BUDDHISM IN AFGHANISTAN
The Buddhist stupas, monasteries and the massive statues carved out of a sand rock at Bamiyan in the heart of Afghanistan were the wonder of tourists, scholars and connoisseurs of art and culture and scholars are no more, devastated by the Islamic Fundamentalists' Taliban terrorist regime of Afghanistan, notwithstanding the international plea against this iconoclasm, unleashed on the cultural heritage of the ancestors of the present day people of Afghanistan.
Afghanistan, situated in the midpoint of Asia and the cross-roads between the north and south, cast and west and in the famous "Chinese Silk Route" due to its geographical position became in bygone times the rendezvous of different peoples and various civilisations, namely Aryan, (Bactrian or Rivedic), Achaemenian, Greek, Kushan and Buddhist. The cumulative effect of this cross-cultural fertilisation found its expression in different schools of art, embodying techniques borrowed from different lands and climes, but modified and remoulded according to the ethos of the Afghan people. The Greek culture found its paths into Bactrian art in the fourth century BC, when the country became a part of the vast Macedonian Empire and came to be totally influenced by the Greek culture and philosophy.
In mid-third century BC during the reign of Emperor Asoka of India, Buddhism found its way into Afghanistan. It was in Afghanistan that Greek realism and Surrealism intermingled with Indian mysticism, giving birth to a new school of art now accepted by the world as the Gandhara School of art, which had its epicentre at Hadda, six miles south of modern Jalaalabada (Nangahara of Buddhist era) in Afghanistan. In the second century AD with the ascension of Kanishka to the throne, Afghanistan became a great seat of Buddhist learning and the arts. It was from this pivotal centre that Buddhism reached Sinkiang, China and Mongolia. Kanishka, being intellectually convinced of the realism is and pragmatism of Buddhism became a Buddhist and later became a very liberal, generous and steadfast promoter of Buddhism and Buddhist art and culture.
During his long and epoch-making rulership (120 to 160 AD), Buddhism and Buddhist art and culture became the life-blood of his far-flung empire. Consequently, the famous Gandhara or Graeco- Buddhist school of sculpture progressed by leaps and bounds. This new school on Afghan spill defied the Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, and his images became the cynosures of worship and veneration to the exclusion of primitive modes of worship.
In Afghanistan, Buddhism compromised with many elements of foreign culture and gave them a Buddhist outlook. The old schools of art never "idolized" Buddha but was represented by an empty seat, a footprint, an umbrella, riderless horse or even a vacant throne. According to the new techniques of art that bred on Afghan soil, Buddha came to be portrayed in human form, with aesthetically rich serenity and compassion on the face and the entire body, inspiring the worshipper to take the path of the Four Sublime States of Buddhism: Loving-kindness (Metta), Compassion (Karuna), Blissful Joy (Mudita) and Equanimity (Upekkha).
Kanishka had two capitals: Capsie (modern Bagrain, 35 miles north of Kabul), has summer residence, and Purushapura (modern Peshawar), his winter palace. He being the indefatigable promoter of Buddhism built stupas and monasteries very specially in these two locations, and elsewhere in his vast empire. In Peshawar, Kanishka built a beautiful Sanghararna (monastery like the Mahavihara of Anuradhapura) with a lofty stupa of about 150 feet in height, a most breath-taking construction of the time. Capisa was dotted with viharas and statues. One of these, Shalokia, was built by his Chinese princess who was taken as a hostage and kept in Kanishka's court. This monastery was in a state of preservation.
The famous Chinese pilgrim monk, Xuan Zang, visited Afghanistan in the seventh century AD, as attested by the pilgrim's travel notes. He describes that great many monasteries were ubiquitous in Bamiyan, and the smaller statue at Bamiyan (35 metres in height) and the stupa at its feet (no longer in existence) which were to become the cynosure of the Buddhist past of Afghanistan. Bamiyan valley in those far-off days was a great seat of culture, comparable to Nalanda, Ajantha, Ellora, Odanpura, Wikremashila of India and Mahavihara, Abhayagiri Vihara Jetawana Vihara of Anruadhapura of Sri Lanka and also to Cittalapabbata of Mahagarna of Rohana, in the southern province of Sri Lanka.
