2,000-Year-Old Buddhist Temple Unearthed in Pakistan

The structure is one of the oldest of its kind in the Gandhara region

Archaeologists in northwest Pakistan’s Swat Valley have unearthed a roughly 2,000-year-old Buddhist temple that could be one of the oldest in the country, reports the Hindustan Times.

Located in the town of Barikot, the structure likely dates to the second century B.C.E., according to a statement. It was built atop an earlier Buddhist temple dated to as early as the third century B.C.E.—within a few hundred years of the death of Buddhism’s founder, Siddhartha Gautama, between 563 and 483 B.C.E., reports Tom Metcalfe for Live Science.

Luca Maria Olivieri, an archaeologist at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, led the dig in partnership with the International Association for Mediterranean and Oriental Studies (ISMEO). The excavation site is in the historical region of Gandhara, which Encyclopedia Britannica describes as “a trade crossroads and cultural meeting place between India, Central Asia and the Middle East.” Hindu, Buddhist and Indo-Greek rulers seized control of Gandhara at different points throughout the first millennium B.C.E., notes Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA).

The temple’s ruins stand around ten feet tall; they consist of a ceremonial platform that was once topped by a stupa, or dome often found on Buddhist shrines. At its peak, the temple boasted a smaller stupa at the front, a room or cell for monks, the podium of a column or pillar, a staircase, vestibule rooms, and a public courtyard that overlooked a road.

“The discovery of a great religious monument created at the time of the Indo-Greek kingdom testifies that this was an important and ancient center for cult and pilgrimage,” says Olivieri in the statement. “At that time, Swat already was a sacred land for Buddhism.”

In addition to the temple, the team unearthed coins, jewelry, statues, seals, pottery fragments and other ancient artifacts. Per the statement, the temple was likely abandoned in the third century C.E. following an earthquake.

Barikot appears in classical Greek and Latin texts as “Bazira” or “Beira.” Previous research suggests the town was active as early as 327 B.C.E., around the time that Alexander the Great invaded modern-day Pakistan and India. Because Barikot’s microclimate supports the harvest of grain and rice twice each year, the Macedonian leader relied on the town as a “breadbasket” of sorts, according to the statement.

Shortly after his death in 323, Alexander’s conquered territories were divided up among his generals. Around this time, Gandhara reverted back to Indian rule under the Mauryan Empire, which lasted from about 321 to 185 B.C.E.

Italian archaeologists have been digging in the Swat Valley since 1955. Since then, excavations in Barikot have revealed two other Buddhist sanctuaries along a road that connected the city center to the gates. The finds led the researchers to speculate that that they’d found a “street of temples,” the statement notes.

According to Live Science, Buddhism had gained traction in Gandhara by the reign of Menander I, around 150 B.C.E., but may have been practiced solely by the elite. Swat eventually emerged as a sacred Buddhist center under the Kushan Empire (30 to 400 C.E.), which stretched from Afghanistan to Pakistan and into northern India. At the time, Gandhara was known for its Greco-Buddhist style of art, which rendered Buddhist subjects with Greek techniques.

APSARA National Authority restores three Buddha statues at Bakan tower of Angkor Wat temple

The APSARA National Authority has been restoring three more Buddha statues at Bakan tower of Angkor Wat Temple, after the restoration of a statue.

The restoration project began in early February 2022 and is scheduled to take five months to complete, said the authority in a news release.

The Buddha statues at Bakan tower have been damaged due to natural factors as well as bat urine, and the moisture and salinity of the urine damaged the statues, explained Mr. Soy Sophearin, Technical Officer of the Department of Conservation of Monuments and Preventive Archeology of the APSARA National Authority, adding that the team removed the old net to replace the new one. Hopefully, he said, the bats will no longer be able to stay at the above location.

The project to restore the Buddha statues is a cooperation between the APSARA National Authority and the private sector.

