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.