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Rare Buddha-era rock carvings found at Diamer dam site

Compiled by Tipitaka Network Newsdesk, Sunday, May 25, 2008

Islamabad (Pakistan) Over a thousand rare stone carvings, sculptures and statues of the Buddha have been found at the construction site of the Diamer-Bhasha dam in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. Following the discovery, Pakistan's archaeology department expects more such discoveries when work on the main reservoir begins. "At least 1,000 to 1,500 different kinds of rock carvings, sculptures and statues have been found during the technical work and the archaeology department expects a huge consignment when full-fledged reservoir building is started," The News International (Pakistan) reported in April quoting sources.

Diamer-Bhasha dam will lead to discovery of significant material related to Buddhism in the region and must be preserved, the sources said. There are believed to be nearly 30,000 important statues, carvings and sculptures within a radius of 135 km of the dam site. The archaeology department of Northern Areas has confirmed the discovery of the Buddha-era stone work. "We believe that nearly 30,000 raw carvings and such invaluable sculptures of the Buddha-age have been found where the Bhasha dam is being built," said Northern Areas Archaeology Department Secretary Sanaullah.

According to Sanaullah, his department, along with the culture ministry, would ensure preservation of all precious articles so far found or available at the site. A German scholar, who is associated with the National Council of the Arts, is carrying out a study about the discoveries in order to assess their worth and history. The culture ministry is also involved in the archaeological assessment.

Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) Project Director Tariq Masood too confirmed that companies working on a study to ascertain the technical feasibility of the Bhasha dam have found some carvings.

Federal Minister for Culture Khawaja Saad Rafiq took a serious notice of the report published in The News International on April 4 and ordered investigation into the archaeological recoveries of Buddha statues and sculptures from the Diamer-Bhasha Dam site.

"I am also setting up a committee to ensure that the archaeological heritage is preserved and to eliminate the chances of their transport outside the country, the minister told this correspondent.

"We are very much in favour of taking action against the responsible officials if someone is found involved in illegal shifting of these discoveries", the minister said in a clear tone. Saad Rafiq, one of the PML-N members in the federal cabinet, said he would not let anybody deprive the country of its rich heritage recovered from any part of the country.

According to information, after the recovery of 1,000 to 1,500 statues, stone carvings and sculptures from the Bhasha Dam site, the local people and foreign experts conducted archaeological studies and estimated that as many as 30,000 such articles could be found in the 134-kilometre Bhasha reservoir.

All these recoveries must be preserved, the minister said, adding: "I will constitute a committee that will not only assess the worth of these findings but will also ensure that the whole process is transparent."

The Northern Areas, which attract tourists, would have provided an international attraction to visitors if the treasures are displayed in accordance with the international standards. "The government will involve the elected representatives from the Northern Areas, as well as officials from the federal government and experts to save our archaeological heritage," the minister further said.

Saad Rafiq said his focus would remain on checking illegal transport of these valuable items. "Whatever is found from our soil belongs to this country", the minister maintained. He asked all relevant officials of his ministry to come up with a report on these discoveries within a few days.

Wapda is currently carrying out initial work on the Diamer-Bhasha Dam for the purpose of detailed engineering design and for development of infrastructure to pave way for practical and massive construction work on the main reservoir. The initial recoveries, made during the process of technical feasibility, alerted the German company working on the project about the archaeological treasures found after limited blasting of the mountainous areas of the dam. The company  has recommended the setting up of a museum to preserve the treasures.

Though these discoveries are in the knowledge of the administration of the Northern Areas and the federal government, arrangements to preserve these treasures are believed to be inadequate. The Diamer Bhasha dam on the Indus river is being built in the region where the Hindu Kush and the Himalayan ranges meet and is to store water to generate 4,500 MW of electricity. The dam's foundation stone was laid by President Pervez Musharraf amidst protests.

source: http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/holnus/001200804041321.htm
source: http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/south-asia/ rare-buddha-relics-discovered-in-pakistan-dam_10034307.html
source: http://www.thenews.com.pk/print1.asp?id=104945

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