2000-year-old Buddha statue from Pakistan exhibited in Switzerland

Press release, 12.12.2018

Islamabad: The government of Pakistan has loaned a 2,000-year-old Buddha sculpture from Peshawar Museum to Switzerland for exhibition at the Rietberg Museum in Zurich. This is the first time that this sculpture has been sent out of Pakistan.

Buddha Shakyamuni at the Peshawar Museum. © SDC

Titled “Buddha Shakyamuni,” over three and a half meters high and almost two tons heavy sculpture will be the main highlight at the "Next Stop Nirvana - Approaches to Buddhism" exhibit in Zurich from 12 December 2018 to 31 March 2019.

Estimated to have been created between the 1st and 3rd century, the sculpture was excavated in 1909-10 from a small village named Sahri Bahlol near the World Heritage site of Takht-i-Bhai in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and has been on exhibition in Peshawar Museum since. Smaller objects from that era have been sent out of Pakistan to other countries for exhibition but this is for the first time that a statue of this size has gone out of the country.

The Buddha sculpture is a prime example of the fusion between Indian and Greek art. It represents a unique work not only due to its size but also its quality, because it has survived the time almost without damage.

In 2017, the Embassy of Switzerland and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation initiated contacts between Rietberg Museum and the Government of Pakistan, which resulted in signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Archaeology & Museums of Pakistan and the Rietberg Museum in Zurich in March 2018.

Under this MoU, Peshawar Museum agreed to lend this monumental Buddha statute to Rietberg Museum for three and a half months. Deputy Director and Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art at Rietberg Museum Dr Johannes Beltz and stone conservation and restoration expert Tobiaz Hotz came to Pakistan last month to oversee the safe dismantling and packing of the statue in Peshawar.

“It strengthens the ties between Pakistan and Switzerland in a completely unconventional way,” said Daniel Valenghi, Deputy Head of Cooperation at the Embassy of Switzerland. “It also show that Pakistan has a very diverse cultural heritage, and for us this is a very important step for the development of Pakistan.”

Next year, Switzerland and Pakistan are going to celebrate the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

Today's Pakistan was a cosmopolitan region between Central and South Asia, where many religions coexisted peacefully, including Buddhism, in the first few centuries after Christ. Pakistan was part of the Gandhara region, a cultural landscape on the edge of the Silk Road that stretched from Afghanistan to India. Gandhara was a contact zone between East and West, since conquest by Alexander the Great brought Greeks to this area. From here Buddhism reached Central and East Asia.