Detective from the past – Ajina Teppa and Buddhism in Central Asia

Archaeologists are detectives of the past.

Agatha Christie

Gissar, Shahritus (Shaartuz), Khovaling and in 2018 Fakhrabad of the Khurasan Region of Khatlon Province was also included to them – the places in Tajikistan where the Buddhism followers from all over the world can take a knee and warship in small underground Buddhism temples which preserved till these days.

The investigation of Buddhism period in Tajikistan started in the late 1950s - XX century when the archaeological expedition group arrived in the region of Vakhsh valley in the territory of the former sovkhoz (state farm), to clarify the meaning of “the hill of evil spirits” which people called among themselves in everyday life. The unattractive hillock at the roadside covered with bumps and pits, rushes and thistles - the hill of Ajina Teppa, in reality this place put some weird feelings in one`s mind – as if isolated from the civilization 12 km to the East of present Bokhtar (former Kurgan Teppa)  in the outskirts of  the Central Estate of the state farm, discharge ditches surrounded by three sides kept a thousand-year secret which the archaeologists had to discover as detectives. From their searching look it did not escape the fact that later will give the opportunity to lift another veil of the past. From above the hill the meaningless shapelessness acquired a contentedly correct form  (50x100 m), consisting of two equal-sized squares divided by a jumper shaft.

So in 1961 a group of Southern Tajik archeological expedition under the leadership of the founder of the State Institute of Archeology B.A. Litvinsky and his assistants T.I. Zeimal made their way towards the place. The excavations started and continued for many years and by that period were possible to find out that in fact Ajina Teppa presents a complex of residential and religious buildings of a Buddhism Monastery. The coins which were found from there helped to identify the periods of functioning of the Buddhism Monastery from the middle of VII to the middle of VIII centuries. Besides that during the excavations there were found over 500 artifacts of the Buddhism period. Those are the masterpiece of the clay made sculptures – the Buddha murals, bodhisattva (creatures that intended to become a Buddha), devat (deity), demons, monarchs, holly characters and so on. Among them, without exaggerating the archaeological richness of 1966 was discovered that gigantic clay made sculpture of sleeping Buddha in nirvana (Shakyamuni) (about 12 m), having reached the end of his life destiny the state of absolute rest (nirvana – from Sanskrit “non-breath”,  “ending” – the state of releasing from suffering, characteristic of being in samsara).

The sculpture was excavated from a building number 23 in a bypass corridor around central stupa. It was not intact but well enough preserved. So until these todays about 10, 43 m length of the sculpture preserved, almost the entire half of the lower part, from the waist to the soles of the feet, left hand from the middle of the forearms to the fingertips, partially the right side and parts of the palms of the right hand. The part of the headboards with 5 pillows of different thicknesses (from 9 to 13 cm) was preserved but half of the face has been deteriorated. That year the sculpture was taken from the excavation site and brought to the technological laboratory of the Institute of History and Academy of the Tajik SSR. In that laborious work also took part the workers of the Leningrad Hermitage with Tajik colleagues and furthermore also they joined to the restoration works and excavation of the Old Penjikent and Sarazm. The scientists and archaeologist fraternized not only in the process of work but also the cities like Dushanbe became twinned with St. Petersburg.

From the time of transportation and reassembling the fragments of the sculpture more than several decades have past. Parts of the sculpture should be processed properly and to put together finding suitable material and so on. So to lift the whole detail each was necessary because each of it weighed more than several dozens or a kilogram but it was a long laborious work.

In 2001 the sleeping Buddha from Ajina Teppa acquired a new life and a new house in the National Museum Tajikistan in Dushanbe. In fact already in 2014-2015 the sculpture was almost taken to a new National Museum of Tajikistan however the stuff of the Antiquity Museum and Hermitage protected the Buddha. They insisted that it was impossible. So the copy of it was created.

However the detective stories of the historical past of modern Tajikistan has not finished yet with it and that hill of  “evil spirits” or “hill of jinnee” is not investigated totally. The excavation of Old Penjikent and Sarazm will tell us a lot. Not all those underground temples of the Buddhism period of the country is investigated but nowadays is possible to find out more about these and other archaeological treasures and national heritage of the country for instance going to an cognitive and religious tour of the ancient Tajik land.







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