Buddhism, a landmark in Uzbekistan's history

UZReport, Sept 8, 2006

Tashkent, Uzbekistan -- An exhibition "Monuments of Buddhism in the south of Uzbekistan", dedicated to the history of the development of Buddhism in different historical cultural regions of Central Asia is taking place from 30 August through 30 October in the Tashkent gallery of fine art under the National Bank of Uzbekistan. This exhibition, according to the organizers, was organized specially by the arrival of the prime minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi, into Uzbekistan.

It is interesting that some researchers carry the initial development period of Buddhism to the time of the administration of the Kushan king Kanishka (the first half the 2nd century A.D.) Others date the beginning of this process by earlier time. It is considered that Buddhism in the south of Uzbekistan arrived from North Western India (Gandhari) or from South Afghanistan (Kandahar).

The acquaintance of Bactrian with Buddhism long before Kanishka confirm although not numerous, but sufficiently expressive epigraphical and linguistic data, relying on which western scientists spoke about the wide acceptance of this teaching in Bactria already in 1st century B.C.

Numismatic data also maintains tremendous value, represented in the exposure, in particular the coins of Greco-Bactrian tsar Agathokles (about 185-170 B.C.), whose authority was extended also to northern Bactria.

For the first time the image of the Buddhist mortar appears in Greco-Bactrian die, crowned by tree with three branches, on bronze square coins of this tsar, beaten, probably, in Taccile - the capital of Gandhari. The Indian influence (the goddess Lakshmi - a sister of Krishna) is noted on other coins of Agathokles. However, already prior to Agathokles, specific elements of Indian iconography appear at the coins of Demetriy (200 -185 B.C.) - helmet in the form of the head of elephant on the drachmas and tetradrachms and separately the head of elephant on spiracles. Their appearance is connected with Demetriy's conquest of Gandhari as a result of the march into the northwestern regions of India.

The Buddhist complex in Ayrtam [to the south of Termez] has the fundamental importance for the history of Buddhism in the south of Uzbekistan. From the excavations of this area, strictly, began the study of Buddhist monuments in Central Asia. Likewise, it is remarkable by the discovery of Bactrian six-small inscription, read by V. A. Livshits and E.V. Rtveladze. It says that certain Shodiya in the fourth year of tsar Huvishka's administration carried out great construction work into acropolis of Ayrtam, in particular, he restored Buddhist temple that had been founded there, and decorated it, probably with sculpture. He also brought into order disrupted and contaminated water-supply system. Kanishka ruled twenty four years, following after him, tsar Vasishka four years, following whom tsar Huvishka's administration began. Consequently, only eight years had passed after the death Kanishka, when the Ayrtam Buddhist complex got out of order, and required its restoration, which proved to be very doubtful.

Thus, it is obvious for scientists that the Buddhist temple in Ayrtam was, probably erected long before Kanishka's administration, whenever, already in the fourth year of Huvishka's administration it needed restoration. It is possible that this temple was the first Buddhist construction in Northern Bactria. Out-of-town Buddhist sanctuary in Dalvarzintepa belongs to early [Buddhist complex].

Terracotta plastic of northern Bactria of the Buddhist content of Kushan period (I-III centuries A.D.), represented on the exhibition also has important significance for the history of Buddhism.

According to the organizers, they prepared the exhibition, relying on four basic development stages of Buddhism history in the south of our country:

I. The first centuries B.C. The stage of the acquaintance of Bactria's population with the Buddhistic doctrine.

II First century A.D. The propagation of Buddhist construction. The construction of first Buddhist facilities in Ayrtam, in old Termez - Qoratepa, Fayoztepa, Dalvarzintepa

III The first half of II century A.D. The period of Kanishka's administration. The flourishing and durable assertion of Buddhism in large cities and small towns of Baktria.

IV. The revival of Buddhism in the V-VII centuries.

However, Buddhist dogma lost its positions in the religious life with Arabs' conquest in the first half of the VIII century A.D., with the arrival of new religion Islam into Central Asia.

Archaeologists researched many Buddhist monuments in the south of Uzbekistan, in Surkhandarya Region, where they found the unique monuments of Buddhist art - wall painting, gypsum and clay sculpture and cult Buddhist items. The most of these monuments were displayed on the exhibition "Buddhism monuments in the south of Uzbekistan". Alongside with Uzbek scientists, Japanese archaeologists also took an active part in their studies in recent years.