Cultural Arts Review, Buddhist rock carvings in Swat, Pakistan

Posted on November 19, 2013 by












Several Buddhist carvings in the Swat district of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are in danger of being weathered down and vandalized by locals.  Archaeologists and cultural activists say that there is a need to protect these “masterpieces of art and history that could attract tourists and scholars from around the world.”  The most prominent form of destruction to these carvings is that of urination.  These carvings have been on the receiving end of this for many years.  The general blame coming from archaeologists and cultural activists points majorly to the Archaeology Department, which is responsible for maintaining the carvings.  All of the sites are on private property, so technically this vandalism is not considered a crime, no arrests have been made.

These carvings are dated from the Gandhara civilization, which is considered a “cradle” of Buddhism.  They mostly depict the Buddha or other important figures in ancient Buddhism.  These statues are important religiously because they are said to proclaim Buddhist doctrine and to rejuvenate Buddhist pilgrimage to and around sacred Buddhist areas.  These sculptures are also said to be from the late Vajrayana schools, which were active in Swat between the seventh and ninth centuries.  It is said that these Buddhists carvings were created so large and so high because in Buddhism the Buddha can see you wherever you are and is always watching over you.  This gives some people a sense of safety and security when they glance these carvings out of the corner of their eye.  These statues offer a place of serenity for those looking for it, saying that the Buddhists’ selected locations for the rock carvings were places where “only the chirping of birds can be heard.”  These places are away from any noise or distractions, a place of total serenity and peace.

 The vandalism have been occurring for a number of years and continue to do so.  Most of the desecration has been done by the local people of Swat.  They have told officials they do this because they have been told by their Mullas that it is virtuous to vandalize them.  One local boy said “My parents always asked me to hit and deface the statues near my house, as they were motivated by the imam of our mosque.”  The government says that they will soon figure out a plan that will ensure the protection of all these Buddhist carvings and the sites around them.

The road to recovery from this point on would be to protect the remaining carvings that still have whats left of their shape, but also to start to rebuild the structures and carvings that have been destroyed entirely.


Faizur Rehman, the Swat Museum curator in charge of preserving these carvings says that protection is not enough for these figures of Buddhism.  He states that the government needs to buy all the land that these carvings are on and protect them with guards 24 hours a day, that is the only way to preserve these iconic figures of Buddhism.

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