SHOMA A.CHATTERJI | 13 MARCH, 2018
From Bamiyan Buddhas to Lenin and Periyar: Ideology of Dehumanisation
Reflections of history
When the World Trade Centers came down like a pack of cards, taking more than 5000 people along to their untimely and tragic deaths, an entire culture collapsed, a lifestyle revolving around Manhattan, and perhaps America, came to an end. One finds little logic in the shock waves this generated, except for the loss of lives. Because, admit it or not, one should have seen it coming.
After the Taliban’s mindless destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues within their own regime and territory, it is not surprising that they, or their leader and mentor Osama Bin Laden should begin to pick on other massive creations of mankind to display the strength and the power of their reactionary beliefs. Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan called the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas as “the de-Islamisation of Islam.”
Should we then, in response to the destruction and defacing of statues of philosophers and leaders of thought like Lenin and Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and Periyar extend this logic and say, in chorus, “this is the de-Hinduisation of Hindus”?
Every single one of these personalities who live through history is a philosopher who lived by certain ideologies and did not basically have any political agenda to speak, of. They are international figures who cannot be judged on the basis of any political, caste, class, gender or race affiliations. If any of these factors became part of their philosophy, it was basically an extension of their ideology.
Periyar, the staunch anti-Brahmin leader whose statue is now being guarded by special police, once broke a Ganesha idol with his hands to prove that the Brahiminical belief in idol worship has no basis in fact. He became a leader of increasing number of non-Brahmin communities through his fiery oratory and his radical actions. He did not believe in idol worship. Thus, he would not have minded the desecration of his statue at all. But that does that mean that any attempt to destroy it can be justified?
Built in the 6th century before Islam had traveled to the central Afghanistan region, the two Buddhas of Bamiyan were famous for their beauty, craftsmanship and of course, size. The taller of the two Buddhas stood at more than 170 feet high, with the second statue at nearly 115 feet.
They were once the world’s largest standing Buddhas. They were restored however, in the form and shape of towering cutouts in the mountainside where they stood for centuries and are back through 3-D light projection. But can this wipe away the dehumanizing idea of reducing the original statues to rubble? Will these acts not remain archived in the memories of human beings?
Similarly, even after the defaced busts and full statues are being placed under “purification” by politically motivated and self-appointed damage controllers of all hues and colours, it cannot wipe away the ferocious anger, the fiery revenge that underlay the thoughts of those who actively participated in this destruction and defacing and damaging of great thinkers who live through the pages of world history.
Afghanistan, the centre of the entire Taliban question, that demonstrates terrorism at his most modern worst, was once a dream country. Uncle Sam wasn’t around then, much less the WTC edifices that were a living tribute to modern architecture. Situated along the 8000-km Silk Route between the Central Asian heartland and the Levantine seaboard, Afghanistan was one of the most culturally rich countries in the world around 1700 years back.
The Kushans who ruled the nation during the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D., were mainly responsible for making the country a confluence of cultures across the world. The country was the focal point for scholars, sculptors, physicians, philosophers and others. The multiple cultures that left their footprints on the sands of Afghanistan were – Indian, Chinese, Greek, Roman and Scythian.
Among the cities noted for their rich cultural ambience were Bamiyan, Herat, Jalalabad, Kapisa, Kabul and Ghazni. These cities emerged as the forebears of development in the arts, architecture and sculpture, statues of Buddha and Hindu gods leading the queue. Once upon a time, Bamiyan was a dream city. It bustled with life. Droves of camels loaded with silk, jade and spices constantly moved among and between the streets of Bamiyan and also spread out to other cities in the neighbourhood.
The two tallest statues of the Buddha were constructed in this city and remained there, as a tribute to the cultural generosity and largesse of the Kushans, till the Taliban brought them down forever. Painstakingly and lovingly carved out of sandstone, they adorned the marketplace of Bamiyan city and took their name from it. Strange but true, that when Chengiz Khan attacked the city in the 13th Century, he left the Buddha statues untouched.
Can one imagine Paris without the Eiffel Tower and minus the Louvre? How about Italy without the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Or, China without the Great Wall? London without Big Ben? Egypt without the Sphinx? India minus the Taj Mahal, the Victoria Memorial, the India Gate and the Gateway of India?
Make no mistake. They are not just edifices of some of man’s best creations. They are not tourist attractions that bring money to the state ex-chequer. They are not just symbols for tourist posters. They are a reflection of the history of these places that have survived the ravages of time, of war and in some cases, even terrorist attacks.
“Fitly, this strange creature embodying the strength of a lion, the intellect of a man, and the spiritual serenity of a god, quietly teaches the inescapable truth of the necessity of self-control that man’s being may surpass the animal in him and tame it,” Dr. Paul Brunton wrote, commenting on the Sphinx in A Search in Secret Egypt. Stated with minor differences in topography and description, this would reasonably apply to all the structures mentioned above.
The sculptor or the architect creates his designs after hundreds of rough drafts. He hands them over to his workers under strict supervision, constantly monitoring their work, lending his personal touch as and when. He selects his medium of creation, balances the logistics, the utility, the durability, and the suitability of the structure within the given ambience of contemporary history, geography, language and lifestyle of the people who live and work there, and then begins his work.
It takes years for him to move from conception to execution to see his finished work with his own eyes, touch the final figure with his fingers, smell it and even ‘hear’ sounds others cannot hear. To bring this statue or structure down, takes just a few seconds and a long time of diabolic planning by fundamentalists like the Taliban or Osama Bin Laden.
Statues, idols, monuments that are massive, and took a great deal of human creativity, industry, commitment and dedication to create, are not merely decorative showpieces made to adorn the marketplace. “They regulate, control, calm and tame the unruly mind, swayed and swerved by emotions,” said retired management professor R.V. Chari when the Taliban reduced the massive Bamiyam Buddha statues to rubble in March 2001.