The Magnificent Borobudur Temple Of Indonesia

The Borobudur Temple Compounds is the world’s largest Buddhist monument, measuring roughly 63 acres. It is a Mahayana Buddhist temple located in Java, Indonesia, with many experts believing it was built during the rule of the Sailendra Dynasty (c. 650-1025 CE). UNESCO designated the Borobudur Temple Compounds as a World Heritage Site in 1991 due to its unique craftsmanship. The site remains the most visited tourist site in Indonesia and plays a significant role in Indonesian architecture and cultural identity.

The Borobudur Temple Compounds is located in Kedu Valley in central Java, approximately 26 miles northwest of Yogyakarta and over 50 miles west of Surakarta. The temple sits between two volcanoes — Mt. Sundoro-Sumbing and Mt. Merbabu-Merapi and two rivers — Progo and Elo. It is also situated close to two other Buddhist temples in the Kedu Plain: Pawon and Mendut. Borobudur sits on a bedrock that is located 869 feet above sea level.

History

The Borobudur Temple Compounds is one of the most significant Buddhist monuments in the world. The circumstances around the period in which the Javanese built Borobudur remain a mystery. No records exist regarding its construction or purpose. However, many believe it was built in the 8th and 9th centuries during the Sailendra Dynasty. Archaeological and scholarly experts agree that Borobudur’s construction ended around 800-825 CE, and many believe that King Samaratungga oversaw the temple’s construction.

There have been disagreements between modern historians about the political and cultural events that led to Borobudhur’s construction. Some historians suggest that the Sanjaya dynasty began constructing a Hindu temple in the area around 775 CE. However, they may have been driven from the site by the Sailendra dynasty and unable to finish the temple. Some Javanese historians believe the Sailendra and Sanjaya dynasties are the same family and that religious support changed due to personal beliefs.

The real cause for the abandonment of Borobudur is unclear, and the reasons for its abandonment remain unknown, but there are several theories. Some theorize that volcanic eruptions in the area caused the Mataram Kingdom to move its capital away from Borobudur in the 10th or 11th century, which may have decreased the temple’s religious significance. Furthermore, the arrival of Islam in the 9th and 10th centuries and the rapid conversion to the religion in the 15th century may have diminished Borobudur’s importance to the Javanese who converted to Islam. In addition, centuries of volcanic eruption and rainforest growth, among other natural events, may have caused the temple to become inaccessible.

For centuries, volcanic ash and overgrown vegetation covered the temple until the Englishman Thomas Stamford Raffles organized an expedition to rediscover it in 1814. After its rediscovery, the site became a hotspot for research and archaeological investigations.

There were several attempts to restore Borobudur. The first restoration took place from 1907 to 1911, and the second restoration was completed by 1983. In 1968, Indonesia and the United Nations worked to launch a campaign to restore Borobudur, and over the next 15 years, $20 million was raised to support the plan. After massive efforts to reclaim statues and return stones, Borobudur was cleaned, rebuilt, and reopened to the public.

Architecture
Borobudur temple stupas
Stupas at Borobudur Temple.

The Borobudur Temple Compounds was built with roughly 2 million cubic feet of gray volcanic stone. It was also made without using any cement or mortar and constructed by interlocking blocks. There are approximately 1.6 million blocks of volcanic rock used to create the temple compound. It resembles a stepped pyramid with three levels — a square base, a middle level, and an upper level. There are five square terraces on the middle level and three circular terraces on the upper level.

The Borobudur’s design is in Gupta architecture and reflects India’s influence on the region while also incorporating indigenous Indonesian elements. The monument has the largest number of Buddhist sculptures of any single site in the world. There are statues of the Buddha on 72 openwork stupas, which surround the circular platforms. Stupas are commemorative mounds in Buddhism that typically have holy relics.

The site consists of the Borobudur Temple and two smaller temples located east — the Mendut Temple and Pawon Temple. All three temples symbolize the path to attaining Nirvana, with the Mendut Temple containing a giant sculpture of Buddha surrounded by two bodhisattvas.
Spiritual Significance
Buddha statue at Borobudur
A Buddha statue at the Borobudur Temple Compound.

The Borobudur Temple Compounds resemble a lotus, which is the sacred flower of Buddha. A bodhisattva has to go through 10 stages before reaching Buddhahood. The 10 mounting terraces symbolize these stages. Borobudur was built to resemble a three-dimensional mandala, which is a diagram of the cosmos used for meditation, and a symbol of the universe.

Detailed relief sculptures convey a physical and spiritual journey to help guide people towards higher states of consciousness. These sculptures recount the Buddha’s teachings, his past lives, and stories from Buddhist scriptures. At the top of the temple lies a large central stupa, which symbolizes the enlightened mind.

