Thursday, February 23, 2012

BUDDHIST Art attacked

The Indian Express : Fri Feb 17 2012, 03:14 hrs

Vandalism of Male museum is an erasure of its layered legacy. It must not have political legitimacy

Cultural icons are soft but specific targets when political convulsions take place. Sometimes the act is particularly dastardly — like in Bamiyan a decade ago when two colossal Buddhas carved into sandstone cliffs were smashed into smithereens by the Taliban under orders of Mullah Omar. Last week, as president Mohamed Nasheed left office in the Maldives, something similar happened in the capital city: the National Museum of Male was raided and about 30 Buddhist statues, a few from sixth century, destroyed. One of them was a six-faced coral statue that beautifully twinned in it the geological charms of the atoll and its pre-Islamic iconography. All of them, archaeological heritage, were reduced to shards and dust.

The Male malevolence was not in the same scale as the Bamiyan where an intense callousness was in evidence over weeks of dynamite explosions, but it certainly invokes the Taliban action in the intolerance it showed for the remnants of the country’s pre-Islamic tradition, for its layered legacy. The fear is in what it portends politically also. Nasheed had heralded democratic change in the archipelago and paid a heavy price for his liberal agenda, with the opposition accusing the former president of being, among others, unIslamic.

The loss of these treasures — almost all of them irreparable — is huge. It is an erasure of a slice of history, culture and art. But the vandalism of these artifacts, regrettable as it is, should not be a sign of things to come in the island. The new dispensation in Male must ensure that the vandals are not sheltered and that their intolerance does not have political legitimacy.


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