In November 2020, experts of the APSARA National Authority completed the restoration of a Buddha statue in the south of Bakan tower. Phal Sophanith – AKP

Sino-Tibetan gilt bronze tops seasonal Asian art sales in UK regions

Sino-Tibetan gilt bronze tops seasonal Asian art sales in UK regions

The highest single price posted in the regions during the autumn series of Asian art sales was the £380,000 bid at Duke’s (25% buyer’s premium) in Dorchester for a monumental Sino-Tibetan gilt bronze devotional figure of Tara broadly dated to the Qing period.

Standing 2ft 5in (72cm) high, she is modelled seated on a lotus-leaf base with beaded borders, the face and headdress retaining a large proportion of the original polychrome decoration.

According to the family, this impressive gilt-bronze left Russia after the Revolution and then remained with the family in London. The estimate had been £30,000-50,000.

Qing cloisonné Tibetan-style ewer – £190,000 at Duke’s.

Catalogued as ‘early Qing or later’, a cloisonné Tibetan-style ewer took £190,000 at Duke’s on December 8.

Standing 8in (20cm), vessels such as this – inspired by earlier kundikas with lotus scroll ornament following early Ming cloisonné vessels – are believed to have been produced for Buddhist altars in the palaces and temples of Beijing and Chengde, where the Qing court had its summer retreat. It had been estimated at £3000-5000.
‘Palace loot’

The sale at Lyon & Turnbull on November 5 was topped at £40,000 by a 6½ x 5in (17 x 13cm) Qing cloisonné plaque mounted on a later fitted wooden stand. One side was enamelled with a pair of birds perching on a flowering tree against a navy blue ground; the reverse depicted a walled garden surrounded by water with hills and a pagoda.

It came for sale from a Scottish collection with a handwritten letter from an ancestor suggesting it was originally in the Imperial Palace and looted by the Anglo-Franco troops in 1859 [sic]”.

Cloisonné table screen – £40,000 at Lyon & Turnbull.

Cloisonné table screens are relatively uncommon and most published examples appear to have Daoist subject matter as the main theme. A comparable plaque of similar size and dated to the 17th or early 18th century was offered in Bonhams New York in September 2021, selling as part of property from the foundation established by New York collector Asbjorn Lunde (1927-2017) at a more modest $3500 (£2700).

Petal-form gilt-metal box set with panels of turquoise enamel – £40,000 at Keys.

A good example of 18th century Beijing enamel topped Keys’ (20% buyer’s premium) sale in Aylsham on November 24.

This 18in (39cm) diameter petal form gilt metal box set with panels of turquoise enamel was not in perfect condition (part of the iron red Qianlong mark to the base was missing in an area of loss) but it was a rare shape and size. A Chinese buyer fought off the London trade to buy it at £40,000 (estimate £1000-1500).

Mausoleum of Han Dynasty emperor found in China’s Shaanxi

A large-scale mausoleum in Xi’an, capital of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, has been identified as belonging to Emperor Wendi of the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC-AD 25), local authorities said Tuesday.

The mausoleum, located in Jiangcun Village on the eastern outskirts of Xi’an, is surrounded by more than 100 ancient tombs and outer burial pits. Excavation has been carried out in the area since 2017, with numerous relics unearthed including dressed pottery figurines, crossbows, and official seals.

The mausoleum has no grave mound, and there are four ramps leading to the entrance of the burial chamber placed 2 to 4.5 meters underground. The chamber, with its base 27 to 30 meters below the ground, is 74.5 meters long and 71.5 meters wide.

The mausoleum is similar to those of the other two Western Han Dynasty emperors in terms of structure and scale, with traces of historical evolutions, said Ma Yongying, a researcher with Shaanxi Academy of Archaeology, adding that historical documents also support the archaeologists’ claims.

Rumors had it that Emperor Wendi’s tomb is situated in a nearby location called Fenghuangzui, just north of Jiangcun Village.

The discovery of the mausoleum puts an end to this long-running rumor which emerged due to the discovery of an ancient stone tablet with inscriptions in Fenghuangzui.

However, archaeologists did not find any signs of construction in Fenghuangzui during their investigation and concluded that the area is nothing more than a naturally formed loess ridge.

Emperor Wendi, with the personal name Liu Heng, was famous for his frugality and benevolence. Under his more than 20 years of rule, the dynasty’s economy prospered while the population saw an expansion.

