Shattered Buddhist statues restored with help from the OI

UChicago institute helps reassemble ancient, rare art from first to 6th centuries

Some of the earliest known statues depicting the Buddha have him in startling costume—draped in the lushly folded fabric of ancient Greece or Rome. Sometimes he has Greco-Roman facial features, naturalistically rendered and muscled torsos, or is even shown protected by Hercules.

Many of these striking Buddhas hailed from Hadda, a set of monasteries in modern-day Afghanistan where Buddhism flourished for a thousand years before the rise of Islam. Located on the Silk Road, the area had frequent contact with the Mediterranean—hence the Buddha’s Hellenistic features. One of the richest collections of this unique art from Hadda was destroyed in 2001, when the Taliban ransacked the National Museum of Afghanistan and shattered the museum’s Buddha statues.

Nearly two decades later, the museum’s conservators are working with the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, one of the world’s foremost research centers on the civilizations of the ancient Middle East, to bring the collection back to life. Supported by cultural heritage preservation grants from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, OI researchers, along with Afghan colleagues, are painstakingly cleaning, sorting and reassembling statues from the more than 7,500 fragments left behind, which museum employees swept up and saved in trunks in the basement.

“When they were broken, we lost a part of history—an important period of high artistic achievement—which these objects represent,” said Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, director of the National Museum of Afghanistan. “They are the only pieces remaining from the archaeological sites; Hadda was burned and looted during the 1980s, so these pieces at the museum are all we have left. By reviving them, we are reviving part of our history.”

The statues are beautiful, by all accounts. First excavated by French archaeologists in the 1930s, and spanning 500 years of Afghanistan’s history between the first and sixth centuries A.D., they are an example of a rare art form unique to the region, often called the Gandharan style. Some stand alone and others in tableaus, ranging from life-size to others that can fit in the palm of a hand. But the task of reconstructing them is more than a puzzle.

The materials these ancient artisans used were primarily limestone, schist and stucco—which tend to crumble and disintegrate under duress, rather than simply crack. “It’s more like trying to assemble pieces from 30 different jigsaw puzzles that have all been dumped together—without the pictures from the boxes,” said Gil Stein, professor at the Oriental Institute and a leading expert on the rise of social complexity in the ancient Near East.

Stein heads the project, which is part of the OI’s ongoing work with the National Museum of Afghanistan Cultural Preservation Partnership. Begun in 2012, the partnership has helped restore the museum’s infrastructure, including developing a bilingual database to document the first full inventory of the museum’s collections, as well as training conservators in the latest techniques for preserving and restoring objects.

The collection is largely from the Hadda monasteries located in northwestern Afghanistan, near the modern-day city of Jalalabad. The region’s warm climate fosters citrus and pomegranate trees and helped it blossom as a center of trade on the Silk Road for centuries—thus its art influenced by both East and West.

‘The big puzzle’

Alejandro Gallego López, the OI’s field director in Afghanistan, explained the process of restoring the statues. First is to assess the collection—identifying and classifying features, such as archaeological motifs, and visible parts of bodies, like legs, heads or arms. This census can help them estimate how many objects there were originally (they think it was between 350 and 500).
A nearly full pieced-together statue compared to an older photo when it was intact
Courtesy of the Oriental Institute

Each piece is photographed and then carefully treated with the latest preservation techniques by Fabio Colombo, the OI’s head conservator in Kabul. Next they’re sorted by color, texture and mortar. “Then starts the big puzzle,” Gallego López said.

Some of the objects have inventory numbers from the 1960s and ‘70s written on them, so they can try to match them with remaining records. Most of the museum’s records were lost during a fire in Afghanistan’s civil war, but earlier this year, they discovered a trove of overlooked records hidden in an old office, which contained photos and numbers of artifacts. By a stroke of luck, the surviving cards happened to focus on the Hadda collection.

So far, Gallego López said, they’ve been able to reassemble about 50 statues; he hopes they will have about 150 in the end.

“It’s really exciting work, especially when you can get a few different pieces together,” he said. “It’s very rewarding to bring them back to life.”

Once the work is complete, the museum will exhibit them, Rahimi said. He is excited to show the history of Afghanistan to younger generations, who may not be aware of it; and also to older generations, who may remember the art. “I see a lot of reactions from people when they see the statues,” he said.

“It’s more like trying to assemble pieces from 30 different jigsaw puzzles that have all been dumped together—without the pictures from the boxes.”

—Gil Stein, Professor at the Oriental Institute
—Gil Stein, Professor at the Oriental Institute —Gil Stein, Professor at the Oriental Institute

Gallego López and Stein are similarly happy that Afghans—both at the museum and the public—will be able to fully appreciate and preserve their history. “This rich cultural heritage belongs to the people of Afghanistan,” Gallego López said. Stein agreed: With the training and database in place, the National Museum will be equipped for the future. “Foreigners and grants come and go, but they’ll still have the knowledge,” he said.

