Preservation of Endangered Moveable Culture Assets of Gandhara Art

Preservation of Endangered Moveable Culture Assets of Gandhara Art
USA Contribution for Preservation of Endangered Moveable Cultural Assets
In 2004, UNESCO initiated a programme for the Preservation of Endangered Moveable Cultural Assets and Museum Development, with Special funds from USA. The objectives of this programme were stated in a proposal by the Director-General of UNESCO to the General Conference in 2003. The document explains that, "the programme focuses on sites and collections in danger through the preservation of otherwise endangered cultural objects and artifacts. It seeks to make them accessible to local population as elements of their tangible cultural heritage. In addition, the proposed activities will increase the number of catalogued objects, so that they can be better protected against theft. Action will focus on the following main area: preservation of moveable heritage, with special emphasis on study and publication, inventories, capacity-building and training of staff in protecting cultural property and assets, museology and conservation, as well as manuscripts."

The proposal to the General Conference also mentions that the programme activities will consist of the elaboration of national inventories and databases; improvement in museology and conservation; and building of capacities and training of staff for the protection of cultural property.

In line with these directives and in consultation with the Scientific Adviser on the project, UNESCO Islamabad is drafting a project document, "Preservation of the Endangered Buddhist Gandhara Art of Pakistan".
Preservation of Endangered Moveable Cultural Assets of Gandhara Art

Historical background
Pakistan has inherited a wealth of rich and diverse cultural heritage - a legacy of successive civilizations which flourished in the region over the centuries. Gandhara, the cradle of Buddhist Civilization, which gave birth to the famous Gandhara Art, is first mentioned in the Rig-Veda, the religious book of Aryans. It remained one of the provinces of the Achaemenian Empire as per Darius inscription of the 6th century BC.

Pushkalavati (Balahisar-Charsadda in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan) was its first capital from the 6th century BC to 1st century AD, which was invaded in 327 BC by Alexander the Great. Later, Gandhara was ruled by Mauryans, Indo-Greeks, Scythians and Parthians rulers. The Kushanas established their capital at Pushapura or Peshawar in the 1st century AD and King Kanishka built a stupa and monastery at Shah-Ji-ki-Dheri, near Ganj Gate Peshawar. In the 7th century AD, the Shahi Dynasties of Kabul and Gandhara established capital of Gandhara at Hund, which remained their capital till the invasions of Ghaznavids in 998 AD, thus ending the rule of Gandhara after about 1600 years.
Related Documents
Conservation assessment report
Consultant's report
Report on experts meeting

  Experts Meeting November 2006

  Registeration workshop

  Publication on document objects

  Seminar on Promotions and      Preservation of Gandhara Art

It was during the time of the Kushan rulers that the Buddhist Art developed in the form of Mahayana Buddhism at Gandhara and travelled towards China, Korea and Japan. The Chinese pilgrims of the 5th-7th century AD talked about the great glory and thousands of stupas and monasteries, which they visited in Gandhara. Taxila, though not geographically included in Gandhara, was an extension of Gandhara Art and a great teaching center of Buddhism.

Gandhara Art, a contribution of the inhabitants of Gandhara, shows influences from the main land Indians, Greeks, Romans and Persian artists. The art appeared in
this region in the 1st century BC, strengthened in the 1st century AD, flourished till 5th century and lingered on till 8th century. The art died due to the invasions of Huns (5th century AD), Turk and Hindu Shahis (6th~10th century AD) and Muslims (10th~11th century AD).

The purpose of this art was the propagation of Buddhism through the images carved and made in stone, stucco, terracotta and bronze, mostly enshrined in the stupas and monasteries throughout Gandhara. Thousands of such stupas were mentioned by the Chinese pilgrim, Hiuen Tsang, who visited Gandhara in the early 7th century AD, only few of which have been excavated so-far. The main focus of the art was Buddha's life stories and individual images; his previous birth stories (Jatakas) and future Buddhas.
Project Justification
With the cooperation of the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Government of NWFP, UNESCO Islamabad conducted a feasibility study of the Gandharan Collection in Pakistan, during January - March 2005. Inspection of the objects, discussions and consultations with Directors and Curators of the museums of Karachi, Lahore, Taxila, Peshawar, Mardan, Chakdara and Swat brought to the fore the following issues:
  • Continuous excavations and explorations are leading to a rapid increase in the collection, without proper arrangements for their storage and display.
  • The conditions of the stores are by and large pathetic, and all objects in the museums are threatened by natural decay caused by environmental conditions, improper handling, theft and natural disasters such as earthquakes.
  • There is no proper mechanism/system for conservation of objects, due to lack of expertise as well as human and financial resources.
The feasibility report concluded that the most endangered Gandhara objects were the stucco, terracotta and schist stone sculptures and immediate steps need to be taken for the preservation of these and other collections housed in the same institutions.

