The Buddhas of Bamiyan
Lost Statues a Sad Part of the Taliban's Legacy

listen Listen to Scott Simon's report.

Feb. 23, 2002 -- Before Sept. 11, the destruction of two giant statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan had become the reigning symbol of the Taliban's stranglehold -- not only on a country, but on the hearts and minds of its people.

The gap where the statue once stood

A gap in the mountains where one of the giant Buddha statues once stood.
Photo: Peter Breslow, NPR

The Taliban committed many outrages, but this act particulary disturbed the outside world. Ignoring international pleas to spare the ancient works of art, the Taliban razed the statues because they were made in the image of a man. By the Taliban's reckoning, that's a sin.

Now, outside the village of Bamiyan, over which the Buddhas towered, two gashes remain in the Koh-e Baba mountains. It's hard to reach the area, but Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon made the journey to see how the town is faring.

The Buddha as it once appeared

The Buddha kept a silent vigil over Bamiyan before the Taliban destroyed it.
Copyright 2002 Reuters Limited

He talked to several townspeople and found that the destruction of the statues was far from the worst crime the Taliban committed there. One man explained the origin of skeletons of four farmers buried nearby. He told of bodies left on the road as a warning, the blood and the bombs that covered the landscape.

Another man lived in a cave next to the statues for 20 years. He ended up helping to destroy them. It wasn't easy -- even using explosives, it took 21 days, he says.

The statues are gone, the Taliban is gone, but the people, and the poverty they live with every day, remain. Some eat grass for sustenance. "We are always hungry," says one woman.

Other Resources

• Read Stephen Batchelor's take on the Buddhist response to terrorism in Tricycle magazine.