BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Urdu Hindi Pashto Bengali Tamil Nepali Sinhala

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: South Asia  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Friday, 6 September, 2002, 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK
The hunt for Bamiyan's third Buddha
Excavation site in Bamiyan
The excavations are now over for this year
There was an international outcry when the Taleban blew up two ancient statues of Buddha last year, but few then imagined that there might be a third statue in the same valley.

If found, it will be the world's eighth wonder, the world's largest statue

Professor Tarzi
An Afghan-born archaeologist from France believes there is - buried somewhere under the earth of the Bamiyan valley - and has dedicated his life to finding it.

Professor Zemaryali Tarzi of Strasbourg University thinks the missing statue described in the journals of a 7th Century Chinese explorer is bigger - some 300 metres (1,000 feet) long.

Rock niche where one of the Buddhas once stood
The Taleban said the statues were "un-Islamic"
He and his excavation team took advantage of the defeat of the Taleban, and rushed to Bamiyan to dig for it.

Although a row with the local military commander has forced them in the last few days to pack their bags and leave, Professor Tarzi hopes to return next year with permission from Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai or Vice-President Karim Khalili.

The archaeologist says the third statue - dubbed the Sleeping Buddha because it is shown reclining - is hidden in the shadow of the rock niches which housed the other two statues.

Reclining statues are a popular representation of Buddha and depict the final moments of his earthly existence as he enters the state of nirvana.

Click here to see how big the Buddha is

If found, "it will be the world's eighth wonder, the world's largest statue," he told BBC News Online.

Professor Tarzi worked on projects to restore the other Bamiyan Buddhas in the late 1970s and has spent most of his career researching the existence of the missing giant.

"I believe that the writings of [Chinese scholar] Xuanzang indicate that it is east or south-east of the smaller Buddha on the site of a former monastery," he said.

It's like looking for a whale in the ocean

Professor Tarzi

The excavation has been carried out by a French team with the help of specialists from the Afghan Culture Ministry and financial support from the French Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The Taleban blew up the smaller statues (55 and 39 metres respectively) amid widespread international condemnation because they believed that they were un-Islamic idols.

Digging the rubble

The excavation work is difficult as the third statue is thought to be made of clay which would have slowly fragmented over the centuries.

As Islam became more prominent and the influence of Buddhism faded in the area, the monks in the area may have sought to protect the statues by burying them in the ground.

Research workers examine collected specimens from the site
Tarzi hopes to find enough fragments to rebuild the Buddha

But Professor Tarzi hopes to find enough fragments and some of the foundations to be able to reconstruct the statue.

Any clues as to its location are buried under the rubble at the bottom of the rockface, the result of centuries of erosion and the recent explosions.

"It's like looking for a whale in the ocean. Without radar, it could take years," Professor Tarzi says.

He believes Xuanzang's text is reliable, as it gives the exact measures of the two destroyed Buddhas and has been substantiated by other sources.

He also uses relief observations and talks to local people to help him in his search.

"Nothing is certain in archaeology; one must verify theories; we don't have any magical way of seeing through the rubble," he says.

Ancient treasures

The destroyed Buddhas, carved into a mountainside at Bamiyan in the heart of the Hindu Kush mountains, were among Asia's great archaeological treasures.

Bamiyan history
2nd-5th Century
Statues carved
7th Century
Islamic conquests
20th Century
1978: Civil war
1998: Taleban seize area

In antiquity, central Afghanistan was strategically placed to thrive from the Silk Road caravans which criss-crossed the region trading between the Roman Empire, China and India.

One of the stopping-off points was the old kingdom of Kushan, whose people were responsible for carving the Buddhas.

A cultural, artistic and religious capital, Bamiyan used to be a place of pilgrimage and the focus for religious donations of all kinds.

As well as the giant Buddhas, thought to be royal donations, a number of monasteries containing large statues were built into the cliff, and some 10,000 grottos built by smaller donors.

Buddha compared to Eiffel Tower

Click here to return

Ancient Afghan buddhas

Key stories


See also:

10 Apr 02 | South Asia
09 Apr 02 | South Asia
01 Mar 02 | South Asia
30 Jan 02 | South Asia
13 Nov 01 | South Asia
12 Mar 01 | South Asia
02 Mar 01 | South Asia
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more South Asia stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more South Asia stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |