blog 91 I meet the Buddha

We finally reached the most distant site and therefore the site least vandalized: Takht I Bahi. The hilly terrain boasted ruined monasteries and a key stupa sanctuary to the Buddha surrounded by lessor stupas plus shrines of various sorts in various states of ruin and vandalism. Fortunately, monasteries to the Buddha do not imply gold so after the initial vandalism and obscene defacement of beauty, the Muslim Pathans left. Then the extreme distance of the site from any populated bastion left the vandals disinclined to come back solely to defile yet again ancient beauty they could never achieve in their own barbarity.

We wandered around the monumental ruins, some over 30 feet tall. I could not visualize the original shape of the buildings anymore. It did strike me that the meandering buildings had been built outwards, expanded, with shrines added to shrines added to shrines in an improvised way. There was not the vivid boldness of say the Parthenon or Stonehenge. Here and there I was able to dug dirt away to find some great head, apparently by age or vandalism, severed from the body, of a Buddha. And I found quite a few severed feet. Apparently at one time there were giant Buddha sculptures like a march of the titans around the complex. Most of the severed heads that I could see were terra cotta or stucco. But there was much evidence of burning too. I imagine Troy must have seen like this to later travelers too: burned ruins just hinting of ancient glory. I imagine the later travelers curst the vandals of Troy: the victorious Ancient Mycenae Greeks. I certainly curst the victorious vandals of Takht I Bahi: the Pathan Muslims!

I found three great treasures: a wonderful fragment of a terra cotta head of some chap who most surprisingly, looked just like some Greek God! It was most strange! The fellow had a curly beard and mustache and jumbled hair of some Zeus- like god. Even his features seemed Ancient Greek somehow. The face was more aggressively square than the softer Indian face, the nose more aggressively aquiline, the classic Greek aquiline, the eyes larger, rounder, less Asian. It was most strange.

I also found a stucco and terra cotta chap sitting in his almost Greek style armor having quite an animated conversation with himself. One hand rested on one hip. His other hand was raised and gesturing. His head was slightly turned. It was as if he had but paused during an intense debate with some other fellow, the pause lasting a few centuries, the fellow he was debating with vanishing. Yet there he sat mid-pause, waiting to exclaim ‘Yes but!’

The final treasure was found by my Sikh guide. We could not believe it was still intact. It had been almost completely buried in rubble. I was amazed when we at last carefully dug it up. It was almost life size. The stucco head was almost completely intact. The topknot was broken and part of one ear only was missing. Like every head, it had by chance or malice been beheaded but it had not been defaced. The pale stucco had traces of gesso and paint. I had never seen anything so beautiful.

The Buddha was almost smiling, the beautiful lips, touched with a hint of color, just ever so slightly smiling as if an Indian Mona Lisa. His nose was slightly aquiline and very fine. Some Indian noses tended to be thick. This was almost Greek. His eyebrows were finely arched. His eyes were heavy lidded, Asian, but elegant, the pupils hinting of paint. He was utterly, utterly, divinely, and most supremely beautiful!

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