The mausoleum is among three major archaeological findings unveiled by the National Cultural Heritage Administration (NCHA) in Beijing on Tuesday.

The list also includes ruins of a residential area in Luoyang, central China’s Henan Province, which dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). During that period, cities were strictly divided into residential quarters and commercial areas by walls.

The site, measuring 533.6 meters in length and 464.6 meters in width, reflects the traditional Chinese philosophy on city planning, and is of great significance to studying the political system and social life during the dynasty, according to the NCHA.

The other site is a tomb complex located in Wuwei City, northwest China’s Gansu Province, which belonged to the royal families of Tuyuhun, a neighboring kingdom of the Tang empire.

The complex possesses the only well-preserved tomb of the Tuyuhun royals discovered so far. Over 800 pieces of objects including textiles and pottery figurines found in the tomb have been preserved through laboratory methods.

World Premiere of “Angkor: The Lost Empire of Cambodia” Exhibition Debuts At the California Science Center February 16, 2022

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 6, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — The world premiere of “Angkor: The Lost Empire of Cambodia” exhibition debuts at the California Science Center February 16, 2022. Through 120 original artifacts – half on tour outside Cambodia for the first time – and hands-on exhibits, guests will use the lens of science to explore the ancient empire of Angkor. Once considered the most extensive metropolis in the world, Angkor houses over 100 temples, now mysteriously quiet and surrounded by the dense Cambodian forest.

“Angkor: The Lost Empire of Cambodia,” developed by Museums Partner in collaboration with the California Science Center, the National Museum of Cambodia, and the Cambodian Ministry of Culture, uses science to reveal insights into the rise and fall of ancient Angkor as well as its enduring legacy.

Guests will learn how the tools of archaeology, from decoding inscriptions to aerial surveying and laser scanning, have enriched our knowledge about the engineering and cultural marvels of an empire, the daily life of its people, and the environmental challenges that shaped its future.

Exhibition tickets go on sale January 6, 2022 and can be purchased at https://californiasciencecenter.org/visit/admission/get-tickets.

Science Center President and CEO Jeffrey N. Rudolph notes that, “I’m pleased to collaborate with the Cambodian Ministry of Culture, National Museum of Cambodia and Museums Partner to bring the world premiere of this exhibition to the California Science Center. It shows, in a profound way, how the tools of science can advance our understanding of the ancient past and preserve cultural heritage for future generations.”

Science Center Senior Vice President, Diane Perlov, says “Our hope is that this extraordinary exhibition inspires interest not only in the legacy of Angkor, but interest in the process of science, the knowledge that science reveals, and the heritage it preserves.”

“Angkor: The Lost Empire of Cambodia” exhibition is on display at the California Science Center from February 16 through September 5, 2022, along with a visually stunning 3D IMAX movie featuring an epic adventure where science, mystery and ancient civilization intersect. Adult combo tickets for both the exhibition and IMAX movie are $25.25, with various discounts available. Exhibition tickets are $19.95 for adults and IMAX ticket prices range from $6.75 to $8.95 with additional discounts when purchasing both the exhibition and IMAX movie, and special discounts for Members, groups of 15 or more people and private events.

To buy exhibition and/or IMAX tickets call 213-744-2019 or visit https://californiasciencecenter.org/visit/admission/get-tickets. Please check the Science Center website for the latest COVID protocols.

The exhibition is set to tour nationally and internationally at the culmination of its debut at the California Science Center.

For more information on the exhibition and IMAX film, please visit californiasciencecenter.org/angkor and californiasciencecenter.org/imax/angkor-3d.

About the California Science Center

The California Science Center is a dynamic destination where families, adults and children can explore the wonders of science through interactive exhibits, live demonstration, innovative programs and awe-inspiring films. The California Science Center and IMAX Theater are located in historic Exposition Park just west of the Harbor (110) Freeway at 700 Exposition Park Drive, Los Angeles. Open daily from 10 am to 5 pm. Parking is $15 for cars.

Media Contact: Shell Amega


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Angkor: Asia’s ancient ‘Hydraulic City’

Angkor Wat attracts millions of visitors a year, but most know little of the intricate and vast water system that fed the empire’s rise and demise.

