Bamiyan Buddhas: Destroyed by Taliban, recreated by Chinese couple

  • Nihal Thondepu, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 13, 2015 12:33 IST

Amid concerns about what the Islamic State might do in Palmrya following the destruction of ancient ruins in Hatra and Nimrund, academicians across the world are concerned that a huge chunk of world history has been erased.

But a Chinese couple, Janson Yu and Liyan Yu, have brought back a piece of history destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. Here's all you need to know about the Bamiyan Buddhas and how they came back to life:

What are the Bamiyan Buddhas?

The Bamiyan Buddhas, located in the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan, were the world’s largest standing Buddha carvings. The two statues, 53m and 35m tall, were specimens of the classic blended style of Gandhara architecture.

The taller statue, popularly called 'Solsol', was built between 591 and 644AD, while the smaller one, called 'Shahmama', was built earlier, sometime between 544 and 595AD. The statues, hewn directly into the sandstone cliff, were carved in their own niches while details were modelled in mud mixed with straw and coats of stucco.

The statues survived attacks by the Mongols, Mughals, Persian rulers and Afghan kings before being completely destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001.

What happened to the Bamiyan Buddhas?

While there is no consensus on why exactly the Taliban destroyed these statues, some blame it on Islamic religious iconoclasm and others say it was to protest the international aid reserved exclusively for the preservation of monuments. The country, at the time, was in the middle of a famine.

The Taliban, under orders from their supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, used anti-aircraft guns and artillery for several days, causing serious damage. But the statues, carved into the mountain, were not obliterated. To finish the job, Taliban used rockets, land mines and placed dynamite in holes that were carved into the statues.

This “crime against culture” drew strong protests from countries across the world, most notable of which was Japan. After the Taliban war, the Japanese government started working with several institutes to rebuild this world heritage site.

Why are we talking about Bamiyan Buddhas now?

Janson Yu and Liyan Hu, a Chinese couple deeply saddened by the destruction of this piece of history, built a $120,000 projector to bring the Buddhas back to life using 3D laser light projection technology during a one-day event.

After getting permission from the Afghan government and UNESCO, they projected huge holographic statues in the now-empty cavities as part of a spectacular show on June 7.

What is 3D technology?

The technology used is an up-scaled version of projectors used for regular laser light shows.

The projectors use carefully directed light on a two dimensional surface to show precise, three-dimensional images of the statues.

The couple used a collection of images of this heritage site to digitally reconstruct the destroyed Buddhas.

Is it possible for the Bamiyan Buddhas to be restored?

With international funding, recovery and stabilisation of this site has been a work in progress since 2002.

Organisations like the International Council on Monuments and Sites have helped stablise the existing structure by building scaffoldings, documenting and storing fragments that could possibly used to reconstruct the Buddhas.

While a $1.3-million UNESCO project hopes to rebuild the world heritage site, there are few who feel the empty niches should be left untouched to remind the world of Taliban's fanaticism and to use the money allocated for restoration for humanitarian issues in Afghanistan.

The Bamiyan Buddhas are now on the World Monuments Watchlist of 100 Most Endangered sites of the World Monuments Fund.

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