SOS to Unesco as rain endangers ancient Buddhist sites

Follow the link in the text to see images of the site at the fine Asian Historical Architecture website (from which the photo is taken), also click through to the notes on the site at livius.org. – Buddhist art news

TAXILA, Aug 28: The recent rains have caused severe damage to scores of priceless stucco sculptures of the Buddhist period (4–5th century AD) at Taxila valley’s Mohra Moradu Stupa and Monastery which could have been saved had the archaeology department taken necessary steps to protect them.

This site is among the three most important of Taxila’s 18 Buddhist remains containing a rich collection of stucco sculptures and figures of Buddha which were still intact in the cellars of the monastery before the torrential rains.

The Mohra Moradu Monastery is located in a small valley between the ancient city of Sirkap and Jaulian, the site of the famous Buddhist University.

The site was savaged by treasurehunters who split apart the main stupa in the hope of finding gold inside. However the lower portion of the stupa buried under the ground remained protected as the vandals could not reach there and was found in good condition when the site was excavated by John Marshall in early 20th century. The stupa is famous for the many bas-reliefs of Buddha that adorn its base. The monastic cells around the stupa though badly crumbled yielded a treasure of stone stupas.

The settlement had been restored briefly before it was abandoned, after the invasion of the White Huns at the end of the fifth century. Unesco put this site on its list of the world cultural heritage sites in 1980. But the officials of Federal Department of Archaeology and museums, the custodians of the cultural heritage of the country, neglected the maintenance of the protective sheds which are all in a poor state and have exposed the sculptures and images to the ravages of the current monsoon rains.

A large number of these precious figures are now crumbling and may turn to dust if their decay is not stopped by necessary restorative work.

Mohammed Afzal, the caretaker of the monastery, said the weather beaten sheds built decades ago have developed holes and cracks through which water flows into the cellars and damages the ancient pieces of art. The sheds are not in a repairable condition and need to be replaced entirely. He said he had informed the higher au thorities about the condition of the sheds.There was seepage in the walls of the cellars which was highly dangerous for the sculpted antiques.The cell walls could collapse any time. One source at the Taxila office told this correspondent that higher officials were aware of the alarming situation at the site. He said last year a huge amount was spent on building a wall, iron grill and guard room under the Taxila to Swat Preservation and Restoration Project but no preservation work was undertaken as it was lengthy, technical work which did not yield any ‘profit’ for the authorities, whereas new constructions were lucrative for the managers.

When contacted, Deputy Director of Federal Department of Archaeology and Museums Bahadur Khan had the usual explanations for the neglect and damage to the antiques. He said due to financial problems the department was unable to undertake the expensive preservation and restoration work.

About the rain damage to sculptures at Mohra Maradu stupa, he said the matter had been reported to Ministry of Culture for provision of funds to save the stucco sculptures from further destruction. He said an SOS call had been made to Unesco and other donor agencies of Japan, Korea, France, Italy and Buddhist countries to help save these sites as the country in its present crisis could not do this job alone.

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2 responses to “SOS to Unesco as rain endangers ancient Buddhist sites

  1. Pingback: Tricycle » Not to be an alarmist…

  2. Pingback: Buddhist Art News: “SOS to UNESCO as Rain Endangers Ancient Buddhist Sites” « Rev. Danny Fisher

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