Every April during Khmer New Year celebrations, Sophy Peng, her four siblings and parents make the pilgrimage to Cambodia’s most sacred mountain, Phnom Kulen. As the birthplace of the mighty Angkor Empire, fabled Kulen’s gentle slopes hold a special place in the hearts of locals.

During religious festivals, Cambodians flock to its peak to be blessed by the same waters used to coronate kings since 802 AD. This was when empire founder Jayavarman II was washed with sacred water and declared a devaraja or God King, marking the start of the Angkor Empire. The empire went on to span much of modern-day Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, and house the world’s largest pre-industrial urban hub – the city of Angkor.

To immortalise this sacred spot that sits about 50km north of Siem Reap city, 1,000 lingas – a phallic symbol incarnation of the Hindu god Shiva – were carved into the riverbed at Kbal Spean, where water flows to the Angkor plains and into the Tonle Sap Lake. Even today, this water is regarded as sacred, and its power is believed to cure illnesses and bring luck.

“This is a very special place for Cambodians; it’s an important part of our history,” said Peng. “Every year, my family visit Mount Kulen as part of our Khmer New Year rituals. We bring food donations to leave at the temple and pour water from Kbal Spean on us to bring good luck.”

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The carved riverbed at Kbal Spean is set deep in the jungle to the north-east of Angkor (Credit: GoodOlga/Getty Images)

The carved riverbed at Kbal Spean is set deep in the jungle to the north-east of Angkor (Credit: GoodOlga/Getty Images)

Jayavarman II’s spiritual blessing marked the start of the Angkor Empire’s close relationship with water. However, it wasn’t until the capital shifted south to Rolous and then to its final resting place for more than five centuries – Angkor – that master engineers were able to use their skills to create the intricate water system that fed the empire’s rise and demise.

“The plains of Angkor are ideal for an empire to flourish,” explained Dan Penny, a researcher in the geosciences department at the University of Sydney who has extensively studied Angkor. “There are ample resources, such as good rice soil close to the Tonle Sap Lake. The lake is one of the world’s most productive inland fisheries and Angkor is sitting right on the north shore of this enormous food bowl. Angkor grew to become a success on the back of these resources.”

In the 1950s and ’60s, French archaeologist Bernard Philippe Groslier used aerial archaeology to reconstruct the layout of Angkor’s ancient cities. This revealed its vast reach and the complexity of its water management network and led Groslier to dub Angkor the “Hydraulic City”.

Since then, archaeologists have carried out extensive research into the water network and the vital role it played. In 2012, the true extent of the hydraulic system, which spans 1,000 sq km, was revealed through airborne laser scanning technology (LiDAR) led by archaeologist Dr Damian Evans, a research fellow at École Française d’Extrême-Orient.

“The missing pieces of the puzzle came into sharp focus,” said Dr Evans. “We’re working on a paper now which is the final definitive map of Angkor and shows the real picture, including the hydraulic system. Water was one of the secrets to the empire’s success.”
The Angkor Empire spanned much of modern-day Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam (Credit: Richard Sharrocks/Getty Images)

The Angkor Empire spanned much of modern-day Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam (Credit: Richard Sharrocks/Getty Images)

To craft a city of its size, the manmade canals carved to steer water from Phnom Kulen to the plains of Angkor were key to construction. They were used to transport the estimated 10 million sandstone bricks, weighing up to 1,500kg each, that built Angkor.

As well as ensuring a year-round water supply in a monsoon climate to support the population, agriculture and livestock, the hydraulic system feeds the foundations that have kept the temples standing for centuries. The sandy soil alone is not enough to withstand the weight of the stones. However, master engineers discovered mixing sand and water creates stable foundations, so the moats that surround each temple were designed to provide a constant supply of groundwater. This has created foundations strong enough to keep the temples stable and prevent them from crumbling all these centuries later.

Throughout the empire’s history, successive kings expanded, restored and improved Angkor’s complex water network. This comprises an impressive web of canals, dykes, moats, barays (reservoirs) – the West Baray is the earliest and largest manmade structure that can be spotted from space, at 7.8km long and 2.1km wide – as well as master engineering to control water flow.

