Afghan museum highlights country's Buddhist heritage

Afghanistan, which achieved global notoriety for cultural barbarism when the Taliban blew up the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas, this week opened an exhibition highlighting the country's rich Buddhist heritage.

In sharp contrast to the religious intolerance behind the destruction of the Buddhas 11 years ago, the immaculate exhibition is on display in the National Museum, itself rebuilt with international aid after being destroyed by civil war.

Overlooked by living history represented by the ruins of the neoclassical Darulaman Palace on a neighbouring hill -- also a victim of war -- the interior of the museum is a sanctuary of quiet arches and marble floors in a violent land.

In the entrance hall is a replica of the Great Buddha of Bamiyan, one of two giant standing statues carved into Bamiyan cliffs in Afghanistan's central highlands in the sixth century.

But the polyurethane copy is a poor substitute -- unlike the surviving treasures dating from the second century AD that dedicated museum staff managed to hide and protect through 30 years of conflict and turmoil.

One statue shows a lean-torsoed Buddha, reflecting the art of the ancient Greeks introduced by Alexander the Great, who staged one of the many invasions of Afghanistan over the centuries, said museum curator Surkh Kotal.

Others show damage inflicted by Taliban fanatics who destroyed many of the museum's artefacts before their regime was overthrown by US-led troops in 2001 for harbouring Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Among the items spared -- many hidden in secret vaults outside the museum -- are relief carvings depicting the Buddha's life and other artefacts from former Buddhist monasteries in Afghanistan, mainly south of the Hindu Kush mountains.

One of those behind the protection of the treasures is museum director Omarakhan Massoudi, who joined the museum 34 years ago.

"I'm happy we preserved some masterpieces through a difficult time in our country," Massoudi told AFP, recounting how a decision was made to move major works to secret locations in 1989 as Soviet forces withdrew and civil war loomed.

During that war, some 70 percent of the museum's artefacts were looted and smuggled into neighbouring countries to find their way onto the black market, he said.

The museum, along with the palace on the hill, was largely destroyed as rival warlords unleashed artillery and rocket fire on the capital in a brutal struggle for power.

Then came the Taliban, Islamic hardliners who swept to power in 1996. Towards the end of their rule they destroyed more than 2,000 artefacts, Massoudi said, and blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas as "idols" in March 2001.

"We have repaired more than 300 statues. Some are on display and we will continue this activity in the future," said Massoudi.

The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was "a big tragedy because they were a part of our history, a part of our culture", he said.

Afghanistan, lying on the famed Silk Road trading route connecting east and west, absorbed Buddhism from India and the religion flourished for hundreds of years before the arrival of Islam in the eighth century.

Now, the practice of Buddhism has virtually disappeared from a country where more than 99 percent of the population proclaim themselves to be Muslim. But the museum is dedicated to keeping the nation's history alive.

"We have to be proud about this very rich heritage of Afghanistan, and we need to transfer it to the next generations," said Massoudi.

In a country still at war, with 130,000 US-led NATO troops helping the government of President Hamid Karzai fight a Taliban insurgency, it is still unsafe for the museum to display some of its most important possessions.

The famed and priceless 2,000 year-old Bactrian Gold collection of more than 20,000 gold ornaments, hidden by museum staff during the civil war, has been touring the world since 2006.

But closer to home, the ruined grandeur of the Darulaman Palace -- clearly visible from the museum -- stands as an enormous exhibit reflecting a less than glorious period in the nation's history.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Muslim group calls for universal peace
    Muslim group calls for universal peace

    As predominantly Catholic Philippines and the rest of the Christian world observe the Holy Week, peace advocates like the Young Muslim Professionals Network (YMPN) are appealing to Filipinos of various creeds and persuasion to embrace the universal message of kindness, love and peace. The group issued the call as peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front teeter due to the Mamasapano incident where members of the rebel group killed 44 police commandos on a …

  • Ex-WB exec pushes BBL passage
    Ex-WB exec pushes BBL passage

    A former World Bank official has warned of dire consequences for the Philippines if the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is not passed into law. Nigel Roberts, former director on conflict, security and development, said that more conflict could occur without the BBL. “It takes about 15 years to get back to pre-conflict GDP growth rates, and 20 years for trade to recover,” Roberts said in his blog at the World Bank website. The World Bank estimated that economic losses amounted to $10 …

  • Despite typhoon, summer is here
    Despite typhoon, summer is here

    Super Typhoon Chedeng roared toward Luzon as the weather bureau announced the official start of summer in the country yesterday. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) announced yesterday the official start of the dry or summer season in the country due to the termination of the cold northeast monsoon. “The general public is advised to take precautionary measures to minimize heat stress and take note of the need in optimizing the daily use of …

  • Noy told: Just answer the questions
    Noy told: Just answer the questions

    Just answer the 20 questions. The Makabayan bloc of seven party-list representatives made this appeal to President Aquino yesterday after his spokesman claimed the Chief Executive has already answered most of the questions posed by the militant lawmakers regarding the Mamasapano incident. For instance, he said the President has not yet explained why he allowed then suspended Philippine National Police chief Director General Alan Purisima to take the lead in Oplan Exodus or the mission to …

  • DFA: Malaysia paying rent for Sabah
    DFA: Malaysia paying rent for Sabah

    Malaysia does not acknowledge the Philippine claim over Sabah but the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) maintained yesterday that the Malaysian government is paying rent for Sabah, indicating it rightfully belongs to the Philippines. The Malay Mail Online reported that Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said Malaysia has not and does not acknowledge the Philippine claim over Sabah when asked by media about the reported offer of the Philippine government to downgrade its Sabah …

  • 63 OFWs returning from Yemen
    63 OFWs returning from Yemen

    Sixty-three overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are set to return home from war-torn Yemen, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said yesterday. Baldoz said the licensed recruiters of the OFWs have assured the government of their immediate repatriation. Administrator Hans Cacdac of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration has ordered the recruitment agencies to fulfill their obligation to bring home the OFWs. Baldoz called on Filipinos still in Yemen to avail themselves of the government’s …

  • Jinggoy gets furlough for shoulder checkup
    Jinggoy gets furlough for shoulder checkup

    Despite opposition from ombudsman lawyers, the Sandiganbayan yesterday granted detained Sen. Jinggoy Estrada’s request to undergo a medical checkup at the Cardinal Santos Memorial Hospital. Estrada was allowed to undergo a medical examination for pain in his left shoulder from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The senator was ordered to shoulder the expenses incurred by the Philippine National Police in  escorting him. In a pleading filed Monday with the anti-graft court’s Fifth Division, Estrada’s lawyers …

  • Tekken’s Josie Rizal gets flak
    Tekken’s Josie Rizal gets flak

    A professor of the University of the Philippines yesterday hit the portrayal of a Filipino character, whose name was based on Jose Rizal, in a Japanese-produced video game. “(It’s) offensive and unsuited for a big company like Bandai because they have the money to do research,” Gonzalo Campoamor II, professor of Life and Works of Rizal in UP Diliman, told The STAR. Japanese giant Namco Bandai recently introduced Josie Rizal, the first Filipino character in the popular fighting game franchise …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options