Buddhas of Bamiyan

From Academic Kids

Missing image
One of the Buddhas of Bamiyan before destruction, Afghanistan

The Buddhas of Bamiyan were two monumental statues of standing Buddhas carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamiyan valley of central Afghanistan, situated 230 km northwest of Kabul at an altitude of 2500 meters. Most likely built in the fifth or sixth centuries, the statues represented a classic blending of Greek and Buddhist art.

The main bodies were hewn directly from the sandstone cliffs, but details were modelled in mud mixed with straw, coated with stucco. This coating, practically all of which was worn away long ago, was painted to enhance the expressions of the faces, hands and folds of the robes. The lower parts of the statues' arms were constructed from the same mud-straw mix while supported on wooden armatures. It is believed that the upper parts of their faces were made from great wooden masks, or casts. The rows of holes that can be seen in photographs were spaces that held wooden pegs which served to stabilize the outer stucco.



Lying on the Silk Road linking China and India to the west, Bamiyan developed as a center of religion and philosophy and was the site of several Buddhist monasteries. The area is important for being where eastern and western cultures blended together to create new forms of Greco-Buddhist art. It was one of the major Buddhist centres from the second century up to the time that Islam entered the valley in the ninth century. Monks at the monasteries would reside as hermits in small caves carved into the side of cliffs along the Bamiyan valley. Many of these monks carved statuary in the caves. There were many statues of sitting and standing Buddhas of different sizes along the face of the cliff, and many of the caves were decorated by the monks with elaborate and brightly-colored frescoes. The two most prominent statues were the giant, standing Buddhas, measuring 55 and 37 meters high respectively, the largest examples of standing Buddha carvings in the world. They were cultural landmarks for many years, the site being listed among UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Hsan-tsang (Xuanzang) passed through the area around 630 AD and described Bamiyan as a flourishing Buddhist centre "with more than ten monasteries and more than a thousand monks", and he noted that both Buddha figures were "decorated with gold and fine jewels" (Wriggins, 1996).

Legends and Symbolism of Names and Numbers

  • Buddha's inspiration was at the age of 35 years
  • The distance between the two standing giant statues amounts to 800 units
  • 1. The 53 units (1) long statue, the largest statue in Bamiyan is callad Solsol (Father of King) or "Khonok But" (white statue) is a symbol for man.
  • 2. The 35 units high Statue as "reflection" is callad Shahmama ("King's mother") or "Sorch But" (red statue) is a symbol of woman
  • 3. The 8 units high Statue in the Middle of boths is a symbol of child (2)
  • 4. The 323 units Sleeping Buddha http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/2239423.stm) is as symbol of grandparents

The sum of the digits of all four statues is 8 and equivalent. The family is played a important part in this region too, including to current Afghanistan.

  • (1) At that time exist not decimal system
  • (2) Onsuri, a Poet of Ghaznavid Empire, wrote in the 11th century a song love story under "Sorch but" and "Khonok but". The child of the both was in the roll of Rostam. Rostam is a figure of Shahnama

Destruction & Rebuilding

When Mahmud of Ghazni conquered Afghanistan in the 12th century, the Buddhas and frescoes were miraculously spared from destruction. Still, over the years Muslim iconoclasts hacked away at some of the statues' details, mostly the facial features and hands. Finally in 2001, after surviving intact for over 1,500 years, the Islamist Taliban government, claiming to be offended that UNESCO and foreign NGOs were putting resources into renovating these statues when there were, they felt, so many more pressing problems in Afghanistan, decreed that the statues were idolatrous and destroyed them with dynamite and tank barrages. [1] (http://sydney.indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=8468) In March 2001 the two largest Buddhas were demolished after almost a month of intensive bombardment.

During the destruction, Taliban Information Minister Qudratullah Jamal lamented that, "this work of destruction is not as easy 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."

Even though the figures of the two large Buddhas are almost completely destroyed, their outlines and some features are still recognizable within the recesses. It is also still possible for visitors to explore the monks' caves and the passages which connect them. As part of the international effort to rebuild Afghanistan after the Taliban war, the Japanese Government has committed itself to rebuilding the two largest Buddhas.

Recent Developments

In May 2002, a mountainside sculpture of the Buddha was carved out of a mountain in Sri Lanka. It was designed to closely resemble one of the Buddhas of Bamiyan.

In December 2004, Japanese researchers discovered that the wall paintings at Bamiyan were actually painted between the 5th and the 9th centuries, rather than the 6th to 8th centuries as previously believed. The discovery was made by analysing radioactive isotopes contained in straw fibers found beneath the paintings. Further discoveries are expected to be made after comparing the painting's dates and styles.


fr:Bouddhas de Bmiyn gl:Budas de Bamiyn id:Patung Buddha Bamiyan ja:バーミヤン渓谷の文化的景観と古代遺跡群 pl:Bamjan sv:Bamiyan-dalens kulturlandskap och fornlmningar zh:巴米揚大佛


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