Rare Buddha statue vandalised in Pakistan

Peshawar, Jul 19 (PTI) A rare life-sized statue of Buddha that was smashed into pieces with a sledgehammer by construction workers in Pakistan''s northwest Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province belonged to the Gandhara civilisation and was nearly 1,700 years old, a senior official has said.

Four persons were arrested on Saturday for vandalising the statue that was discovered during excavation at an agriculture farm in tehsil Takht Bhai of Mardan district. The suspects had followed the orders of a local Maulvi (prayer leader).

The arrests were made after a video went viral on social media showing a man smashing the statue, parts of which were still embedded underground, into pieces with a sledgehammer. Other construction workers can be seen looking on as the statue is being destroyed while a couple of people were making videos.

Director Archeology and Museums Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Abdus Samad Khan said on Sunday that the pieces of the destroyed statue have been recovered to assess its archaeological value.

"Apparently it was an ancient one. We lost it," he told reporters on Sunday.

The director said that the statue belonged to the Gandhara civilisation and was approximately 1,700 years old. He added that the police had cordoned off the area, the Dawn newspaper reported.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Archaeology Department tweeted about the incident and posted a story of International Urdu channel that said the statue was at least 1,700 years old.

Samad termed the destruction of the statue a "crime" and said "disrespecting any religion is intolerable".

He also appreciated the police''s "prompt action" in arresting the suspects.

Takht Bhai was once part of the Budhist Gandhara kingdom that stretched across modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan over 1,000 years ago. It is a tourist destination for people from Sri Lanka, Korea and Japan since it was a part of the Gandhara Civilisation - one of the earliest urban settlements documented in the history of the subcontinent.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa''s old name is Ghandhara and the region is a highly revered place for the followers of Buddhism.

In 2017, two rare and ancient Buddha statues were unearthed at an archeological site in Bhamala in Haripur district. The largest ever statue found at the site depicts the death of Buddha and the second statue was a Buddha with a double halo.

The statue depicting the death scenario was the oldest of its kind in the world. It was also verified by the American laboratory which identified it as older than third century BC.

Peshawar Museum is also known for displaying one of the world''s largest collection of architectural pieces on Buddha.

A couple of years ago, the museum''s tallest statue of Buddha in schist stone was transported to Switzerland for display there for 100 days at an international exhibition.

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