Western scholarship has focused on the monumental sculptures in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley as Buddhas created in the late sixth and early seventh centuries. This lecture tells an alternative story based on Islamic sources from the tenth to the twentieth century, which saw these sculptures not as Buddhas but as legendary heroes representing the mythic conversion of the Bamiyan Valley to Islam.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Taliban destroyed the sculptures—as Buddhas. After the fall of the Taliban, the sculptures’ entangled histories and the viewpoints of multiple stakeholders posed challenges for the global debate on how best to memorialize the destroyed images. Now that the Taliban has again taken power, the question is: what is Bamiyan’s future?