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Colossal Buddha comes back in one piece

Updated April 16, 2019

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The size and history of the colossal Buddah make it unique.
The size and history of the colossal Buddah make it unique.

PESHAWAR: A huge stone Buddha, about 2,000-year-old, came back to Peshawar Museum safe and in one piece after remaining part of an exhibition called “Next Stop Nirvana” at Rietberg Museum in Zurich, Switzerland.

The size and history of the colossal Buddah make it unique. According to head of Peshawar Museum Mohammad Asif Raza, it can rightly be claimed that it is probably the biggest statue in the world -- made of stone and present in such good condition — dating back to first and second century AD.

Measuring eight feet and four inches (with pedestal almost 9 feet ) and carved in stone, it is a towering statue in Peshawar Museum and this was one reason that it caught the eye of the curator of Rietberg Museum, Dr Johannes Beltz, and others Swiss officials visiting Peshawar Museum in 2018.

A memorandum of understanding was signed between the governments of Pakistan and Switzerl to allow the huge Buddha to be taken for three and half months to Rietberg Museum for exhibition.

About 35,000 people appreciated the statue during the exhibition in Switzerland

“Due to misperceptions about this part of the world, tourists don’t come much here so the archaeology and museums department decided to take these rare and historic artifacts to international exhibitions to show to the world the true image and history and art of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” said the official.

Peshawar Museum has one of the rich collections of rare artifacts. For the first time it tooled the initiative of showing the world this cultural and historic heritage when back in 2017 some 40 artifacts were loaned for exhibition to South Korea.

Pakistan’s ambassador to South Korea and chief monk inaugurated the exhibition that continued for three months. The monks and followers of Buddhism lauded the exhibition as it held great religious importance for them.

Lending the huge Buddha to Switzerland for its Rietberg Museum exhibition was second such initiative and according to the officials of both the museums some 35,000 people visited the Buddha during the exhibition held from December12, 2018 to March 31, 2019.

Like museums across the world, former director archaeology and museums Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Dr Abdul Samad, took the initiative to bring the Gandhara art and culture to the limelight by letting rare artifacts participate in such exhibition in countries that had religious and tourism interest in Gandhara and the region.

The curator of Rietberg Museum, Dr Johannes Beltz, in his tweet thanked all, who made it possible.

“The colossal Gandhara Buddha from Peshawar is back to his home - after being part of the exhibition “Next Stop Nirvana” at museum Rietberg. More than 35,000 visitors of all ages came to admire this great work of art. In the name of entire Museum Rietberg, I thank all who made it possible” he said in the tweet.

The statue was excavated by a British archaeological team in 1909 in Sahra-i-Bahlol near the Unesco World Heritage site of Takht Bhai in Mardan and was in Peshawar Museum for over a hundred years.

It was shifted for the first time in hundred years, only after insurance of some 20 million dollars, to move hearts of people far away by becoming highlight of the exhibition.

Asif Raza, who was part of the delegation that attended the exhibition, said that in so many decades the Buddha didn’t received as many visitors as it received during the three-month exhibition.

“We sent out a strong message about the history, art and true image of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through this exhibition,” he said.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2019