Every level represents a stage towards enlightenment. To embark on this spiritual journey, an individual starts at the eastern stairways and walks clockwise around each of the monument’s nine levels before reaching the top, which in total equals a distance of three miles. Each level represents a higher plane of consciousness.
Kamadhatu (the realm of feeling)

The lowest level, which is partially hidden, is the structure’s base and contains hundreds of reliefs of earthly desires and the law of cause and effect. It showcases human behaviors such as robbing, torture, and killing. This level is the lowest realm of the Buddhist universe.
Rupadhatu (the realm of form)

The next level is five square terraces that contain a series of reliefs carved along four galleries that showcase the specific life events of the Buddha and scenes from his previous lives. On these levels, there are 328 Buddha statues and 1,212 decorative panels.
Arupadhatu (the realm of formlessness)

The upper level, which has three circular terraces leading to a central stupa, represents the detachment from the physical world and rising above the earth. It has very little decoration and is less ornate, signifying purity. There are 72 bell-shaped stupas lining the terraces, many of which contain a statue of the Buddha.
Threats
Borobudur tourists
The high traffic footfall is a threat to the World Heritage Site.

Today, Borobudur is a popular tourist destination and the site of Buddhist pilgrimage. However, environmental and security issues and the high volume of foot traffic due to tourism are threats to the site. The temple compound lacks any control of commercial activities and lacks an adequate tourism management strategy.

The plants that had covered Borobudur for years also protected it from extreme weather. The restoration cleared this vegetation and exposed Borobudur to Java’s harsh temperatures and weather conditions. As a result, Borobudur experienced more damage throughout most of the 19th century than the thousand years before. The building stone is deteriorating at a growing rate.

The Borobudur Temple Compounds is a UNESCO World Heritage Site of spiritual significance to the Buddhist religion and was designed as a three-dimensional path to enlightenment. Many experts believe it was built in the 8th and 9th centuries and abandoned for centuries before its rediscovery in 1814. It has experienced damage due to the elements, and the increase in tourism remains a significant threat to the monument.

ASI expert claims discovery of two lost vajrasanas in Bodhgaya

Different emperors and kings had down the centuries installed three so-called diamond thrones or enlightenment thrones under the famous Bodhi (peepal) tree

An Archaeological Survey of India expert has claimed to have discovered the two lost vajrasanas or “diamond thrones” of the Buddha in Bodhgaya, one lying broken and unnoticed in the Mahabodhi Temple compound and the other installed in a nearby Hindu shrine.

Different emperors and kings had down the centuries installed three so-called diamond thrones or enlightenment thrones — stone slabs with intricate engravings — under the famous Bodhi (peepal) tree in Bodhgaya to mark the Buddha’s attainment of enlightenment at the spot.

All three were treated as symbolic relics of the Buddha and together formed a focal point for prayers.

Currently, only the first of them — built by Emperor Ashoka around 260 BC — is installed there while the other two have been missing for over a century. The Kushanas are believed to have installed the second throne in the first or second century AD while there’s some dispute over who built the third, which was installed in the seventh century AD.

By the time Alexander Cunningham, the first director-general of the ASI, began excavations at the Mahabodhi Temple in 1880-81, all three had gone missing from under the Bodhi tree.

Cunningham found them underground during his excavations and reinstalled the one Ashoka had built under the Bodhi tree. What happened to the other two remained a mystery until Shanker Sharma, ASI assistant superintending archaeologist who is in charge of the archaeological museum at Bodh Gaya, claimed to have found them.

Sharma told The Telegraph he had stumbled on what he believes are the two missing thrones in February this year, but the second wave of the pandemic soon closed the temple and prevented verification by independent experts.

Following the reopening of the Mahabodhi Temple in end-August, Sharma has sent invites to archaeologists and historians specialising in Buddhist matters to come and see the two purported vajrasanas he has found.

He is also preparing a report for his ASI seniors and will be presenting his findings at the 20th annual conference of the Indian Society for Buddhist Studies, to be held from October 1 to October 3 in Nalanda.

“I was going through Cunningham’s excavation records. While he discovered all three vajrasanas and reinstalled the one that belonged to Ashoka’s time, the other two simply fell off the radar and were forgotten,” Sharma told this newspaper. “This got me thinking about their whereabouts.”

He consulted Cunningham’s excavation records, Buddhist texts and the travelogues of Chinese pilgrims Fa Hien or Faxian (AD 399-414) and Hiuen Tsang or Xuanzang (AD 637) for descriptions of the thrones and started scouting for them in and around the Mahabodhi Temple.

He says he found the Kushan-era throne “at the Vageshwari Devi (Saraswati) temple, located to the east of the Mahabodhi Temple”.

“It’s worshipped by the Hindus and matches the descriptions found in excavation records and travelogues,” Sharma said.

“It was carved out of grey stone and is largely intact with some signs of weathering and possible marks of vandalism. It’s circular, with a 173cm diameter and a thickness of 21cm.”

The third vajrasana too was made of grey stone. Sharma says he found it abandoned under a tree inside the Mahabodhi Temple complex, bearing signs of vandalism and exposed to the forces of nature that have obliterated the intricate designs on it.

