If you meet the Buddha on the road... Blow him up?

Swat BuddhaThe BBC is reporting that Islamic militants in Pakistan have attacked another ancient (and rather large) statue of the Buddha. As with the Taliban attacks, which successfully destroyed other ancient Buddhist statues, this attack was carried out using explosives.

The image in question is the largest in Asia after the two Bamiyan Buddhas and is over 2,000 years old. It was only minimally damaged in the blasts due to its position and the rock around it.

As some may recall, this region is home to a number of Ancient Buddhist kingdoms, which were the descendants of the Greek-ruled kingdoms created by Alexander the Great. The most famous of these is Gandhara, which I believe ruled over the Swat valley where this statue resides.

Gandhara is home to the earliest depictions of the Buddha as a human being. Earlier imagery used Buddhist symbolism but avoided depictions of the Buddha as a man. These depictions show a strong influence from Greek artistic traditions.

I have a couple of examples below from the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, where they have a large section of Buddhis art. These are pictures that I took last year:

Gandhara Buddha 1

Gandhara Bodhisattva 2

Gandhara is also the home to some of the earliest surviving written copies of Buddhist sutras, which have been discovered buried in recent years. Because of this history of the region and it being a strong point where the Greek culture of the West met with the cultures of India, I’ve always found this area to be fascinating.

The destruction of the heritage of this region is a barbaric act. These statues have withstood thousands of years, including the Muslim conquest of this region. Why destroy them now except as an act of short-sightedness and hatred?