The Bamian Statues: Their Mysterious Origin

By H. P. Blavatsky
[The recent destruction of the Bamian statues by the Afghan government reminds us how little human nature changes over the millennia, and how precious are those few monuments and texts which have survived to modern times. Writing in 1888 in her Secret Doctrine (2:336-41, condensed below), Blavatsky offers an interpretation of the origin and meaning of these carvings, relating them to humanity as it has existed over millions of years. -- Eds.]

To speak of a race nine yatis, or 27 feet high, in a work claiming a more scientific character than "Jack the Giant-Killer," is a somewhat unusual proceeding. "Where are your proofs?" the writer will be asked. In history and tradition, is the answer. Traditions about a race of giants in days of old are universal; they exist in oral and written lore. India had her Danavas and Daityas; Ceylon had her Rakshasas; Greece, her Titans; Egypt, her colossal Heroes; Chaldea, her Izdubars [an older transliteration of Gilgamesh. -- Eds] (Nimrod); and the Jews their Emims of the land of Moab, with the famous giants, Anakim (Numbers xiii. 33). Moses speaks of Og, a king who was nine cubits high (15 ft. 4 in.) and four wide (Deut. iii. 11), and Goliath was "six cubits and a span in height" (or 10 ft. 7 in.).

Of still standing witnesses to the submerged continents, and the colossal men that inhabited them, there are still a few. Archaeology claims several such on this globe, though beyond wondering "what these may be" -- it never made any serious attempt to solve the mystery. Besides the Easter Island statues, to what epoch do the colossal statues, still erect and intact near Bamian, belong? Archaeology assigns them to the first centuries of Christianity (as usual), and errs in this as it does in many other speculations.

Who cut the Bamian statues, the tallest and the most gigantic in the whole world? Burnes, and several learned Jesuits who have visited the place, speak of a mountain "all honeycombed with gigantic cells," with two immense giants cut in the same rock. They are referred to as the modern Miaotse [in Chinese legend, an antediluvian race of giants. -- Eds.], the last surviving witnesses of the Miaotse who had "troubled the earth"; the Jesuits are right, and the Archaeologists, who see Buddhas in the largest of these statues, are mistaken. For all those numberless gigantic ruins discovered one after the other in our day, are the work of the Cyclopes, the true and actual Giants of old.

Central Asian traditions say the same of the Bamian statues. What are they, and what is the place where they have stood for countless ages, defying the cataclysms around them, and even the hand of man, as in the instance of the hordes of Timoor and the Vandal-warriors of Nadir-Shah? Bamian is a small, miserable, half-ruined town in Central Asia, half-way between Kabul and Balkh, at the foot of Kobhibaba, a huge mountain of the Paropamisian (or Hindu-Kush) chain, some 8,500 feet above the level of the sea. In days of old, Bamian was a portion of the ancient city of Gholgola, ruined and destroyed to the last stone by Genghis Khan in the XIIIth century. The whole valley is hemmed in by colossal rocks, which are full of partially natural and partially artificial caves and grottoes, once the dwellings of Buddhist monks who had established in them their viharas. Such viharas are to be met with in profusion, to this day, in the rock-cut temples of India and the valleys of Jalalabad. It is at the entrance of some of these that five enormous statues, of what is regarded as Buddha, have been discovered or rather rediscovered in our century, as the famous Chinese traveller, Hsuan-tsang, speaks of, and saw them, when he visited Bamian in the VIIth century.

When it is maintained that no larger statues exist on the whole globe, the fact is easily proven on the evidence of all the travellers who have examined them and taken their measurements. Thus, the largest is 173 feet high, or seventy feet higher than the "Statue of Liberty." The famous Colossus of Rhodes itself, between whose limbs passed easily the largest vessels of those days, measured only 120 to 130 feet in height. The second statue, cut out in the rock like the first one, is only 120 feet (15 feet taller than the said "Liberty").* The third statue is only 60 feet high -- the two others still smaller, the last one being only a little larger than the average tall man of our present race. The first and largest of the Colossi represents a man draped in a kind of toga; M. de Nadeylac thinks that the general appearance of the figure, the lines of the head, the drapery, and especially the large hanging ears, point out undeniably that Buddha was meant to be represented. But the above proves nothing. Notwithstanding the fact that most of the now existing figures of Buddha, represented in the posture of Samadhi, have large drooping ears, this is a later innovation and an afterthought. The primitive idea was due to esoteric allegory.