“Nearly half of it is broken. The part that remains is 146cm long, 68cm wide and 16cm thick,” Sharma said.

The carvings on the second and third thrones included those of lotus petals, other flowers, creepers, vajra (thunderbolt), animals as well as geometrical shapes, dumbbells, concentric garlands, scrolls and pillars. All these have a tradition of being used in Buddhist art and architecture.

The Ashoka-installed throne is a rectangular one made of red sandstone and is engraved with geometrical

designs including diamond shapes. It is 7 feet and 6 inches long, and 4 feet and 10 inches wide.

“They are among the most sacred objects of worship in Buddhism. If they are stolen or damaged, it would be a big loss to the nation,” Sharma said, adding that they should be “immediately moved to safety”.

Mahabodhi Temple head priest Bhikku Chalinda said the Ashoka-built vajrasana predated the shrine and was the centre of attraction for pilgrims.

Asked about the discovery of the two other vajrasanas, Chalinda said: “Archaeologists are saying this. One of them is at a nearby temple, which is not under our authority. The other is under a tree inside our temple compound. We’ll decide in a few days what to do with it.”

He said there was no decision yet on retrieving the other throne from the Hindu temple.

“The discovery of the two vajrasanas is very important. Now that Shanker Sharma had brought them to light, there will be discussions and further research on them,” Anant Singh, a professor at the School of Buddhist Studies, Nalanda University, said.

1,600-year-old Buddha statue’s feet restored in NW China

The restoration of the feet of a 1,600-year-old stone Buddha in Tianti Mountain Grottoes has been completed.

The Buddha statue of the site’s No.13 grotto in northwest China’s Gansu Province was built on fragile red sandstone beside a reservoir. Years of water seepage and weathering damaged parts of the statue, including the feet.

The restoration project was launched in May 2020 by Dunhuang Academy, a national research institute established to protect the renowned UNESCO world heritage site of the Mogao Caves.

The most difficult part to repair was the feet, which had suffered severe water damage, Qiao Hai from the Dunhuang Academy said.

Workers drained water from the floor and rocks surrounding the stone Buddha, removed loose rock chunks, figured out the original size and features of the badly damaged feet, and brought it back to its former glory, according to Qiao.

The project can help protect the foundation of the historic statue and restore its overall integrity, Qiao said.

Some of China’s oldest, the Tianti Mountain Grottoes are often referred to as the “ancestor of grottoes” in the Chinese academic world. The grottoes were first built in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420) and are under state-level protection.

Asian Art Museum in US explores Korean culture through portraits

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The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco is showcasing the first major exhibition of Korean portraits from past to present, exploring the identity and legacy of Korean history and culture.

Titled “Likeness and Legacy in Korean Portraiture,” the exhibition kicks off on Friday and runs through Nov. 29, featuring a variety of Korean portraitists from the Joseon era (1392-1910) to works reflecting today’s selfie culture.

“What makes Likeness and Legacy unique is that we move beyond a specific moment in time to pair the traditional draft paintings with a selection of finished portraits on silk as well as contemporary approaches to portraiture by Korean and Korean American artists,” said Hyonjeong Kim Han, associate curator of Korean art at the Asian Art Museum.

“This allows visitors to understand how the role of portraiture has evolved in establishing identity and legacy, and to see how portraits navigate the shifting boundaries between the individual and the collective, especially in the larger context of Korean culture and recent history,” she added.

The highlight of the exhibition is a series of portraits of “bunmu” — which refers to renowned military — from the Joseon era. The portraits were initially commissioned in 1728 by King Yeongjo as a reward for quelling an armed rebellion that threatened the young regime.

The set of eight drafts presented at the exhibition are the works of an additional series of portraits of the original sitters recommissioned in 1751. The portraits of bunmu officials still alive in 1751, which show them at a later stage in life, is in stark contrast with those of the officials who had already passed away, as they could only be drawn based on the initial portraits in 1728.

The portraits are valuable works in Korean art history as they show the astonishing level of precision of official Korean portraiture under the influence of Confucian ideals, capturing and reflecting the sitters’ personalities with individualized and incredibly detailed facial expressions.

Works by Korea’s renowned contemporary artists including Yun Suk-nam and Suh Do-ho are also part of the exhibition. Suh’s photographic prints “High School Uni – Face: Boy” and “High School Uni – Face: Girl” are layered composites of student portraits taken from yearbooks in the decade before strict dress codes were relaxed.

The two students in the photographic prints appear to be a standardized appearance of a typical student at the time. Suh aimed to express the pressures of conformity in Korea’s educational system.

Self-taught painter Yun Suk-nam has been a formative presence in Korea’s art scene since the 1980s, creating art that advocates women’s rights. Using her imagination, Yun painted portraits of female activists in Korean history who have long been neglected by historians and did not leave behind any official portraits.