Project Objectives
a) Registration of the objects in a standardized inventory system;
b) Establishment of proper conservation conditions of the objects on display and in reserves

The scope of the project focused on registration and conservation of Gandhara collections in the Peshawar Museum and its storage facilities; the SSAQ Museum Archaeology and Ethnology at the University of Peshawar; and the Swat Museum and its storage facilities in Saidu Sharif.

A. Registration
i) Museums adopted a common inventory system
ii) Inventory teams identified in each participating museum
iii) Inventory teams trained
iv) The work of inventorying and registration of Gandhara collections undertaken.

B. Conservation
i) Procedures for conservation and risk mitigation were integrated into the registration and storage reorganization processes in order to avoid mechanical damage, catastrophic losses from natural disasters and theft.

C. Reorganization of Storage
i) Teams for storage reorganization are to be identified in each of the participating museums
ii) Teams for storage reorganization are to be trained
iii) Plans and schedules for adapting the spaces are to be created.

  • Plans are to be implemented
  • (This activity was to be carried out by ICCROM, but was delayed due to unforeseen problems in the country. It is now expected to take place in the first half of year 2008).
    • A process of consultation, consensus-building and coordination among different governing authorities, experts and other stakeholders to achieve the objectives.
    • Training and capacity-building of local staff.
    • Written guidelines on methods/techniques, appropriate to the local conditions and resources.
    Experts Meeting November 2006
    An experts' meeting was held in Peshawar on 13-14 November 2006 to initiate a process of consultation and consensus-building among various stakeholders for improving the conditions of conservation of moveable cultural assets of Gandhara Art.
    Registration workshop
    A workshop was organized on 17 - 26 February 2007 in the SSAQ Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, University of Peshawar. The main objective was to train the participants/staff of the Peshawar, SSAQ and Swat Museums in preparing computerized inventory and documentation of Gandharan objects of their respective museums.

    The Gandharan collection to be documented and computerized included artifacts on display as well as items in the stores. The documentation process helped in identifying the objects that needed proper conservation. The process included physical verification, weighing, measuring, length, status, nature, value, provenance, description and digital photography of each object. The workshop was aimed at preparing a detailed and comprehensive record of these artifacts on scientific methods to avoid any chance of theft and pilferage in addition to facilitate study and research.

    The teaching team led by Prof. (Dr.) Ihsan Ali, Vice Chancellor, Hazara University, Mansehra, Pakistan, included:
    • Mr. Muhammad Zahir, Database Expert/Lecturer in Archaeology, Govt. College, Peshawar.
    • Mr. Nadeem Ghauri, Database Expert, Harappa Archaeological Project.
    • Mr. Abid-ur-Rehman, Database Expert, Hazara University.
    • Mr. Adnan Ahmad, Database Expert, Hazara University.
    • Mr. Abdul Hameed Chitrali, Database Expert, Hazara University.
    The working language of the course was English, while some selected teaching materials and guidelines used in the course were translated into Urdu or Pushto for the participants of the Project for better understanding and implementation.
    Publication on documented objects
    UNESCO Islamabad compiled and published a pictorial book, "Masterpieces of Gandhara Art" comprising selected artifacts from the three participating museums. The publication is available at UNESCO Islamabad Office.
    Seminar on Promotion and Presenvation of Gandhara Art
    A two-day seminar, "Preservation and Promotion of Gandhara Art", was held at Islamabad Club on 9-10 April 2009. The participants deliberated on the significance of Gandhara Art, its impact on the region and the possibilities of promoting it in conjunction with the ethical mission of UNESCO that corresponds directly to the values of peace and tolerance preached by Buddha and his disciples.

    Special emphasis was placed on the contribution of the UNESCO-Government of Pakistan project towards preservation of Gandharan objects housed in the museums of Swat, Peshawar and Peshawar University. This led to the inevitable concern on the preservation of the invaluable Gandhara collection of Swat Museum and other museums of the NWFP that stand threatened by intolerant and insensitive elements.

    The establishment of dialogue and development were proposed as the main pillars of the strategy to highlight the role of cultural heritage in preserving and rebuilding peace after and/or in the event of civil strife or armed conflict. Participants expressed the need to re-establish the bonds between population concerned, its history and its cultural affiliations and to help restore a sense of common ownership of the heritage that is damaged or is a source of conflict.


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