August 19, 2009

Remembering Buddhism in Afghanistan

On the eve of Afghanistan's presidential elections amidst increasing unrest and violence, CNN contributor John Blake details the history of a country strikingly different than the Afghanistan we know today. While recent media coverage has centered on America's troops in Afghanistan and the wave of violence leading up to tomorrow's elections, Blake instead focuses on the country's untold story, exploring the social climate of Afghanistan during the "golden era" of the 1950's, 60's, and 70's. Back then Kabul was known as "the Paris of Central Asia," the moderately religious government recognized women's rights, and the country was politically stable. Blake delves into the roots of this peace and tolerance, interviewing Afghanis who believe that it can be traced back to a time when Afghanistan stood at the crossroads of ancient civilizations and the Silk Road allowed people of many cultures and religions to mix easily. And though the Taliban has destroyed most reminders of a Buddhist past (including the 175 ft carving of the Buddha pictured above) Afghan-American Tanya Amri recalls that Buddhism too, once had its place in Afghanistan:

Religious intolerance may be a problem in Afghanistan today, but not as much in the past, Amri says.

The country has a history of religious tolerance. Its mixed religious heritage could be seen in two soaring statues of Buddha that were carved into a cliff in central Afghanistan. Buddhist monks lived in the caves behind the cliff, she says.

"At one point, Afghanistan was a Buddhist country," Amri said. "In those caves, 2,000 monks used to meditate."

To read more about Afghanistan's golden era, click here.

[Image © Thalpan)

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