Ancient Buddhist Sites in Pakistan in Urgent Need of Conservation

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Many ancient Buddhist sites in Pakistan are deteriorating due to the lack of any proper conservation effort. According to The Express Tribune, further damage has been done to these sites through indifference and neglect on the part of the government. “Much is made by people in high office about the country’s rich cultural and historical heritage. Pakistan has on paper legislation that should work to protect and preserve its legacies. On the ground, though, the situation at most sites of historical importance is one of abject neglect,” the online Pakistani daily Dawn reported.

 

Many ancient Buddhist sites in Pakistan are deteriorating due to the lack of any proper conservation effort. According to The Express Tribune, further damage has been done to these sites through indifference and neglect on the part of the government. “Much is made by people in high office about the country’s rich cultural and historical heritage. Pakistan has on paper legislation that should work to protect and preserve its legacies. On the ground, though, the situation at most sites of historical importance is one of abject neglect,” the online Pakistani daily Dawn reported.

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A worker reconstructing the head of a Buddha at Jualian Stupa. From Dawn.com
 
Dr. Abdul Samad, director of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Archaeology and Museums, told The Express Tribune, “There are more than 500 historically-significant sites in the city and almost all of them are in a state of disrepair. They require immediate preservation and restoration. Inexperienced contractors and builders given the task of restoration have further ruined such structures.” He added, “The historic sites should be handed over to us for preservation because only archaeologists can do such work.” Dr. Samad also said that several reports to this effect were sent to the provincial government, but have been ignored. “We have conservation experts and have the capability to carry out preservation work on these sites. We should be given authority over them,” he continued.
 
According to Dawn, the Archaeology Department of Taxila has started restoring the centuries-old Buddha statues at Jualian Stupa, but with inexperienced private contractors. UNESCO declared the ancient Taxila a World Heritage Site in 1980. Pakistan, as a signatory of the “World Heritage Convention 1972,” according to the UN charter, is obliged to renovate any such site. Article 6(3) of the World Heritage Convention instructs that no action should be taken that may damage the heritage site, and Section 172 stipulates that the concerned state should inform the World Heritage Committee of any intention to undertake or authorize major restoration projects or new constructions on the sites. However, no such steps were taken.

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Ancient sculptures of the Buddha and other artifacts damaged by rainwater and the elements. From Dawn.com
 
The heads of some of the statues of the Buddhas were removed and taken to Taxila Museum in 1928. Sources in Taxila’s Archaeology Department told Dawn that the heads are now being replaced by unqualified workmen with inauthentic materials. The originals were in stucco and are being replaced with plaster of paris, and so the authenticity of the statues is being lost. A senior archaeologist in the Federal Department of Archaeology, also quoted in Dawn, said, “The heads attached to the statues also do not conform to the style and shape used in the ancient times.”
 
Dr. Samad had already told Dawn in October 2014 that local UNESCO officials were doing nothing about preservation and restoration in Pakistan. At the same time Dawn tried to contact Jawad Aziz, the official representative of UNESCO Islamabad, to comment, but he could not be reached. When asked about the use of inappropriate materials for reconstruction, in violation of the UN charter, Dr. Samad replied that they were using the best materials available to them, and that lack of funding was a big problem.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Centre for South Asian Cultural Heritage, a non-profit organization, has been created to aid in the conservation of ancient Buddhist sites in Pakistan and India. The Japanese group are concerned about the cultural heritage being lost through neglect and lack of funding. Atsushi Noguchi, secretary-general of the organization, told The Japan Times, “Through our network of researchers, we want to provide meticulous support in areas that (local) governments and international organizations can’t get around to.” The group plans to use modern technology in cooperation with Pakistan's Hazara University to assess the conservation needs of the neglected sites. “Buddhism that was first introduced to Japan came from this region. It is meaningful for us as Japanese to be involved in this,” Nogushi added. 

Source: phathoc.net (Feb. 12, 2015)