Since its founding in 1919, the OI has conducted field-defining research across the Middle East, including excavations and field projects, linguistic research deciphering ancient languages, creating comprehensive dictionaries, reconstructing the histories, literatures and religions of long-lost civilizations, and preserving the region’s imperiled cultural heritage. Much of this research is on display at the OI Museum, located on the UChicago campus and home to the largest collection of ancient Middle Eastern artifacts in the United States with 350,000 objects.

Buddha idol installed at TIA

KATHMANDU: An idol of Lord Gautama Buddha has been installed at the premises of the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA).

Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Yogesh Bhattarai said the idol was installed as a part of the project to convert the country’s only international airport into a boutique airport.

Minister Bhattarai unveiled the idol that weighs one ton on Saturday.

He hoped that it will help to promote Visit Nepal Year 2020 and help Nepal be recognized as the birthplace of Lord Buddha.

Experts to visit relic site – Cambodia

Experts from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts are planning a visit to Kuk mountain in Pursat province, where an ancient Buddhist carving was found last week.

Lach Phengly, provincial director of the Culture and Fine Arts Department, yesterday said villagers alongside members of the CPP provincial working group on Thursday came across an ancient carving on a stone wall in Krakor district’s Kuk mountain.

“The officials cleaned the carving so that we could see it better, but still we could not tell when the statue was made,” Mr Phengly said. “I have asked the Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, Phoeurng Sackona, to send experts to check the carving.”

Mr Phengly said some people believe the relic was carved during the Chenla period while others think it was made during the Norkor Phnom period.

He said experts from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts will arrive at the site on Tuesday or Wednesday.

“It looks like a Buddhist monk sleeping or perhaps dying,” Mr Phengly noted. “I do not think this place used to be a temple. I think it was just a place where people lived, but because they loved and respected Buddhism they decided to do this carving.”

The villagers and the members of the CPP working group also found some clay pots that they believe were made during the 19th century.

Mr Phengly said he will work with authorities to protect the site and turn it into a tourist attraction.

“We will continue exploring the mountain for more relics,” he noted.

390-foot Buddha the tallest in Japan

By THERON GODBOLD | Stars and Stripes | Published: December 19, 2019

If you’ve ever taken the Ken-o Expressway to Narita airport, you passed an unforgettably large statue of Buddha.

About two hours northeast of Yokota Air Base, in a suburb of Tsukuba called Ushiku, the Ushiku Daibutsu, a bronze statue built in 1993 and nearly 38 stories tall, was once listed by Guinness World Records as the world’s tallest statue of Buddha. It was unseated by the Laykyun Sekkya Buddha in Myanmar.

It is still the tallest Buddha in Japan. By comparison, the Ushiku Daibutsu at 390 feet is more than 300 feet taller than the well-known seated Great Buddha of Kamakura.

Visitors must remove their shoes upon entering the hollow statue. A bag is provided to store them. Illuminated busts of Buddha fill the darkened first story and the sounds of wind and chimes fill your ears.

Climb the stairs to the second floor where you’ll find a small museum that recounts the building of the statue. It’s filled with photographs taken during construction and holds a replica of the Buddha’s toe.

Ushiku Daibutsu in Tsukuba, Japan, is the world’s third tallest bronze Buddha statue at nearly 400 feet tall.

From the second floor, an elevator climbs another 250 feet to an observation area, where on a clear day you can see the Tokyo Skytree, the world’s tallest tower.

The World Lotus Sanctuary is just beneath the observation deck. Here, more than 3,000 golden Buddhas line the wall. Continuing down a flight of stairs, you will find a small gift shop and elevator access to the ground floor exit.

Outside is a park more than a mile square and built to commemorate the birth of Shinran, founder of the Pure Land sect of Japanese Buddhism.

The park is filled with paths that wander throughout the grounds past picnic areas, and a large koi pond where the fish will nearly throw themselves out of the water for the feed pellets you can buy from a small stand.

You might even find yourself in the small petting zoo or catching a monkey show.

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Open 365 days a year, the Ushiku Daibutsu might be a little out of the way for some, but it’s a pretty big deal — literally.
Twitter: @therongodbold

DIRECTIONS: Address: 2083 Kunocho, Ushiku City, Ibaraki Prefecture 300-1288. From the Ken-o Expressway, head toward Narita for about two hours and look for the Buddha exit in English. Ample parking in several lots is free.

TIMES: October through February: open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. March through September: open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

COSTS: Admission is about $8 for ages 13 and up and $4 for ages 4-12. Children 3 and younger are admitted free.

FOOD: A small restaurant at the entrance to the Buddha serves basic Japanese fare like curry.

