Buddha Frieze Restored in Pakistan
Islamabad: A statue of Gautham Buddha in Jehanabad in Swat valley in north Pakistan which was dynamited by the Pakistani Taliban in 2007 has been restored. The frieze carved on a granite cliff almost two thousand years ago, was blasted by the Taliban militants dubbing it anti-Islamic.
Pakistan authorities requisitioned Italian experts to restore the statue. The upper portion of the sculpture has been badly damaged almost totally obliterating the face. Rehabilitation of the site was not easy. The restoration began in 2012 with the application of a coating to protect the damaged part of the sculpture. The face was repaired with the help of old photos. The Italian archaeological mission in Swat has been there since 1955 — though it was briefly forced out from the valley during the Taliban rule. It manages other excavation sites and supervised the restoration of the archeological museum in Mingora, the main city of Swat, damaged in an attack in 2008.
The Italian government has invested 2.5 million euros ($2.9 million) in five years for the preservation of Swat’s cultural heritage, striving to involve the local population as much as possible.
Now authorities are counting on the Buddha’s recovered smile and iconic status to boost religious tourism from places such as China and Thailand.
Years after the Taliban were ousted, the valley is largely rejuvenated, though at times security is still tense, with an attack killing 11 soldiers in February this year.
A decade ago, the militants climbed the six-metre (20-foot) effigy to lay the explosives, but only part of them were triggered, demolishing the top of the Buddha’s face. Another, smaller fresco nearby was torn to pieces.
Talibans were opposed to archaeological remnants of the pre-Islamic past of Pakistan which has several ruins of Buddhist rule scattered all over the area. It may be recalled that emperor Ashoka ruled the entire North India, area that now constitute present Pakistan and major parts of Afghanistan more than two millennia ago. Pakistan has been receiving tourists as well as pilgrims from several Buddhist nations prior to 1995 when extremist Talibans began to dictate their will over the people in the Swat valley. It is estimated that there are nearly 1,000 sites of Buddhist archaeological interest in the area which included stupas, monasteries and sanctuaries.