Explained: What were the Bamiyan Buddhas, and why did the Taliban destroy them?

What is the News?

The Taliban regime in Afghanistan has said it would protect the ancient Buddha statues in Mes Aynak. This is the site of a copper mine where the Taliban are hoping for Chinese investment.

This Taliban’s position is in marked contrast to the time they ruled Afghanistan earlier. Earlier, they brought down the Bamiyan Buddhas statues using artillery, explosives, and rockets.

What are Bamiyan Buddhas?

The Bamiyan Buddha Statues were situated in the Hindu Kush mountains, in the central highlands of Afghanistan

They were great examples of a confluence of Gupta, Sassanian and Hellenistic artistic styles.

They are said to date back to the 5th century AD and were once the tallest standing Buddhas in the world.

They were called Salsal and Shamama by locals. Salsal means “the light shines through the universe”; Shamama is “Queen Mother”.

What had happened to the Bamiyan Statues?

In 2001, the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas statues. Following the fall, UNESCO included the remains in its list of world heritage sites in 2003, with subsequent efforts made to restore and reconstruct them.

What is the significance of Bamiyan?

Bamiyan is situated in the high mountains of the Hindu Kush in the central highlands of Afghanistan.

The valley, which is set along the line of the Bamiyan River, was once integral to the early days of the Silk Roads, providing passage for not just merchants but also culture, religion and language.

When the Kushana Empire spread, Bamiyan became a major trade, cultural and religious centre. 

As China, India and Rome sought passage through Bamiyan, the Kushans were able to develop a syncretic culture.

Moreover, during the rapid spread of Buddhism between the 1st to 5th centuries AD, Bamiyan’s landscape reflected the faith, especially its monastic qualities.

Source: This post is based on an article “Explained: What were the Bamiyan Buddhas, and why did the Taliban destroy them?” published in Indian Express on 1st April 2022.

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