London: A team of conservationists studying fragments of the destroyed Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan has discovered that prior to the advent of Islam, the statues were overpainted several times and were once intensely colourful.
"The Buddhas once had an intensely colourful appearance," says Erwin Emmerling, who heads Restoration, Art Technology and Conservation Science at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM), Germany and whose team is working on the fragments.
The world had watched in horror as Taliban fanatics 10 years ago blew up the two gigantic Buddha statues that had since the 6th century looked out over the Bamiyan Valley in what is now Afghanistan.
Conservationists now say the outer robes, or sangati, were painted dark blue on the inside and pink, and later bright orange, on top. In a further phase, the larger Buddha was painted red and the smaller white, while the interior of the robes was repainted in a paler blue.
The graphic reconstruction undertaken by the TUM researchers confirms ancient traditions: sources as far back as the 11th century speak of one red Buddha and one moon-white, according to a TUM statement.
The other parts of the figures may possibly have had a white priming coat, but that can no longer be proven beyond doubt.
The statues themselves were hewn out of the cliff. However, the flowing garments were formed by craftsmen using clay, which was applied in two or three layers. The remains display an astonishing degree of artistic skill.
"The surfaces are perfectly smooth - of a quality otherwise only found in fired materials such as porcelain," says Emmerling.
"These have survived not only nearly 1,500 years of history, but even the explosion in some parts," adds Emmerling.