Jahanabad: An Italian archaeologist, Luca Olivieri, has come to the rescue of the 1500 years old rock carving of Buddha in northwest Pakistan that was blown off by Talban five years ago.
The 6-meter (nearly 20-foot)-tall image near the town of Jahanabad is getting a facelift by Olivieri and his partners. The Buddha statues were attacked by Taliban on September 11, 2001 with the help of dynamites.
Apart from giving the facelift to the Buddha statues, several other archaeological treasures in the scenic Swat Valley are also being excavated and preserved.
Extremists have a history of targeting Buddhist, Hindu and other religious sites, which they consider un-Islamic.
The Jahanabad Buddha, etched high on a huge rock in the 6th or 7th century, is one of the largest such carvings in South Asia. It was first attacked in the fall of 2007 when the Pakistani Taliban swarmed across the scenic Swat Valley. The Army drove most of them out two years later, but foreign tourists who used to visit the region still tend to stay away.
Olivieri himself had to leave in 2008 after more than two decades of tending to the riches dating back to Alexander the Great and the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim invaders who followed. The 49-year-old head of the Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan returned in 2010 and is back at work.
Taliban militants climbed ropes to insert explosives in holes drilled into the face and shoulders of the Jahanabad Buddha, said Olivieri. The explosives in the shoulders failed to detonate, but the others blew off most of the face above the lips and cracked other parts of the carving and surrounding rock.
Olivieri and his team began work this month on fixing the cracks and what’s left of the face. A full reconstruction is impossible because detailed documentation and fragments of the face are lacking.
“Whatever you do in the absence of perfect data is a fake,” said Olivieri, who says he has wanted to be an archaeologist since age 6 and still brings a youthful exuberance to his work even as his beard grows gray.
Olivieri’s mission is funded by the Italian government, which works with local Pakistani antiquities authorities. It has uncovered over 120 Buddhist sites among Swat’s soaring hills and rushing rivers.
Of roughly 200 Buddhist rock carvings in Swat, the Jahanabad Buddha was among the few to survive with its face intact for so long, said Olivieri.
Most were defaced centuries ago by Muslim invaders who, like the Taliban, consider Buddha a false idol.
Maulana Shamsur Rehman, a leading politician in Swat, says the attack on the Buddha should never have happened. Islam preaches freedom and protection for followers of all religions, he told a news agency, and “in line with Islamic rules, nobody should have an objection to the repair work on the Buddha statue.”
(With Agency Inputs)