The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lost in Baghdad, recreated in pandal

Perhaps the greatest casualty of the last Iraq war occurred after it ended, when thousands of priceless artefacts, dating back to the zenith of one of the oldest civilisations, were lost as Baghdad Museum was plundered and vandalised.

This year, one of the lesser-known pujas of the city has ignored the temptation of crowd-pulling gimmickry to restore what was once on view.

The Mesopotamian social, cultural, religious and political world has been brought alive through replicas at the Japur Byayam Samity puja in Kalindi.

The treasure trove includes some of the earliest letters written by man, sculptures carved out of rock, seals of monarchs, the Zivggura temple and mementoes of the wars that the Mesopotamians had fought.

Amal Roy, a local resident and superintendent archaeologist of the state directorate of archaeology and museums, painstakingly collected the pictures and details of the lost artefacts. The pandal provides primers in archaeology and more detailed guides on the subject to enlighten the audience.

'Modern Iraq was the core area of the Mesopotamian civilisation, which dates back to 1500 BC. Most of the artefacts, statues and figures were preserved and showcased in the Baghdad museum. After the Iraq war, most of them were stolen or vandalised. The articles are lost forever. Therefore, we thought it would be a noble idea to provide the public a glimpse of the collection,' said Roy.

The 130ft x 25ft pandal is modelled on Zivggura temple or sopan mandir. The entrance is through a tunnel, whose sides are dotted with pictographic representations and paintings of over 500 figures, including those of monarchs, royal priests, royal seals, birds and snakes.

The originals occupied pride of place in the museum. The main attraction are letters in Ugritic script from 1300 BC.

'It took us three months to create the replicas, apart from the many months of research. I had to obtain the pictures of the letters from books that are not easily available. I also took the help of scholars, both from India and abroad. My professional experience and my office archive provided invaluable assistance,' Roy stated.

There are 18 life-size figures in and outside the pandal, including one of a bull with a human head, five legs and wings. All the temples and important buildings in Mesopotamia had the statue of the bull because it was believed to ward off evil spirits. A bronze figure of a sacrificial lamb has attracted people.

Two-dimensional figures adorn the panels on the pandal. Each represents a particular scene, including images of hunting, torture, war and religious processions.

The lighting and decoration inside the pandal is in conformity with the time it tries to depict. The puja organisers want to make the visitors, especially the children, understand the significance of the lost treasures.

Every representation is accompanied by a small write-up in Bengali on the original artefact. Guides are at hand to provide further information about the Mesopotamian civilisation.

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