INFORMATION: Phone: 029-889-2931; Online:

Islamabad Museum displays rare Buddha statue

Islamabad Museum displays rare Buddha statue

Sculpture from period between 3rd and 4th century AD was discovered in 1960s

Islamabad: The Islamabad Museum has put on display a rare statue of Buddha’s head after retrieving it from its reserves where it was locked for decades, according to a media report on Sunday.

The sculpture, from the period between the 3rd and the 4th century AD, was discovered by the first Italian archaeological mission in Pakistan that was led by Giuseppe Tucci in the Swat Valley area, the Dawn reported.

The artefact was excavated in the 1960s and it was last displayed in a museum in 1997.

“It is extremely rare to find Buddha’s statues made of stucco from Swat. The Swat Valley is predominantly home to stone sculptures,” Islamabad Museum Director Dr Abdul Gafoor Lone said.

He said stucco sculptures of Buddha are frequently found in Taxila and Afghanistan.

What also makes the Buddha head sculpture unique is its sharp, feminine features, with long hair brushed back and wrapped over and around a halo and slanted, feline eyes.

Lone said Buddha is commonly seen wearing his hair in a bun, with straight eyes.

Belonging to the Kushan period, the extraordinary sculpture was discovered from one of the earliest Buddhist Stupa Buddhkara I from the 3rd century BC, a contemporary of the World Heritage Site Dharma Rajika in Taxila.

Another three terracotta heads of Buddha have also been pulled out of the museum’s reserves and put on display.

The three rare artefacts are from the 2nd to 3rd century AD. They were excavated by British archaeologist Sir John Marshal.

Special attention was given to sculpting the heads of Buddha compared to the rest of the body, and finer material was used as well.

“When the White Huns burnt down Buddhist monasteries and stupas, heads were buried and preserved under the collapsed roofs. The bodies, which were not given much attention, deteriorated and were destroyed over the centuries. This is why the heads of the Buddha have survived to this date,” Lone said.

The White Huns were a race of largely nomadic peoples who were a part of the Hunnic tribes of Central Asia. They ruled over an expansive area stretching from the Central Asian lands all the way to the Western Indian Subcontinent during the 5th to 8th centuries.

The Italian archaeologists also excavated a schist stone panel from the Swat Valley.

Lone said the grey panel from the 2nd century AD “depicts a temple on fire, while Buddha is seen seated inside and the Kasyapa brothers are trying to put out the flames”.

The art piece symbolises Buddha’s triumph over the fire snake, he explained.

Myanmar Buddha statue donated to disaster-hit northeast Japan

A consecration ceremony was held Monday for a Buddha statue donated by Myanmar for victims of the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan.

Monks from the Southeast Asian country, which also suffered damage from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, offered prayers in front of the 5-meter-high marble statue.

It was placed last month on a hill overlooking Shizugawa Bay in the town of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture. The hill is in a forest park created by the operator of Minami Sanriku Hotel Kanyo to commemorate the disaster that left more than 15,000 people dead.

A Myanmar trading house gave the statue to the hotel operator, which had shown officials of the company around the disaster-hit area.

“While this may be minuscule for the rebuilding, I hope it will be a tourism resource to bring about exchanges between people,” said Maung Htet Myat Oo, the 52-year-old co-head of Tomosada International Trading Co.

“I’m full of emotion, seeing the Buddha statue installed in a place that looks over our community,” said Yasuhiro Abe, 56, president of the hotel operator Abecho Shoten Co.

Abe’s company is known for hosting bus tours around the disaster-stricken coastal area and keeping the remains of a tsunami-hit wedding center, where more than 300 people took refuge.

The highest Buddhist monastery in Eastern India

The monastery is named after Acharya Padmasambhava, who was born in Odisha and is believed to have spread Buddhism to Tibet in the 7th century
Paralakhemundi: Even though Lord Buddha had never stepped his foot in Odisha soil during his lifetime, the state has a rich heritage of Buddhism. In fact, Odisha is home to more than 200 Buddhist sites, scattered across its length and breadth.

Take an example of the ancient Padmasambhava Mahavihara monastery, situated in Jirang near Chandragiri in tribal-dominated Gajapati district. Reportedly, the height of the monastery is the highest in Eastern India.

The colony which houses the monastery is Buddha Vihar –the land of happiness and plenty— and the area is popularly known as a ‘mini Tibet’ in Odisha. It belongs to the Rigon Thubten Mindolling monastery that was part of the Tibetan settlement near Chandragiri. The monastery is named after Acharya Padmasambhava, who was born in Odisha and is believed to have spread Buddhism to Tibet in the 7th century.

Driving through the roads of Jirang, visitors are welcomed to the Buddha Vihar with Buddhist flags on both sides of the road. Inaugurated by Dalai Lama in 2010, it has been built as per the ‘Atanpuri style of Nalanda’ and in its assembly hall a 23-foot-high idol of Lord Buddha along with his two disciples has been installed.