Yun presented portraits of 16th-century female poets Heo Nanseolheon (1563–1589) and Yi Mae-chang (1573–1610) at the exhibition, creating intimate renderings that project the inner power of these no longer forgotten women.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by the Asian Art Museum featuring original research and essays from Hyonjeong Kim Han, Soomi Lee, Kyungku Lee, and Robyn Asleson. The softcover catalogue can be ordered online through the museum’s online store.

Yungang Grottoes opens one more cave with statue of Buddha and his son

After 40 days of digital information collection, No.19 cave, one of the earliest caves of Yungang Buddha Grottoes, opens to the public on Saturday with heartwarming statues of Sakyamuni and his son.

The two statues were on the west wall of the cave, depicting the moment Sakyamuni meets his son Rahula. The huge statue of the Buddha Sakyamuni has his left hand on top of Rahula’s head and has a warm smile on his face.

They are the highlights of the No. 19 cave and seem to be the most heartwarming statues of the whole Yungang Grottoes, one of China’s most famous Buddhist temple grottoes located in northern Shanxi Province.

A sitting-Buddha statue that occupies a large area of the No. 19 cave is the main statue. Standing 16.8 meters tall, it is the second-tallest Buddha of the Yungang Grottoes.

Most of the rest area of the cave is covered with the “thousand-Buddha” statue – over 4,000 smaller-sized Buddha statues – the second-largest number of Buddha statues after the No. 15 cave, or the “Ten-thousand Buddha cave.”

The works are in the process of being digitized for archival and protection purposes. The project started in 2003 and comprises “the use of 3D scanning and other digital technologies to comprehensively collect information about the grottoes, establish digital archives for further protection and research,” Ren Ningbo, a manager at the Yungang Research Institute, explained.

The archival aspect of the project is expected to be completed by 2025.

The first 3D-printed Yungang Grottos exhibited in Hangzhou, east China’s Zhejiang Province, November 2020. /CFP

Built during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), the Yungang Grottoes have over 1,500 years of history and are one of China’s biggest Buddha Temple Grottoes. The site has 45 major caves and more than 1,100 small niches with over 59,000 statues of varying sizes.

Yungang Grottoes was listed on the World Cultural Heritage List by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2001.

UNESCO fears the fate of 800,000 art objects in the Afghan National Museum

Colombo, August 23 (Ceylon Today): The Muslim fanatics’ absolute yearning to destroy everything opposed to what they mistakenly believe to be “Islam” has been witnessed at an unprecedented magnitude in the 21st Century.

The vehemence of the hatred imbedded in the hearts of fanatics was displayed in two acts of destruction in the year 2001, the attack on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001 and the destruction of the giant Buddha statues in Bamiyan in Afghanistan itself in March 2001.

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The willful destruction of the Bamiyan statues was described as the most spectacular attack against the historical and cultural heritage of Afghanistan committed during Taliban rule. On 26 February 2001, the Taliban fanatics, then headed by Mullah Muhammad Omar, issued an ‘ulama’ decree ordering the elimination of all non-Islamic statues and sanctuaries in Afghanistan.

That was followed by launching what they called a “jihad” against the two Buddha statues, the one to the East 38 metres high, and the other to the West, 55 metres high, hewn into the cliff of Bamiyan.

It took several days for the fanatics to destroy the world’s tallest Buddha statues. Taliban spokesman described the difficult task with the words, “Our soldiers are working hard; they are using all available arms against them.” Rockets and tank shells were brought in to help, and the destruction was completed with dynamite. On March 14, the Taliban issued a public announcement that the giant Buddha statues had been destroyed.

Taliban rule was marked by strict and unwavering adherence to the medievalist version of Islam and its intolerance towards non-believers, idol worshippers and idols. Furthermore, moderate Muslims who failed to comply with the Taliban’s tyrannical interpretations of Islam were humiliated and punished, and in some cases even killed.

Similarly, the non-Muslims in Afghanistan lived under constant fear of persecution. The destructive acts of Taliban had shocked the world, including moderate Muslims. Mullah Omar’s decree to destroy Bamiyan statues had prompted many attempts by countries across the world and moderate Muslim clerics and Heads of State from among Afghanistan’s neighbors to stop its implementation. The need to preserve a cultural heritage and to respect religions was at the core of their plea.

UNESCO emissaries pleaded that a necessary distinction should be made between idolatry and exemplarity, between a secular admiration and an idolatrous veneration.

The UN General Assembly passed a resolution urging the Kabul government not to destroy Bamiyan Buddha statues. Sri Lanka’s permanent representative, John De Saram, praised the universality of the General Assembly’s plea. “It was Germany, not a Buddhist country that brought the draft resolution to the floor. It was the Buddha that moved the warrior emperor Asoka to turn from violence, the same Emperor who sent his children to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka could only hope and pray that the statues in Bamiyan would not be destroyed.”