Bamiyan, lying on the trade route linking India with Balkh, through which trade in spices, pearls, ivory and cotton raw material were traded and it was also on the famous Chinese Silk Route, that linked Mid-west Asia with the Chinese Empire and other East Asian empires. History has it that the pearls, gems, cotton ivory and spices were from Sri Lanka being transited through South Indian ports from the great port of Sri Lanka, Mahatittha (Mannar) on the west coast of Sri Lanka. now a buried port city. This trade rendezvous of Bamiyan continued until the invasion of Genghis Khan in the early part of the thirteenth century and as very correctly said by Jawaharlal Nehru in his book, Discovery of India "The dagger of Islamic invasion went through the heart of India" and this was fate of Afghanistan too.
Bamiyan is only 145 miles north of Kabul and a motor-road, now occupied by the Taliban demons, leads to it through the picturesque valleys of Kohdanan and Ghoraband. At a distance of about 110 miles from Kabul there is a deep ascent, named Shibar Pass, which is snow-capped in winter. About 19 miles ahead of this Pass, the road branches off, one to the right leads to Mazar-Sharif and Katghan, while the other to the left leads to Bamiyan. The road to Bamiyan runs parallel to the river of Barmiyan and girdles the range of hills. After six miles and old mud fort
on a steep rock is called the city of Zahak-I*Msran.
From thenceforth, the valley widens and the city of caves, where once reclusive Buddhist monks would have lived in meditation, appears. This is the historic city of Bamiyan, lying at the foot of a reddish hills, some 9,000 feet above mean sea level, which also forms the dividing line between the gigantic mountain ranges - the Hindu Kush and the Koh-i-Baba. The valley of Bamiyan, sunk deep in the pleateau. is between 8,000 and 9,000 ft above sea mean sea level To the south is the snowcapped range of Kh-i-Baba range running to 16,000 to 17,000 feet. The passes the hilly ranges, valleys and the girdling river give Bamiyan the ideal backdrop to a Buddhist centre of learning and orectic and it was undoubtedly a glorious centre of Buddhism, that enveloped the entire Afghanistan, until Islamic invasions took over Afghanistan.
Little is left of the ancient city, being victimised by barbaric fundamentalists and still the capital exists, known now as Shahr-iGhulghols (City of Uproars). Gigantic statues of Buddha (53 and 35 metres in height) with smaller ones in different directions are carved out of the sedimentary rock on the sides of the Bamiyan gorge. These statues once coated with reinforcements to withstands the rigours of climatic changes in this hilly terrain, were a source of inspiration and religious fervour for the sore-footed weary pilgrim who, trotted over the land with just a sack tied to a walking stick and held on the shoulder, for there were no vehicles to travel but just a donkey to be their pack animal and cornpanion through the desolate human unfriendly terrain and weather gods.
Xuan Zang, who saw these stupendous monasteries and statues and other Buddhist artifacts in 630 AD said very laconically and implicitly, "The Golden Line Sparks on Every Side". The two masdove statues (175 ft and 125 ft in height) were begun in the second century AD under the patronage of Emperor Kanishka and the several others. probably in the fourth or fifth centuries AD. The niches of the Buddha statues carry, now marred, beautiful frescoes, giving the archaeologist a pointer as to the path arts of India found its way to Afghanistan and percolated it with Greek, Roman and Sassanian elements prior to it being it conveyed to China and Japan through Sinkiang.
The early Moslem writers (prior to the thirteenth century AD) speak in glorious terms. One writer, Yaquibi, describes it in detail and mention the frescoes that adorned the niches of the caves where statues of the Buddha were depoited. He says, the inhabitants called the big statue the "Red Buddha" and the smaller one the "Grey Buddha".
Early in the thirteenth century, the city of Barmiyan and ill its inhabitants were swept off the face of the valley by Genghis Khan. the Mongol. The legend has it that his grandson, Mutugen, son of Jaghati, was killed in action during the siege of Bamiyan. When the town surrendered after a long and arduous battle. Genghis, the revengeful fiend of fundamentalism in its early dressing ordered that no living being, man or animal, was to be spared. The ruined town was named Mao - Baligh (The Bad Town). How true are the words of the savant Jawaharlal Nehru, today it is not the dagger but gun powder and mortars that destroy the Buddhist cultural heritage of their own ancestors by the barbaric Taliban. It is time that the all governments of the world take cognisance of this "Cultural Cleansing" and action similar to those in Kosovo "Serbia Ethnic Cleansing" be taken against the Taliban, as the freedom of religion and cultural heritage of the human race are in jeopardy and other similar organisations would take a leaf off the book of Taliban demons.
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