Search for the third Buddha

Professor Zemaryali Tarzi has made it his life’s mission to find the third reclining Buddha at Bamiyan. Information about this reclining Buddha comes from the notes of Huen Tsang, who traveled to India as well.

To some, the search is a quixotic one. If the ancient Chinese pilgrim is to be believed, the sleeping Buddha is almost as long as the Eiffel Tower is tall. How could such a monumental structure disappear underground, some ask, and how could it be salvageable if it still exists?

Tarzi has possible answers: The statue could have been deliberately buried centuries ago by devotees to protect it from invading Muslim armies, or it could have been covered after a major earthquake. But more important, his team has begun uncovering at the site clay figures and sophisticated structures that lend support to his grand theory.

Last summer, the dig uncovered a wall that Tarzi is convinced is part of the ancient monastery that housed the huge statue. Excavators have also discovered several dozen sculptures of Buddha heads and other statue fragments, some dating to as far back as the 3rd century — when Bamian was growing as a Buddhist center. At the very end of the digging season, Tarzi found evidence as well of what he believes may be part of a huge statuary foot.

He is aware of the professional skepticism surrounding his quest — some have said the reported size of the structure has been misunderstood, while others suggest that the reclining “statue” may have been an outcropping of rock that reminded the religious of a sleeping Buddha — but he insists the evidence is clear. [Afghan Archaeologist Seeks Sleeping Buddha]

During the weekend, I met Nadia Tarzi, daughter of Zemaryali Tarzi, the archaeologist mentioned in the above story. She has now started the Association for the protection of Afghan Archaeology which aims to raise awareness of Afghan Culture.

I asked her if the only information for this Buddha was from Huen Tsang and she said that’s the only one they know. Huen Tsang was very accurate in his descriptions about the standing Buddhas and their dimensions and hence they believe the reclining Buddha should exist as well. For example, here at Varnam we have reported about the findings at Sirpur which was described in the writings of Huen Tsang. But Nadia Tarzi would like to know if there are any other ancient works which mention this Buddha.

Related Links: Along Huen Tsang’s path, Buddha’s Foot

2 Comments

  1. Unfortunately neither Zemaryalai nor his daughter Nadia Tarzi have obviously ever used a computing device to calculate the corresponding measurements given a length of approx. 1,000 ft for the reclining Buddha.

    Assuming that the Buddha was depicted lying on his
    right side–as for example in Anuradhapura–the height (from shoulder to shoulder) of the statue should have been something about 300 ft; or ~200 ft. or so if a little bit bent.

    Such assumptions are absolutely ridiculous, given the heights of the Big and the Small standing Buddhas (120 / 170 ft).

    Let’s treat the story of the “Reclining Buddha” as what it is: the wishful thinking of an archaeologist who tries to make himself world famous…

    Volker Thewalt

  2. On a tangent –
    There’s a temple in South Tamil Nadu called Pillayar Patti. It’s a pretty old temple, and right now smack in the middle of Chettiar country.

    The Thala Puran or site history of the temple mentions it is one of the two only existing Ganesha figures to be depicted with only two arms. The other one is in Afghanistan.

    These two 2 armed Ganeshas were sculpted sometime around 500 BC, and the sculptor’s signature are in the lower right cornerof the idol, in Tamil Brahmi script.

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