By Shyamal Sinha
The Peshawar Museum was founded in 1907 as “Victoria Hall,” in memory of Queen Victoria. The two-story building was built in a syncretic architectural style consisting of British, Hindu, Buddhist and Mughal Islamic styles.
The Peshawar Museum in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has lent an approximately 2000-year-old, monumental Buddha statue to the Rietberg Museum in Zurich, Switzerland, where it will be exhibited to the public from 12 December 2018 to 31 March 2019. The three-and-a-half-meter tall statue, titled Buddha Shakyamuni, will be the flagship display of the “Next Stop Nirvana – Approaches to Buddhism” exhibit at the museum.
According to Asif Raza, the curator of Peshawar Museum, the Buddha statue is nearly 2000-year-old, estimated to have been sculpted between the first and the third centuries CE. It was excavated in 1909 at theSahri Bahlol village, located less than 5 kilometers from the World Heritage site of Takht-i-Bahi, the archeological site of an ancient Buddhist monastery that is among the best preserved and most imposing structures from the Gandhara period. Gandhara was an ancient kingdom particularly famed for pioneering one of the earliest schools of Buddhist art influenced by its Indo-Greek culture.
The statue has been exhibited in the Peshawar Museum ever since its excavation and has, prior to its present stay in Switzerland, never left the country. Since the nearly two-ton-weighing statue had never been removed from the museum, it took curators over a week to dismantle it from its exhibit at the Peshawar Museum. The statue was so much part of the “foundation” of the museum that its extraction process caused damage to the museum’s walls.
The Buddha statue of Buddha Shakyamuni is a unique artifact, in part due to its size and the fact that it survived nearly two millennia almost without damage, but also because it is a prime example of the fusion of Indian and Greek sculpture styles so characteristic of the Buddhist art of the Gandhara period.
The loan of the Buddha statue is the result of an MoU signed by the department of archaeology and museums, represented by Muhammad Tariq, Sports, Tourism, Archaeology, Museum, Culture and Youth Affairs Secretary of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the Rietberg Museum, represented by Rietberg Museum Director Albert Lutz, in Zurich in March 2018.
The MoU itself was the result of an earlier agreement signed between the governments of Pakistan and Switzerland to open new avenues of cooperation in the museum sector.
Deputy Head of Cooperation at Embassy of Switzerland in Pakistan, Daniel Valenghi, commented on the occasion of the loan of the statue: “I want to thank Pakistan that they loaned this Buddha out of their country to Switzerland. It definitely strengthens the ties between Pakistan and Switzerland in a completely unconventional way I would say. And to also show that Pakistan has a very diverse cultural heritage.” (The News International)
The Peshawar Museum holds one of the most extensive collections of Buddhist Gandhara art, which is also considered one of the largest collections of Buddhist artifacts in the world. It is not the first time the Peshawar has lent Buddhist artifacts to foreign museums. Last year, the Peshawar Museum lent fortyartifacts belonging to the Gandhara civilization to an exhibit in Seoul, South Korea*.
Peshawar Museum has one of the largest and most extensive collections of Gandhara art of the Buddhist period and is considered to be one of the biggest collections of Buddhist objects in the world. The museum also contains the largest collection on Gautama Buddha. Buddhist stone sculptures, terracotta