There are many examples of historic cities with elaborate water management systems, but nothing like this

“Angkor’s hydraulic system is so unique because of its scale,” said Penny. “There are many examples of historic cities with elaborate water management systems, but nothing like this. The scale of the reservoirs, for example. The amount of water the West Baray holds is incredible. Many European cities could have comfortably sat within it when it was built. It’s mind-boggling; it’s a sea.”

However, while it was water that contributed to the Angkor Empire’s rise, it was also water that contributed to its demise. “It’s clear the water management network was really important in the growth of the city and led to wealth and power,” said Penny. “But as it grew more complex and larger and larger, it became the Achilles heel to the city itself.”
Master engineers created the intricate water system that fed the Angkor Empire’s rise and demise (Credit: Boy_Anupong/Getty Images)

Master engineers created the intricate water system that fed the Angkor Empire’s rise and demise (Credit: Boy_Anupong/Getty Images)

Research reveals that in the late 14th and early 15th Centuries, dramatic shifts in climate caused prolonged monsoon rains followed by intense droughts. These climate changes took their toll on the water management network, contributing to the mighty empire’s eventual fall.

“The whole city was being slapped around by these huge weather variations,” said Penny. “The scale of the network and its interdependence meant the massive disturbance of droughts and people changing the system to cope followed by very wet years blew parts apart. This fragmented the whole network, making it unusable.”

Further research suggests these weather shifts, combined with the breakdown of the hydraulic system and increasing attacks from the neighbouring Siamese, caused the capital to shift south to Oudong.

“The history books tell you the end of Angkor is because the Siamese overran it in 1431,” said Dr Damian. “I don’t think that happened. The evidence we have indicates it was more long-term. The pressure of huge droughts, the water management system breaking down, constant attacks from the Siamese and the expansion of maritime routes all contributed.”

Regardless, once Angkor was abandoned, it was reclaimed by nature. While locals were aware of the ancient monuments, they were shrouded by jungle from the rest of the world until 1860, when they were “rediscovered” by French explorer Henri Mouhot. This sparked a series of huge restoration projects that continue today.

In the last two decades, Cambodia has seen a huge increase in tourists flocking to Angkor Wat Archaeological Park to stand in the shadows of Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon temples. In 2019, 2.2 million people explored the site. The surge in hotels, eateries and visitors put huge pressure on water demand, causing drastic shortages. As the temples rely on a constant groundwater supply to remain standing, this sparked concern over the preservation of the Unesco-listed site.
Abandoned in the 15th Century, Angkor was only “rediscovered” in the 1860s (Credit: Kriangkrai Thitimakorn/Getty Images)

Abandoned in the 15th Century, Angkor was only “rediscovered” in the 1860s (Credit: Kriangkrai Thitimakorn/Getty Images)

The increase in water demand coupled with severe monsoon flooding from 2009 to 2011, triggered a mass restoration of the ancient water system. Socheata Heng, who owns a guesthouse on the outskirts of Siem Reap, recalled the 2011 floods – the province’s worst in 50 years. “It caused so much damage,” she said. “Crops were destroyed, communities had to be evacuated and the water came pouring into my guesthouse. It was devastating.”

Headed by APSARA National Authority, which is tasked with protecting Angkor Archaeological Park, the restoration project has seen many of the hydraulic system’s barays and waterways renovated, including Angkor Thom’s 12km moat, the West Baray and the 10th-Century royal basin, Srah Srang. These efforts have helped combat the water shortages triggered by the sharp rise in tourists, and also prevent the severe flooding experienced across the province between 2009 and 2011.

This means today, the vast system that dates back centuries continues to satisfy Siem Reap’s thirst by providing a constant water supply, preventing destructive flooding and providing the foundations that will keep Angkor’s sacred temples stable well into the future.

“The renovation of the barays and water systems provides water for irrigation, so they have become part of today’s agrarian landscape while also helping stabilise the temples,” said Dr Evans. “It’s truly incredible this water management system still serves Siem Reap.”

