The Buddha Bounces Back

By Eric Powell|Sunday, July 01, 2001

Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia made global headlines last spring when they dynamited the Bamian Buddhas, 150-foot-tall monuments hewn from limestone cliffs near the ancient Silk Road. But more than 2,000 years of culture is difficult to erase. Even as the Taliban went to work, archaeologists were quietly completing excavations and restorations of other major Buddhist artifacts, including some that bear the scars of earlier assaults on the religion.

In the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan, Saidmurad Bobomulloev, director of the Museum of National Antiquities in Dushanbe, has supervised the restoration of the world's oldest reclining Buddha, dating from around A.D. 500— the same age as the destroyed Afghan colossi. The 43-foot-long statue will go on display this summer.

In India, P.K. Mishra of the Archaeological Survey of India and his colleagues have completed excavations at Deorkothar, an important Buddhist center during the third century B.C. Impressive brick monuments, or stupas, at the site appear deliberately damaged. They may have been partially demolished during the early part of the second century by Hindu ruler Pushyamitra Sunga. In Nepal, a team led by British archaeologist Robin Coningham has wrapped up excavations at Tilaurakot, identified by some historians as Kapilavastu, Buddha's legendary boyhood hometown. Ceramics recently found at the site date it to the sixth century B.C., around the time when Buddha is thought to have lived.

In Cambodia, archaeologists from Sophia University in Tokyo discovered a cache of 103 Buddha figurines at Banteay Kdei, a temple located near Angkor Wat. Most of the 4-foot-tall Buddhas are headless, probably smashed during a wave of anti-Buddhist violence that swept through Cambodia in 1219.

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