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Sarnath set to scale heights
- 100-foot buddha statue being built in gandhara style

Lucknow, Nov. 1: One of the world’s tallest Buddha statues will soon be unveiled at Sarnath, the pilgrimage centre near Varanasi where he had delivered his first sermon.

The Thai government-funded 100-foot sandstone structure, at a Thai monastery in Sarnath, is similar to Afghanistan’s two Bamiyan statues, which were the world’s tallest Buddha images till they were destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001.

The Sarnath bust mirrors the Gandhara style of art on which the Bamiyan statues, carved on the sides of a cliff, were based. The Bamiyan statues were 180 feet and 121 feet high. The demolished statues, located at an altitude of 2,500 metres in Afghanistan’s Hazarajat region, dated back to the sixth century.

The Sarnath project started 10 years ago but had to be put on hold because the monastery, known as Thai Buddha Vihar, ran into financial problems. Work resumed three years ago with the assistance of the Thai government.

The man behind the bust is Mohan Lal, a well-known Buddha statue specialist from Uttar Pradesh who has worked at other sites too.

“It will be one of the tallest statues of the Buddha in a standing position and follows the Gandhara style. Although it is not a replica of the Bamiyan, it will remind everyone of the statues there,” said Lal, who travelled to Afghanistan before he began work.Lal said the sandstone being used had been brought from nearby Chunar, known for the historic Chunar fort.

Once it is complete, the statue is expected to be the biggest attraction at Sarnath, with some officials saying it could raise the standing of the town in the pecking order of Buddhist pilgrimage centres.

Bhante Rashim, who heads the Thai monastery, expects a boost for Sarnath as a whole. “Sarnath will grow in stature as a key Buddhist centre once the statue is unveiled and the word spreads among people around the world.”

Monastery officials didn’t reveal how much was being spent on the statue but sources said the costs so far were $50 million (Rs 235 crore).

The Thai monastery is one of many set up by foreign countries such as Burma, China, Japan and Sri Lanka in Sarnath, with each complex having mammoth Buddha busts but none as high as the one being built.

Former chief minister Rajnath Singh had planned a taller, 152-foot, Buddha statue at Kushinagar, a pilgrim town around 60km from Sarnath, but it never took shape.

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