Pakistan unveiled the remains of a 1,700-year-old sleeping Buddha statue on Wednesday as part of an initiative to encourage tourism and promote religious harmony in the region.
A reflection of the diverse history and culture of the south Asian country, the ancient Buddhist site in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was first discovered in 1929. Eighty-eight years on, excavations resumed and the 14-metre-high (48-ft-high) Kanjur stone Buddha image was unearthed. The country’s opposition leader, Imran Khan, presided over Wednesday’s presentation.
“This is from the 3rd century AD, making it the world’s oldest sleeping Buddha remains,” Abdul Samad, director of Bhamla’s archaeology and museums department, told Reuters.
“We have discovered over 500 Buddha objects and this 48ft-long sleeping Buddha remains,” he added.
Khan said: “It’s a question of preserving these heritage sites which are an asset for our country.”
The region was once the centre of Buddhist civilisation that took root under the Mauryan king Ashoka 2,300 years ago.
The presentation of the Buddha image coincided with a lockdown of major highways around Islamabad to contain a right-wing protest against the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) for undercutting blasphemy laws.
Minority communities such as Ahmadis, Christians and Shias suffer persecution across the country, begging the question how the restoration of such sites is going to end their discrimination.
“It’s a world heritage site (and) because of it people can come for religious tourism and see these places,” Khan said.
Khan dismissed the protesters in Islamabad, seeking to project a more tolerant image of Pakistan. “It’s a very small part of what is happening in Pakistan. The majority of the population wants to see such (Buddhist) sites restored.”
While Pakistan is a majority-Muslim country, sites such as these reveal its rich history as a multi-religious and culturally diverse region in South Asia.