Conservation: Defaced Buddha sculpture gets facelift

Published: June 26, 2012
The nearly 20-foot-tall sculpture was defaced by the Taliban in 2007.

The nearly 20-foot-tall sculpture was defaced by the Taliban in 2007.


To mark their territory in Swat, the Taliban destroyed almost every structure that did not fit into their convoluted plans. Apart from the schools, multimedia shops, and government offices, the seven-century-old Buddha rock-carving in Jahanabad also took a share of their ire.

The Taliban tried to demolish the nearly 20-foot-tall sculpture in 2007 and managed to disfigure a portion of the Buddha’s face. The issue garnered criticism from the international community, as the sculpture has been dubbed as the second largest rock-carving of Buddha, after the one in Bamyan valley of Afghanistan, which too the Taliban managed to deface.

But much to the liking of the international community, the structure has been conserved by the Archaeological Community Tourism (ACT), under a joint project of Italian Archaeological Mission and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Department of Archaeology and Museums. The project was funded by the Italian government through a debt-swap agreement with Pakistan.

Conservator Fabio Colombo, who was selected to restore the Buddha sculpture after his success in restoring the sculpture in Afghanistan 2004, said the complete restoration of the Buddha face depends upon finding its broken fragments. “We found only two broken fragments of the Buddha face; if we find more pieces we will be able to restore the face in a better way,” he said. He added that the entire structure has been consolidation and cleaned, and a crack formed by the blast has been treated and glued.

A PhD scholar of conservation and cultural heritage management, Faryal Ali Gohar, appreciated the initiative to conserve the seated Buddha sculpture. “The philosophy behind the conservation is not only to repair the damaged parts of the sculpture, but to re-establish the antiquity of the sculpture which has had profound significance in this valley during the climax of Buddhism,” she said. She added that the restoration also signifies re-establishing the writ of the state.

“Seeing the sculpture especially at dusk is a profound experience. It almost seems like the Almighty wished to showcase to the world and for us to acknowledge that there was a community of people here who believed in harmony, peace and tolerance,” said Gohar. She further said that it is now the responsibility of the K-P government to provide security to such archaeological sites. “We have to respect our heritage which is very old, particularly in K-P,” she added.

K-P Department of Archaeology and Museums Director Dr Shah Nazar Khan said he was grateful to the Italian mission for doing a “tremendous job” of conserving the historical site. He said that the Buddha sculpture in Jahanabad holds immense importance in the history of Swat, K-P, Pakistan and the Buddhist world. “It is our duty to protect, conserve, and rehabilitate archaeological sites not only from human hands but also from natural hands,” said Khan, adding that this department has initiated 11 such projects across the province.

According to Dr Luca Maria Oliveri, the head of the Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan, all information and material of the ACT projects will be displayed in the new Swat Archaeological Museum. The museum is being constructed by ACT and will be completed by the end of this year.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2012.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (16)

  • usmanx
    Jun 26, 2012 - 8:11AM



  • Rajendra Kalkhande
    Jun 26, 2012 - 8:14AM

    Awesome site. I wonder if there is any book on “Pictorial History of Buddhist sites in Pakistan”.


  • Akhtar
    Jun 26, 2012 - 9:41AM

    such shame that what our religion destroys is restored y those who we hate most…. we should be ashamed of what we have become


  • malik
    Jun 26, 2012 - 9:47AM

    Waste of time, money and energy.

    In 2014, Taliban will be back in full force and these statues will be blown up to pieces once again.


  • JS
    Jun 26, 2012 - 10:27AM

    @malik: if it were that simple these statues, carvings, and rock art would not have survived over a thousand years. Woe to the nation that denies its history!!


  • Malatesh
    Jun 26, 2012 - 10:30AM


    Taliban tried to demolish the
    nearly 20-foot-tall sculpture in 2007

    Its 1997 not 2007.


  • Shahid
    Jun 26, 2012 - 10:44AM

    The Italian Mission always come out great and helping hand. Love it


  • Babur Sohail
    Jun 26, 2012 - 10:48AM

    Islam is the religion of peace and harmony. It does not allow us to intervene our suppress forcefully to the people of other creeds.
    Its great to see some normalcy in the region where brute taliban had dominance/occupation.


  • Zeeshan Sheikh
    Jun 26, 2012 - 2:17PM

    Very sad news. I would destroy every false deity if I could.


  • Jai
    Jun 26, 2012 - 4:11PM

    What a bunch of primitives. These carvings are the world’s collective heritage. Pakistan could generate so much revenue and create jobs for it’s people from tourists coming from around the world to see these monuments if they provided an atmosphere of peace. Yet these primitives create a culture of hate, war, desperate poverty and fear and destroy priceless pieces of history because it does not fit into their narrow view.


  • Mj
    Jun 26, 2012 - 5:53PM

    @Babur Sohail:
    Then why is the title of ‘butshikhan’ considered a positive one in our country?


  • Zalmai
    Jun 26, 2012 - 6:47PM

    Sultan Mahmud Ghaznawi was known as butshikan or idol destroyer in his heyday. He pandered to the clerics to legitimize his rule in those days and it is sad that we are still on the same trajectory almost a thousand years later.We cannot behave like uneducated brutes in this day and age and deny our heritage and history.

    We had a glorious Hindu, Buddhist and Zoroastrian culture in this region prior to the advent of Islam and we need to own up to it.


  • Jun 26, 2012 - 7:49PM

    The greatest tragedies of human history of recent times have been the emergence of fundamentalists with twisted ideologies. Taliban have been one of the most prominent ones. It was not enough to kill people who did not adhere to their views or stop girls from attending schools, they had to go and destroy and deface the history and cultural heritage of the land. The rock carved Buddha statues have been part of the landscape for centuries. They reflect the rich heritage of the land. These stone carvings were not being worshiped by any people but were homage to the people who lived there once and their craftsmanship. Even at the request of the world communities including the Muslim world, the Taliban went ahead and destroyed what was preserved as history for centuries.

    Are we not identified by our heritage and by our culture? These people wanted to destroy anything and everything that had been dear to a common man. For them, it is not about taking lives but taking the soul as well. This is the reason we have been advocating that all parties concerned have to work together and neutralize the evil forces of fundamentalism, so our lives and our history and heritage can be preserved for coming generations.

    LTC T.G. Taylor
    DET-United States Central Command


  • Jugni lal.
    Jun 26, 2012 - 9:06PM

    U.S.A army bombed five thousand old Babylonian heritiage site in 2003 and then many historic
    places of worship and even bomb Najaf great mosque of Ali (son in law of prophet Muhammad
    peace be upon him) then what is the diffrence left bet them.


  • ono musalman.
    Jun 26, 2012 - 9:10PM

    In spain old mosques of Andulusia were demolished and even converted to churches and izrael distroys so many old mosques in land of palestine and Babery mosque in Ayudia india
    got demolished by civilized hindus its allright nothing happend but…………..


  • Zahid
    Jun 27, 2012 - 10:30AM

    Until we learn tolerance (the basic theme of Islam), we can never go advance in any field


More in K-P