On the right side of the Buddha’s idol is the 1000-armed and 1000-eyed Avalokiteswar. While on the left is the large idol of Guru Nangsi Zilnon. The five-storey monastery has its interiors richly decorated with traditional religious paintings of Tibetan culture. The 70-feet-high monastery can house over 200 Lamas.

Apparently, Jirang is considered one of the earliest Tibetan resettlement villages in the country; the Tibetans had arrived here May 1, 1963. Visitors can also experience maize cultivation in the village which is the main avocation of the Tibetans. Jirang can be approached by road through Berhampur.

There are several places in the state where Buddhism is still practiced today. According to the Buddhist scholars of Odisha from the Institute of Maritime and South East Asian Studies, Biraja (modern Jajpur) was a sacred land of Buddha Padmaprabha and the cradle of ‘Mahayana’.

The presence of ‘Mahayana’ antiquities, stupas and relics in Jajpur district are a testimony to this. Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang visited these Buddhist sites in Odisha in the 7th century and between 8th and 10th century.

The tantric form of ‘Mahayana’ Buddhism started during this period only. One of the most popular Buddhist destinations in Odisha is the Diamond Triangle comprising Ratnagiri, Udayagiri and Lalitgiri in Jajpur district.

Notably, after the death of the Buddha, his followers were divided into two sects― ‘Hinayana’ and ‘Mahayana’. But now the latest Buddhist phase is ‘Vajrayana’ which is believed to have been originated from Odisha.

Andhra Pradesh Ancient Buddhist panels in Prakasam district left in ruins

They were found beneath the foundation of a temple at Chandavaram

First century Buddhist panels were found in utter neglect beneath the foundation of a medieval temple at Chandavaram village, near Kurichedu, in Prakasam district even as the world celebrated the ‘Heritage week’.

Basing on an information provided by a local historian Jyoti Chandramouli, Buddhist Archaeologist and CEO of Cultural Centre of Vijayawada and Amaravathi (CCVA) Sivanagireddy inspected the 2000-year-old antique panels in the remote village.

Four huge panels depicting the Buddhist symbols of vajrasana (the seat on which Siddhartha meditated), Bodhi tree(under which Siddhartha got enlightenment), Dharmachakra(Buddha setting the wheel of Dharma into motion) and a stupa (symbolic representation of Buddha attaining Mahaparinirvana) were used as the foundation course for the walls of Mahabaleswara temple in the village.
Amaravathi School of Art

Dr. Reddy said that these panels, measuring 6 ft in height, 2.5 ft in width and 8 inches in thickness, were encased in the stupa during the Satavahana times. He said the panels represent the early phase of world famous Amaravathi School of Art.

“It is high time the panels are removed by inserting iron girders, using latest technology, without causing damage to the temple structure. The cavity could be filled with concrete wall for safety purpose,” he suggested.

Dr. Reddy, along with Golla Narayanarao, president, Andhra Arts Academy and others sensitised the local people on the archaeological significance and historical importance of the Buddhist panels.

Pakistani PM positive about exhibiting ‘Fasting Buddha’ statue in Korea: Jogye order official

ISLAMABAD, Nov. 20 (Yonhap) — Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan reacted positively to the query from a South Korean Buddhist leader to display the “Fasting Buddha” statue, a key Gandhara art piece, in South Korea, an official of the Jogye Order said Wednesday.

Ven. Wonhaeng, the 36th President of Jogye Order, South Korea’s largest Buddhist sect, paid a courtesy call on the prime minster during his trip to Pakistan, according to the official.

The statue is currently at Lahore Museum in Pakistan.

“Fasting Buddha” statue at Lahore Museum in Pakistan (Yonhap)

Buddha relics from Sri Lanka to be enshrined at Bowonniwet Vihara temple

BANGKOK – The government would like to invite Buddhists in Thailand to pay their respects to the hair relics of the Lord Buddha at Bowonniwet Vihara temple in Bangkok from December 10, 2019, to January 10 next year.

The Head of the Buddha Relics Invitation Project, Adisak Panupong, and the President of the Do D Foundation, Danai Chanchaochai, announced that the Lord Buddha’s relics from Manelwatta temple in Sri Lanka will be exhibited at Bowonniwet Vihara temple to celebrate His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua’s coronation as well as the 266th anniversary of the establishment of Siam Nikaya in Sri Lanka. The religious event will also mark over 700 years of relations between Thai and Sri Lankan Buddhists.

The relics will be open for the public to pay their respects for a total of 32 days, between December 10 and January 10 next year. People will be able to pay their respects in rounds each day. The first round will be at 6:30 a.m., the second at 10:30 a.m. and the third at 5 p.m. Sermons and teachings will also take place on Saturdays and religious holidays throughout the period. Those wishing to pay respects are asked to dress appropriately in all white.