ISLAMABAD - Pakistani authorities said Monday that archeologists have begun searching for the remains of a third-century, life-size Buddha statue that was found and destroyed by a group of religiously conservative laborers in the northwestern town of Mardan.
The destruction of the rare idol occurred in a village near Takht-i-Bahi (Throne of Origins), which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for being an icon of the ancient Buddhist civilization.
Police in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where the site is located arrested four men Saturday after a video showing them vandalizing a Buddha statue with a hammer went viral on social media.
“This design or art of sculpting the Buddha dates back to the second or third century A.D., so, it is around 1,700 years old,” Bakht Muhammad, a research officer at the provincial Directorate of Archeology and Museums, told VOA.
Muhammad said the provincial government has directed a team of archeological experts to also conduct a comprehensive survey starting Tuesday into whether more antiquities are in and around the village. He stressed that the area previously has not been listed as a conserved site.
It will take about a month before the team is able to share the findings, Muhammad added.
“It is not a big deal for us, provided our team is able to recover all parts of the destroyed Buddha. The pieces taken into possession are not enough, and that’s why our team of experts has been tasked to locate the remaining parts,” he said when asked if his department would be able to restore the rare statue.
He noted that prosecutors are working to institute a court case against the four men under an antiquities law, saying they could each be sentenced to a five-year jail term, along with a financial penalty of about $12,000 if found guilty.
Legal experts note, however, that court cases of this nature usually can take years before a final verdict is issued.
Muhammad said the statue was discovered during the construction of a water drain in a privately owned mango orchard, about 12 kilometers from Takht-i-Bahi.
“These are illiterate local people who went for the destruction of the Buddha, believing that they would be rewarded by Allah. Their contractor did not even bother to inform the owner of the orchard about the discovery and instead participated in the illegal action,” Muhammad said.
Heart breaking.— Ahsan Hamid Durrani (@Ahsan_H_Durrani) July 18, 2020
A life sized statue of Buddha was discovered in a construction site in Takhtbhai, Mardan recently.
However, before the Archaeology dept was informed about it, the contractor had already broken it into pieces as the local molvi warned him that he would lose.. pic.twitter.com/nWHHzkOxe7
The accused could be heard in the video discussing the size of the statue, with one of them saying, “It’s a standing doll. It’s a female. … Look, she is wearing earrings.”
“Her name is carved here. This is the shirt,” said an old man sitting on the statue and removing the dirt from its belly.
“Is this a Hindu or Westerner (statue)?” another man asked.
“Hindu. This is Gautam Buddha,” replied his partner before all of them congratulated each other.
Foreign tourists, particularly from Japan, Korea and Sri Lanka, routinely visit Takht-i-Bahi and other Buddhist sites to pay homage.
Founded in early first century, the Buddhist monastic complex of Takht-i-Bahi is exceptionally well-preserved and is located on high hills, typical of Buddhist sites, according to UNESCO.