Residents of Bamiyan got a rare opportunity over the weekend: a chance to once again see giant Buddhas that have been piles of rubble for over a decade. 3-D projection technology has already been used to resurrect dead music legends and pipe busy politicians into campaign rallies, and now it’s been employed to recreate a cultural icon that watched over this valley in Afghanistan for more than 1,500 years.
The two Buddhas of Bamiyan were constructed in the sixth century, at a time when the area was a site of pilgrimage and learning for Buddhists. Both Buddhas were carved out of sandstone cliffs and stood at well over 100 feet, and at one point painted and gilded. They managed to withstand the introduction of Islam to the region and the armies of Genghis Khan, but were unable to survive past the first year of the 21st century. The Taliban destroyed the Buddhas in March 2001.
“These idols have been gods of the infidels,” declared Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, in marking the statues for destruction. “First they fired at the Buddhas with tanks and artillery shells,” recalled one Afghan who participated in the attack. “But when that was ineffective, they planted explosives to try to destroy them.” When the Buddhas finally crumbled, Taliban fighters “were firing weapons into the air, they were dancing and they brought nine cows to slaughter as a sacrifice.” The monuments had endured for centuries, only to disappear in a matter of weeks.
In the ensuing years, UNESCO officials, Afghan authorities, and local residents have failed to reach a consensus about the best way to address the devastation. In 2005, the artist Hiro Yamagata proposed implementing a laser-show system to conjure images of the Buddhas, but the project was never implemented. “The void left by the two destroyed Buddha figures is appalling, it rouses an emotion almost more powerful than their once tranquil presence did for centuries,” Frederic Bobin wrote in The Guardian earlier this year.