Brain Post: The 175-ft Tall Ancient Buddhas of Afghanistan

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The 114-foot tall Shahmama buddha at Bamiyan, Afghanistan
The 175-foot tall Salsal buddha at Bamiyan, Afghanistan

The 2 ancient buddhas of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan provence were stunning examples of macro sculpture of the ancient world.  They were the two largest standing buddha statues in the the world until they were blown up by the Taliban in March 2001.

These two incredible pieces of ancient sculpture should never be forgotten.


The 114-foot tall Shahmama buddha at Bamiyan, Afghanistan


– The taller of the two statues is 175-feet tall and is named “Solsol” (light shines through the universe) and was built between 591 and 644AD and was painted carmine red

– The other statue is 115-feet tall and is named “Shahmama” (queen mother) and was built between 544 and 595AD and was painted multiple colors


– The statues’ main bodies are carved directly into the limestone cliffs with details created in mud, straw, and stucco

– The outer mud/straw/stucco coating washed away many years ago but was originally intricately painted

– The holes that are visible on the statues now held wooden pegs that supported the outer coating

18th century sketch of the Buddhas of Bamiyan
18th century sketch of the Buddhas of Bamiyan


– Statues are believed to have been sculpted by the Kushans under the direction of buddhist monks in the 6th and 7th centuries

– The Kushans had an empire on the silk road that connected Asia, India, and Europe’s trade

– The Kushan empire was described as having ”more than ten monasteries and more than a thousand monks” and that the giant buddhas were “decorated with gold and fine jewels”

– The Bamiyan cliff area consisted of monks living in religiously embellished caves near the giant buddahs while the surround area was a powerful focal point of art, religion, and philosophy

– This area was a thriving buddhist zone from the 2nd century until the Islamic invasion in the 7th century 


Kushan coins
Kushan coins


– In 1221 Genghis Khan attempted to damage the statues and was largely unsuccessful

– Another Mongolian king, Aurangzeb also is noted as having tried to destroy the buddahs of Bamiyan using heavy artillery

– In the 18th century Persian king Nader Afshar is said to have fired cannons at the great buddhas

– The Afghan king Abdur Rahman Khan reportedly destroyed the face of the Salsal buddha during a military campaign against the Shia Hazara rebellion in the late 19th century.  “Muslims should be proud of smashing idols. It has given praise to God that we have destroyed them” – Abdur Rahman Khan

Destruction of the Bamiyan buddhas in March 2001
Destruction of the Bamiyan buddhas in March 2001

– In March 2001 both Salsal and Shahmama were completely destroyed by the Taliban under orders from Mullah Mohammed Omar.  They were destroyed using anti-aircraft guns, land mines, and dynamite drilled into the statues.  It took weeks to destroy these impressive behemoths.  “this work of destruction is not as simple as people might think. You can’t knock down the statues by shelling as both are carved into a cliff; they are firmly attached to the mountain.”-  Qudratullah Jamal.  They were condemned as idols.

The 175-foot tall Salsal Buddha
The 175-foot tall Salsal Buddha

We came across these fascinating Buhhhas today after researching skiing in Afghanistan’s Baiyman provence.  The Baiyman provence is home to Afghanistan’s best skiing and these giant buddhas.

Learn much more:  Buddhas of Bamiyan

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3 thoughts on “Brain Post: The 175-ft Tall Ancient Buddhas of Afghanistan

  1. You have the first date as a typo. They were destroyed in March 2001, but you mistakenly typed March 2011. Love the information and article. Keep up the awesome website. Good read….great information.


  2. Damn, those are big. heard about this a long time ago but had never seen the images. thanks

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