Residents of Bamiyan, Afghanistan witnessed the fantasies of science and technology over the weekend of June 5. They got the chance to see something they had lost forever - giant Buddhas that have been piles of rubble for over a decade. They stood magnificently in front of their eyes, as though having risen from the ashes.
3D projection technology has been used to resurrect dead music legends and pipe busy politicians into campaign rallies, and now it has been used to recreate a historical and cultural icon that presided over this valley in Afghanistan for over 1500 years.
The two Buddhas of Bamiyan were constructed in the sixth century, at a time when the area was a site of pilgrimage and learning for Buddhists. Both Buddhas were carved out of sandstone cliffs and stood at well over 100 feet, and at one time gleamed over the valley. They managed to survive the introduction of Islam and the armies of Genghis Khan, but waned in the face of Taliban's evil. The Taliban destroyed the Buddhas in March 2001.
" These idols have been gods of the infidels," declared Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, while marking the statues for destruction.
" First they fired at the Buddhas with tanks and artillery shells, b ut when that was ineffective, they planted explosives to try to destroy them," recalled an Afghani who participated in the attacks. When the Taliban finally achieved their task, they fired shells in the air and danced in the streets. Those statues withstood centuries, they saw empires rise and fall, and then all at once came crumbling to the ground. In an odd way science and technology was their bane and boon, they were destroyed and resurrected by the power of innovation.
A close-up view of the Large Buddha niche in Bamiyan | Source: Reuters
Frederic Bobin wrote in the Guardian , " The void left by the two destroyed Buddha figures is appalling, it rouses an emotion almost more powerful than their once tranquil presence did for centuries". In the ensuing years since the destruction, UNESCO authorities, Afghani people and local officials have tried to come to consensus over the best way to address the devastation.
After a decade of arguing, authorities finally settled on a solution - from an unlikely source. According to Ali Latifi, a Kabul-based journalist for the Los Angeles Times who witnessed the 3D projections, the holograms, cast projectors mounted on scaffolding, are the work of a Chinese couple who are currently travelling the world and filming a documentary.
The couple was deeply hurt by the destruction in 2001 and decided to add Bamiyan to their itinerary. The couple made all the arrangements before travelling to the valley, once they got the clearance from the Afghani officials, they made their way to the country. The projections were not widely publicised, but over 150 people came to see the spectacle. Latifi said the crowds stayed well into the night and some even played music while others looked on.
The fleeting restoration of Afghanistan's Buddhas comes at a time when the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria is in grave threat of destruction by the Islamic State militants. Videos have emerged of ISIS militants rampaging through a museum in the Iraqi city of Mosul and destroying artifacts that date back even further than the Bamiyan Buddhas.
Reproductions like Afghanistan's laser Buddhas are inadequate substitutes for destroyed artifacts, but they can nevertheless defy that destruction and preserve some measure of cultural patrimony.
Feature image source: Reuters