Rebuilding Buddhas a Symbol in Rebuilding Afghanistan

December 17, 2006

Author: Peter Schurmann

Source: New America Media

Editor’s Note: The rebuilding of two colossal Buddhas in Afghanistan’s Pamir Valley destroyed by the Taliban is a symbolic first step in piecing back the country’s shattered past and looking toward a better future, writes commentator Peter Schurmann, a student at UC Berkeley in Asian Studies.

For more than a millennium Afghanistan’s lush Pamir valley lay beneath the benevolent gaze of two colossal standing Buddhas, monuments to an efflorescent history of pilgrims and merchants, of religion and culture. In 2001 the statues were destroyed by the ruling Taliban, some say out of religious fanaticism, others as a political statement against the West. What’s left are fragments of stone and wood strewn across the war-torn land like broken pieces of a once resplendent past.

The statues were built sometime in the 6th century as part of a larger Buddhist monastery, itself the center of a major religious and trading post on the Silk Road connecting Europe to the Tang Dynasty capital in China. Much of the area, as well as present day Pakistan and parts of North India belonged then to the rulers of the Kushan Empire, an Indo-European people ancestral to the present-day Pashtuns that inhabit the valley. The Kushan empire thrived from the wealth of culture and trade that flowed across the Silk Road.

In 2001, when the Taliban set their rocket launchers on the still, serene faces of the two Buddhas the world stood up in outrage, aghast at the callous and wanton destruction of such valuable treasures of ancient human history. For many it was further proof of the inhumanity of Afghanistan’s Islamic rulers.