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Sunday, March 04, 2001

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Greek idols next in firing line?

NEW DELHI, MARCH 3. An Indian archaeologist, who sweated it out in Bamiyan to conserve the tallest statues of the Buddha two decades ago, says there are more cultural sites in Afghanistan that have been lost to fundamentalism or stand threatened by it.

Mr. R. Sengupta, retired Director (conservation) of the Archaeological Survey of India, said today there was an important Greek settlement site, Aikhanoum (the moon-lady), in northern Afghanistan that had ancient Greek idols and stood threatened as they too fell in the non-Muslim category the Taliban had decided to destroy.

``There is no report on what they would do to Aikhanoum, near Oxas, which was an important Greek settlement on the silk route,'' said a disturbed Mr. Sengupta, adding that only six months ago, a German historian who had visited Afghanistan, told him that ancient Buddhist centres of Hadda and Ghazni had already been bulldozed and lost forever.

For Mr. Sengupta, who spent ``nine working seasons'' between April and October 1969 and 1977 in the Bamiyan Valley on a conservation project that brought international recognition to India, ``it is a personal loss.'' It was ironical for a society, which had once appealed for the preservation of the great artefacts, to have turned cannon fire on them.

``I headed a team of 15 Indians that included engineers, masons, photographers and artisans. The expertise was provided by India, the labour and accomodation for the team was provided by Afghanistan, then a monarchy under Zaheer Shah,'' said the expert who was awarded the Padmashree for his contribution. Hadda was an important pilgrim centre and the only place outside India and Nepal where the Buddha's relics were worshipped during the Kushan period. French excavations between 1923 and 1928 led to the discovery of 30,000 antiquities.

Similarly in Ghazni, nothing was left of the ancient cultural assets. Devastated as he was on the damage to the Bamiyan, Mr. Sengupta hoped the same fate did not befall the Greek idols of Akhinoum.

- PTI

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