Police in Pakistan are reported to have arrested four construction workers on 18 July for allegedly destroying a 1,700-year-old life-size Buddha statue found in a village near the famed Takht-i-Bahi Indo-Parthian archaeological site in Mardan District of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Local residents cited by media reports said the statue, unearthed during construction work, was broken up by construction workers with hammers, allegedly on the orders of a local cleric, who described the sculpture as “unIslamic.”
“We have arrested contractor Qamar Zaman and his workers Amjad, Aleem, and Saleem for smashing the Buddha statue and have also recovered some pieces from them,” said district police officer Zahidullah. (The Telegraph)
“All the offenders who were seen smashing an antique Gandharan Buddhist statue in Mardan have been arrested by [Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa] Police and a [first information report] lodged against them under sections of the Antiquity Act 2016,” said Kamran Bangash, spokesman for the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government. (The News International)
The group was arrested after a video of the incident was shared on social media. According to a transcript of the video published by the Independent newspaper, one the men in the video states: “Look, it’s a standing doll . . . look, it’s a female and we just broke the thighs. Look, this is her belly button . . . it’s not clean. This is the shirt . . . you know shirts which are long and hanging.” (Independent)
“Is this of a Hindu or a Westerner?,” another asks. The man standing next to him replies: “Hindu . . . this is Gautam Buddha.” Then the four men then congratulate each other. (Independent)
Abdul Samad Khan, director of the Archaeological Department of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, expressed regret over the incident and gave assurances that action would be taken against the men. “Instead of informing the archaeology department that they have found a life-sized Buddha statue, they destroyed it and made video,” Samad Khan lamented. (Independent)
“We have taken the pieces of the destroyed Buddha into our custody to assess its archaeological value but apparently it was an ancient one. We lost it unfortunately,” he added. (The New York Times)
Long renowned for its wealth of well-preserved Ghandaran Buddhist relics, Takht-i-Bahi is best known for the first century CE Buddhist monastery discovered there, considered particularly representative of the architecture of Buddhist monastic centers from the era and of great historical importance. The monastic ruins were first identified from extant travel records of the Chinese monk-pilgrim Xuanzang (602–64), who journeyed through South Asia in search of Buddhist texts. In modern times, the earliest known mention of the site, in 1836, was by a French officer in the service of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780–1839) named General Court. The site was later explored by the Indian-born British medical officer Dr. Henry Walter Bellew in 1864 as part of an archaeological survey, leading to a series of excavations, and from 1910–11, British Indian archaeologist Harold Hargreaves conducted research on the site. In 1980, Takht-i-Bahi was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Contemporary residents cited by media reports have said that because of governmental neglect, construction work has been undertaken on archaeological sites, increasing the risk of damage or destruction of historical heritage there.
4 held for Pakistan Buddha statue raid (The Telegraph)
Four arrested for damaging Buddhist-era statue (The News International)
Pakistani Police Arrest 4 Men Who Destroyed Statue of Buddha (The New York Times)
Four arrested over destruction of 1,700 year-old Buddha statue in Pakistan (Independent)