De Saram pledged his country’s cooperation in any international effort to save the historical monuments. The resolution, of course, had Sri Lanka’s wholehearted support.

But their pleas were ignored by the fanatic rulers in Kabul. Their argument was that there were no Buddhists in Afghanistan, hence the Bamiyan Buddha statues were not a place of religious worship.

“If the statues were objects of cult for an Afghan minority, we would have to respect their belief and its objects, but we don’t have a single Buddhist in Afghanistan,” said the Mullah, “so why preserve these idols? If they have no religious character, why get so upset? It is just a question of breaking stones,” he said defending the destruction of the world cultural and religious heritage, built in the 6th Century, when Buddhism flourished in the entire region.

For 1,400 years, two colossal figures of the Buddha overlooked the fertile Bamiyan Valley on the Silk Road in Afghanistan, author Llwelyn Morgan said in ‘The Buddhas of Bamiyan’.

“Witness to a melting pot of passing monks, merchants, and armies, the Buddhas embodied the intersection of East and West, and their destruction by the Taliban in 2001 provoked international outrage.”

Carved in the sixth and seventh centuries, the Buddhas represented a confluence of religious and artistic traditions from India, China, Central Asia, and Iran, and even an echo of Greek influence brought by Alexander the Great’s armies.

Islam had replaced Buddhism as the local religion but the Buddhas were celebrated as wonders of the Islamic world. Not until the nineteenth century did these figures come to the attention of Westerners.

That is also the historical moment when the ground was laid for many of Afghanistan’s current problems, including the rise of the Taliban and the oppression of the Hazara people of Bamiyan, the author lamented.

As Taliban took control in Afghanistan last week, UNESCO expressed concern about the remaining art heritages in the country. The fears center on the 800,000 art objects currently held in the collection of Afghan’s National Museum. “We have great concerns for the safety of our staff and collections,” said Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, the institution’s director.

At present, there is no plan for moving the items out of harm’s way. “The question is how to find a safe location. There is no way for them, or the staffs, to leave the country.” “We didn’t expect this to happen so quickly,” Noor Agha Noori, head of Afghanistan’s Institute of Archaeology in Kabul lamented.

The destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas: How the Taliban obliterated the 6th-century monuments to deny their own past

The destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas: How the Taliban obliterated the 6th-century monuments to deny their own past

When the statues were finally turned into rubble, the Talibani terrorists jumped and pranced around in celebrations. They fired weapons in the air, and brought nine cows to slaughter as a sacrifice, Hussain told BBC in the interview.

Amidst the fall of Kabul and an imminent takeover of entire Afghanistan by the Taliban, shocking visuals of people making a beeline to the Hamid Karzai International Airport to flee the country have surfaced on the internet. The scare and urgency to escape a Taliban regime is a reminder of the atrocities of the times the Islamic hardliners ruled Afghanistan.

During its heydays in the late 1990s, the Taliban was a force to reckon with, controlling entire Afghanistan. From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban remained in power in Afghanistan until the US invaded the country and brought the terror organisation to its knees.

However, when it was in power, it was known for its strict and unwavering adherence to the medievalist version of Islam and its intolerance towards non-believers, idol-worshippers and even idols. Muslims, who failed to comply with the Taliban’s puritanical view of Islam, were humiliated and punished, and in some cases even killed. Similarly, the non-Muslims in Afghanistan lived under constant fear of persecution in the Taliban regime.
The Taliban orders annihilation of Buddha statues in the Bamiyan Valley

The Taliban’s bigotry towards idol worshipping was most stark in the destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas, the much-revered 6th-century monumental statues of Gautama Buddha carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley of central Afghanistan. It was, by far, the most spectacular attack against the historical and cultural heritage of Afghanistan, evoking sharp condemnation from countries across the world.

The world’s largest standing Buddha statues had survived for a millennium and a half—until the Islamists of Taliban ordered their destruction. On 27 February 2021, Talibani leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, issued a decree ordering the elimination of all non-Islamic statues and sanctuaries in Afghanistan.

The announcement was met with global criticism, with prominent individuals, including the Dalai Lama, raising concerns and asking the Taliban to refrain from destroying the historical heritage of Afghanistan. However, the international criticism did little to dissuade the Taliban from annihilating the statues, which later became a template for the Islamic State fighters to vandalise the heritage sites in Iraq.

On March 2, the Talibani terrorists embarked on their task to blow the imposing statues of Buddha in the Bamiyan Valley into smithereens. A jihad was waged against the two Buddha statues—the one to the east 38 meters high, and the other one to the west, 55 meters high—hewn directly from the sandstone cliffs. Initially, the Talibani terrorists started the demolition of the revered statues with guns and artillery. But, when it proved to be ineffective, they brought in mines and rockets to blow the statues. It took them about 25 days for the statues to be razed to the ground.
Holes were drilled inside statues to plant dynamite: Man who helped Taliban blow up Bamiyan Buddhas

In his interview with the BBC, Mirza Hussain, who was one of those compulsorily conscripted by the Talibani leaders to destroy the statues, described the efforts undertaken by the Taliban to pull down the statues.