*The first and second have, in common with Bartholdi's Statue, an entrance at the foot, leading by a winding staircase cut in the rock up into the heads of the statues.
173' Statue (photo: Jet van Krieken)

The Buddhist monks, who turned the grottos of the Miaotse into Viharas and cells, came into Central Asia about or in the first century of the Christian era. Therefore Hsuan-tsang, speaking of the colossal statue, says that "the shining of the gold ornamentation that overlaid the statue" in his day "dazzled one's eyes," but of such gilding there remains not a vestige in modern times. The very drapery, in contrast to the figure itself, cut out in the standing rock, is made of plaster and modelled over the stone image. Talbot, who has made the most careful examination, found that this drapery belonged to a far later epoch. The statue itself has therefore to be assigned to a far earlier period than Buddhism. Whom does it represent in such case, it may be asked?

Once more tradition, corroborated by written records, answers the query, and explains the mystery. The Buddhist Arhats and Ascetics found the five statues, and many more, now crumbled down to dust, and as the three were found by them in colossal niches at the entrance of their future abode, they covered the figures with plaster, and, over the old, modelled new statues made to represent Lord Tathagata. The interior walls of the niches are covered to this day with bright paintings of human figures, and the sacred image of Buddha is repeated in every group. These frescoes and ornaments -- which remind one of the Byzantine style of painting -- are all due to the piety of the monk-ascetics, as are some other minor figures and rock-cut ornamentations. But the five statues belong to the handiwork of the Initiates of the Fourth Race, who sought refuge, after the submersion of their continent, in the fastnesses and on the summits of the Central Asian mountain chains. Moreover, the five statues are an imperishable record of the esoteric teaching about the gradual evolution of the races.

The largest is made to represent the First Race of mankind, its ethereal body being commemorated in hard, everlasting stone, for the instruction of future generations, as its remembrance would otherwise never have survived the Atlantean Deluge. The second -- 120 feet high -- represents the sweat-born [second root-race]; and the third -- measuring 60 feet -- immortalizes the race that fell, and thereby inaugurated the first physical race, born of father and mother, the last descendants of which are represented in the Statues found on Easter Isle; but they were only from 20 to 25 feet in stature at the epoch when Lemuria was submerged, after it had been nearly destroyed by volcanic fires. The Fourth Race was still smaller, though gigantic in comparison with our present Fifth Race, and the series culminated finally in the latter.

Destruction of 175' Statue, March 2001 (photo: CNN)

These are, then, the "Giants" of antiquity, the ante- and postdiluvian Gibborim of the Bible. They lived and flourished one million rather than between three and four thousand years ago. The Anakim of Joshua, whose hosts were as "grasshoppers" in comparison with them, are thus a piece of Israelite fancy, unless indeed the people of Israel change the millenniums of their chronology into millions of years. In everything that pertains to prehistoric times the reader ought to bear the wise words of Montaigne in his mind. Saith the great French philosopher [from a modern translation]:

there is a silly arrogance in continuing to disdain something and to condemn it as false just because it seems unlikely to us. That is a common vice among those who think their capacities are above the ordinary.
. . . but reason has taught me that, if you condemn in this way anything whatever as definitely false and quite impossible, you are claiming to know the frontiers and bounds of the will of God and the power of Nature our Mother; it taught me also that there is nothing in the whole world madder than bringing matters down to the measure of our own capacities and potentialities.
How many of the things which constantly come into our purview must be deemed monstrous or miraculous if we apply such terms to anything which outstrips our reason! If we consider that we have to grope through a fog even to understand the very things we hold in our hands, then we will certainly find that it is not knowledge but habit which takes away their strangeness; . . . -- Essays 1:27

(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 2001; copyright © 2001 Theosophical University Press)