Politics or Religion?

The Bamiyan Buddha Tragedy of 2001

Bamiyan History

The Bamiyan Buddhas stood in a valley that has seen great changes through the centuries. One of its most vibrant periods was also one of its earliest. During the ancient period, this region served as an important point along the Silk Road which created a place where cultures mixed and influences were highly varied. These influences included China, ancient Rome, and India. The area was mostly home to the Buddhist religion though. The religion was born in the approximate area and flourished in the Gandharan region, which includes the Bamiyan valley. This area hit a peak with Emperor Chandragupta Maurya and even furthered its power and wealth during the rule of Ashoka, who was not only a great ruler but also a practitioner of Buddhism.

Buddhist monasteries were not the most usual of structures in this era, around the 5th Century CE. Monks would usually live in carved out caves or grottoes that were connected to or near chaityas, which were sanctuaries also carved out of the living rock. The Bamiyan valley is full of these caves and inside them many pieces and works of art can be found. Most frequently statues were created or paintings done on the wall, almost all devotional in nature. The colossal Bamiyan Buddhas were extraordinary examples of this artistry on a scale that went unsurpassed in the history of Buddhist art.


Image courtesy of Hadi Zaheer


The style in which the Buddhas in the Bamiyan valley were created was a mix of the prevailing styles of artistry in the area. The main influence was the Gandharan style of Buddha sculpture. As the examples here show, emphasis was placed strongly on the shape a garment takes on the human form. Other influences that were incorporated into the creation of the Bamiyan Buddhas were those of classical Greek and Roman sculpture. This region is even known for a specific style of art called Greco-Buddhist art. These influences came from the Silk Road and also the invasions of Alexander the Great in the 4th Century BCE. The Greco-Buddhist style grew over a vast time period and during ever-changing political climates. The Bamiyan Buddhas were created at the end of this time period during the Kushan empire, known for its further blending of cultures and identities.


Images courtesy AsianArt.com and AaoArts.com

Website created by Beth Hankes for World Politics 116 at Mount Holyoke College. Contact: bhhankes@mtholyoke.edu