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Taliban now guard site of Bamiyan Buddhas they destroyed

Taliban gunmen now stand guard at the gaping rock cavities that once housed two ancient statues of the Buddha – desecrated with dynamite by the Islamists during their last stint in power.

The monuments in Bamiyan province had stood for 1,500 years but their destruction was ordered in 2001 by that regime – already infamous then after banning television and imposing ultra-strict rules governing the conduct of women – for being against the Muslim faith.

Hundreds of cadres from across the country spent more than three weeks demolishing the towering statues carved into the side of a cliff, sparking a global outcry.

“The Buddhas were destroyed by the Taliban authorities in 2001,” reads a bronze plaque set in the stone, while the white flag of the country’s new leaders flutters on a nearby gatehouse.

Two young fighters loiter listlessly just yards away.

Afghanistan’s new Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund was “one of the architects of the destruction of Buddhas”, according to historian Ali A. Olomi of Penn State Abington University.

Asked if it had been a good idea to blow up the statues – regarded as one of the greatest crimes against world heritage – young Taliban member Saifurrahman Mohammadi does not hide his embarrassment.

“Well… I can’t really comment,” said Mohammadi, recently appointed to the Bamiyan province cultural affairs office.

“I was very young,” he said. “If they did it, the Islamic Emirate must have had their reasons.

“But what is certain is that now we are committed to protecting the historical heritage of our country. It is our responsibility.”

Mohammadi said he recently spoke with Unesco officials who fled abroad after the Taliban takeover to ask them to return to Afghanistan and guarantee their safety.

Local officials and former Unesco employees formerly based there said that around a thousand priceless artefacts once stored in nearby warehouses were stolen or destroyed following the Taliban takeover.

“I confirm that looting did take place, but it was before our arrival,” Mohammadi said, blaming the thefts on the vacuum left by the old authorities after they fled.

“We are investigating and we are trying to get them back,” he added.

Crossroads of civilisations

The Bamiyan valley is nestled in the heart of the Hindu Kush mountain range and marks the westernmost reach of Buddhism from its birthplace in the Indian subcontinent.

Persian, Turkish, Chinese and Greek influences have also intersected there over the centuries and left behind an extraordinary built environment, much of which remains unexplored.

The statues survived a 17th-century incursion by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, and later those of Persian king Nader Shah, who damaged them with cannon fire.

Traces of them remain lying around the Bamiyan site under canvas tents, torn by the winds of the valley.

World heritage specialists are highly doubtful they will ever be rebuilt.

But the new Taliban regime insists that it wants to protect the country’s archaeological heritage, despite the global shock triggered by the images of the Buddhas disappearing in clouds of dust.

With the country’s economy reeling “they realise that the work to protect heritage provides regular income,” said Philippe Marquis, the director of the French archaeological delegation in Afghanistan.

Labourers are working at Bamiyan to put the final touches on a cultural centre and museum as part of a US$20mil (RM84mil) Unesco-backed project that was to be inaugurated with great fanfare this month.

“Now we have to see how it will work,” said Philippe Delanghe, chief of the culture programme at Unesco’s Kabul office, currently based in France.

“The current administration wants us to come back to work together. It seems pretty secure,” he added. – AFP

Should a deity have two arms or more?

The earliest Hindu iconography showing a four-armed Vishnu has been found in Malhar in Madhya Pradesh, dating to 100 BCE

In Kushan coins, minted over 1,800 years ago, we come across images of a woman holding the horn of plenty. She is identified with the Roman Goddess Fortuna, the Greek goddess Tyche, the Central Asian Ardochsho, the Buddhist Hariti, and the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. Images of Lakshmi are also found on pillars and medallions of early Buddhist stupas. She is visualised there as a bejewelled woman, standing in a pond of lotus flowers, surrounded by elephants, very similar to Lakshmi images found in Hindu homes today. But there is one crucial difference. Lakshmi images today show her as four-armed, not two-armed.

The transformation of two-armed Lakshmi into four-armed Lakshmi happened in the Gupta period, 1,700 years ago, when the old Vedic way reinforced its power by redefining itself through the Puranas, and pushed back on Buddhist popularity. The shift began in the earlier Kushan period. The rise of four-armed deities effectively marks a turning point in assertive Hindu art.

