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 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.