Buddha - Light of Asia:
How We Lost Him At Bamiyan

Shyamal K. Chakravarti

[October 08, 2004]


The Buddha, an apostle of peace, amity and love appeared on earth in the sixth century before Christ. He was not represented in iconic form till the advent of the Christian era. His devotees worshipped the lord only through the symbols. The pre-Christian art in India as carved on pillars of the stupa or the Buddhist monuments depicts his pre-birth stories and other narrative tales meticulously. His earliest anthropomorphic form in art was produced by the artists of the Gandhara school which is also known as Hellenistic art. Another belief ascribes it to the Kushana school of Indian art tradition. 

The origin and development of the Buddha's iconography is interesting. Over the years a new pantheon of Buddhist divinities was created with the evolution of the religious faith and philosophy. The sculptors carved the images in stone, metal and wood; the painters portrayed his figures on paper and canvas; the modelers fashioned his likeness in clay or stucco- their style varying through the ages. Innumerable icons of the Buddha are now known from the countries of Asia which betray significant qualities of artistic exuberance and ideological traits. 

The doctrines of the Buddha were received by two tradesmen of Afghanistan during his lifetime, who went all the way to meet him from Balkh region. In the third century B.C. Indian emperor Asokaspread the message of the lord and his own royal edicts at Kandahar, Sahr-i-Kuna and Laghman in Afghanistan. The sculptures in stucco and sandstone as also paintings depicting the Buddha and other Buddhist deities were gaining much prominence at the rocks and caves of Hadda, Dokhtar-i-Nasirwan and Bamiyan. 

Situated between two rivers the Amudaria and the Sind, Bamiyan a small township in Afghanistan stands at the crossroad of an ancient trade way between India and other west and central Asian countries. Here at the valley of Bamiyan scooped out of rocky mountains once stood before 2001 two colossal images of the Buddha the larger of 175 feet and the smaller 120 feet high drawing admirable attention from the pilgrims and travelers of the rest of the world over a span of seventeen hundred years.


The statues made of calcareous stone of the Hindukush mountain finished with the mixture of lime and sand, covered with metal sheets that had produced a resplendent glossy overtone were the marvel of plastic art. Both the Buddha figures offering gesture of protection betray a grand hallmark of craftsmanship of the Kushana and Gupta art of India supplemented by a touch of Greco-Roman   and Iranian art idiom. The ceilings and niches of these Bamiyan caves that adorn the twin statues also display murals also reflect an intermingled style of Iran, India and Central Asia. 

Over this long period of history the two colossal were enduring the ravages of time and onslaught of political turmoil with pity. But the Bamiyan Buddhas failed to remain on earth this time as a veritable treasure of art and history of mankind. They are lost to posterity.




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