According to Hussain, when the Taliban’s attempt to bring down the idols with guns and artillery failed, they brought in explosives by the trucks. The conscripts were then asked to carry the explosives on their backs or in their arms to the statues. Some of them were even ordered to tie the big bombs to long sticks and carry them to the site.

Hussain recalled that men spent three days planting explosives around the statues. He further added that all the wires for detonation went all the way to a nearby mosque from where the explosions were triggered amidst shouts of “Allahu Akbar”.

“The explosion sent a whiff of black smoke in the air as the surrounding smelled of burned gun powder,” Hussain remembered. He also stated that the Taliban leaders had expected to bring the entire cliff down with the explosion but the bombs had only managed to blow off the legs of the bigger Buddha idol.

However, the setback did not deter the Talibani terrorists from persisting with their efforts to bring down the idols. Additional bombs were brought in along with other explosive materials that looked like soap and felt like dough, he recalled.

From that day onwards, Hussain said, the Taliban carried out two to three explosions every day to destroy the Buddha completely. They even drilled holes into the statues to plant the explosives.

When the statues were finally turned into rubble, the Talibani terrorists jumped and pranced around in celebrations. They fired weapons in the air, and brought nine cows to slaughter as a sacrifice, Hussain told BBC in the interview.

After the destruction of Bamiyan Buddha statues, a Talibani supreme leader in his interviews preened on his organisation’s efforts to destroy the Buddhas, stating that smashing idols was in accordance with the Islamic law that calls for the destruction of idols and their worshippers.

In 2003, UNESCO had declared the cliff face as a World Heritage Site, in remembrance of the now destroyed Buddha statues. In 2013, in an event called ‘A Night With The Buddha’, 3-D holograms of the ancient statues were projected on the niches, giving a feel of how the original monuments looked like.

The destruction of the Buddhas has been regarded as a crude symbol of the obliteration of the ancient relics and heritage of the ancient land.

In Thai manuscript paintings, chariots are more than just vehicles for transportation

The chariot has special importance in religious traditions in Thailand, especially those related to royal ceremonies and funerals.

Chariots figure prominently in South and Southeast Asian art and architectural decoration. Borrowed from the Sanskrit word ratha, the chariot is called rot in Thai and has special importance in religious traditions in Thailand, especially those related to royal ceremonies and funerals.

Impressive funeral chariots on four wheels have been reserved for kings and members of the royal family since the Ayutthaya period (1350-1767). Representing Mount Meru, the tip of which reaches the heavens according to the Thai Buddhist cosmology Traiphum, such ornate and lavishly gilded funeral chariots carried equally ornate urns containing the body of the deceased to the place of cremation.

Four-wheeled chariots or chariot-like vehicles are also used in ceremonies to parade Buddha statues during Songkran (New Year) processions, as shown in the image below.

The coloured drawing of a procession of a Buddha statue in southern Thailand was commissioned in 1824 by Captain James Low who was based at Penang as an officer of the English East India Company. It depicts a realistically drawn four-wheeled cart with a superstructure in the shape of a chariot on which a Buddha statue is paraded through town.

The vehicle is pulled by twelve men and accompanied by monks and charioteers seated next to the statue, with additional men, women and children in various ethnic attires seen in southern Thailand at the time.
Illustrations from Jatakas

Depictions of chariots with four wheels are rare in Thai manuscript paintings, however, two-wheeled chariots are frequently found in illustrations of scenes from the last ten Birth Tales of the Buddha (Jataka) in which the Bodhisatta, or Buddha-to-be, uses the vehicles. They can also be seen carrying Lord Sun and Lord Moon (below) in Thai Buddhist cosmologies.

While some European influence is obvious in the illustration of Lord Moon travelling in a chariot – for example in the simplified depiction of the wheels – the parts of a typical chariot in the Thai painting style are visible: the shaft with a decorative element in the shape of a naga (serpent) head and a banner, a highly decorative seat and a “tail” in a popular design called kranok.

Illustrations of scenes from the last ten Jataka were often added to a Buddhist text on the Great Perfections of the Buddha (Pali: Mahābuddhagunā) and collections of short extracts from the Pali Buddhist canon. Each of the last ten Jataka symbolises one of the Buddha’s Great Perfections.

These texts and images were often included in funeral and commemoration books made in folding book format (samut khoi) from mulberry paper in the fashion of the 18th and 19th centuries. In some of these Jataka stories chariots play an important role.

The painting above depicts a scene from the Nemi Jataka in the style of the late 18th century. Although the Nemi Jataka – which symbolises the perfection of resolution – is not included in this manuscript, the illustration appears in the context of the Mahābuddhagunā. Before a vibrant red background with floral decorations one can see King Nemi (Pali: Nimi) on a two-wheeled chariot pulled by two horses.