Not more than two

The earliest Indian art comes from Harappa. Here we have images of men meditating, or escaping from tigers, or leaping on bulls, and women in procession, or resolving conflicts. All human characters have only two arms. Nearly 2,000 years after the Harappan period, we have the remarkably evolved Gandharan and Mathura art, mostly Buddhist, telling stories from the life of the Buddha and folktales inspired by Jataka tales. In Mathura art, we find the earliest image of Saraswati, from a Jain site, seated with a book in her hand. She too has two arms. Here we find celestial beings with wings, heads, and bodies of horses, indicating the clear influence of Greek and Persian art. But no four-armed beings.

The earliest images of Hindu gods are found on coins. Indo-Greek coins from 200 BCE have images of Krishna holding a wheel; he is two-armed. Kushan coins from 200 CE have images of Shiva holding a trident, many showing him with four arms. But the oldest Shiva lingam at Gudimallam, Andhra Pradesh, dated to 300 CE, shows Shiva with two arms only. From the Kushan period, we have the earliest images of Durga, showing her killing a buffalo. She too has multiple arms. The Kushans were migrants from South-West China and had no religious affiliations, which is why their coins in the western edge of their empire show Greco-Roman-Scyhtian influence while their coins in the eastern edge show Buddhist and Hindu influences. By the time of the Guptas, the Buddhist influence was on the wane.

The earliest Hindu iconography showing a four-armed Vishnu has been found in Malhar in Madhya Pradesh, dating to 100 BCE. It becomes more explicit in the Hindu temple in Deogarh that dates to the Gupta period, where we find the four-armed Vishnu in three forms: riding Garuda, reclining on Shesha, and as a teacher. When he is reclining, Lakshmi is at his feet. But she has only two arms.

The sprouting of multiple arms and later, multiple heads, differentiated supernatural beings from regular humans. In Buddhist art, Brahma and Indra are often shown bowing to the Buddha. How does one know they are not just any kings or priests? Brahma is shown with four arms, establishing his divine status and Hindu roots. In early Jain art, we find four images of the Tirthankara Rishabhdev facing four directions. But in Hindu art, we find chatur-mukha lingas showing Shiva’s head on four sides. In Jain art, we do find four-armed yakshas and yakshis, but the Tirthankara is never given supernatural form. At best, his limbs are longer than usual, reaching up to the knee, an indicator of being special.

No icons here

The idea of a god with multiple heads, arms and feet is first found in Vedic literature, and finds expression also in the Bhagavad Gita where Krishna takes his cosmic form, one that pervades every corner of the universe by expanding his form and by multiplying heads, arms, legs. The Vedic priests visualised the gods but did not turn them into icons of stone and metal. Local tribes gave form to their gods, but represented them symbolically through rocks, trees, rivers, or pots and baskets filled with food and water. Anthropomorphic images, where gods have human form, came much later. And images of gods with many heads and hands came even later. Tamil Sangam literature refers to gods like Mayon and Ceyon and Perumal, with their complexion, their abode, their banners, and sacred animals, but does not mention multiple arms.

Supernatural beings

The Mahayana and later the Tantrik schools introduced the idea of supernatural beings with multiple heads and arms into Buddhist art. But the form was associated with Bodhisattva, who is still to attain Buddhahood. He sprouts many heads and hands to see, hear and help the many suffering souls of the cosmos. On attaining Buddha status, he may have giant form, but retains only two arms.

Adi Shankaracharya is said to have established the worship of goddess Sharda, who is identified as Saraswati, nearly 12 centuries earlier. Early 20th century prints of the goddess show her as two-armed but new prints show her as four-armed. How do we resolve this mystery? Was she a Buddhist goddess who became Hindu under Shankara’s influence? Shankara was after all described by his opponents as Prachanna Buddha or crypto-Buddhist. And he did play a key role in eclipsing Buddhism from the Indian landscape. We will never know for sure.

But what we do know is that today, Hindu gods from Lakshmi to Ganesha to Saraswati are always depicted with four or more arms. They are two-armed only when they take mortal form, like Ram or Krishna. Four arms do what the halo did in Christian art — help the viewer quickly establish who is divine, who is supernatural, and who is worthy of veneration.

