Afghanistan's War on Artifacts

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Conservationist Rakhaldas Sengupta devoted nearly nine years of his life to restoring the two gigantic, rock-hewn Buddhas at Bamiyan in Afghanistan. As director of conservation with the Archaeological Survey of India, he led an Indian effort in the 1970s to conserve the Buddhas, the world's tallest, standing 53 meters and 35 meters high. Sengupta spoke to TIME South Asia contributor Maseeh Rahman following last week's destruction order issued by Taliban Supreme Leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Edited excerpts:

How important are the Bamiyan Buddhas?

There is nothing like these statues anywhere in the world. Bamiyan is located in a beautiful valley around 230 km northwest of Kabul. It was an important stop on the fabled Silk Road, and the two majestic Buddha statues were scooped out of the Hindu Kush mountains in such a way that anyone — merchants, soldiers, pilgrims — moving along the highway could view them from afar and pay homage. The ceilings above the Buddhas had beautiful painted images of the bodhisattvas and the Sun God, representing the Buddha as the source of light. The iconography was a mixture of Greek and Indian, and the murals were very much like what we see in the Ajanta Caves at Aurangabad (in central India). Full Story...