reconstruction and recovery

Nine years after Taliban defaced a historic Buddha statue in Pakistan, it has been restored

The defacement of the 7th century Buddha had sparked worldwide anger.

The iconic seventh-century defaced Buddha at Jahan Abad, Swat, at last, got its face back after a nine-year-long wait following a scientific restoration process conducted by Italian archaeologists.

The seventh-century Buddha seated in a meditative posture, which is considered one of the largest rock sculptures in South Asia, was attacked in September 2007 by the Taliban, who blew up half the statue’s face by drilling holes into the face and shoulders and inserting explosives.

The explosives, when detonated, destroyed half its face, but the explosives in the statue’s shoulders failed to detonate.

The defacement of the Buddha sparked worldwide anger and concern among the Buddhist community, historians and archaeologists.

The defacement of the Buddha had sparked worldwide anger and concern.
The defacement of the Buddha had sparked worldwide anger and concern.

Joint effort

The Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan was able to restore the statue to its original form after six scientific missions.

“It was our professional and moral obligation toward the people and heritage of Swat and Pakistan which forced us to restore the Buddha," said head of the Italian Archaeological Mission, Dr Luca Maria Olivieri, adding that international experts worked on the restoration process. "It took about five missions of about a month each from 2012-2016 in its complete conservation program. Two restorers/trainers, two 3D scan experts/trainers, one chief restorer, five local restorers, 20 field workers, two carpenters, and three watch-keepers were involved in the restoration process, while the 3D equipment was provided all-inclusive by the University of Padua, Italy."

Olivieri said the statue was restored under the Archaeology Community Tourism Field School project funded by Italian government. This was a joint project of the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Italian Archaeological Mission, he said.

Fabio Colombo, a restorer and member of the Italian Archaeological Mission who has vast experience in the field of conservation and who worked on-site in Bamyan, Afghanistan, said that he enjoyed the work at Jahan Abad as it was a very important historical site where the locals also gave him love and respect.

The explosives had destroyed half its face.
The explosives had destroyed half its face.

“It is one of the biggest rock sculptures in the region and different traces showed that it was once a central Buddhist location in the past," Colombo told Dawn. "The surrounding of Buddha statue is peaceful, picturesque and serene. Owing to its historical, religious and archaeological importance. I hope local people understand its value as it is one part of their history which also belongs to the entire world.”

Syed Niaz Ali Shah, an official and representative of the Archaeology department with Italian Archaeological Mission in the Archaeology Community Tourism project said that Tibetan pilgrims who visited Swat in the past mentioned about the Jahan Abad Buddha along with a Buddhist temple here. “Some of the highly technical and experienced Italian experts worked in the conservation and restoration process using 3-D technology for which we are thankful to them," Shah said.

He said that the site would, once again, become a tourist spot as it was in the past. “I hope Buddhist visitors and other tourists will once again visit this place, not only to enjoy the area serenity but the rich cultural heritage of the region here,” he added.

He said that the Buddha sculpture would play a vital role in the revival of International and national tourism.

Russian tourists said they were excited to visit the iconic Buddha.
Russian tourists said they were excited to visit the iconic Buddha.

Tourist potential

After the restoration of the Buddha, the first foreign delegation to visited the site was Russian. They appreciated the classic sculpture art and the scenic location.

Yury Zhorno, a Russian tourist who visited Swat valley to see Buddhist archaeological monuments and rock carvings, said he was excited to visit the iconic Buddha. “The Buddha sculpture is really amazing not only for its history but also for its nifty carving," he told Dawn. "The view from the foot of Buddha is also amazing as Swat valley is beautiful,”

He invited people from across the world who took interest in Buddhism and natural beauty and said there was no need to be afraid as there was perfect peace.

Another Russian tourist who is tour agent in Moscow and brings Russian tourists to Pakistan also liked the location of Buddha and said that it was good sign that the situation in Pakistan was improving.

“The security situation here in Swat valley is very good and when we came here so the army assisted us everywhere and we feel safe here,” he said, adding that Pakistan had huge potential for tourists with diverse landscapes and rich culture heritage and people from across the world should visit it.

Abdul Bari a resident of Gilgit-Baltistan and an owner of the tourist company said Swat was the most beautiful place in Pakistan with oldest Buddhists records in form of archaeology.

“People of the valley are also hospitable so I want tourists to come here and discover all these things at the same time,” he said, adding that the government must promote tourism and attract tourists from across the world here.

This article first appeared on Dawn.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.