Afghanistan: Years after dynamiting Buddha statues, Taliban vow to preserve empty niches in Bamiyan

A Taliban member said the Bamiyan Buddhas were destroyed in 2001 because of religious ideology.

Two monumental statues of Buddha were created on either ends of a cliff side in Bamiyan during the sixth century

The Bamiyan Buddhas were once the tallest standing Buddhas in the world

Approximately 780 historical monuments can be found in Herat Province

Kabul: The Taliban have pledged to preserve empty niches of Bamiyan Valley’s two giant Buddha statues amid concerns over the safety of ancient objects, artefacts, and museums in Afghanistan.

Culture and art professionals have not forgotten that heritage was systematically destroyed during the Taliban’s previous rule. An example is the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001 in Afghanistan.

Known as Salsal and Shamama locally, two monumental statues of Buddha were carved into the sandstone cliffs of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province during the sixth century. The Taliban forces destroyed the Buddha statues in March 2001. Salsal (the symbol of a male) and Shamama (the symbol of a female) have heights of 53 meters and 35 meters, respectively.

In a statement to local media, the Taliban said the earlier move had a specific purpose. They, however, added that currently the niches of Buddhas are being protected, which is beneficial for promoting tourism.

“As an Islamic Emirate’s official in Bamiyan, I am trying my best to preserve these priceless and historical monuments of our province,” Ariana News cited Bamiyan’s Information and Culture Directorate head Mawlawi Saif-ul-Rahman Mohammadi as saying.

According to another member of the Taliban, the Buddhas were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 because of their religious ideology.

“The Islamic Emirate did not make a hasty decision at that time [2001]. It was reviewed and researched based on Islamic laws and then they destroyed them,” Ariana News quoted him as saying.

Taliban officials had in the past said that more than 40 per cent of Afghan historical sites in Herat need immediate restoration to prevent further damage.

“Forty per cent of our historical monuments are in urgent need of restoration and preservation. But, so far, unfortunately, the country’s economy is not stable,” Director for Herat’s Information and Culture Department, Zalmay Safa, said.

Safa further stressed that the concerns would be taken into consideration once the governance issues were resolved.

Approximately 780 historical monuments can be found in Herat Province, including the Citadel, the Musalla complex, the Mausoleum of Gawhar Shad, and the Great Mosque.

National Museum to open Buddha galleries soon, arms gallery in 2 months

National Museum building on Janpath is among buildings proposed to be demolished as part of the Central Vista redevelopment project and the museum itself moved to North and South Block

The National Museum’s extensive collections are set to be displayed in new locations in the city, with galleries on Buddhist art expected to be opened within the next few weeks and work on museums of arms and armour, Freedom struggle and Jammu and Kashmir underway at the Red Fort.

The Buddhist galleries, located in the Archaeological Survey of India’s former offices next to the National Museum, were set to be opened within a week or two, a National Museum source said on Monday.

The National Museum building on Janpath is among the buildings proposed to be demolished as part of the Central Vista redevelopment project and the museum itself moved to the North and South Block. However, the plans for these projects and timelines have not been announced.

At the same time, parts of the National Museum’s collections are being moved to new galleries, including in renovated barracks at the Red Fort. The National Museum’s gallery on arms and armour of India would be shifted to the Red Fort within the next two months, the source said. In addition, the gallery on the Freedom struggle from 1857 onwards was being developed by the National Museum at the Red Fort and would take about four to five months to complete, the source noted. The Jammu and Kashmir museum was also being developed by the National Museum, the source added.

In a reply to the Lok Sabha in August, Culture Minister G. Kishan Reddy said the museum on Buddha was being “developed in a renovated century-old majestic building and spread over an area of about 15,000 square feet, surrounded by a lush green landscape”. He added it was a first-of-its-kind museum on Buddha and would include over 200 objects dating back to the 1st Century CE.

Mr. Reddy had further stated that the museum on the Freedom struggle would have an interactive approach and tell the stories of those who fought for Independence.