The wheel of the chariot has eight spokes, similar to the Dhammchakka whose spokes represent the Noble Eightfold Path, or Middle Way of Buddhism. On one horse kneels the divine charioteer Matali, who was sent from the heavenly realm of the god Indra to fetch Nemi for a visit to the Buddhist heavens and Nemi is seen here sitting in the carriage with a small pavilion-like superstructure. However, Nemi ordered Matali to first take him to the realms of hell – shown in the lower part of the picture – so he could teach his subjects about the horrors that await evildoers.

Although illustrations from the Jataka stories were relatively standardised in Thai manuscripts, there are always variations in the choice of colours and execution of details. The example above has a bright orange background with a deity hovering in the air.

Two horses are jumping over a skeleton, but apparently, the painter had some difficulty with perspective since the hind legs and tail of only one horse are visible. The chariot, harness and garments of the deity and charioteer are decorated with gold leaf.

During the 19th century, Thai painters seem to have enjoyed greater freedom to change details or to include their own ideas in their works. The illustration below depicts King Nemi on a glorious chariot that is pulled by only one horse.

For the background, the artist chose plain black, perhaps to highlight the fact that hell is a dark and hopeless place. An interesting element in this illustration is the charioteer’s conical white hat that is a traditional headgear worn by Thai nobility and royal Brahmins.

The features of horses appear more realistic in 19th-century illustrations, and often some Western influence is visible in the painting style. The picture below has a bright blue background with white clouds executed with simple brush strokes.

In the clouds, however, there are rooftops of heavenly palaces painted in the conventional Thai style. The chariot has no superstructure, but a wheel with a unique arrangement of spokes. Matali is depicted with green skin, possibly to emphasise the fact that he is a divine charioteer sent by the god Indra.

Another popular Jataka involving a chariot scene is the story of Prince Temiya, who as a child pretended to be “crippled and mute” so he would not have to become king, a role in which he might have to commit cruel acts leading to negative Karma. Ignorant Brahmins advised the king to send the apparently disabled child in a chariot to a graveyard and bury him there.

Upon arrival at the graveyard, the young prince lifted the chariot with one hand to show his power and capabilities. The scared charioteer released Temiya at once, realising he was a Bodhisatta, who then chose a life in meditation as an ascetic. Temiya lifting the chariot is the most popular scene from this Jataka, shown in the illustration below in 18th-century painting style with a distinctive rocky landscape and a crooked tree. The scene is made particularly lively by the shocked, escaping horses.

Another example of illustrating the Temiya Jataka, from a 19th-century manuscript, is shown below: the chariot waiting to pick up Prince Temiya, who sits motionless in meditation in front of a white stone building.

The charioteer is depicted with green skin, perhaps to indicate that he was under the influence of Indra’s deities when they guided him to steer the chariot carrying Temiya through the Gate of Victory instead of the Gate of Death. The heavily decorated chariot is also equipped with two monastic fans (Thai: talaphat) and a golden offering bowl.

The Vessantara Jataka, or Great Jataka, also contains important episodes involving chariots. It tells the story of the Buddha’s last existence before attaining Buddhahood as a generous prince who showed great compassion with the needy and the poor.

One well-known episode is depicted in the painting below, from a 19th-century manuscript: when Prince Vessantara was banished from the kingdom, he departed with his wife and children in a horse-driven chariot to set up a hermitage in the forest. However, on the way, some Brahmins asked for the horses which Vessantara gave them as a gift. Deities sent by the god Indra immediately transformed themselves into deer to replace the horses and pull the chariot.

Prince Vessantara is seen on the chariot which is only half shown. The realistically painted deer that is pulling the chariot has a golden harness, similar to those worn by the white horses which are being taken away by the Brahmins. This excellently executed illustration in 19th-century painting style has a calm light pink and light green background.

Another popular episode of the Vessantara Jataka is the return of the prince and his family to the royal palace, followed by his ascension to the throne. In contrast to the two-wheeled chariots in most Jataka illustrations, the scene below depicts an extravagantly decorated, glorious chariot with four wheels and a gilded pavilion-like superstructure in which Prince Vessantara is seated.

Also kneeling on the chariot are his wife Maddi with their two little children, as well as Prince Vessantara’s parents who welcomed them back into the palace. They are wearing golden headgear as a sign of royalty. At the back of the chariot one can see two gilded monastic fans. Below are four attendants in commoners’ outfits accompanying the procession.

Symbolic functions

In all these Jataka illustrations, chariots are more than just vehicles for transportation: they also fulfil symbolic functions. In the Nemi Jataka the chariot is a means to travel between the Three Worlds (Traiphum) of the Thai cosmos – human realm, heavens and hells.

