Ancient sculptures crumbling due to lack of attention

Updated 22 Nov 2014


Ancient sculptures of the Buddha and other artifacts have been severely damaged by rainwater and the elements. — Photo by the writer
Ancient sculptures of the Buddha and other artifacts have been severely damaged by rainwater and the elements. — Photo by the writer

TAXILA: Scores of stucco sculptures dating back to the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. are crumbling at the Mohra Moradu Stupa and Monastery due to the lack of maintenance.

The monastery has its own significance and importance in the archaeological history of Pakistan as it is among three of the 18 Buddhist sites of the Taxila valley with the intact stucco sculptures and figures of Buddha.

The monastery flourished as a beacon of knowledge from 4th to 5th centuries A.D. It is located in a small valley between Sirkap called the second city of ancient Taxila valley civilisation and Jaulian, known as the ancient Taxila Buddhist University.

Also read: Tampering with ancient statues at Jualian stupa alleged

In the past, the site was damaged by treasure-hunters who split the main stupa hoping to find gold inside.

The lower portions of the stupa were protected, however, as earth covered most of the site before an excavation began under the supervision of John Marshall in the early 20th century.

A Buddhist shrine, the monastery was once a place of meditation in the rural areas.

Because of its importance, Unesco included the monastery in its list of the world cultural heritage sites in 1980.

But the officials of the Punjab archaeology and museums department have failed to ensure proper maintenance of the sheds erected to protect the stucco sculptures from climatic agents, especially rain.

During a visit to the site, it was observed that sheds over the ancient stupa and cells were damaged and rainwater entered the cells and damaged around 80 per cent of the sculptures and figures.

The rainwater had also dissolved parts of stucco sculptures and figures of the Buddha. A caretaker at the monastery said he had informed authorities about the poor condition of the sheds but no action had been taken as yet.

There was seepage on the walls of the cells which was proof of the fact that huge quantity of water absorbed in the walls of the cells due to negligence of the the officials concerned.

Sources in the Department of Archaeology and Museums’ sub-regional office said senior officials were aware of the situation at the site but they never contacted national as well as international donor agencies for preparing any contingency plan to save the site.

When contacted, Irshad Hussain, the deputy director of the archaeology department, said due to the lack of funds a preservation project could not be prepared for the safety of the stucco sculptures.

He said due to the limited financial resources, the department was unable to launch a preservation and restoration plan.

He said after the 18th amendment the site had been handed over to the provincial government.

Published in Dawn, November 22th , 2014