Buddha’s Oil Paintings in Bamiyan [Afghanistan]

Country: Afghanistan

THE world’s largest standing sandstone Buddha statues were blown up in the Bamiyan valley cliffs in 2001, about1,700 years after their conception. With that, the origin of the oil painting technique was requestioned by discoveries made in 50 caves.

For a long time, political conflict and wars have taken precedence in Afghanistan over Archaeological research. Thankfully, the blowing up of these statues allowed for some light to be shed in this area.

Bamiyan is a town located in central Afghanistan at the foot of the Hindu Kush mountains,  and about130km northwest of Kabul, the country’s capital. It lies on the Silk Road, a route linking the markets of Western Asia with China.

As the world chimed in to condemn the outrageous works of the Taliban, other treasures were uncovered in the destruction. 50 caves were found to have walls decorated with religious frescoes, believed to have been made between the 5th and 9th centuries AD. These might have been painted by monks at the monasteries who were living as hermits in caves carved into the sides of the Bamiyan cliffs. After all, Bamiyan had been a Buddhist religious site from the 2nd century up to the time of the Islamic invasion in the 9th century.

Or perhaps, travellers passing through the Silk road might have been responsible for these paintings? Whichever the case might be, the technique of oil painting had originally been thought to have been born between the 14th and late 15th century in Flanders and Italy.

Now, Scientists had to rethink their beliefs.

When research was conducted on the paints found in the Bamiyan caves, organic matter was revealed, like resins or animal glues which were used as binders to make the paint stick to the walls. The American team also found an oil manufactured from walnuts or poppy seeds used in the paintings. Their research will help them in understanding how these artefacts can next be best preserved.

Their attempt at Preservation is challenged by the Buddhist concept of Impermanence- Annica.

Somehow, I cannot help but wonder if Buddha migh have peacefully smiled upon the Taliban’s insensitive act of blowing up the statues. Might he ever have thought that they did him a favour in helping him with his teachings?

By blowing up the statues, they created a great spectacle to reinforce the point that nothing in this world is permanent- even the Bamiyan Buddhas.


Feature Image: West Buddha surrounded by caves, 175 feet high (photo: © Afghanistan Embassy)


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