In the story of Prince Temiya, the chariot is used to express the hero’s physical power and metaphorically his mental strength and moral stature as a Bodhisatta. The chariots that appear in the Vessantara Jataka are vehicles in which the Buddha-to-be goes through pivotal changes, from a life of luxury and convenience in the royal palace to a life of sacrifice and hardship as a hermit in the wilderness and then back from a hermit to becoming a righteous Buddhist king.

Installation of Shakyamuni Buddha Statue on Sacred Tuvan Mountain Begins

Installing the head of Shakyamuni Buddha on Dogee Mountain. From facebook.com

The long-awaited installation of a golden Shakyamuni Buddha statue on the slopes of the sacred mountain Dogee in Tuva began in July, Sholban Kara-ool, chairman of theTuvan government announced on social media recently. The project has been realized by the residents of the Buddhist republic under the leadership of Buyan Bashky, president of the foundation behind the construction of the statue, and chairman of the Administration of the Association of Buddhists of Tuva.

“This high mission of constructing an image of the Buddha became one of the main goals of Buyan Bashky’s life, overcoming trials and working on his own inner world,” Kara-ool stated in his social media message. “To make such a statue and bring it to the top of the historical mountain is a symbol of the revival of the Buddhist faith and the spiritual growth of the people of Tuva.”


Work in progress. From facebook.com

Work in progress. From facebook.com

Dogee Mountain (from the Tuvan word дөгээлен, “to lie”) is the main natural attraction of the Tuvan capital, Kyzyl. Located close to the city, on the right bank of the Yenisei River, the mountain rises more than 1,000 meters and the peak offers magnificent views of Kyzyl and its surroundings. The beautiful landscapes of the mountain are combined with historical traces: petroglyphs left by the Scythians, ancient tribes of nomadic warriors who flourished between 900 BCE and 200 BCE in what is now southern Siberia.

Dogee is a symbol of Buddhist revival in Tuva, with the mantra of compassion Om Mani Padme Hung inscribed over an area of 120 meters by 20 meters into the slopes of the southwestern ridge using stones painted white. The mantra was laid out in 2006 with the help of the most senior Buddhist monastic in the Tuva Republic, the Fifth Kamby Lama Jampel Lodoy,* the Tibetan monastery of Gyudmed, and the Enerel Foundation.
The installation team. From facebook.comThe installation team. From facebook.com

Jampel Lodoy proposed the idea of ​​erecting a Buddha statue on the top of Dogee Mountain in 2008. Construction of the statue began in 2011, funded by the residents of Tuva. According to the project design, the Buddha will be seated in a posture of meditation upon a throne in the form of a lotus flower set on a pedestal. Initially the height of the statue was proposed to be about 40 meters, then 21 meters, but in the end the designers stopped at a height of nine meters. The pedestal is divided into two parts, including an 11×8-meter inner chamber. The plan is to have a temple on one side, and 100 tonnes of grain placed on the other side, which, according to Tuvan Buddhist belief, symbolizes wealth. The temple is planned as a chapel where pilgrims can pray and perform rituals.

The erection of the golden statue of Shakyamuni atop Dogee is of great religious significance for Tuvans. The Buddha gazing toward Kyzyl is expected to bring positive energy, peace, prosperity, and good luck to all residents of the republic. The auspicious location also means that the Buddha statue will be visible from across the city and outskirts of Kyzyl.

Mumbai: Museum to preserve fifth century Buddhist relics from stupa in Sind

The museum has 297 artefacts of the lost Kahu Jo Daro Buddhist stupa

Mumbai: A year before its landmark centenary comes up in 2022, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Prince of Wales Museum) is preparing to unveil a lost treasure of Indian history. The museum will preserve and document its century-old collection of Buddhist relics from Sind that point to a unique period in the history of Undivided India.

The museum possesses 297 remains of the lost Kahu Jo Daro Buddhist stupa of Mirpurkhas that date back to the 5th century CE. The artefacts include statues of Buddha and Kuber as well as fragments of terracotta bricks. The remains will be transferred into conservation-grade storage units this year. In 2022, they will be researched, documented and a selection will go on display. Research findings will be published in 2023.

Kahu Jo Daro is one of the finest examples of Indo-Roman terracotta art and architecture of the pre-Independence era. Reportedly 10,000 Buddhists lived in monasteries in the region.
Museum director Sabyasachi Mukherjee said, “In 1909-10, two caskets of these relics were excavated by Henry Cousens, superintending archaeologist of ASI, and member of PoW museum committee. Many of the remains were deposited here.”
“The size of the sun-dried bricks led experts to believe the original structure was built during the Mauryan era of Emperor Ashoka. It is also said the ashes of Buddha or his disciples were found here. This collection will be of particular interest to the Sindhi community because it shows Buddhist influence over Sind in the pre-Islamic era,” he said.

Bank of America has donated Rs 25 lakh for the task. Kaku Nakhate, president and India country head, said, “Supporting art and culture is an important area of our social investment. The restoration of Kahu Jo Daro is another step we are taking with CSMVS to conserve our rich heritage.”