buddha statues be reconstructed. But heritage practitioners and experts highlighted the challenges of reconstructing the Buddha statues according to strict conservation ethics and other considerations.
Former Bamyan Governor Habiba Sarabi vividly remembers the day 20 years ago when the iconic statues were blown up.
“I was in [the Spanish capital] Madrid these days to lobby for Afghan women’s rights. It was devastating. The Taliban thought that with such an act they could tarnish and erase civilization and history, but they did not realize the people of Bamyan and the whole of Afghanistan are more civilized than them and would strive to revive and relive it,” she told Anadolu Agency.
Sarabi is also part of the Afghan government’s negotiation team engaged in talks with the Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha. “We need much more efforts, not only to protect the remains of Buddha but all historic monuments in Afghanistan. And the international community must not remain indifferent to it,” she said.
Shared heritage of humanity
According to Bamyan University Dean Abdul Aziz, the Buddha statues were part of the universal heritage, and it is a global responsibility to try to somehow reconstruct and preserve them.
“Historical sites and relics should be considered as the heritage of all humanity. There is very little benefit to future generations in mourning and marking anniversaries when such ancient and historical monuments are destroyed, instead, efforts should be ensured at first place to safeguard them,” he told the gathering.
The tallest statue of Buddha in Bamyan was shorter than the existing largest one, the 71-meter (232.9-feet) Leshan Giant Buddha in Sichuan, China, from the 8th century. But the one in China is categorized differently due to its sitting position compared to the standing position of the one in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s Culture and Information Minister Mohammad Taher Zuhair has promised to expedite efforts to conserve the remaining sites in the surroundings of Buddha statues, as well as other spots of historic significance across the war-torn country.
He told the event via video conference that UNESCO has promised to begin work on the statues in early spring this year and build an archeological site in front of them. Italy will also rebuild the ancient cities of Ghalghala, Zahak, and the Chehel Sutoon in Bamyan next year, the minister added.
For young Afghans, the main purpose to mark the anniversary of the destruction of Buddha statues is to keep this tragedy alive in memories so that such disasters do not repeat. Monitoring Desk

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The Kabul times, Afghanistan news, us, China & World News.