Buddhist mural survives Taliban

The Asahi Shimbun, July 22, 2005

Tokyo, Japan -- Japanese researchers discovered a colorful, centuries-old Buddhist mural in a stone cave in Afghanistan that somehow escaped the destructive rampage of the Taliban regime in 2001, officials in Tokyo said.

<< The recently discovered caves near the Bamiyan ruins. (Courtesy of National Research Institute for Cultural Properties)

The cave, about 3 meters wide, 3 meters deep and 2 meters high, is located at the west end of Bamiyan Valley, according to officials at the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.

Parts of the mural are still caked in soot and other substances, but the painting is believed to cover all sides of the cave as well as the ceiling, the officials said.

The west wall depicts Buddha and other sitting figures drawn with bold strokes.

The style of the mural indicates it was drawn in the seventh or eighth centuries, according to the officials.

"The discovery is extremely significant in attempts to replace the lost Buddhism properties (of the area)," said Kosaku Maeda, professor emeritus of Asian cultural history at Wako University who joined the mission.

The mural features circular patterns typical in Buddhist art and common in Central Asian silk fabrics. This indicates that such motifs might have spread to Asian countries through the Bamiyan Valley, the officials said.

Part of the mural contains gold lines, they added.

The team's mission, organized by the institute, is to preserve artifacts and other treasures in the Bamiyan Valley. The area was the site of two 1,500-year-old towering Buddha statues that were demolished by rockets and explosives in March 2001 under the Taliban's orders to destroy all statues offensive to Islam.

Vandals and looters have also ravaged the area.

The researchers have discovered other murals amid the debris, including one on the ceiling of a collapsed cave near the foot of the mountainside where the Buddhist statues were carved, the officials said.

"Many stone caves could still be buried under the accumulated earth and sand," said Kazuya Yamauchi, head of the Regional Environment Section at the institute's Tokyo office.

The Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley were inscribed on UNESCO's List of World Heritage in Danger in 2003.