UNESCO, in cooperation with the Japanese Government, has launched several cultural heritage conservation projects along the Silk Road. Two projects in China (the Longmen Grottoes and the Kumtra Thousand Caves), and three projects in Central Asia (the site of Fayaz Tepe in Uzbekistan, the Otrar project in Kazakhstan, and the Krasnaya Rechka, Chuy Valley sites project in Kyrgyzstan), are already in progress. The recently approved project for the preservation of the Buddhist Monastery of Ajina Tepe in Tajikistan is the last project within this special UNESCO/Japan FIT Silk Roads program.
The Reclining Buddha of Tajikistan
The Buddhist site of Ajina Tepe, located in an earthen site situated in Dushanbe, the nation’s capital, dates back to the 7th and 8th centuries. It was considerably damaged during decades of neglect after the excavations carried out in Soviet times and in dire need of emergency consolidation work. The site possesses great educational potential thanks to the discovery of a very large reclining Buddha statue measuring 12-meters high, among other priceless objects, now displayed in the Tajikistan National Museum of Antiquity in Dushanbe. The physical structure of the Monastery also remains intact.
This reclining Buddha – now promoted to the status of the largest Buddha in Central Asia – was discovered by Soviet archeologists in 1966 in a monastery build under the kings of Kushan, now in southern Tajikistan, right on the legendary Silk Road. Xuan Zhang certainly saw the Buddha during hispilgrimage. But since 1966, it had been sleeping in the basement of a Dushanbe museum, dismembered into about 100 boxes. It was considered by the Soviets to be too big to be transported to its supposedly rightful place, the Hermitage in St Petersburg, the former Leningrad.
Credit for the restoration goes in great part to ACTED, a French NGO running many programs in Tajikistan and Afghanistan – from brick-making and shelter-building to road construction and wheat distribution. ACTED paid for an archeologist imported from the Hermitage, who spent three months in Dushanbe reassembling the Buddha.
To read more about the Reclining Buddha, click here for the article in Asia Times.
You can explore both the ancient and the modern splendor of Tajikistan on the upcoming cultural immersion tour offered by Original World, The Heart of the Great Silk Road, which departs twice in 2014, from April 24/25-May 15 and September 11/12 – Oct 3.