The Bâmiân Buddhas

Reports on the destruction of two colossal statues of the Buddha— one about 175 feet high, the other 120 feet—reported in a number of papers signals the loss of one of the most significant treasures of Buddhist art.  These statues reflect the dominant role played by Buddhism in the region from the third century BCE, evidenced from inscriptions by Emperor Ashoka at Lampâka and Kandahâr, to the time when these statues were created, probably in the seventh century CE.

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Reports on the destruction of two colossal statues of the Buddha— one about 175 feet high, the other 120 feet—reported in a number of papers signals the loss of one of the most significant treasures of Buddhist art.  These statues reflect the dominant role played by Buddhism in the region from the third century BCE, evidenced from inscriptions by Emperor Ashoka at Lampâka and Kandahâr, to the time when these statues were created, probably in the seventh century CE.  Kanishka (first century CE), was a supporter of Buddhism, especially the Sarvâstivâda School of Buddhism. It is quite possible that the statues reflect Kushana art, especially when compared to the headless statue of the Emperor Kanishka. 

Furthermore, it was during the period of the first century BCE to first century CE that Mahâyâna Buddhism made its appearance.  Also, images of Shâkyamuni Buddha made their appearance for the first time in Mathura and Gandhara.  

The name Bâmiân first appears in the fifth century in Chinese sources when pilgrims such as Fa-hsien, whose travels to India and beyond lasted from 399-414 CE, and after him, Hsüan-tsang (602-664). During this period, the town of Bâmiân was a center for Buddhism and remained so until the eighth century, when the rulers of the area converted to Islam.

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Besides the town being a Buddhist center for seven centuries, Bâmiân was also a prosperous caravan town on the road from Bactria to Taxila  (Takshashila). It was this prosperity that made it possible for the construction of the two colossal Buddhas in the region. The question as to which Buddha is represented—Shakyamuni or one of the Mahâyana Buddhas—is usually not mentioned in the descriptions of the statues, but it is possible that both represent the Sun-Like Buddha (Vairochana).

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